In an era when a single job posting pulls in a ream of resumes to review, it’s hard to believe that none of those applicants is an ideal match. But when small-business owners recruit for a position that requires skills in high demand, they often find that economic volatility hasn’t made hiring any easier.
To mount a successful candidate search, small businesses must deploy a broader array of recruitment strategies than ever before.
Small Business Recruitment Solutions
This year’s recruitment process is exacerbated by the fact that while many corporate giants are reporting record profits, entrepreneurial enterprises must run leaner than ever. “Small businesses face a challenge in remaining competitive in pay and perks,” says Joleen Dorsey, a regional director of small-business strategy for staffing firm Manpower.
“As a small business, it’s always challenging to find the right people,” says Peter Marquez, senior partner for sales and marketing at eCube Systems, an enterprise software maker headquartered in Montgomery, Texas.
“Right now we are in the process of hiring a technical software engineer, someone who can do head-down programming but also is comfortable consulting and solving problems on the fly,” adds Marquez. Indeed, it’s not easy to source a candidate who wields a range of technical skills and also knows how to sit down and talk with clients.
Some job requirements are intrinsically difficult to meet. Just ask Brian Moloney. “We’re looking for at least one full-time programmer, with experience and skill in the Django web framework, which is rare but growing significantly,” says Moloney, managing director at Imaginary Landscape, a web design and development firm in Chicago.
What’s the overarching theme of small-business recruitment strategies when it comes to rare combinations of skills? “The most successful small businesses take a one-size-fits-one approach,” says Dorsey.
So let’s look at a few ways that small employers can adapt to reel in the in-demand talent that can help take their business to the next level.
Flexible Work Arrangements Are a Strong Draw
When top talent comes to work for a small employer, a big draw can be workplace flexibility in the time and place the work gets done. “We’re seeing more employers becoming more accommodating on work-life balance for professionals with in-demand skills,” says Dorsey.
“Some of our programmers have enjoyed flexible schedules and the ability to work remotely,” says Marquez. Still, for a company that emphasizes client service, “it’s a challenge to offer flexibility to someone who wears multiple hats,” as is typical at small firms.
A small business may be able to draw outsize attention to its employer brand by a radical-sounding perk that, in practice, is quite manageable. “We now have no preset limit on paid time off, which makes us attractive,” says Moloney. “Our research and experience show that employees’ behavior doesn’t change much,” under the unrestricted PTO policy.
Contract Work May Lead to Permanent Hires
Professionals whose services are in great demand -- whether business consultants or software savants -- often prefer to remain independent contractors who enjoy the freedom and variety that their high hourly rates enable. They may fill a small firm’s talent gap temporarily, or consider a permanent position if the company turns out to be a good fit.
“It’s almost a matter of course that we hire software engineers on contract at first,” says Marquez. eCube can try out contract programmers on different projects and see where they do best, eventually offering some of them full-time work, he says.
Some businesses, compelled by a skills shortage to use contract labor, make a virtue of the practice by keeping the size of their workforce flexible. “I prefer onsite, full-time employees, but I have to get the work done,” says Moloney. “So beyond the 14 on staff, we have four programmers on contract who work with us on a regular basis, and that can go up to six or seven.”
Skills that Don’t Match May Still Be Transferrable
Especially in their recruitment strategies for senior-level professionals, small business owners would do well to consider whether they must find exact matches for all the skill-and-experience bullets on their job postings.
“If we can’t find a perfect match then we look for someone with skills and experience that are transferrable,” says Patty Barry, a principal at Matter Communications, a public relations firm based in Newburyport, Mass. “That might mean we consider people with experience in sales and marketing rather than public relations, for example.”
Small Firms Let Employees Roll Up Sleeves with Clients
Finally, small-business owners can proudly sell hard-to-find candidates on the professional advantages of working in a small organization.
“What we offer and large PR agencies lack is the opportunity to work with clients in depth,” says Barry. “We don’t bill by the hour, and we’re committed to spending a lot of time with clients, sitting together to work and learn. Big agencies that bill at $400 per hour can’t do that, because many clients can’t afford it.”