10 Tips to Ease the Pain of Small Business Hiring

July 22, 2016 • 7 min read

You probably don’t want to think about the problem of small business hiring unless you have to. But, in any successful small business, there’s one characteristic you’re sure to come across:

valuable employees.

Good employees help companies achieve sales targets and other business goals. They do great work, make your customers happy, go the extra mile, and generally do everything they can to ensure things are cranking along. And they don’t just fall in your metaphorical lap. 

Why Small Business Hiring Is So Hard

Most small businesses will tell you, good employees are hard to find. Though the national unemployment level dropped to 4.7 percent in May 2016, the average time employers are taking to fill employment vacancies has increased significantly. It takes a full week longer than it did a decade ago, according to DHI Hiring Indicators, and the duration of job vacancies is now 29.3 working days.

So it’s not surprising that articles and polls show hiring is consistently one of the top three concerns for small businesses. According to a recent ADP poll, 70 percent of small businesses “experience problems during the hiring process.” In a Babson College survey of 1,800 small businesses, “half of the respondents said hiring and keeping good employees is one of their top two growth challenges,” and that “72 percent of the respondents had difficulty hiring qualified employees in the last two years.” According to a National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) survey of 700 small business owners, “48 percent of those attempting to hire during [May 2016] said they could find few or even no qualified applicants for the jobs they were trying to fill.” Yikes!

The rise of the candidate-driven job market hasn’t helped small business hiring either. The best candidates have the advantage and may only be on the job market for short periods. Larger businesses can leverage their reputation and resources to snap them up.

Making Small Business Hiring Easier—for You and the Candidates

Given these circumstances, how do you ensure that vacancies are filled by great people who can set your company up for success—sooner rather than later? Thinking about small business hiring before you’re desperate to find someone is a good start. Here are some more suggestions to make the experience of small business hiring one you’ll enjoy repeating as your business grows!

Talk to nearby businesses

Sometimes good employees are closer than you think. Let non-competing businesses in your locality know that a vacancy is available in your company and that you’re willing to take referrals. You can even offer a referral bonus to nearby businesses that recommend talented candidates. If you have a printed newsletter, create a section dedicated to job openings, and distribute the newsletter to nearby businesses. This strategy will alert the elite talent in your locality that you’re hiring. If you attend industry events, that can be the perfect place to find your next employee.

Post the position on job aggregator sites

There’s a list of websites that offer access to high-quality candidates for a small fee. You may also hire a recruitment advisor who will help you filter applicants to find qualified candidates. According to a Recruiting Daily report, “Sixty-two percent of candidates reported using job post aggregator Indeed in their job search, with 51 percent and 47 percent of candidates reporting using CareerBuilder and Monster, respectively.” Clearly, posting on such sites remains one of the best ways to discover talented individuals.

small business hiringWhile CareerBuilder charges over $400 to post a job, and Monster anywhere from $350 to $390, other aggregators like Indeed will allow you to post a limited number of jobs for free. Other worthwhile (and free) job sites to investigate include AngelList and There’s always Craigslist, which has the advantage of being hyperlocal. Speaking of hyperlocal, don’t discount the “We’re Hiring!” sign in your window (if you have one). You never know who might see it and tell the right person about your business.

If you happen to be in the Bay Area, you can head over to Localwise, a site that matches local businesses of all kinds—from restaurants to marketing firms, schools to hair salons—with applicants who want to work for great local companies. Currently, posting a job on their site is free, though they plan to charge in the future. (They also have a great blog about small business hiring!)

Running a restaurant or a bar in Seattle? Get to know the Washington Bartender’s Guild Facebook private Facebook page, where folks in the industry post their jobs.

Win over applicants with your culture

Inc. pointed out that company culture is one of the top five considerations job seekers take into account before accepting an offer. Seize the attention of bright candidates by promoting your company culture and the most attractive parts of working at your business. Make sure to have an attractive image of the work environment. You might highlight a unique aspect of your culture, such as weekly retreats or the opportunity to work remotely. Share the company’s work/life philosophy on your website, social media profiles, and print collateral as these are channels candidates will use to gauge the personality of your business.

