One of the most common things I hear from small business owners is that recruiting new staff is something they avoid until they absolutely have to. Besides the concern of it being expensive and taking up too much time, there is also the fear of hiring the wrong person.

Before taking time out of a corporate career to have children (and ultimately set up my own small business), I worked in recruitment for medium to large sized local and global companies for 15 years. I love sharing the tips I learned over this time and breaking these down into hiring advice that is relevant for small business owners.

To share my tips, I have summarised 5 of the most effective recruitment company processes and changed them to suit the small business owner.

#1 Create a culture and business that people want to work for

The businesses that recruitment companies recruit for generally have a People & Culture/HR team taking care of this for them. There are ways a small business can create their desired culture. Ideally you will have some of this in place prior to starting the hiring process for a new staff member.

1. Is your work environment inviting? Is there something unique about it? Are there benefits to working in your location/environment? Share this with your social media followers, give a ‘behind the scenes’ look via Facebook live, discuss it in your newsletter. Tell people!
2. Think about your own values and the vision of your business. Recruit for those values and qualities in your employees. Be clear on what you want in an employee – attitude is as important as their skills and experience.
3. How you treat employees when they start can be a game changer. You need to plan ahead for this. It can be as simple as creating a plan for training, what you will provide them with on day one to do their job, and what you will do to welcome them on day one. This will set your employee up for success and cement the values of your business and culture from their first day. If you do something unique, use it as a benefit in your promotion/advertising for your new position.

Suggested Action to take: Create an Employee and Culture Profile/Statement, and an Onboarding Plan.

#2 Things to plan before you advertise

Recruitment companies have a recruitment process in place. This is for consistency in identifying suitable applicants, and to avoid winging it (a great time and money waster). A small business can easily create a process, just on a smaller scale.

1. Map out the steps you will take – your basic recruitment process. This can be drawn as a flowchart or written/typed up as a step by step guide. Eg. Advertise, Review resumes, Respond to unsuccessful applicants, Phone interview, Testing, Interviews, Background checks, Choose final 2-3 applicants, Final interview, Advise successful applicant, Issue contract, Respond to unsuccessful interviewed applicants.
2. Write a position description – Be specific! Include skills, behaviours/values/experience, your non-negotiables, what the employee can expect – salary, location, hours, work conditions, benefits, training, future opportunities, and what your business is all about – product/service, size, culture, vision, values.
3. Prepare testing (see step #5 for more on this).
4. Write interview questions for phone and in-person interview, (and final interview if relevant).

Suggested Action to take: Create a Basic Recruitment Process / Flowchart, Position Description,  Testing and Interview Questions.

#3 Attracting your applicants

Recruitment companies commonly use their contacts/network and previous applicants before they advertise. Hiring for a small business doesn’t have to mean expensive ads.

1.If you have a mailing list or use social media, then you already have a network of people interested in your business. If you have been using the strategy in tip #1 about sharing the ‘behind the scenes’ of your business, then they will also be aware of how awesome it is to work for you! They will know your values and most will be aligned with them. Your business values can attract followers/customers with similar values, as long as they are represented in your branding.
2. Share your available position with your social networks first. Then share it within any business or community Facebook groups you are part of.
3.If you are going to pay to advertise as well, do your research first. Will local community newsletters work for you, or online job sites like Seek? Are Facebook ads a better option? You will need to decide based on your business. There is readily available information on the internet to help make the right decision.
4.For paid advertising, make sure you use Canva or a similar free tool to create eye-catching, well-designed ads that represent your business and branding. Canva has excellent templates that will make ads a breeze to create. You will have options to set the size of an ad stipulated by a printed publication, or use the relevant ad templates provided. They also have easy tutorials if you are new to creating ads/ design.

Suggested Action to take:   Create a well designed, catchy advert that represents your branding

#4 Managing applications

Recruitment companies have strategies that help process hundreds (sometimes thousands) of applicants received from advertised positions.
Small businesses should implement some time-saving tools prior to advertising to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

1.Have a FAQ plan to answer questions from interested applicants – this could be an email with your FAQ that you can send to applicants with questions or a google document with your FAQ that you send using its URL in an email to respond to questions. It could be a page on your website you can direct applicants to or an autoresponse on the email address for applications with your FAQ’s. Any of these will be a huge timesaver.
2.Set up a rule on the email address for applications to move them as they arrive into a folder called New Applications to await review.
3.Set up email folders to manage applications – Not Suitable, Maybe, Phone Interview, Interview. Move applications into the relevant folder as you review them. This process reduces overwhelm and gives you a way of keeping applications together so you don’t lose where you are up while reviewing applications. It also helps ensure you don’t lose track of great applicants.

