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How Small Businesses Can Market Themselves for the Best Talent

Ask any small business leader what their biggest challenge is when it comes to the people side of their business and they will tell you that it is recruiting. They face immense competition from their larger rivals, minimal budget to actually get the word out about their openings or work with recruiters and limited resources to administer the recruiting process. It is a constant headache.

Small business leaders looking for solutions read about employer branding and recruitment marketing and think all of that sounds nice, but wonder if they can really put a campaign in place for their business with little to no budget or resources. They can if they remember one thing.

It takes time.

Employer branding, recruitment marketing, posting on job boards, direct sourcing or any other recruiting approaches do not work overnight. There are no silver bullets in recruiting. Historically, recruiting has been very reactive. The only way to get ahead and lesson the headache that recruiting brings is to be proactive. This means, implementing a proactive marketing approach long before you ever have an opening.

The great news is that in today’s world of social media and inbound marketing, even the lowest of budgets can market their opportunities rather well. I know this, because it’s how I’ve built this business and how most of my clients grew to the size they are today.

There are several ways small businesses can market themselves to attract top talent. The rest of this post will not only share the medium but ideas for content as well.

Social Media
No two ways around it, social media should not be ignored. I’m still floored at the number of people who reach out for social media help and who are really just getting started, but I guess that is the cool thing about it – it’s always evolving and there is always space for newcomers.

Small businesses should have a presence on social media. My advice to all of my clients is to always pick the platform where your talent is hanging out and do that one well. You don’t have to be on every social site. Pick one, do that one really well and then move on to others as time and budgets allow.

Social media company pages, like on LinkedIn or Facebook, are often free and contain great about sections and opportunities to post updates sharing company highlights or job openings. While you do have to pay to share information in ads or sponsored posts, you can set a very minimal budget for this or just grow your audience organically using your current employees as ambassadors. Asking employees to share content from your pages expands your reach with little time and effort on your part.

Company Blog
A company blog can be a very powerful tool in sharing culture, leadership vision and company growth information. I enjoy blog’s written from the different viewpoints of the leaders, but company blogs that share content from just one person, say the marketing lead, works well too. The key with the blog is that it shouldn’t be all customer focused. The best company blogs are ones that talk about the company as it relates to it’s employees. And if your goal is attracting talent, this is what you want to focus on.

Whenever you write a new blog post, you’ll want to share it to your social network and ask employees to do the same. The more eyeballs on every post, the better.

It’s important, while we are talking about blogging, to look beyond company blogs as well. LinkedIn allows for anyone to publish content and many top CEO’s do so on a regular basis. I think the more opportunity the public has to hear from top leadership, the more the public takes interest.

Email Marketing
I have actually been developing this more and more with a few of my clients and we are really enjoying the results so far. Even the smallest of businesses usually have an email marketing platform. They use it to build email list of prospective clients. That same email marketing platform however, can be used for recruiting. It can be used to keep in touch with applicants you may not have an opening for right now, or just share updates about company vision and growth. Email marketing campaigns are easy to put together and can often run on a “set it and forget it” approach. Keeping in contact with applicants means you may not be starting from scratch every time you have an opening because you have a list of people who you know are interested in your company.

While there is certainly more that can be done from an inbound basis, the three areas above can make a huge difference in how a small business is seen out in the market. It can make the difference between applicants having never heard of the company to having a level of awareness that piques their interest.

One final thing. Before launching any type of social media campaign or blog, please make sure your careers page on your website is worth sending people too. You are going to need to link back to something in your status updates and if your careers page is not worth sharing then you could be losing a lot of leads.

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How to Offer Flexibility for Working Parents in a Small Business

flexibility as a perk

My seven year old is home sick with me today. When I started this business, one of the main reasons beyond just wanting to try it, was so that I could balance being mom and worker. At the time, my husband worked for a company that did not allow working parents any extra flexibility. Had I gone back to work in an environment like that, deciding who was going to stay home when our child was sick would have been a struggle every time. Since I am the sole keeper of my schedule now and I answer only to me, we never have a discussion. B is sick, he stays home with me. It makes times like this a non-issue in our house and we all need things that are non-issues.

When I chat with small business clients about perks they can offer, I bring this up. I explain that working with a working parent when they have a sick child, when that child has a school play they want to attend, when that child has soccer practice that requires them to leave a bit early on Tuesdays, may be the most valuable perk they can give. To a mom or dad trying to juggle work and home, knowing they have a little flexibility to do so without fear of losing their job can relieve a tremendous amount of stress.

