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How Small Businesses Can Compete for Talent in a Tight Market

5 Mins read

 The most recent U.S. job market report is shattering expectations: Unemployment fell to 3.5%, the lowest level in the past 50 years. However, this statistic isn’t telling the whole story.

50% of all business owners report they still aren’t able to fill available job openings, despite raising compensation. When job openings outnumber job seekers 2:1, how can small businesses compete with big companies for talent?

By evaluating dated recruiting strategies, redefining company culture, and leveraging HR technology, small business owners can address their unique hiring challenges and attract talent with the key strengths that set Main Street apart from the rest.

The hiring struggles of small businesses

Hiring in a post-pandemic world doesn’t look the same for small businesses. According to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) report, 91% cannot find qualified candidates for open roles.

When it comes to attracting talent, the cards are stacked against small businesses. Larger companies have their first pick of a wider talent pool because they can afford to hire a recruiter or advertise their open roles on multiple job boards. They also have more financial flexibility, comprehensive benefits, and padded perks.

Job boards are time-consuming to manage for a busy business owner and staffing firms are too expensive. Small business owners frequently carry out the responsibilities of multiple roles that larger companies employ entire teams to perform. That’s why they often lack the time and resources to make the right hires. If they do manage to hire, and it’s the wrong one, the consequences are much greater.

If they cannot replace a skilled worker immediately, they may need to redistribute the workload or pick up the slack themselves. This can quickly lead to burnout and lower morale for even the most effective and engaged teams.

The small business competitive edge

While it may be harder for small business owners to attract talent, many job seekers that find employment at SMBs are reportedly happier, less stressed, and more satisfied. As burnout is one of the leading causes for employees leaving companies in droves, small businesses can use their strengths as a competitive edge over large enterprises.

A small business environment can offer job seekers more leadership opportunities, specialized career paths, cultural alignment, and impact on company growth.

While it may take years for employees to ”climb the corporate ladder,” at a large enterprise, small business employees can build momentum and hone their talent and skills in far less time. SMBs may also be much more willing to hire for potential and teach an employee on the job.

Since small businesses are often nimbler and more flexible than larger ones, they can adapt quickly to changing market conditions. Therefore, they can better create offers or professional development plans tailored specifically for top applicants.

Millennial and Gen Z job seekers are looking for a different type of opportunity than their Boomer and Gen X predecessors, with a strong emphasis on flexibility, culture, mission alignment, and career path mentorship. Small businesses can offer a tight-knit, collaborative environment where job seekers can feel their efforts have a direct contribution.

How small business owners can compete for skilled workers

Examine your hiring approach and refine it if necessary. The new generation of workers has changed which calls for reevaluating old hiring strategies. Start by asking yourself if your requirements are “must-haves” or “nice-to-haves.” For example, is it critical that they have a specific degree? Do you need a full-time employee, or will a contractor or gig worker do? Can this position be remote? Is previous industry experience really required, or can you provide industry training after arrival?

You can widen your talent pool by changing your “must-have” qualifications to “nice-to-haves.” Additionally, focus on applicants that have strong interpersonal skills. Soft skills such as resourcefulness, communication, and teamwork are highly transferable and among the top skills in demand at companies, large or small.

Leverage your flexibility, and don’t be afraid to get creative. The important thing is to show candidates they are valuable to you by meeting them where they are and helping them achieve a better work-life balance.

Culture is King – especially for the new generation of workers. Here is where small businesses can really shine. By defining and bringing your employee value proposition into focus, business owners can differentiate themselves from larger companies. Emphasize your company values, the opportunity for upskilling and career development, why your employees love working there, and the job seeker’s ability to make significant contributions in a short amount of time.

A great resume doesn’t tell the whole story. A candidate must still fit within the needs of the job, team, and company. If you don’t have access to pre-employment personality and skills assessments, be sure to ask the right questions to determine if there is a fit with what you are looking for in a future team member and their skills, drives, and motivations. When these aspects align, you avoid the cost of a bad hire and ensure better job satisfaction and employee retention.

Lean into technology. Your job ads are your first impression to job seekers. Be sure they provide candidates with the key information they need – including compensation, location, job responsibilities, and required skills. Additionally, be sure the ad is optimized for each job board, tailored for your industry, free from spelling and grammar errors, and leaves the applicant clear on how the role supports the business.

HR and ATS (applicant tracking software) technology can make a huge impact on getting job ads in front of the right audiences, screening applicants to find the ideal fit, and streamlining your hiring efforts. Luckily, there are cost-effective hiring platforms that are specifically designed to help small businesses grow.

When considering which solution will work best for your business, look for a platform that sources qualified applicants through multiple job boards, offers customizable job ad templates, provides skills tests and personality assessments, and gives expert hiring advice to support you and keep you up to date on current hiring trends.

What one good hire can do for your small business

The life of a small business owner can be unpredictable. While one wrong hire will hit a small business harder than a large enterprise, the right one can significantly help an SMB and insulate them from unpredictable economic headwinds. While fears of a recession likely won’t disappear, leveraging your innate strengths and utilizing your competitive edge can help you weather times of uncertainty and find success on the other side.

The most successful small business owners understand that no one can do it all. They know they need to hire, but here’s the thing: finding talent is a full-time job, too. Leveraging platforms built for small business growth – like WizeHire – allows SMBs to have the tools, resources, and advice needed to spend less time and money on the hard parts of hiring and more time on growing their business.

Sid Upadhyay is the CEO and Co-Founder of WizeHire, a leading hiring platform that helps small businesses grow with a better way to hire. Since 2014, WizeHire has focused on a future where small businesses can attract and win the same high level of talent as big companies. Over 15,000 employers choose WizeHire as the trusted advisor to help grow their business.

Talent stock image by UfaBizPhoto/Shutterstock

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