From tiny startups to international conglomerates, one of the age-old challenges in business is building a winning team.
The three-fold challenge of finding, attracting, and retaining talented and productive employees has long vexed even the best of companies. No organization is exempt from the struggle to find quality employees, the difficulty of hiring the wrong candidate, or the loss of a star employee moving on.
But like anything in business, there are tactics and strategies that increase your chances of success in acquiring and retaining top talent. These common hiring challenges have solutions, and while there’s no “one size fits all” solution to anything in business, the ideas below will help you discover what works best for your team.
Let’s start with how to find employees as you begin your recruiting process.
Where to Look for Talent
Whether you’re expecting growth or just trying to maintain momentum, you’re going to need a strategy for finding new talent. Knowing where to look is often half the battle. To help you start moving in the right direction, here are some of our favorite places to find employees.
One of the best places to start looking for talent is by asking for leads among your current employees. Most of your employees will have come from other jobs, many of which will be in similar industries and capacities, and they will have had coworkers they enjoyed working with. Odds are, those coworkers are also productive, talented employees.
Talk to your top performers, and ask them which past coworkers were valuable team members. See if they keep in touch with those former coworkers, and ask them to encourage their friends to apply. Many a company has found valuable team members this way.
If you’d like to be a little more direct and contact network connections yourself, you can always use social media to investigate interpersonal contacts of those that work in your company. LinkedIn is ideal for this, as users build their profiles on this site specifically for the purpose of making themselves stand out in the job market. That said, you can also use more mainstream networks like Facebook to accomplish this.
If you’re less inclined to use technology to find a candidate, or prefer to meet face to face, there’s always the job fair option. Job fairs are an excellent opportunity for finding potential employees, not just because it puts you in the same room with job seekers, but because it gives your company an opportunity to showcase your employer brand, allowing those who speak to you to get a taste of the company culture.
Most industries have events and get-togethers designed specifically to give exposure to both companies and potential employees. Whether it’s the meet-and-greet for a convention, a mix-and-mingle luncheon, or anything in between, these functions are a great way to meet potential future employees, as long as you’re prepared to be face to face with strangers for an extended period of time.
Facilitating internships is a great way to find employees for entry-level positions in your organization. By implementing an internship program, you can give students a chance to experience working with your company and in the industry, and you give yourself a chance to experience working with the interns—effectively granting them a probation period for employment. At the end of the internship, you can decide whether or not you want to hire them permanently.
How to Attract Talent
Once you’ve started putting lines in the water, it’s time to start attracting talent to your company. There’s more to it than just putting together a job listing. Drawing the attention of top talent requires demonstrating that working for your company will be a rewarding experience. This is an effort that starts with your employer brand.
Building an Employer Brand
Employer brand is similar to company culture, with the difference being that company culture is internal and employee-facing, while employer brand is external and candidate-facing. It’s the personality your company presents to all potential team members, forecasting to them what it’s like to be hired and work for your company.
Employer brand is effectively a reputation regarding the treatment of company employees. Some employer brands are known nationwide (like Google and Walmart), and many candidates apply to these companies based solely on how much they think they’d like working there. While not every business has the publicity or notoriety of these larger brands, applicants are still asking themselves the same question based on what they know about your company.
It’s important to note that in some cases, entire professions have a bad reputation, and employer brand can help counteract that. If your industry is known for long hours, difficult work, high-stress levels, or something similar, you can still be an attractive employer, especially if your management works to minimize and counteract those characteristics.
Here’s an example: if your trucking company takes steps to make it possible for the drivers to be home for dinner more often than not, then that’s a company advantage that can be incorporated into the employer brand and advertised. Then, drivers looking for work will be more inclined to apply to your company, as they may value the opportunity to spend more time with their family.
Implemented effectively, a solid employer brand can do the finding for you, attracting candidates from far and wide, and cutting down on the costs of finding talent. Be aware, though: you can’t ignore your employer brand and expect candidates to be lining up at your door. If you have a reputation for treating your employees poorly, word will spread, and high-quality candidates will stay far away.
Love it or hate it, we are now an internet-based society. As a result, candidates often judge a company by its website. These days, your website is effectively your business’s curb appeal. A sloppy, primitive, or unpolished homepage can cost you investors, clientele, and potential applicants.
If you want your business to seem established and professional, you need to have a website that looks like it was built by a professional. Keep in mind, not every gorgeous website is the work of madcap web developers and web designers. Some are built by amateurs on DIY website platforms like WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace. That said, if you only spend five minutes building your site, the finished product will reflect that.
Our advice: hire a professional, or do your research and a little planning before building your own. Either way, make sure you have a unique domain (which you’ll have to pay for, no matter who puts your website together). We also recommend hosting your site on HTTPS for added security and professionalism, and because search engines show preference to secure websites.
Crafting an attractive job listing is a skill unto itself. Like creating compelling marketing copy, it takes quite a bit of practice to get it right. The topic is a little too dense to go into great detail here, so we’ve summarized a few key pointers:
-When creating the listing, use SEO keyword tactics to help improve your listing’s presence on job boards and search engine results.