It does take more than talk though. It’s one thing to say you allow for flexibility, it’s another to actually give it. It is something that should be planned for, budgeted for (more in a moment) and explained as any benefit would be. It then has to be given, without judgement or angst, in the way the benefit is designed.

Design:
As with any benefit design or perk, the first step is deciding who is eligible. Is this open to the entire company? As much as possible, I would encourage it to be a benefit for everyone. I realize there are some shops, manufacturing firms for example, that at first glance can’t think about letting someone just pick up and leave because their kid is sick, but after thinking a bit harder, there is usually a way to allow it to happen with minimal disruption. The point is to think through these scenarios and ask yourself, how would you adjust for the workload if certain people had to be out or leave suddenly due to a parental issue.

Benefit:
The easiest way to offer this benefit is to let a working parent with a child issue work from home for the day. B is home sick with me today, but I will still work as he is resting. What I can’t accomplish during the day, I will do once his father gets home to take over. However, as in the manufacturing scenario above, I realize not all positions can work from home. In this case, I suggest my clients offer a separate time off bucket that is designated for “need to be a parent time”. This time can accrue and have the same rules that your other time off follows. The reason I encourage a separate time off accrual for parent time is that requiring employees to use sick or vacation time eliminates the idea that this is a separate perk. It tells the employee that while you appreciate their need to be a parent, you aren’t going to give them any special accommodations to do so. If you want this to be a perk, it has to be a separate line item.

Of course, flexibility in schedules works here as well. It may be that the parent does not need any time off, but they need a different schedule a few days a week or once in a while. Building these possibilities in to the design plan and budgeting for time off perks is important to overall success.

Execution:
As I think about how I work, I know that it is a perk I want to give anyone who works for me. I decide when and where I work. I may work 8-5 one day and only work 2-6 the next. I know the work I have to do and I work it into my life. When I’m ready to hire, I want whoever I hire to be able to do the same. If they decide that they want to go to the grocery on a Tuesday at 10am and therefore will do their work later in the day, fine. As long as the work gets done I don’t care when it gets done.

But here’s the kicker. Saying that and doing it are two different things. If I call that employee Tuesday at 10am and find out they are at the grocery, I really can’t be upset. I have to be ok with it because that is how I have designed the work to be. I can only be upset when the work isn’t accomplished.

This may be the hardest part of all of this. If we have designed the benefit and developed a work-around for when employees need to use it, we can’t get upset when they do. We can only get upset when it starts interfering with their work. The problem then is not the benefit, but how the employee is using or abusing it.

The bottom line is, in companies where this perk has been developed as a true benefit, the upside far outweighs the downside. This, possibly more than any other perk, fosters employee loyalty. Loyalty to the company, to the job and to it’s leaders. Knowing that a company cares about how a person balances being a parent with working is worth almost everything to many.

Does your company offer this as a perk? I would love to hear how it works. You can contact me directly or share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Should You Buy or Build Small Business Leaders?

should you buy or build small business leaders

I love this question. I love philosophizing about these things. Playing out the “on the one hand” scenario. I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys playing out possible scenarios in an effort to figure out which might work out the best. Because with this question as with many others the answer is a frustrating one.

It depends.

This is definitely not a question where one size fits all. What is right for one business may be the worst answer possible for another. Possibly, the most accurate answer that would fit most businesses is that you should mix it up – buy (hire from the outside) some leaders while building (train from the inside) others.

Let’s look at why.

Depending on the stage of the business, leaders hired from the outside may bring much needed and immediate expertise. When a business is in desperate need of marketing or sales for example, they may not have time to groom someone from the inside. Further, experience at other companies and environments proves extremely helpful in a small business or startup environment. Even if the CEO had the time to build leaders from the current staff, if they have only experienced this environment, they may be missing valuable expertise that someone from the outside could bring.

On the other hand….

Nothing says we care about the future of our employees like internal promotions and leadership development programs. The number one complaint from small business employees is lack of advancement opportunities. Any small business who figures out how to offer that is light years ahead of their competitors. Mark my words on that.

What’s more, training existing employees for advancement opportunities eliminates the cultural learning curve. They already understand the business, how things operate and may have even been involved in much of the growth. There will be no time spent getting them up to speed on how thing work. Even showing someone where the bathroom is takes time and existing employees do not need that training.

Growing from within also creates extreme loyalty not found in outside candidates – at least initially. Those employees who have been groomed to take on more responsibility are more likely to stay with the business and not look for those opportunities elsewhere.

When this question is asked of me, I always prefer building over buying if the business has the ability to do so. I think it offers more benefits than hiring from the outside both in the short term and long term.

