If you’re like a lot of other business owners, a large portion of your time and thought goes into solving hiring challenges. Finding the right talent is the issue that never goes away.

A Small Business Trends study done by Guidant Financial and LendingClub found that out of the 2,700 small business owners surveyed, 351 (13%) named recruiting/retention of employees as their top challenge.

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Similarly, a Statista survey of small business owners in July 2019, found that hiring qualified/good staff and retaining them is the #4 biggest challenge business owners face.

Understanding the problem is easy. You know that better employees = better company. Great teams start with great people, and business success hangs on the people you hire.

But it’s the solution that’s harder to distinguish. Your business can’t afford to settle for anything less than A-players, but how do you actually find those those A-players?

Where do you start?

Well, to quote the old adage,

“If you do what everyone else does, you get what everyone else gets.”

So, it’s time to rethink the recruitment and hiring process. It’s time to get serious and develop a strategic approach to consistently finding and hiring the best people.

How do you do that?

How do you single the winners out of the crowd of people just interested in getting a paycheck? How do you keep from repeating the same hiring mistakes you’ve made in the past? How do you find talent and recruit the individuals who can make a real difference in your business?

Here are 9 tips to get you started…

Tip #1 Start with the right attitude.

I’m not totally sold on “The Secret” and all that law of attraction stuff, but I 100% believe that attitude is everything. Having the right attitude may not magically draw top notch employees to you, but having the wrong one will certainly repel them.

So it’s time to take a quick look inward…

Are you holding onto the belief that you’ll never be able to bring A-players into your business because of the industry you’re in? Maybe you do construction or you’re a service business and you believe that the hard-working A-players out there are already running their own businesses, not working for someone else.

Or maybe you, like this fellow on Quora, have written off an entire generation of potential employees because you’ve reached jaded and bitter “Get off my lawn!” old man status.

“Millennials are not A people and never will be…”

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Are you making the same mistake in your attitude?

Tough truth coming your way: The Millennial generation consists of people ages 23-38. So, if you think everyone in that age group is a lazy piece of trash, your company will die with the Baby Boomers.

Plus, it’s just not true that allllll Millennials are B-players, C-players, or worse. What is true is that every generation is essentially the same. There were good and bad apples in the 1920s and there will be good and bad apples in the 2020s.

So don’t make the mistake of putting people into boxes and letting your preconceived ideas and stereotypes prevent you from finding the diamonds in the workforce.

Treat everyone you interview with respect and possibility, and you’ll have much better luck finding the people from every generation worth investing in.

Tip #2 Create clear, non-generic job descriptions.

Okay, this sounds pretty simple and obvious, right? But how many generic job postings have we all seen and created?

We throw in all this industry lingo and write in a utilitarian way that does a great job of telling potential employees, well, not much of anything.

Job descriptions like this are a dime a dozen:

  • Establishes sales objectives by forecasting and developing annual sales quotas for regions and territories and projecting expected sales volumes and profit for existing and new products.
  • Implements national sales programs by developing field sales action plans.
  • Maintains sales volume by tracking changing trends, economic indicators, competitors and supply and demand.
  • Completes national sales operational requirements by scheduling and assigning employees and following up on work results.

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What if instead of this sleep-inducing, generic gobbledygook, we wrote a no-fluff job description to attract exactly the talent we wanted?

What if we gave people a better idea of not just what their day-to-day would look like, but what kind of growth and fulfillment they could expect to experience?

What if we showed them how their job would directly impact their community?

When you go to write a job description, think about all the awful, boring copy your potential hire has already seen. How will yours stand out and make them stop in their tracks? How will yours attract the A-players and repel the C-players? What would you want to read?

Get creative, but keep it clear, so there’s no guessing whether or not they have what it takes to be a good fit for your company and the role you’re hiring for.

Tip #3 Ask better interview questions & dig out the stories.

According to the 2017 Wells Fargo & Gallup Small Business Index,

“The difficulty in identifying qualified candidates is by far the biggest problem small business owners cite. More than half (52 percent) say this is a challenge…”

And…

“Forty-three percent of small business owners say they have difficulty knowing how well job applicants will do once they’re hired.”

Well, that’s a problem, especially considering the time and resources it takes to hire, onboard, and train someone.

So why are we all so bad at figuring out which candidates are going to be the best fit and excel in the job we’re hiring them for? Maybe because we’re asking the wrong questions and focusing on the wrong things.

Let’s see, which tells you more about a person: a bullet list of skills and accomplishments (aka resume) or a story?

Ding, ding, ding! You guessed it: A story.

Unless you’re interviewing The Most Interesting Man In The World, a resume is about as exciting and enlightening as a teeth cleaning. And the resumes you’re using to judge candidates may not even be accurate.

Cyrus Kennedy, Chief People Officer & Partner at XQ Innovation shared on Quora,

“We conducted a study of 80 clients in various industries and all levels of the corporate ladder: 64% of all applicants were found to blatantly lie about something on their resume.”

