The labor market is hot all across North America right now, meaning people looking for new jobs are loving life while businesses are sometimes struggling to fill open positions. Attracting and retaining talent is always key to startup success, but when the economy is booming and jobs are being created all over the place, it becomes more difficult to attract top talent, especially for small businesses that have to compete with larger companies that can offer higher salaries and more benefits.

This means that small business owners have to get creative in how they go about attracting talent to work for them.

At the recent Small Business Summit hosted by the Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto, business experts got together to talk about about how startups can fill their roles.

Here are four ways for small businesses to attract and keep top talent to help them grow.

1. Recruit from outside your area.

If you find that you are not attracting the right type of people, try to broaden your search so you are looking outside your area. Try other regions of the country and even from overseas.

You can also try making employment terms more attractive to prospects, like amalgamating two part-time positions into one full-time position, and constantly searching for new hires, especially in high-turnover businesses.

2. Sell your business to prospects like you sell it to investors.

Attracting top prospects is akin to attracting investors to your company and the same language should be used, according to Jamie Hoobanoff, founder and CEO of Toronto sales and executive recruitment firm The Leadership Agency.

In a Globe and Mail piece about the summit, she suggests that prospective employees want to know the same things about your company that investors do, including your value proposition, your unique advantage, the industries you're improving or disrupting and what challenges you face.

While monetary investors want a return on that investment, she notes, employees, who have an emotional investment in the company, want to contribute to their place of employment and be recognized by the company for the work they do.

In our recruitment process, we put our company tagline "People Over Profit" front and center and it helps us attract the right people. Many of our best team members mention that it was one of the reasons they chose to come work for us over someone else.

We also love to show off our positive culture. When prospective employees come to visit our office, they notice quickly the nature of the energy in our office is positive.

3. Don't get caught up in seeking experience.

While a ton of experience in a given position may look good on a resume, Hoobanoff points out, it actually might point to that employee not actually being driven because they were content to stay in one position for so long. That may not bode well for a startup that has to be flexible and adaptable.

She recommends staying away from "must-have" requirements for a job and eschewing overly restrictive prerequisites and adopting a more broad-minded approach to hiring.

Examine an applicant's track record and see if they flitted from job to job or if they committed to places for long stretches. Do they have other talents that make them them more attractive, like an athletic background, for example?

Rather than fixating on the experience, look at what they've accomplished and how they've accomplished it and how their background will fit into your small business' culture.

I find we are usually in search of two types of critical people to join our team: experience driven and growth driven. Sometimes I feel that we just need experience in a role and can't afford the risk of someone learning on the job.

But then there are so many positions in the company that do not require experience and we don't hesitate to offer these to people who we feel will learn quickly and be an asset to our corporate culture.

4. Invest in your reputation.

Invest in building and maintaining your online reputation as an employer. The up and coming generation of workers are going to research your company as much as you are going to research them, so pay attention to what people are saying about your company on social media and on sites like GlassDoor.

You can facilitate this much the same way you get good reviews for your business; by asking departing employees to consider writing about their experience with your company and helping to spread the word online.

Recruiting need not be difficult in a tight job market. You just need to be creative and know when to loosen your criteria to attract top talent.

Published on: May 29, 2019
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