What do you think? Have you made building talent a priority in your small business or do you find that buying the talent you need for leadership roles is better? I would love to hear about your experience.

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Deductive Reasoning: The Skill to Always Look For in the Hiring Process

deductive reasoning skills

I will admit before I even get into this post that my stance on this may have something to do with lack of deductive reasoning skills being a huge pet peeve of mine. When someone asks me a question that is glaringly obvious if they just looked around or thought it through, I want to poke their eyes right out.

No really. I have an almost violent reaction.

Example A: “I’m going to be sick today and stay home, but I know the Holiday party is also today. Does that mean I will miss it?”

Let’s think this through. If you are not coming into work and the Holiday party is being held at work then yes, yes you will miss it.

Example B: “Wow the grass is wet. Think it rained?”

Nope. The grass is crying.

Whenever someone fails to use deductive reasoning it makes me think of Bill Engvall and “Here’s Your Sign“. I don’t necessarily think it is that people are stupid, I just think they are lazy. It’s easier to ask a question quickly than take the time to think something through. We are lazy with our words and we are definitely lazy in our thinking.

I blame Google.

Here’s why I don’t think I’m alone in this thinking however. Nearly all of my clients tell me that one of the skills they need most in candidates is critical thinking. The ability to think things through. The ability to think beyond this present moment. The ability to realize, on your own, that if the grass is wet and there aren’t sprinklers present, it probably rained.

You often hear to hire for attitude and train the rest and I do think their is merit to that. But if I were going to hire for one thing over skillset it would be thinking skills: critical thinking skills, deductive reasoning and the ability to think things through and ask the right questions.

What do you think? Are deductive reasoning skills a must have requirement for you or is there something else you look for in every candidate?

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How to Offer a Realistic Job Preview during the Interview Process

job shadowing

I wrote a post several years ago, and then re-posted it earlier this year, about smoke and mirrors during the hiring process. What we sell as recruiters is not always what the candidate receives when signing on. It isn’t that we intentionally lie (well, not all of us), it’s just that we either forget to share things that a candidate might find important or we don’t give as realistic as a picture as we can.

In my work with small businesses I find that realistic job previews are more important than they have been at any other time in my career. At least three times a day while interviewing a candidate I find myself uttering these same words.

“Have you ever worked in a small business environment like this before? No? Well then you may not be aware of how different it is than a larger environment. Let me list a few specific things that are going to be very different for you.”

And that’s just the common stuff, like everyone wearing many hats and the roller coaster ride that small businesses face every day. I then have to give a RJP about that particular work environment and the leaders attached to it.

And that usually isn’t enough.

Whenever possible, I encourage the leaders of a small business to allow us to take the candidate experience one step further. As we narrow down our final two or three candidates, I want to allow them to actually come in for a few hours and experience the environment. Maybe they can shadow a person in the role. Maybe they can sit in on a meeting or even just meet with a few employees in the breakroom. Whatever we can do to show the candidate what it’s like to work in the business.

When they can see the environment with their own eyes, they will pick up on things that may or may not work for them. They can see the things we may have forgot to tell them.

In my call center days, we had every single candidate sit with a seasoned rep and listen to actual calls. It was always eye opening for the candidate when they happened to sit in on a call where the customer was angry. No matter how much we told them in the interview process that this was going to happen, nothing can prepare you for going through it. For those who joined the company, handling their first angry caller wasn’t met with such sticker shock considering they experienced it before ever taking the job.

I know some small companies who actually hire individuals for two week trial periods. They agree on a set amount for the two weeks and tell the person they will get that money regardless of whether they finish the two weeks or not. They want the person to experience the environment before officially signing on board. This is taking RJP’s to a whole other level. What a great way to figure out if someone is going to work out or not.

I realize RJP’s do not work in every environment. Some may have regulatory concerns or the virtual nature of the company may make a RJP nearly impossible. But for most, it can be done. Have the candidate sign a confidentiality agreement and you’re all set.

It is always better for them to realize the environment is not going to work for them before their first day of work, than after.

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What the 50th Hire Means for Small Businesses

Hiring the 50th employee

Some small businesses like to maintain a smaller employee population. Most small business owners, however, have dreams of growing into a larger organization with employee numbers in the hundreds or even thousands. Either way is fine, but for those looking to grow large employee population bases only one number matters.

50.

Fifty.

5. 0.

The threshold where everything changes. At least until (if) President-elect Trump makes changes.

Fifty means the business is now very likely subject to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Federal contractors may now be subject to Affirmative Action plans and EEO-1 forms. There is additional reporting that may be required under various laws as well such as Form 5500.

