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Smart Recruiting Strategies for Hiring

Bennett Conlin
Bennett Conlin

Take advantage of referrals to improve your hiring strategy.

  • One of the best recruitment strategies is asking current employees to give referrals.
  • Hiring workers on a trial basis allows you to test out potential future employees.
  • Each company's recruitment process is different, and finding the best recruitment strategy for your business requires some trial and error.

Recruiting is a challenge for small businesses. Finding the right talent isn't easy, and it takes a good recruiting strategy to find and hire quality candidates. 

We spoke with hiring professionals to learn smart recruitment strategies small businesses can implement to attract the best talent during the recruitment process.

1. Utilize referrals.

One of the best ways to hire quality candidates is to have your current employees or people in your network refer others. Ask your employees if they know anyone who might be a good fit for the position. Referrals are a good way to screen potential candidates before even interviewing them. If your trusted employee recommends a previous colleague or a friend whose work experience they know well, it gives you a level of security knowing this new applicant can do good work. When hiring a stranger, there is less certainty about a candidate's work ethic and potential fit on the team.

"The absolute best recruiting [strategy] would be to ask for referrals from your network," said Jonaed Iqbal, founder and CEO of "Ask fellow business owners if they know anyone looking for a job. Ask friends and family. Go to local business networking events (the Chamber of Commerce) and ask the other people who attend if they know anyone on the market for a job. Referrals are the No. 1 source for candidates. People usually refer good people, as the person they refer is a reflection on them."

While you shouldn't give referrals preferential treatment, being recommended by someone already on staff or in your network is an added benefit for that applicant. Make sure that the applicant's qualifications make them an ideal fit for the job, and use the referral as insurance that you're making the right hiring decision.

One way to solicit referrals from current employees is to implement a referral bonus program. If an employee refers an applicant and that applicant eventually gets hired, the employee who referred the new hire can receive some sort of monetary compensation. Even if the bonus is only a few hundred dollars, it makes employees more willing to recommend people they know to be quality candidates. The cost tends to pay off, as data suggests that referral hires can save companies $3,000 in fees that would otherwise be spent on things like recruiters and job postings.

"Create a very generous employee referral program (make it so big that you are almost uncomfortable), and tie some of the payout to the performance of the new hire," said Bryan Zawikowski, vice president and general manager of the military transition division Lucas Group.

If you're a small business struggling to find candidates for jobs, look to referrals for help. Referrals can make the hiring process significantly smoother, and they should be an integral aspect of your recruitment strategy plan. An employee referral is a great way to boost the talent pool in your collection of applications, and it often leads to hiring a qualified candidate. More importantly, it's speedy and inexpensive to benefit from employee referrals.

2. Post on niche job sites.

It's easy to post open positions on LinkedIn, Monster or Indeed, but your small business listing may get lost in the sea of openings. It's not easy to stand out on popular job sites when you're a small business, so it may be worth posting job openings on niche job sites.

"Niche job boards offer an optimal medium for small businesses to connect with ideal candidates for three reasons," said Lee McMillan, founder and CEO of PeakSeason. "First, these candidates have demonstrated an embedded interest in the niche by visiting the niche job board in the first place. Second, niche job boards generally allow employers to customize and highlight their strengths better, since they were developed to target a specific sector or job type. Third, niche job boards generally have fewer listings and fewer mega-sized employers. This gives small businesses a better chance of standing out, without getting buried among thousands of listings by larger competitors."

There are hundreds of niche job boards online, and finding the right one for your small business depends largely on your industry and your recruiting strategy. These are a few niche job boards:

  • Snagajob – This site shares openings for hourly positions. If you're looking to hire hourly workers, Snagajob might be the site for you.
  • College Recruiter – A board designed for recent graduates, this is a great place to look if you want entry-level talent.
  • College job boards – Some colleges offer job boards specifically for their students and recent graduates. Finding job boards for colleges in your local area is a good way to find local talent seeking entry-level positions.
  • FlexJobs – Candidates on this job board are looking for flexible jobs. Postings on this site include remote work and part-time offerings among other flexible options. If you want to stand out from peers by offering remote work, this is a good site to use.

Additional research can help you find online niche job boards that work best for your business. Other ways to narrow down the talent pool include posting job openings in a local newspaper or on the local newspaper's website.

While the newspaper industry is far from flourishing, local papers may still reach thousands of people in your area. The online content from local newspapers also attracts thousands of readers who may seek out the paper's job board to look for openings in the area. Attracting local talent through a local news source may be easier than using a global platform like LinkedIn. Be creative with your talent acquisition plan.

Using a niche job site doesn't mean you have to abandon traditional measures, though. There's nothing wrong with posting an opening in a local newspaper and LinkedIn, for example. The channels you use will change based on your business's recruitment strategy.

In addition to niche job sites, using social media can attract applicants, especially if you have a loyal following. By posting openings on social media, you'll be reaching your followers, who have already made the decision to follow your business. This means they're interested in what you're doing, which makes them more likely to be interested in joining your cause. Niche job sites can help attract applicants, but don't forget to post openings on your own site and to share those openings on social media regularly.