Eek. No wonder the interview and hiring process feels a bit like guesswork.

What if instead of just looking at resumes and asking the same boring questions that candidates have well-rehearsed, scripted answers for, we tried something different? What if we asked better questions and paid more attention to what their answers really revealed about their personality, culture fit, and job fit?

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Throw out the boring questions and come up with a new list that will dig out the values and traits of the individual, so you can get a better idea of how right or wrong they are for your company.

Look for the stories that will tell you about their initiative, their ability to overcome challenges, their work ethic, their level of humility, the way they treat those with authority over them and those they have authority over…

What you really want is to ask questions that peel back the onion and get to the candidate’s true character. And make sure you’re paying attention to the subtleties of their answers, attitude, and mannerisms, because your customers will pick up on all of those things in a heartbeat.

Here’s a killer question that will tell you so much more about a potential hire than a resume will:

“When was the last time you can remember helping someone in a way you felt really made an impact on their life?”

Here’s why that question is such a win:

  • There’s no way your potential candidate has prepared for that question, so they’re going to tell you whatever pops into their mind first. That means you’re catching them in an authentic moment and not getting some cookie cutter planned answer.
  • Because their answer won’t be scripted, you’ll get to see how quick they are on their toes. Can they problem solve and come up with an answer quickly? That may be a good sign they’ll be a good fit for the job.
  • What they choose to share will tell you a lot about what is important to them. For example, if they answer “Tutoring my niece so she could pass her Chemistry test,” you know that family is important, they’re a patient and effective teacher, they care about the success of others, and they have some chemistry knowledge. No matter what they answer, I guarantee it will be more telling than any scripted answer you get.

Psst. I got this great question from Eric Flathers, a Business Consultant who shared it on Quora.

Tip #4 Know your dealbreakers and have an objective measuring stick.

If you want to avoid hiring mistakes, you can’t just have an “idea” of what you want in a potential hire — you’ve got to know exactly what you’re looking for.

The best way to do this is to come up with a succinct list of qualities that you’d like your new hire to have. You should know these before you ever come into contact with the potential candidate, and they should be broken down into “critical” and “nice to have” categories.

When you take the time to think about what’s a dealbreaker and what isn’t, you’ll be able to measure your new candidates in a systematic way. That way, you’re not getting distracted or hiring based on emotion.

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Once you’ve got your list, you’ve got to stick to your guns and measure candidates against your predetermined standards. Too many people rely on their gut instead of using an objective measuring stick to size up the candidate. So keep that list of “critical” and “nice to have” traits and qualities front and center, and use your interview questions to check for those traits and qualities.

It may take some time to come up with your dealbreakers, but how many hours have you wasted training the wrong person for the job? Just think of it as time redirected and energy better spent.

Tip #5 Hire with the things you fire for in mind.

Business owners often hire for experience, technical skills, and interviewing skills. But you know what people fire for? Bad attitude, poor communication skills, bad culture fit, poor customer service, and a lack of various “soft skills.”

So why are soft skills important enough to fire over but not important enough to be a part of the hiring process? Why are technical skills and experience always the dealbreakers instead of attitude?

I get it, it’s easier to test for technical skill than it is to test for soft skills, and technical skills are important. But in pretty much any job under the sun, soft skills are equally important. So, you’ve got to make them a priority during the hiring process.

Don’t hire the guy with the most experience if he’s got a lousy attitude and thinks most people are idiots. If you do, you’ll waste time and resources on someone who won’t be with you long.

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It’s far smarter to hire when the soft skills are there but the hard skills are lacking than it is to hire when the hard skills are there and the soft skills are lacking.

Tip #6 Consider role, team, and culture match equally.

Culture match, team match, and role match are all equally important to the success of your hire, so look for all three! And for the love of God, have higher standards for what a “match made of heaven” is than this girl.

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Role match:

Will your new hire enjoy the work and thrive in the position you’re hiring for, or is there some other position that might make more sense for them?

The reality is: people are built differently and the person that may make the top sales rep may make a terrible project manager. Having the right people onboard and in the right roles is incredibly important.

Ensure the best candidate is chosen for the position by assessing personality and passions, and making sure they’re a good match for the position you’re looking to fill.

Cultural/core values match:

When asked what surprising negative impact hiring a new employee had on her business, one of our clients, Deb Catura of Jack Pixley Sweeps answered,

“When the hire was not working up to company values, it affected morale and added more stress.”

And she’s not alone in that experience…

When you hire someone without considering how they’ll fit with the company culture, other team members, and the core values you have in place, you’re setting yourself and your team up for some rough seas. It’s just not worth it.

So share your core values and culture with the potential new hire, and ask interview questions that will help you assess their alignment and fit with the things you and your company hold dear.

Team match:

We all want to work with people who make our work life more enjoyable, not less. People who love their jobs, strive to make a difference, and positively impact those they work for and with.

So don’t look at role match alone. Introduce your potential hire to the team and make sure they’re a good fit before you say “Yes.”