-Put your job listing on multiple online job boards to maximize your visibility
-Pick your online job boards according to who frequents them, and which users are your ideal candidates
-Be sure to also put the listing on your company website
-Treat the job title line like a headline—use it to capture the attention of potential candidates
-Use subheadings, rather than writing a run-on paragraph
-Keep requirements to absolute necessities—if a degree or working rights are a must, then say so, and candidates will partially screen themselves
-Be clear about requirements, or you’ll be flooded with unqualified candidates
-Be clear about what the job entails
-Be clear about what the job offers (hours, benefits, compensation) as many applicants will ignore job listings that don’t list this information
-Use the posting as an opportunity to show off your employer brand; if your company has a fun, casual personality, let it show in the job posting
-Don’t just list what the position needs, list why they will enjoy the position and the company
Lastly, consider including some specific additional instructions to help screen candidates as well. This can be anything from “Will only review emails with ‘Application for Senior Underwater Basket Weaver: [Applicant Name]’ in the subject” to “Send us an email with your resume, as well as a 500-word essay about why you love computer programming.”
By adding something extra, you exclude candidates who aren’t interested enough to read the whole listing or do the extra work. Plus, if you plan your added assignment properly, you can gain some additional insight into their skills, experience, and thought processes.
Using Headhunters and Recruiters
While the terms are often used interchangeably, headhunters and recruiters aren’t necessarily the same thing.
The term “headhunter” almost always refers to a professional outside of the hiring company who helps find candidates for a position. Recruiters, on the other hand, are more often (as will be the usage here) internal HR professionals whose job duties include finding and vetting candidates for internal positions.
With smaller companies, it’s likely that the only one handling the hiring process is the manager with a vacancy to fill on their team. This may be a workable solution for teams with minor hiring needs, but it’s a system that doesn’t scale well. Hiring a new employee is an intensive process, and it can quickly consume a good portion of a hiring manager’s time (which should be spent actually managing their team).
When the burden of finding and vetting candidates becomes too much for the hiring manager alone, a company has two primary options: they can either hire a recruiter to help find candidates for every internal position, or they can contract a headhunter (or headhunting firm). Neither a recruiter nor a headhunter actually decides who gets hired—that’s the hiring manager’s job. Instead, their objectives are to keep lines in the water at all times and give a shortlist of vetted candidates to the hiring manager.
When deciding which to use, keep this in mind: no matter who’s doing the work of finding potential employees, you’ll have to pay someone for it. Either the hiring manager’s divided focus will cost you productivity, the recruiter will cost you a full salary, or a headhunter will cost you a one-time fee.
Having a hiring manager is the cheapest option if your demand is low. As for headhunters and recruiters, that depends on the volume of hiring you’re doing. Moderate hiring needs might be best served by contracting a headhunter, while high-demand hiring usually necessitates having a dedicated hiring team on staff.
There are three other things to consider: a headhunter may be your best option if
a) you don’t want your vacancy to be publicized
b) finding someone to fill the role will take a significant amount of work over an extended time period
c) you’re trying to attract a candidate from a competitor for the role
All three of those circumstances apply for executive-level positions in most cases, for example. Headhunters can approach candidates more discreetly, and can more easily contact candidates who are working for competitors.
How to Hire Employees
Once you’ve started receiving resumes, it’s time to start the delicate dance of the hiring process. It’s not unlike beginning a courtship—you’re trying to determine how well you like them and how well they like you while they are doing the same—all while both of you are trying to keep each other interested long enough to see if it goes further. Similar to the dating scene, it can be tricky.
What’s important to remember is that it’s not just your company that’s making the decision. The candidate needs to agree to work for the company. In other words, it’s not just a matter of the candidate selling themselves, it’s a matter of selling the company to the candidate in return.
At this stage, your three battlefronts are your employer brand, your compensation and benefits, and the time it takes to hire a candidate. Anyone of the three can, under the wrong circumstances, result in the loss of a desirable candidate.
The Hiring Timeline
This one doesn’t require much of an explanation. Simply put, the longer you take to finalize a hiring decision, the more likely you are to lose a candidate to another offer. It’s easy to forget, on this side of the cover letter, that people apply to multiple positions at the same time when they’re job hunting. Depending on how desperate they are for a job, and what they’re offered by another company, your top choice can easily slip through your fingers.
That said, the level of urgency decreases somewhat as you ascend the corporate ladder. Positions with higher pay grades and greater levels of responsibility usually take longer to sort through the potential hires, and most applicants know this. Very few are expecting to be hired overnight for a position that pays seven figures.
Even so, it doesn’t hurt to keep your shortlist candidates abreast of their current status in the hiring process, regardless of their position on the corporate totem pole. Letting them know you haven’t forgotten about them is an excellent way to keep them engaged (and is also a common courtesy) as you try to make your decision.
