Operations Strategy

Hiring is tough out there. Here’s some advice from the trenches.

You’re not alone, small business owners.

Nearly three-fourths of small businesses expect to increase sales in the next six months yet are having trouble filling their job openings, according to a new national survey  of small businesses conducted in August by PNC. Even though, nationally,  job openings are at their highest level since 2000,  small businesses can’t fill them fast enough. This sentiment comes through loud and clear in the survey, even though small business owners said they are feeling more optimistic about the overall economy and their businesses.

Indeed, labor availability was the most-cited concern in the PNC survey, and of those experiencing hiring difficulties, 58% point to enhanced federal unemployment benefits as one culprit. With expanded federal unemployment benefits having ended on Labor Day — reducing unemployment pay by $300 a week — businesses widely believed they would see a surge in job applicants. But that expected surge never happened.

According to the survey, small businesses are now addressing labor shortages directly by improving pay and benefits. Of those businesses surveyed, more than four in 10 say they’ve increased compensation to help attract and retain talent, and 44% have started allowing more flexible work arrangements. Nearly half have also begun implementing improved health and safety measures.

We’ve heard from many small buisnesses in South Florida who are in the  same situation, so GrowBiz has compiled some tips from experts with Florida SBDC at FIU and in the community about the importance of a hiring strategy and ways to compete, even with the bigger guys.

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, in an earlier report..

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.”

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 … 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. 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.

Next, evaluate your current situation. Have your current employees stepped up for you in this time of crisis? If so you want to make sure you retain them. Have conversations with your key talent about what is most important to them to stay with you. Consider a raise or promotion if you can. Now more than ever, employees need to feel like they are valued, heard and trusted. Then you can begin brainstorming with your team on the best path forward and begin planning your recruiting strategy for the talent you need.

You need to have a plan for each hire – and that starts with a job description. You should identify not only the tasks but also the outcomes you are expecting from each hire with timelines – so that the applicants know exactly what they will be responsible for. Create job ads that convey why your company is the best place to work. If you have a strong company culture, convey that. In addition to job sites, use your social media platforms to get the word out about your openings.

At the screening and interview stage, be sure to do background checks and check references. Depending upon the job, pre-screening can include skills tests or questionnaires, requests for writing samples or personality tests. The  interview process should include more than one team member and should allow plenty of time for questions.

Once hired, develop your new employees through cross-training, mentorship, or more formal on the job training. At the same time, keep your current and new employees happy by giving them opportunities to further their careers. Look for opportunities to praise your employees. If you use results-based rewards, be clear how they will be measured.

Tips on hiring remote employees

Many employees learned to enjoy working from home during the pandemic and will be looking for opportunities to continue that. If you have a business where remote employees are featsible, this can be a benefit that will give you a leg up against the competition. Here are are a few qualities to  look for in remote employees:

Are they self-motivated and proactive, not reactive? These are traits sought after for any employee, but even more important to remote workers where there is no in-sight supervision. You need people who are going to take action and take the initiative to come to you when it’s appropriate, such as when they are running into a technical issues, they need clarification or guidance or they have a suggestion for improvement. Some questions you could ask in the interview process include: Can you share an example of when you went above and beyond to complete a task without supervision? How do you stay organized and prioritize your workload to meet deadlines?

Do they not only enjoy working independently, they really thrive on it? Not everyone does. Ideally, you want employees who are team-oriented but can work independently. Ask candidateswhat they see as an ideal work-from-home scenario – including things like hours on the job, how involved they would want to be, how they like to receive feedback, etc.? This will give you an idea of whether your work styles and time commitments will mesh. Somebody who truly enjoys working independently will likely go the extra mile to make the situation work.

At the same time,  are they a team player, communicating when needed, as well as adaptable and trainable? Just like your employees in the office, you need people who will step up when needed, offering to help a co-worker or taking on assignments to make a key deadline. Working with a remote employee can  make on-the-job training and delivering regular feedback harder. In the questions you ask, try to suss out how they take feedback and seek out training and guidance when needed.



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