Operations Team

Hiring? It’s a jungle out there. For small businesses, creativity may be the key.

Have hiring plans for 2019? You’re not alone – 47 percent of Miami area small businesses plan to hire in 2019, according to a recent Bank of America survey.

But with the national unemployment rate at the lowest level in 50 years, the tight job market overwhelmingly favors the job seeker, not the employer. Small businesses may think they can’t compete against larger companies offering fatter salaries and benefit packages. Indeed, in the Bank of America survey, more than half of Miami small business respondents said they had difficulty hiring this fall.

What’s a small business to do when hiring quality employees is critical to their growth plans?

Think creatively about what you can offer that may be more valuable for the candidate than some of the more traditional benefits, says Kiomara Hidalgo, a consultant with Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center within Florida International University’s College of Business.

The Power of Flexible Schedules

Offering flexibility is a big one. “Maybe they want to be a work at home mom or they want to have the flexibility to pick up, drop off, etc. Or maybe they are going to college, and perhaps having healthcare is not their main driver right now; it’s building a resume and gaining experience or they need the flexible schedule for school,” said Hidalgo, who specializes in staffing and talent.

“Providing flexible schedules is one of the best ways small businesses can be appealing to some talent and you see this a lot.” Hidalgo said.

Recent research backs this up, a Gallup report found. In fact, flexibility was cited as the “most sought-after office feature.” More than half of the nearly 200,000 U.S. employees said that they would change jobs for one that offered flextime; 37% would switch if they could “work where they want at least part of the time.”

Tuition Reimbursement Draws Prospective Employees

Small businesses looking to hire could also consider offering tuition reimbursement, a benefit larger companies have been walking away from, Hidalgo said. “It may not cost you as much as providing healthcare, say providing tuition reimbursement up to the IRS limit of $5,500 a year … and a lot of people value college tuition because it is very expensive nowadays.”

Another way small businesses can stand out in the hiring game is to promote their company culture and the prospects for growth in a smaller company, Hidalgo said. Millennials don’t always care as much about the traditional benefits because of the stage of life they are in, but they do care about the culture and development opportunities.

Indeed, the Gallup study found that nine out of 10 millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as keenly important to them in a job.

Don’t Forget Company Culture

In other words, play to your strengths. The small business culture can be appealing to many because it likely won’t be as rigid as a big company and more like a family, she said.

The flip side is there can be drawbacks to small business culture, particularly when the CEO makes staffing and hiring decisions based on emotions rather than on real business needs. Hidalgo has seen this at work in family businesses: “The nepotism can be so heavy, they aren’t allowing people with the right skill sets to be in decision-making roles because they have family members in them.” She suggests the CEOs go through the process of creating an org chart if they haven’t already to help identify necessary functions, existing skill sets and hiring needs.

To be sure, hiring quality staff is a small business challenge across the United States, and more companies will have to cough up extra incentives to get the candidates they want, according to the most recent CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey. According to the survey, nearly 1 in 5 small business owners have had open positions they have been unable to fill for at least three months.

Most offered higher pay, about a third offered additional training or education to under-qualified candidates, and twelve percent offered to help candidates pay off student loans, according to the survey. Other ways companies secured the hire of their choice, according to the survey: flexible hours, four-day work weeks, telecommuting options, extra vacation days and apprenticeship programs.

In this tight market, it may take a bigger net to lure in prospects. Many small businesses rely on suggestions or referrals from employees or business connections but they may want to also consider advertising on social media and online job boards, hiring a recruiter well versed in their industry and establishing a process for keeping track of potential candidates even when they aren’t actively hiring.

Here’s the good news. Once you’ve hired, you may be more likely to retain them, Hidalgo said.

“Small businesses tend to create more of a family environment — it’s more collegial, less restrictive — and you can often find employees with long tenures in small organizations because they treat one another as family. Relationships get deeper and more personalized. They don’t see themselves as just a number.”

Let us know what recruiting strategies work for your small business – if you want to share your secrets.

Please send GrowBiz topic suggestions and feedback to GrowBiz@fiu.edu

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