Your team will thank you for investing the time and valuable energy into making sure the next hire is a good fit, a productive player, and someone who will be a positive and valuable contributor to the team.

Tip #7 Show potential hires a clear trajectory.

It’s true: Some A-players will go out and start their own business, but not all of them. You can attract A-players to your business and gain their loyalty by showing them a clear trajectory for growth within your business.

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Empower them. Educate them. Train them. Invest in them.

In a recent interview, the owner/operator of Shepard Painting Solutions said,

“If you have the mindset that you want to train people to the point where they are good enough to go out on their own and you empower your employees, you’re probably going to attract better people.”

Preach.

Don’t just recruit A-players, keep them by developing them into the future leaders of your business. Help them be successful in their career. Take them down a path and set them up for success by giving them the training they need to succeed in their role.

Deb Catura of Jack Pixley Sweeps does this with her employees. She has a clear path carved out so there’s no guessing whether there’s potential for growth.

Deb shares that all new hires begin work as “helpers” in the Repair Division for several weeks. During this time, they get on the job training under the Training & Development Manager, a senior tech.

There are certain attainable benchmarks that need to be accomplished before practice tests, and while the Training & Development Manager trains and prepares the new hires, he also evaluates for work ethic and common sense. Those that show Chimney Technician strengths move to that part of the business.

Smart! New hires know exactly what to expect and how to get to the next level. No guessing. No trial and error. A-players like to know what is expected and how to advance, so they’ll find this incredibly attractive in a business.

Tip #8 Always be on the lookout for A-players and make your business attractive.

Many companies are trying to create something great, but they have the wrong ingredients. They settle for B- and C-players and don’t start the search for top talent until they’re so desperate for help they’ll settle for anyone.

It makes sense, but it’s a reactionary mindset that can lead to some bad hiring decisions.

Truth is: filling a position starts long before an opening. You need to always be on the lookout for potential A-players, whether you’re actively interviewing or just out and about. You never know where your next new hire will come from.

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But you need to make sure that you’re what they’re looking for as well.

That starts with treating your people well. Like hangs out with like, so if you’ve got A-players on your team and you’re treating them right, when you do have an opening, there’s a good chance one of your A-players may know the perfect person for the job.

Deb Catura of Jack Pixley Sweeps shares that,

“Referrals from employees and their friends found us the best hires.”

And she’s certainly not alone. Here at Spark Marketer, we’re one big incestuous friend pool. It seems every hire has come through someone else already on the team.

Now for the big question: To Incentivize Or Not To Incentivize?

Some people may encourage you to incentivize employee referrals, giving employees gift cards or financial rewards for referring people they know, but that’s not really necessary. If you’re doing a great job of providing a healthy and rewarding environment and career for your employees, you shouldn’t need to incentivize them. After all, we all want our friends to be happy, too.

On the flip side, even if you have a financial incentive, if you’re a terrible leader and your employees can’t stand their jobs, they’re not going to tell their friends to join in on the misery.

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Okay, aside from employee referrals, where else can you look for potential A-players?

Many people have luck with LinkedIn, Facebook, associations, and even Craigslist. Be open and keep your eyes peeled! Your “dream” employee may even wait on you at dinner this Friday or make your coffee on Saturday morning.

Here are some tips for making your company attractive to the A-player-types you’re hoping to attract:

  • Celebrate your team on social media and on your website.
  • Showcase how you’re different in your marketing. Give them a glimpse into what the job’s like and what it’s like to work for you. One great place to do this is on your Now Hiring page. Instead of making it a long boring list of job requirements and tasks, make it entertaining and informative — a “day in the life of _______” kind of thing.
  • Make your job listing stand out. Think about all the boring out there. If you’re really different, then show them in your job listing!

Tip #9 Cut your losses faster.

Take your time when selecting a candidate, but be quick to let them go if it’s not a good fit. 

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No amount of training will ever teach the wrong person how to be the right one. So evaluate the new hire regularly, and if hiring them was a mistake, cut your losses.

Deb Catura of Jack Pixley Sweeps echos this sentiment saying that, if they knew what they know now when they hired their first employees,

“We would make a decision to release new employees that were unreliable more quickly.”

Truth is: You probably won’t have much success transforming C-players into A-players, no matter how much time and energy you put into it.

So if you make the mistake of hiring a C-player, let them go and start your search for an A-player to fill his or her shoes.

Make Your Next Hire The Right Hire

Hiring the wrong person can be an extremely expensive and time consuming mistake.

It can lead to wasted time, wasted resources, organizational disruption and dysfunction, and low team morale. Not to mention a lot of headaches for you and your HR person.

So turn the hiring process into a science and protect yourself against the same hiring mistakes you’ve made over and over again in the past.

Hiring doesn’t have to be a painful guessing game. You now have some tools and tips to help ensure your next hire is the right hire. Good luck!

Have hiring tips we didn’t include? Shoot ‘em over to me at jessica@sparkmarketer.com!