This article was published as part of the Denver Business Journal Leadership Trust, an invitation-only network of influential business leaders, experts, executives and entrepreneurs.
If you’ve tried hiring talent in the last few months, you’ve probably been surprised at the dearth of applicants, even for marketing roles, which usually have a very big talent pool. It’s been a wild summer indeed! All the talk about the “great resignation” would lead you to believe that everyone is looking for a new position, and so logic follows that you should be seeing qualified applicants. Well, let me wrap some reason around why you might not be seeing a flood of qualified applicants in your inbox:
- Saying you’re going to quit your job and following through on that threat are two separate activities.
- There is a subset of the employee population that is perpetually looking for a new position.
- There continues to be a lot of uncertainty about what the coming fall/winter season will bring. Are cities open or closed? Are the kids in school or at home?
Great! But that doesn’t help you find and attract talent to your startup or small business, so how can you compete with the Amazons and Googles of your industry?
1. Review compensation
If you are a small company, there is no way you can compete with the Fortune 500s when it comes to compensation levels. But, the market is changing quickly and if you are still paying 2019 salaries, you’re going to lose nearly every time. Do what you can to make adjustments to get closer to the market.
2. Fine-tune your benefits for the current market
While small companies don’t have the buying power that corporations have when it comes to healthcare and other employee benefits, there are some ways to make sure you are competitive. Review how many holidays you offer — six days off versus eight makes a difference. Don’t try the unlimited PTO — the market has figured out that ultimately means no PTO, so it’s not attractive any longer. Finally, look at ancillary valuable benefits for your remote or hybrid workforce — pay for their internet, offer wellness dollars or a masterclass subscription. Your employees see this as, “We think you are valuable to the organization,” rather than, “We’re looking for ways to keep you in the office” (the way free meals and ping pong tables are often interpreted).
3. Trump the competition with flexibility
While large corporations are currently singing the “work from anywhere” song, many of these will begin to offer less flexibility as the world overcomes the current pandemic challenges. On the other hand, small companies have the luxury of being more “human” in their approach to work/life integration. This is a major boon for you — use it to your advantage!
4. Make your interview process swift and decisive
There is a fine line between looking desperate and acting decisively during the selection process. Try and collapse the number of interviews, keeping in mind that your candidate is also interviewing at other companies while working full-time. If you are serious about an incumbent, it’s probably better that you book a block of time and have everyone cycle through interviews so you can debrief with your team immediately. Don’t send the candidate home with an offer, but rather let them know you’ll follow up with them in 24 hours with feedback and next steps. Additionally, never skip reference checking. In my opinion, this is irresponsible hiring. Wouldn’t you ask for references on a roommate, babysitter or house sitter? Checking references will not only help you confirm character but will also insight on how to best work with your new employee.
5. Lean into values alignment
During the interview process, it’s important to talk about how important values alignment is with your organization. As a small company, every new hire has an exponential impact on your culture and customer experience. Make certain that values alignment weighs heavily on every hiring decision. One of the best interview questions you can ask is, “What are the three values that guide you?”
6. Don’t lead with money
Here is the best advice I have for startups and small companies: To the extent you can, try and make the decision about your company, your team, the opportunity and the dream rather than the salary. When you lead with salary, you implant this as the priority in your candidate’s eye. Also, don’t make the first offer. When you put your offer out while the candidate is still interviewing, you’ve essentially provided a number to beat for every other company. Tell the candidate that you are seriously interested in them joining your team, but that you respect their desire to complete the interview process. Let them know that once they have completed all other interviews and have offers in hand, you would like to talk with them about an offer. This changes the game substantially.
As a small company, it’s critical that you hire top performers who have the skills, grit and resolve to help you grow. Competing for this talent with the big dogs is hard, but your ability to move quickly, hire without bureaucracy and design your employee experience around the employee is your competitive advantage — use it!
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