HR on a budget

HR on a budget

Six tips that can help your small business hire and retain top talent

1. Create an “Employment Brand”
Stephen Pamenter, a partner at Halifax-based Snow Recruit, a boutique search firm, says small businesses must first build a strong foundation for their recruiting efforts. “For any business, the employment brand is where it all starts,” he says.

Large companies use expensive marketing campaigns to ensure job seekers have a positive impression of life at their company. Small companies lack such budgets but must still be diligent in highlighting their company’s “positive values” and culture.

Pamenter says this is particularly important now because of a shift taking place in the job market: top candidates are very discerning about which employers they seek out. They are not simply looking for a regular pay cheque. They want to feel they are contributing to something significant. “They ask, ‘Does this company reflect my values?'” Pamenter says. “I get the impression that a lot of small companies aren’t even really thinking about that kind of stuff.”

Pamenter says there are easy and inexpensive ways to share your company’s mission and principles, including through social media. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are essential for attracting top candidates, he says. “It’s almost a prerequisite now,” he adds. “Do you want to be the company attracting quality folks, or do you just want to attract candidates?”

2. Conduct “structured interviews”
“The number one thing that a small business can do to improve their recruiting is to structure their in-person interview process,” says Sean Fahey, the founder of VidCruiter Inc. The Moncton-based start-up, with clients spanning from Canada to the U.S., Australia, Spain, Dubai, and Europe, offers software that automates most of the hiring process. The company can rank applicants based on multiple-choice questions set out by the employer, and automate the collection of reference information by emailing a form for potential references to complete. “Let’s say 100 people apply (at your company). We’ll give you the top five candidates,” Fahey says.

Those five candidates must still be interviewed, however. And Fahey says many small businesses are too casual in their approach: they form questions at the last minute and often ask different questions of each candidate.

He says employers must ask the same questions of each applicant, and the hiring panel should use a universal form to rate the candidates during the interview. “It gives you an unbiased look, and everyone is treated the same way and rated on a similar scale,” he says. “It’s also the cleanest way to protect yourself from discrimination lawsuits, because everyone is treated the exact same way.”

3. Pay the going rate – or sweeten the deal with perks
“One of the mistakes small businesses make is hiring someone based on what their budget is, rather than looking at what they should be paying in the marketplace,” says Erica MacDonald of the Summit Search Group in Halifax. “They need to ensure they get a really good idea of what similar individuals are making in the marketplace… Otherwise you’re not going to recruit the best people for the job because they’ll be at your competitor.”

MacDonald says recruiters can help businesses determine the market value for various employees. Even with that knowledge, however, many small businesses might not be able to pay the going rate. In that case, MacDonald suggests sweetening your offer with creative perks, including flexible hours, the ability to bank time for holidays, profit sharing, and work-from-home options.

Such measures can also help retain existing employees if raises are not an option. “One way to reduce turnover is to ensure your employees have a good work-life balance,” she says. “When people don’t have that it creates dissatisfaction and they are more apt to look elsewhere.”

4. Talk to your employees
Stephen Pamenter, of Snow Recruit, says many workers switch companies not because of a lack of pay, but because of a lack of potential for advancement.

“The A-quality candidates are looking for the next step in their careers,” he says. “An employer who is actively engaged in the employee’s career is probably going to have a better chance of keeping that employee.”

That means making an effort to understand how each employee wants their career to progress, and what new skills they want to learn. As an employer, you must ensure your employees feel they can advance and be challenged in your organization. Otherwise, they may jump ship for new challenges at another company.

Pamenter recommends talking to individual employees and creating professional development plans. He also suggests setting six-month and one-year performance goals. Younger workers are especially interested in advancement and learning new skills. So perhaps let employees try new tasks and roles, Pamenter adds. Simply put, don’t underestimate a good employee’s desire to seek a challenge and self-improvement.

5. Millennials are much different than baby boomers
Blake Doyle, the president of Island Recruiting, says employers must be cognizant of how Atlantic Canada’s demographic changes are affecting the local labour market.

“In 2012 there were more people exiting the workforce than entering it in P.E.I.,” he says from Charlottetown. “By 2017 there will be more deaths than births… These are profound milestones and employers have to adapt.” He adds: “There’s a skills shortage in most areas of Atlantic Canada. It’s quickly becoming an employee’s market.”

That employee’s market benefits Millennials, a group naturally inclined to switch jobs and migrate between careers. Millennials are far less likely to stay fixed in a position than a member of the baby boomer generation was. That means incentives are key for retention.

“Employers have to be fairly creative in how they engage Millennials and what incentives they offer them,” Doyle says. Among his suggestions: include younger workers in strategic planning sessions, so that they understand your company’s goals and ambitions – and how they fit within the organization. “Being engaged in that process lets people be part of the growth of the company.”


6.Employee appreciation doesn’t have to be elaborate
Sean Fahey of VidCruiter tells the story of a Maritime fish plant. The plant ran two daily shifts: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. At one point, management realized that more people wanted to work the night shift than the day shift. It seemed an odd trend. A supervisor observed both shifts, seeking clues to solve the mystery of the appealing graveyard shift. Initially the answer was unclear. Both seemed to run without any noticeable difference, except for the obvious lack of sunlight during the night shift.

On his fifth day of observations, the supervisor noticed the night manager standing by the door at the end of the shift. As employees left, the manager said, “Great job today.” “The only reason they asked to be moved to the graveyard shift was because someone on the way out said, ‘Thanks for doing a great job,'” Fahey notes. Thus a small amount of positive feedback can make a noticeable difference. “It’s not complicated for a company to do,” Fahey adds. “You can find all kinds of retention software, but at the end of the day it’s sometimes as simple as saying, ‘Hey, dude. Keep up the good work.'”

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