Suggested Action to take: Create a FAQ Plan, Folders & a Rule in your email program

#5 Time to interview and make your choice

Recruitment companies use a number of tactics to make decisions on suitable applicants – one of the biggest is testing. Small businesses can easily add testing into their recruitment process – most don’t!

1.Current behaviours are a good indicator of future actions and attitude. Take note of the applicant through the whole process. Consider your applicant behaviours in all of the below situations (not just at their interview):
 Is their resume and application letter/email well set out and free of errors
 How polite are they on phone calls/in emails with questions /on calls you make to them like booking their phone interview
 What is their interaction with your other staff/customers while waiting to be interviewed, or the staff at the café you are interviewing them in
 If your available position requires phone skills – phone calls are relevant. If your position requires problem solving or independence – the questions they ask are relevant. If your culture requires team work and a fun-loving nature – their manner through the whole process will be on display and is relevant.

2.Add a testing component into your process. It could be something they need to prepare and bring to the in-person interview or it could be something they do within the in-person interview. It might not be the deciding factor but it is one of the tools you can use to differentiate applicants and make fully informed hiring decisions.

3.Your recruitment process should give you multiple opportunities to see the real person and get them to show you their skills where possible. If you are hiring a social media manager – get them to audit your social media and give you 5 things they would change. If you are hiring a VA, get them to reformat a business document for you. If they are going to be responsible for creating ads, get them to do one for your business.

4.When you are ready to make your final decision, use the below as a guide, and consider:
 Interview answers, observations, any testing results
 Their behaviour through the whole process
 How closely they match your culture, values and fit with other team members (if relevant)
 How they meet your skills requirements and non-negotiables
 Results of any background checks you have done (mutual acquaintances, social media and google is your best bet here – don’t be judgemental, keep an open mind when using other people’s opinions and the internet.)
 Your number one guide should be your intuition. Don’t ignore it!

Suggested Action to take: Create Testing options, and a Decision Making Recruitment Checklist (optional – but it is a great tool to use when you are torn between who to choose – layout your checklist for each applicant and compare applicants).

Case study of a small business and a successful hiring process

Recently I heard about a local herb farm that was recruiting, so out of interest, I decided to follow their process. Here’s what happened:

They only used their social media community to advertise the role.

They created a detailed position description on Google Docs and shared the link for applicants to read, along with a great pitch on the benefits of working in their beautiful farm environment and with their supportive team.

They regularly share information about their team to their online community of followers (part of their ongoing social media strategy – not just in the lead up to advertising for this position) eg pictures of shared lunch celebrations on the farm grounds for staff birthdays etc. This meant their followers had a great understanding of what it was like to work for them, and an insight into their businesses ‘personality’.

The result? A flood of responses with no money spent on advertising. They had applicants already aligned with their values, vision and culture.

Then they went the extra mile. They sent every applicant an email thanking them for their interest, advising the position was filled and offering a $20 voucher, knowing all of the applicants were already followers of their business and many existing customers.

What great service and a unique delivery of a recruitment process that any small business could use to hire a new employee. Turn followers and customers into applicants, who then become raving fans who talk about you to their networks, share your posts, and recommend your business. Your new sales team!

Some final thoughts on recruiting as a small business

Hire for behaviour and attitude. Never compromise on behaviour for skills. It won’t end well and will cause issues in your existing team, lost productivity and, in the worst case scenario, loss of great staff.

Hire slowly and fire quickly. As long as you are transparent and upfront about your hiring process, and you keep your selected applicants informed through the process, then you can take your time in hiring your new employee.

Give yourself time in the hiring process to make a considered decision. Where possible, plan ahead your need to hire a new employee so you aren’t rushed to make a decision. Don’t overlook any red flags or intuitive feelings about an applicant, no matter how good their resume or seeming fit for your position.

If the worst happens, fire quickly. Have a probation period set into a contract or confirmation of employment (commonly 3 month, or 6 months for sales related or management roles) to make it easier to execute letting go of an employee that just isn’t working out.

Hiring a new employee is an exciting time. Don’t dread the process. Take the time to prepare by using my 5 tips and make your next hiring process something you look forward to. After all, hiring a new employee for a small business is something to be celebrated. It’s a sign you are growing!