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Here’s How to Find Top Employees and Keep Them Around

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Small business owners often feel a disadvantage when it’s time to hire new employees. Some can’t compete with the salaries and benefits offered by big companies, and the top candidates with the right qualifications may get scooped up before they even hear about your company or employment opportunities. It is possible, however, to work around the challenges to land the top talent for your company. It may require some thinking outside the box, but as a small business owner, you’re probably used to that.

Tips for finding top candidates

A recurring theme among the small business owners and hiring experts LendingTree consulted for this story is that you can train the right candidate for the job if they don’t already have the exact experience related to the job you are filling.

“Smart businesses hire for skill, not pedigree,” said Ashira Prossack, founder of The Generational Factor, which helps businesses prepare for the future of the workforce. “Skill is the most important indicator of exceptional talent. The best candidate may not have a college degree, but has a solid work history. This real world experience is more beneficial than a college degree in most cases.”

If you’re expanding and in need of more employees, review our eight tips below on finding and hiring employees that will stick around–plus some tips to ensure they will do just that.

Associate with the right people.

There are professional associations relating to your business, but many groups don’t even require you to leave the comfort of your own home, such as LinkedIn and Facebook. You should also seek out local and even regional groups and associations like the local small business development center or college alumni. For example, the online community Ladies Get Paid has a “jobs, gigs, and collabs” Slack channel where professional women post new job openings and leads, and interested candidates can link to their resumes and portfolios.

Nab them when they’re not expecting it.

One way to get the best is by following the ABR motto, ‘Always Be Recruiting’, according to former Hallmark Cards’ senior executive Wayne Strickland, who has hired scores of candidates and assembled many teams for more than 40 years. It’s OK to reach out to candidates who are not actively looking. “When you attend meetings, look for the brightest talent in the room and get their contact info,” Strickland says.

You can also hunt for candidates on LinkedIn and other social media platforms, and in fact, those who don’t, risk being left behind, says David Bass, who founded DB Charles Recruitment. “Social media is an excellent way to reach those candidates who may not be actively searching for a new job but may well be tempted if the right offer comes along,” he said.

Add value.

Maybe your business can’t offer the top salary your ideal candidates command. Consider bolstering the pay with attractive perks. “Ask what they want and you may find it is easier to give than you think,” said HR expert Lois Krause, a practice leader in HR compliance with the Glastonbury, Conn. consulting firm KardasLarson. “A client had a 9/80 work week schedule (closed every other Friday) and closed for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, paid as holidays. They didn’t need to use PTO–it was a great perk to sell!”

Cultivate your candidate.

Antonella Pisani is a former executive at JCPenney, Fossil Group and other iconic lifestyle brands. When it was time to hire for her own small consulting and digital marketing business, Eyeful Media, she found the process was not so easy without being able to offer big salaries and benefits. Her first hire was a generalist from a virtual assistant company whom she had already worked with. “In addition to her strong copywriting skills, I knew that she was fast, a self-starter, and would have tackled a large variety of projects,” she said.

Pisani stressed the importance of choosing someone who is versatile, loves to learn, and has a lot of upside. “Someone who has a lot of room for growth will be excited by new opportunities to contribute, and will likely be a loyal employee because of that.” Another option would be bringing in an intern to groom for a full-time position, said Jennifer Way of HR consulting firm Way Solutions. It’s a “try before you buy” technique that saves money and side-steps potential hiring mistakes.

Tips for interviewing top employees

Congratulations! You did so well at finding applicants that now you have to narrow down the pool. Here’s how to hone in on the best talent for your company.

Get specific.

Be very clear when communicating what you’re seeking from the candidate and in communicating your company culture. Everything from your job listing, to your website and even your company’s profile on job sites should capture the culture of your workplace, and the benefits of working there. Work benefits can include anything from vacations, 401(k) plans or little things, said Jessica Lambrecht, founder of The Rise Journey, which helps small businesses build their teams. “This can be anything from regular team outings, to volunteering partnerships, or sharing your values and mission statement. These things resonate deeply with candidates.”

Consider a video component.