3. Hire on a trial basis.

Businesses struggling to find the right candidates should consider hiring on a freelance or trial basis. For example, you can hire a candidate to work on a couple of projects with your team to get a better sense of their talent and skills. If you find that they do well with the team, extend a full-time offer. If they struggle, you may opt to go in a different direction.

"Hiring freelancers to complete small and specific jobs with a long-term job in mind is an almost risk-free way to test out talent," said Will Ellis, security analyst at Privacy Australia. "If a freelancer completes a project and does a fantastic job, rehiring them a few times can ensure you see how they are as a worker firsthand."

This route requires proper business etiquette and clear rules and boundaries. If you bring someone on for a project or two, be sure to compensate them for their work, even if you don't hire them. If you ask someone to perform a minor project that takes one to two hours solely as a test of their abilities and you won't use that work for your business's gain, it's OK not to provide payment. Be wary of how long any work-related tests take, however, as anything over an hour or two becomes cumbersome and may require payment. The one-hour cutoff varies by field, but it's a good guideline to make sure you aren't wasting a candidate's time.

Much like job referrals, hiring on a trial basis is a way to feel confident that the person you're hiring is a good fit for your business. Hiring on a trial basis is also a way for employees to see if they enjoy working for your company. An applicant may find after a project or two that they aren't as interested in the work as they thought, and they can decline an offer thanks to a better understanding of what the job entails. The trial period acts almost like an onboarding process, as the candidate learns the basics of the company's workflow during the projects.

4. Write better job descriptions.

While writing better job descriptions isn't necessarily a recruitment strategy, it's a quick way to improve your recruiting success. Hiring elite candidates means you need to attract elite candidates. Job boards are filled with thousands of openings, and it isn't easy to stand out. One way to stand out is with quality job descriptions.

The best job descriptions are specific and clear. They outline what the job entails and what they're looking for in a candidate. Try to keep your job description succinct so applicants feel comfortable reading through the entire description. It can be beneficial to ask your team to help write the job description so it's as accurate as possible.

Place an emphasis on writing reasonable job descriptions. Some companies ask for significantly too much or too little in their job descriptions. A company looking for an entry-level employee may ask for three to five years of experience in a role, which likely isn't a reasonable request given the volume of recent college graduates applying for entry-level jobs. Other companies may use broad phrases like "seeking someone with an entrepreneurial spirit," which is vague and subjective. Write specific and reasonable job descriptions. Be fair about what you're asking for, and make sure the qualifications you want are specifically addressed. 

"It is important to be detailed but reasonable in your job posting," said Iqbal. "Sometimes job postings just ask for too much. Make sure that you put down the actual things that are required for the job. Don't put 10 years of experience as a requirement when someone can do it with just two years of experience. Oftentimes business owners ask for too much, and plenty of qualified people pass over the listing because they feel they can't do the job."

Avoid being overly excited in your job description. It's fine to be excited about the role and to showcase your fun company culture but using phrases like "ROCKSTAR salesman!" or being overly aggressive in your use of capitalization and exclamation points can turn off qualified candidates. Keep your job descriptions professional.

5. Offer relevant perks.

Perks can often be a good way to attract a diverse and talented applicant pool. In addition to good company culture, companies that offer work-life balance and comprehensive health insurance packages appeal to a broad range of candidates.

There are plenty of options for traditional work perks to attract top talent, and there's no shortage of unusual and creative options either. If you're looking to attract top talent to your small business, it helps to offer relevant perks.

Flexible work offerings, like the ability to telecommute, can make your business especially appealing to millennials and younger workers. According to FlexJobs, 70% of millennials have left or considered leaving a job because it lacked flexible work options, while only about half of older workers report the same. Being flexible with schedules and offering remote work appeals to today's workforce.

Toptal, a company that helps connect freelancers with businesses, is completely remote. The company believes offering remote work gives it greater access to talented workers across the globe.

"Your net just became a lot bigger," said Bryce York, head of SMB inbound sales at Toptal. "There are a lot of highly skilled professionals who prefer to work remotely, or live where they want to live, not necessarily where there is a high concentration of in-office jobs and business headquarters." 

For businesses, York says using remote workers can help decrease infrastructure costs associated with working in an office building. For employees, he says the ability to live wherever they please and help interesting brands without uprooting their lives is an enticing perk. He did caution that remote work isn't for everyone, and businesses need to find employees who will remain engaged and productive when working remotely. 

Not all businesses can offer remote work, but it's one perk that's worth considering if you're struggling to attract top talent to your small business.

The bottom line

There's no perfect recruitment strategy, and the recruitment process will vary by business, but utilizing referrals, improving job descriptions, and offering relevant perks helps attract the best potential candidates on the job market. Being a small business doesn't mean you can't hire great talent, but it does mean you need to develop a good recruitment strategy.

Image Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock
Bennett Conlin
Bennett Conlin Member
Bennett is a B2B editorial assistant based in New York City. He graduated from James Madison University in 2018 with a degree in business management. During his time in Harrisonburg he worked extensively with The Breeze, JMU’s student-run newspaper. Bennett also worked at the Shenandoah Valley SBDC, where he helped small businesses with a variety of needs ranging from social media marketing to business plan writing.