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7 Best Hiring Practices for Small Business Owners

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As you grow your small business, you may need more people on your team to help you achieve your goals. The employees you hire set the foundation for your company’s success, noted Joanne Markow, founding partner of Boston-based career coaching organization GreenMason.

“Your hires are your connection between you, your customers, your brand, your livelihood and your legacy,” Markow said. “Rather than see the hiring process as administrative or transactional or, quite frankly, as something to get through, instead view your hiring process as the key piece of investment in your company’s future and potential for growth.”

While you may be eager to begin hiring, don’t share job listings or start interviewing candidates until you’re ready to act quickly, said Arlene Donovan, founder and CEO of Turning Point Coaching in Connecticut. You could lose out on a valuable employee if you drag out the process too long.

Once you’re prepared to expand your team, follow these best practices to make the most of your hiring process.

7 best hiring practices in 2019

1. Spend less time on the job description.

Business owners and hiring managers tend to write lengthy job descriptions that include paragraphs about the company, job duties and responsibilities in addition to a long list of required skills, Markow said. While applicants should understand the full scope of the position, extensive text may be intimidating to job seekers, she said.

“Write less and converse more,” Markow said. “You scare people when you write too much and ask for the moon.”

Personality traits and soft skills, such as listening and communicating, are better predictors of how well someone will perform in a certain role, Markow said. You’re more likely to determine those characteristics in an in-person interview, so don’t be overly concerned with finding a resume that matches up exactly with the job description.

“The paper is really just an introduction,” Markow said.

2. Ask open-ended questions with answers in mind.

Asking candidates open-ended questions during an interview will allow you to pick up on soft skills that indicate how they may behave in the workplace, Markow said. For example, you could ask candidates about projects they’ve worked on, leadership experiences or conflicts at work.

“By asking more conversational questions that lead to a dialogue, you’ll have a more accurate impression of whether you can work with this person and whether he or she is up for the challenge,” Markow said.

You should also have an idea of the responses you’d like to hear so you can adequately judge candidates, she said. If multiple managers are conducting interviews, you should be in agreement in what you expect. Anyone conducting interviews should ask questions in the same style and represent the company culture to give the applicant a cohesive impression of the business, Markow said.

3. Create a sense of belonging from the first phone call.

From the first point of contact with a job candidate, make sure they feel like they would have a place within the company, Donovan said. Let a job candidate know they would be valued in the workplace regardless of their position in the organization, she said.

You should maintain the same level of enthusiasm throughout the hiring and onboarding processes once they join your team, Donovan said. All new employees should feel they have a future within the business.

4. Give candidates time to ask questions.

Candidates’ questions during an interview are often just as important as managers’, Markow said. Job seekers have a responsibility to find out if the job and workplace is a good match, and you should give them time to do so.

“They have to be able to sense if the employer is a right fit for them,” she said.

5. Prepare for interviews.

When you give candidates an opportunity to ask questions, you must be prepared to answer, Markow said. You should be ready to provide information about the position in question, the company as a whole and how the candidate could succeed at the company.

Coming into an interview unprepared could not only ruin a candidate’s perception of the job, but could also damage your reputation as well, Markow said. Word of their negative experience could deter prospective applicants.

“You are affecting your brand if you come across poorly in an interview,” she said.

6. Don’t rely too much on technology.

Technological tools have become prevalent in recruiting processes, but they don’t always help you find the best person for the job,  said Markow. Tools like artificial intelligence software that matches keywords in job descriptions and resumes may limit your pool of candidates.

Without face-to-face interaction, you won’t be able to judge the soft skills that make someone a good fit or not for the job at hand, Markow added. Relying too much on data could be detrimental to finding the right employee.

“For some reason we’ve forced ourselves into this mechanical exercise,” she said. “But it’s really about interpersonal skills between employer or employee.”

7. Hold informational interviews or meetings.

When searching for a job, people will often reach out to a company where they would like to work even if the company isn’t hiring. As a manager or business owner, you should take meetings with people who are exploring their career options, Markow said. You can reach out to them at a later time when you have an opening.

“It’s a good sign if someone is actively coming to you and seeking out the company,” Markow said. “And when someone is preparing to leave, you always have a pool of candidates ready.”

Hiring trends to watch in 2019

As you start recruiting and interviewing job seekers this year, you may see these hiring trends in your industry.

Looking beyond the “perfect” candidate.

Employers are starting to expand their criteria for job candidates, Donovan said, partly because of recent diversity and inclusion efforts and partly because of socioeconomic factors affecting workers.

According to Donovan, job seekers are more likely to apply for positions outside of their educational or professional background because of layoffs or other challenges in many industries. On the flip side, with historically low unemployment rates across all types of industries, employers are often forced to look outside normal channels to fill vacancies. The national unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in been in decades, partly because employers are willing to hire people they may have overlooked in the past.

More job seekers may have a history of substance abuse issues or prescriptions for various medications, such as medicinal marijuana, which affects traditional workplace drug screening, said Donovan. Nearly 21 million people in the U.S. live with a substance abuse disorder, and three-quarters of those with an addiction to pain medication, marijuana, alcohol and other substances are employed, according to the National Safety Council.

“You have to be able to see past your perception of the best,” she said, encouraging employers to “look for someone who has a willingness and desire” that matches your company’s aspirations.

More project-based initiatives.

There’s an increasing number of remote companies that depend on employees and freelancers who live across the U.S. or the globe. These companies often post projects online and hire people for short-term work to complete these initiatives, Markow said. This type of hiring means less risk and less turnover for businesses and more flexibility for job seekers, she said.

Pre-employment testing, such as aptitude, personality or skills-based tests, may help you decide who would be best suited for a specific task or project. Read more about the tax implications of contract workers.

Creating a healthier work environment.

To be attractive to job seekers, businesses have to increase their wellness offerings to employees, Donovan said. These perks could include fitness areas, reading rooms or more break time throughout the day.

Employers are also increasingly expected to take workers’ family life into account, Donovan said. Employees prefer flexibility to handle personal matters, such as the ability to work at home with their kids or bring them to the office, she said.

“Look at innovative ways to create employee-centric approaches that allow for everyone to contribute and have a sense of belonging and value,” Donovan said.


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How to avoid making a bad hire

Hiring the wrong person puts your business costs, confidentiality, morale and growth at risk, said Markow. And unlike large companies where people can more easily change positions or departments, there may be less room for movement at small businesses.

To make sure you find the right person who will stay with the business, avoid making these hiring mistakes:

  • Don’t just hire the person who looks best on paper.
  • Don’t assume your reference checks are telling you everything you need to know about a candidate. Dig for more answers from the candidate themselves.
  • Don’t have an interview in a public place or a group interview without letting candidates know ahead of time.
  • Don’t underpay or micromanage top talent.
  • Make sure the actual job matches what you describe during the interview process.

If a new hire turns out to be a bad fit, it’s important that you take responsibility in the situation, Donovan said. There are many factors that affect a new employee’s experience, some of which may be in your control.

“I don’t believe there is such a thing as a bad hire,” Donovan said. “If it turns out they don’t mesh well with all the other employees, is it that hire or is it your culture?”

When a new employee is struggling, give them feedback and the tools to get on the right track, as well as time and space to make improvements, Markow said. But if the situation doesn’t improve, it may be best to part ways.

“Poor hiring decisions cost the company time and money internally and externally,” Markow said. “It’s important to truly understand who you are as a company culture, what kinds of people are successful in your organization specifically and what kind of balance you need in your people mix to grow, expand or achieve your vision.”


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