When Shawn Breyer hires for his company, Breyer Home Buyers, he screens candidates with a hiring funnel. They submit a resume, a completed survey and a video explaining why they are a good fit. “The purpose of this approach is to only get serious people in front of you,” Breyer said. “ We used to get hundreds of resumes when people would blast them out to our company and we would spend hours going through them. Now we only get a handful of videos and we really compress our time spent on great hires.”

Another way to leverage video is including a video chat as part of the interview process for remote teams, to get a better sense of who they are when you can’t meet in person. “I conduct a comprehensive interview via video chat with each potential new employee to get an idea of their skills, personality and character,” says Matt Bently, CEO of the SEO software and consulting firm CanIRank. “I take the time to ask many questions and pose hypothetical situations to accurately gauge their thought processes and instincts. It’s important that my team is not only made up of talented workers, but also genuinely good people.”

Come well-armed to the interview.

Having tactical questions ready can make all the difference in a job interview. There should be a reason for asking specific questions. For example, “Did you ever pull an all-nighter in college, and why?” can reveal how the candidate handles deadlines, according to Timothy Wiedman, retired associate professor of management and human resources at Doane University in Crete, Nebraska.

“One great question we have been asking candidates isn’t even a question—it is a directive: “teach me something,” said Patrick West, founder of the experiential marketing shop Be the Machine. “When deployed in an interview, it really shines a light on a candidate’s strengths or weaknesses.  One candidate who was answering questions well during an interview, but without depth, struggled to even comprehend how to address the challenge. Our top choice loved the opportunity to teach something.” The lesson was a few smart, simple tactics to ensure the company popped up higher in Google searches, which was relevant to his business.

Find out who they really are.

By the nature of small business, employees see a lot more of each other and impact company culture more, so you want to hire people who share your values and and be sure they’re on board with your vision. Nate Masterson, HR manager for the personal care brand Maple Holistics, recommends interviewing your candidate in different environments to gauge their true personality, interests and commitments. “Many people hire the person who seems to ‘get it’. Keep in mind that some people interview really well in the beginning, but their enthusiasm may die out quickly if they were just experts at interviews. …Your best worker might not be someone you can have a laugh with, but someone who gets the job done and wants to see your company succeed.”

Resources for finding top talent

The best employees might not be located on mega job boards and websites due to more refined groups and organizations where hiring by word-of-mouth is commonplace. However, the below is a good starting point for finding top talent for your industry:

  • Job boards. There are a lot more job boards available besides the large, catch-all job boards like No matter what industry you’re in, it’s almost guaranteed that there’s a specialized job board for your industry, like MFG Jobs (for manufacturing) and Dice (for tech talent). You can find a list of 17 specialized job boards here.
  • Social media. LinkedIn and Facebook both post job listings. It’s free to post on Facebook and LinkedIn has several pricing models. Another good social resource is Reddit, which has job board threads for many cities, such as r/NewYorkJobs.
  • Universities. If you’re looking for entry-level talent, tap into the local colleges and universities. Professors in the fields related to your business should be happy to recommend outstanding students.

Tips for retaining top talent

Now that you’ve hired your A-team, how do you keep them happy so they don’t work for the competition? These tips, from Ashira Prossack, create a positive and progressive environment that captivates top employees:

  1. Provide training and learning opportunities. This has a few benefits in that the employees appreciate their company investing in their development and the company gets an even more trained employee. “Training can happen in a multitude of ways such as mentoring, peer-to-peer knowledge exchanges or formal training,” Prossack said. “Depending on your budget, you can offer stipends for employees to take courses on platforms like Udemy or Teachable.”
  2. Show employees a clear career path. If employees don’t see a way up, that’s when they look for a way out. “Most often, those opportunities are there, but they didn’t know about them,” Prossack said. “Show them what their career path at your company could look like and help them understand the steps they’ll need to take to reach the next level.”
  3. Recognize exceptional performance. Let employees know you’re paying attention publicly, when possible. It’s a motivation for that individual employee and all other employees.

When it comes to hiring new talent, don’t rush through the process. Make sure you’re very transparent about employee expectations, pay rate, benefits, hours, and all the other nitty-gritty details. You’ll want to find someone that has most of the qualities you’re looking for, but is still highly trainable and genuinely interested in working for the company.


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