As a small business owner, you’re beyond busy—and that isn’t likely to change. One moment, you’re serving as a salesperson, trying to close that new piece of business. The next, you’re playing service rep and solving a buyer’s problem or doing executive tasks like running to the bank to sign loan documents. Add to these roles more selling, more service, and more managing.
Suddenly, your best employee gives notice. Here’s an important question: As busy as you are, how will you find time to recruit, interview, hire, and train a replacement?
Small business owners are competing with one another for quality employees. The internet leveled the playing field, and now your company and all others—big and small—are able to reach out to top talent. This is straining an already tapped out talent pool and has left many small business owners searching far and wide for talented and resourceful job candidates.
Small business owners have to find great talent quickly in order to perform at full capacity.
When you’re operating with a small crew, you have to find smart, capable talent able to keep up with the fast-paced dynamics that come along with a small company. Luckily, fitting hiring into your already busy day isn’t that complicated—it just requires a few simple adjustments.
Here are five ways you can make hiring for your small business or startup more efficient:
1. Leverage the most productive streams of talent
Asking for referrals and networking with other business people has long been a highly effective way to locate talent. In fact, business owners who carve out time each week for networking and referral generation discover a secret: The labor pool isn’t as tapped out as they originally thought. They simply weren’t taking a disciplined approach to recruiting.
In politics, we often hear about the power of the people. In business, there’s also a power within individuals—the power of their network. We are more connected than ever through the internet and social media. Hundreds if not thousands of contacts are within our reach. That’s why asking everyone is important: We never know whom someone may know.
How can you ask for referrals without sounding awkward or needy? Here’s a simple four-step approach:
Step 1: Ask for help.
This simple action taps into your shared humanity,
Step 2: Explain why.
Briefly explain why you are asking. Understanding your motives makes it easier for people to be supportive.
Step 3: Define who.
Be specific. People have lots of contacts. Asking for referrals for a specific type of person or role helps them search their vast mental Rolodex.
Step 4: Make your request.
Ask a short open-ended question to solicit their recommendations.
Put together, the four steps could sound like the following:
“May I get your help? I’m looking for people who may fit our company now or in the future. I’m hoping to connect with people who have a background in [insert area of expertise]. Who do you recommend?”
2. Conduct hands-on interviews
The standard approach to hiring is to conduct interviews where candidates talk about work. Not only is this a huge drain on time, it’s also an inaccurate way to assess whether a candidate fits your job.
A job candidate is always on his best behavior. He tells you the right things and shares only the best parts of his background. Rather than painting a complete picture, a conventional interview narrows the lens, providing you with a mere glimpse of a person. This is why we’re often disappointed when the person we interviewed is not the one who shows up on Monday morning.
To counter this problem, many small business owners have turned to doing hands-on interviews. In a hands-on interview, you experience the candidate doing sample work. If it’s a sales role, the candidate joins you on a sales call. If you’re hiring for a customer service job, he can help solve a customer’s problem. For a back-office position, the candidate can work with sample billing statements and financials. By watching the candidate in action, you save time while also making an accurate assessment of whether or not someone is a good fit.
3. Let job candidates sell themselves on your company
It’s important to remember that hiring is a form of selling: You’re selling opportunity. The hope is that your best prospective buyers—top talent—choose you. During interviews, you walk a tightrope, balancing the need to sell the job, while confirming that the candidate is a good fit. Not an easy task when good candidates have many options.
Adding to this challenge is that virtually no one likes to be sold to. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a sales pitch; it’s often an unpleasant experience. Salespeople engage in the tell, sell, and swell: Telling us why their company is different, selling us on their product’s features and benefits, and swelling our egos with compliments. We’ve learned not to trust everything salespeople say.
That’s why it’s more effective to allow candidates to sell themselves on working for your company. How? Say little, ask a lot. Being frugal with words creates space, allowing the candidates to think and talk. As they talk, they’re telling you what they need, why they’d change jobs, and what would make that change worthwhile. Everything they say, they believe. You hear the important details. Ask the right questions, and they could talk themselves into wanting to work for your organization.
“Say little, ask a lot” takes practice. But it’s worth it. This act alone creates a positive experience for the candidates. They get to be heard and don’t feel like they’re being given a sales pitch.
4. Line up key people before you need them
Some roles are more vital than others, and when these roles are left unfilled it can harm your business. Plus, the extra work usually falls on your already overflowing plate. Instead of waiting until an employee in an essential role quits or gives their notice to start recruiting, do yourself a favor and recruit ahead of time. Dedicating 30 minutes to recruiting each week pays off by creating a pipeline of potential talent.
You could start by taking 10 minutes on Monday to ask two colleagues for referrals. On Tuesday, you spend 15 minutes calling those referrals. One of those referred candidates is interested in your company, so you ask her to send a resume. It arrives on Wednesday. You take five minutes to review it, followed by sending her an email to schedule a face-to-face interview. This kind of weekly activity helps you develop a pool of people ready to be hired the moment that vital job becomes open.
5. Actively share the talent you discover with other business owners
An active approach to recruiting will draw in a stronger flow of talent. As a result, you’re not going to be able to hire every great candidate you meet. Sometimes talented candidates just aren’t the right fit for your company, and other times, all of your positions are filled. When this happens, be sure to share candidates with other business owners to help them solve their own hiring challenges; they will also be happy to reciprocate. Business owners who share talent in this manner with at least eight or more businesses report greater success in hiring faster and making better hires.
Hiring cycles don’t always happen at the best time, but when they do, you must dive right in and engage talent that will keep your company thriving. If you’ve maintained viable contacts through networking and referral generation, you’ll be able to locate and hire exceptional talent faster than you might expect—even in an overtapped labor pool. Then you can get back to your regular tasks and help your company stay strong.