And those are only the federal laws. Each state may have it’s own grouping of laws that impact businesses with 50 or more employees (hello California).

Some of these laws, such as FMLA, can vastly change the way a business is currently handling it. If a business has been giving three weeks of unpaid leave, FMLA will now require them to offer up to twelve weeks once they hit 50 employees. This can represent a big change.

For this reason, I encourage employers to think about these changes well before you hit that 50th mark. When you are inching closer and know you will likely hit the mark in the next year or so, start thinking about what changes you can implement now that will lessen the financial and administrative burden when the time comes. I find that businesses always find these changes easier to swallow when they have been phased in.

It may be that once employers hit the 35 employee threshold they expand their leave policies or look into more robust benefit plans. At the 45 employee mark they start thinking through who will handle some of the administration that comes along with the ACA such as year end reporting.

Planning ahead is always better than scrambling at the last minute when it comes to legal compliance. Don’t wait until the 50th employee starts to figure out how you are going to accommodate these changes.

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My #1 Rule of Social Recruiting for Small Businesses

one rule

One of my contract roles is facilitating training for Imparture, a UK based training company. The courses that I teach are all focused on social media and social recruiting. The attendees in these courses usually run the gamut from industry and size of company. Inevitably though there is usually at least one participant from a rather small business who is managing all aspects of HR on their own or with a very small team. During the training I can usually see that they are overwhelmed with all of the information thrown at them and can almost hear them wondering out loud how they will ever implement this alone.

Until I tell them that they don’t have to be everywhere or do everything.

If you work for a large business and have a huge team behind you, a robust social recruiting strategy covering several sites and running all sorts of great content is easy. For smaller businesses it’s nearly impossible.

So don’t try.

Here’s the rule. Find out where the candidates you are seeking to hire hang out most often. What site makes the most sense for you to have a presence? Find that site and build your strategy there….and there alone. Put your best content there. Spend the time on great graphics and fun job ads. Respond to comments and inquiries, be engaging and share your employer brand there and no where else.

Do that until you master it. Do it until you have it scheduled and running without taking up all of your time. Do that until you feel you are ready to incorporate another site. And know that it is ok to do it that way. Don’t feel bad about not being everywhere. Don’t feel bad about not feeling ready to add another site for months or even years. Do what you can do and do it well.

The reality is companies of all sizes should have a social presence. They should have something that potential candidates find if they search. But it doesn’t have to be all things to all people.

Scale the strategy down to what makes sense for your business. This is what we do for our clients and this is what you can do yourself. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, it just has to make sense for you.

And it has to get you results.

Spreading yourself across all sites and doing none of them well is way less likely to bring any kind of sustainable results. It will only serve to stress you out and make you think social recruiting doesn’t work. It does work and it can be a highly beneficial component of your overall recruiting strategy.

I promise it’s a rule that will not fail you. Just focus on what you can do and knock it out of the park. It will be enough.

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HR Department of One – You DO Have Time to Source Candidates

sourcing candidates

A few months ago I was asked by a CEO to come in and teach his HR Manager who ran an HR Department of One how to source candidates as well as staffing agencies. He was tired of spending so much money on candidates he wondered if the HR Manager could find herself. I had done a little work with this team about a year prior around recruiting strategy and I knew that out of all the things an HR Department of One leader has to do, she enjoyed recruiting the least. And because of that, I knew she probably wasn’t too keen on this idea.

I was right.

But knowing that they needed to cut spend and realizing that it never hurts to learn a new skill, she agreed to try it. She was convinced she didn’t have time, but would give it a go and see what happened.

For the positions that had not been hired through a staffing agency I asked her to walk me through her process. She was using several job boards. One position in particular received 250 resumes. I asked her how many of those she reviewed and how long that had taken her. She said she had reviewed at least half of them and only found two or three that were qualified. She said she had probably spent two hours going through the resumes, sending clarifying or requests for interview emails and sending thanks but not thanks emails. She doesn’t have an applicant tracking system being a small company and so much of her process is manual.

Which is why sourcing, the thing she thinks is going to take too much of her time, is the thing that is actually going to save her time.

In those same two hours, she can run a simple search on LinkedIn, find pages of candidates who have those keywords in their profile, review the top 20 profiles and reach out to them knowing, that at least on paper, they are qualified to do the job.

She thought searching was difficult. She thought you had to know some vodoo magic to enter a search string. She thought you had to be able to decipher who identified themselves as a job seeker. She thought it would take her way more time.