Maintaining Your Employer Brand
Your employer brand is still in play, even in the limbo of the hiring process.
As you bring candidates in for an interview, they’ll get a closer look at just how closely the employer brand aligns with the company’s true personality. If, for example, your job listing was casual, playful, and a little snarky, candidates might be a little confused to see everyone in formal business attire when they walk in the door.
Disparity like this can have an impact on whether or not a potential hire decides to accept a job offer. It will also have an impact on your outward facing brand via word-of-mouth (and company reviews such as those you find at Glassdoor).
You also need to be careful about how you treat applicants during the hiring process. Letting each applicant know by email that they weren’t chosen may sound like a lot of work, but most applicants appreciate the clarification, and it can do wonders for your brand. What’s more, if you leave a good impression on the applicants you turn down, they may be willing to answer if you call them back down the road.
Compensation and Benefits
Ultimately, most applicants will decide whether or not to take a job based on how they’re compensated. What you’re paying plays a big part, and we’ve already spoken at length about how benefits and perks can impact your success in hiring and retention. Some will value the money over the benefits, while some will do the opposite. Either way, scrimping on your offerings is a surefire way to scare away potential hires.
These days, it’s easier than ever to compare what a company offers for pay and benefits against industry averages and standards. If you’re offering pay that’s below average or perks that are less generous than those of your competitors, you’re likely to lose out on the best candidates.
It’s all about setting proper expectations from the beginning. Putting information in the job listing about compensation and benefits will help candidates know what to expect and help you filter out applicants who want more than you can offer. And the more meaningful and thoughtful you are with your pay and perks strategy, the more desirable you’ll be to potential hires.
In other words, if you set accurate expectations and offer reasonable, competitive compensation, the applicants who match up with your organization will be eager to stick around for the entire hiring process (and you’ll be more likely to hang onto them afterward).
Nailing the Interview
Again, this is a topic that could fill an article on its own, so we’ll keep it to the highlights. For active candidates:
-For serious candidates, give them a tour of the office, and see how they interact with people
-Bring in others on the interview or have some of their potential future coworkers speak with them for a minute to get a feel for compatibility
-Give them some homework like an essay, a proposal, or a problem to solve; then, let them set the due date and see if they follow through
-Be personable—you’re trying to gauge their competence and personality, not make them sweat to death
-Send them an email before the interview encouraging them to prepare questions for you about the company, the position, the team, etc., and then answer those questions in the interview
Lastly, you want to select meaningful questions and keep them consistent across interviews. Asking every candidate the same questions can reduce bias in your hiring process and help you evaluate people side-by-side.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your questions, either. Interviewees may have scripted answers for the most common inquiries like “What is your greatest weakness?” which can make it tough to get a genuine sense of who the candidate is. Instead, ask questions that get at the specific qualities you’re seeking in a candidate, whatever they may be. You’ll get a better read on each candidate this way and hopefully be able to solicit honest answers.
We have slightly different advice for passive candidates (those who aren’t actively looking for a new job), as you approach them:
-Do your research on the candidate before you speak with them, just as an active candidate would do research on your company
-Do your research on the candidate’s current job and company, so you know where you have something to offer; it’s likely there’s something they want from their current job that they’re not getting, so find a way to offer it to them
-Be prepared to sell them on the position, the compensation and benefits, the company culture, and more—if they don’t see a reason to switch from a good job, they won’t
-Ask them open-ended questions, and get them comfortable with the conversation; the more they connect with you, the more they will be open to the offer
-Start with questions about what they’re working on and what they like about their job before moving to questions about pain points and potential dissatisfaction
-Courting a passive employee requires an even more careful step than an active one, so be methodical and cautious as you proceed.
Choosing a Candidate
Criteria for choosing a candidate will vary from industry to industry and business to business. That’s because needs vary by industry and by business. To be successful in hiring, you’ll have to determine what criteria are most important to your team and identify which candidate best fits those standards.
As you determine your criteria, be aware that (as we’ve already mentioned) just because they look good on paper doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a good fit for your team. Often, there’s a criterion that’s far more important to your business than just experience. For production based teams, it’s often adherence to safety regulations. For office staff and collaborative teams, it’s often personality and cultural fit. For others, it may be autonomy and the ability to work alone.
You may find that these criteria are tied to the nature of the work you do, to company values and your mission statement, or to team dynamics. Whatever the criteria, trust your instincts: if you don’t feel confident that the new hire will be able to meet the requirements, it’s okay to reconsider before sending out the offer letter.
There are some types of individuals that are best avoided for every team, though. Here are some examples:
-The brilliant jerk
Lastly, don’t make any decision too quickly. Even for positions that you’re desperate to fill or for candidates who seem like the perfect fit, there’s usually no harm in taking a night to sleep on it. You’re better off making a thoughtful decision than a rash one that might cost your organization in the long run.
Building a first-class team isn’t something that happens overnight, or without some dedicated effort. But if you do it right, you can put together a crew that will consistently go above and beyond all expectations for years to come.