Use the job description strategically to filter candidates

You’re likely to receive a plethora of applications from the those job-aggregator sites, so it’s important to post a description that narrows down the candidate pool. Have applicants answer a question or two about how they would solve a particular issue or ask them to do something small (think of a name for your new product, for example) to engage them. In the end, more of the applications you receive will be from candidates with the right attitude, who don’t mind going through a couple of steps for an opportunity to work for the right business.

Create a talent pool you can dip into as the business grows

how to hire for small businessHopefully, when you advertise a position, you have too many good candidates. Just because you only have one position to fill, however, doesn’t mean you have to ignore those other candidates you really liked. As your business grows, more vacancies will likely open in the near future. One way to keep track of those folks for future openings is creating a talent pool using HR software. There are a number of free/freemium online HR options for small businesses that are worth checking out.

Be unconventional in interviews

It’s important to ask open-ended questions during interviews in order to really get a sense of what someone is like and whether the applicant will be a good company fit. For instance, you can ask applicants how they learn new skills, or what their ideal job would look like if money were no object. Give them a mini tour of your office and introduce them to other employees. Have them join you at lunch. Being informal will give you a better insight on a candidate’s personality than a formal approach, but be sure not to give candidates a false sense of your company culture.

Sell the job and the company during the interview

Nobody can get a candidate more excited about a vacancy than the recruiter. During the interview process, share the long term vision you have for the position. Tell them about the great ideas they’ll be working on, and how you plan to help them grow. Talking about the company vision and how they have the opportunity to be a part of something big is an effective way to woo applicants. Especially when you’re in tight competition for the right employees, it’s important to remember that the candidates are also vetting you, the company, and the position to see if they they believe your business will be a good fit for them.

Pay attention to the details

The hiring process isn’t just the interview. It starts when a candidate submits his or her application, and that’s when candidates start forming their opinion of your company. How soon do you respond to applications? Do you only respond to applicants in whom you’re interested? How flexible are you about setting up an interview? When candidates arrive, are they kept waiting past the appointment time? All of these tell the candidates about what sort of people work at your company—or what kind of boss you’re going to be, if you’re doing all the hiring.

One of the most important moments in the hiring process can be rejecting someone. Never leave an applicant hanging because you never know who they’ll tell about their bad experience with you. You want a reputation for having the greatest interview process, not the worst.

Equally important is checking in with any employees the candidates met with during the process. What did your other workers think? You might hear a particular candidate was rude to someone on their way in or out. Or you might discover that a candidate was especially gracious or thoughtful while interacting with others. Either way, that’s information you want to have.

Give detailed feedback

All good candidates spend a lot of effort and time preparing for interviews. Give constructive feedback to keep people engaged throughout the process. For those applicants who aren’t suitable for the role, give them genuine, respectful feedback about why you didn’t pursue their candidacy. LinkedIn statistics reveal that 94 percent of candidates want feedback if their application is rejected. And if their experience with you is good, they may recommend someone else to you who will be the right candidate.

Make an offer

After you’re done with the interview, make a fair and competitive offer to your preferred candidate. Be sure to emphasize any unusual benefits or perks in the offer. It’s also worth mentioning career growth opportunities in the offer; if a potential employee has two similar offers, they may consider their next move based on the environment in which they’ll be working, what they’ll learn, and where a position will take them in the long run.

Every small business faces obstacles in finding good employees, but setting up a thoughtful process will ensure you have fewer negative experiences—like the candidates you really want ignoring your business or turning down your offer. Having your small business hiring process in place will also make the experience easier and more pleasant for everyone involved. The time you spend organizing the process now will be saved many times over down the line, when you have to hire someone again. (And you will. People move. Circumstances change. Things happen.) Use these tips to find and hire those people who will quickly blend into your team and do their best to take your business forward.


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