The reality is that LinkedIn and any other site that allows you to search their database makes it pretty user friendly to search. The best part is that you can save those searches and then get an email whenever someone new fits the criteria – this is great for those positions you seem to always be filling. The other reality is that everyone is a job seeker until they tell you no. When sourcing, I always reach out to anyone who I think may be qualified even if they haven’t identified themselves as a job seeker. Until they tell me they aren’t interested, I consider them a potential candidate. Many people aren’t actively looking for jobs, but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t entertain something that piqued their interest.

With a script you can use over and over, an easy to search database and a few minutes of your time, you can reach out to candidates who may have otherwise never knew you had a job opening or even knew your business existed. Sourcing does the double work of bringing in qualified candidates but also getting your small businesses name out there.

So if you are an HR Department of One spending hours sifting through resumes from a job board where more than half of them aren’t qualified anyway, you do have time to source. In fact, you probably have more than enough time.

And wouldn’t we all like a few minutes of our day back?

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Three Reasons the Recruitment Process Matters

recruiting process matters

Recruiting is a process. For some, a very tiring process. For others a half baked process that yields less than stellar results. Regardless, it is a process. Many businesses jump into recruiting without a strategy or process. They know they need to hire someone so they jump in head first and hope they don’t hit a rock. They choose people at random to interview, ask whatever questions pop into their head at the time, have no real criteria for evaluating candidates, make offers and then hope for the best.

And get the worst.

The recruitment process is the process that sets every other employee focused strategy in place. It leads to onboarding which leads to training and development, performance management and so on. It sets the tone, expectations and ideology. There are many components to the recruitment process: attraction, engagement, interviewing and selection. For today’s purposes, I want to focus on the interview and selection phase.

There are many different reasons why this phase matters. Here are three of the most potent.

First Impressions
We expect our candidates to make a great first impression and we should expect the same for ourselves. Having a mess of a process, or no process at all, gives the impression that the company is all over the place and not very organized. Even if this isn’t true in every other aspect of the business, candidates will believe it so based on what they see initially. Things like losing resumes or not taking the time to read through them before the candidate walks in the door, searching while the candidate is in front of you for someone to actually interview and not being able to answer the candidate’s questions about the process or what happens next tell the candidate the company is all over the place and maybe not a place they want to work.

Consistency
There is a legal aspect to recruiting that goes beyond ensuring you aren’t asking things you shouldn’t be. Inconsistent process can lead to candidates potentially being discriminated against or the perception thereof. Having a documented and consistent process will help you prove, should you ever need to, that candidates were selected on de-selected on merit and not for discriminatory reasons.

Of course, in order for that process to truly be consistent, anyone involved in the interview process should be trained not only on the process, but on proper interview and selection techniques.

Better Hires
In most things, when you are deliberate about a process the outcomes are better than going at it willy nilly. Yes that is the technical term. When you have different people interviewing all the time, no true selection criteria and little forethought into how a person would like to be treated throughout the process you will end up with hires who are ok with that. I’m just going to let that last sentence sink in.

Having a well thought out, documented recruiting process takes the headache out of the interview phase so companies can focus on attracting the right people and training and developing them once they sign on. It isn’t a process that needs to change often, unless business needs change, so creating it is a process you go through once and then reap the benefits for years to come.

If this is lacking in your business make it a priority for 2017. You won’t regret it.

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Are Blind Interviews the Future of Recruiting?

Blind interviews

I have read a couple of articles recently talking about the future of recruiting. A few of them mentioned blind interviews and how more and more, companies will remove identifiable data from resumes, applications and any other pre-face to face interview form. The data removed could include name, gender, age or years of experience (easily figured out by dates of work). The goal of blind interviews is to remove unconscious bias from the hiring process. This article in FastCompany says that big firms like Deloitte and HSBC are already doing this.

Studies have shown that a workplaces with a diverse workforce often perform better. Utilizing blind interviews is certainly one way to increase the diversity of the applicant pool that is eventually brought in for interviews.

But they don’t fix the bias issue once the individual shows up for the interview.

I firmly believe that if someone has the propensity to discriminate based on age, gender, hair color, height, race or some other ridiculous reason, then they are going to do it regardless of when they see these things in the interview process. And I believe that even though the bias happens when they see someone, it can still be an unconscious bias.

So blind interviews may diversify the interview pool, but work will still have to be done to overcome unconscious bias to diversify the workforce.

That isn’t to say that I think blind interviews are a bad idea, I don’t. And I do think they will become an increasing component of recruiting strategies in the future, especially as the EEOC cracks down on unfair hiring practices. I would just caution anyone who thinks that blind recruiting is going to fix their unconscious bias problems.

It isn’t.

It will be essential to combine training and ongoing diversity efforts with blind recruiting in order to really make an impact in that area.

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