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Winter 2000 In Search of Excellence

Gone are the days when you could run a help-wanted ad and enjoy a deluge of resumes from top-quality applicants. Nowadays, unemployment figures are running at a 25-year low. This may be good for the economy, but it’s devastating for the employer who wants to hire top talent. “Most employers now exist in a world of negative unemployment,” says Mel Kleiman, president of Humetrics, a Houston-based consulting firm. “That means there are more positions available than people qualified to fill them.” Tough times call for tough measures. “To attract good employees, you need to get aggressive,” says Kleiman. And that means shooting off some new weapons in the human-relations arsenal. Where do you find these weapons? Right here!

1. Call good employees who left your company.

“Former employees are absolutely your best prospects to fill your available positions,” says Kleiman. “Make a conscious effort to call previous workers. See if they’re happy, or if they want to return. Maybe they won’t come back right away, but somewhere down the line they might. So keep the lines of communications open.”

Kleiman suggests waiting about six months after high-level employees leave before calling them, since they need time to get acquainted with their new positions. For mid-level positions, Kleiman suggests waiting only a week or two. Sometimes it quickly becomes apparent to these employees that the greener grass on the other side of the fence has some pesky weeds.

Bonus tip: Invite departing employees to check in with you to let you know how the new job is working out.

2. Offer a finder’s fee to anyone who refers people you hire.

“Your current employees are also excellent sources for new hires,” says Kleiman. “Tell them if they help you hire someone, you’ll pay them a finder’s fee.” Kleiman offers an important additional point: Don’t restrict your finder’s-fee offer only to current employees. Open the offer to their relatives, as well as to third parties such as suppliers, customers, even the general public. “Most employers forget to expand the base of their finder’s-fee offer,” says Kleiman. “Remember that the more people you have searching for you, the more choice you will have when filling positions.”

To communicate that you are looking for employees who will stick around, structure your reward program to pay the finder half the fee once the new employee has worked 90 days, and half at the six-month anniversary.

Bonus tip: To increase the likelihood of long-term employment, let the referring employee orient the new hire.

3. Ask job applicants for the names of others who might be good hires.

No matter how aggressive your efforts to solicit applicants, you’ll never see 99 percent of the most competent people. These people are happily employed and never look at the help-wanted section of the newspaper. Your job is to flush them out.

“Every applicant who walks into your office is worth three to five additional names,” says Kleiman. He suggests saying something along the lines of: “I would like the names of three other people who can tell me about you.” When you call those people, start by discussing the applicant, then move on to discussing their own backgrounds and needs. You might decide to invite them in for an interview.

Bonus tip: Remind them that you offer finder’s fees for referrals.

4. Show prospects how you intend to help them in their career paths—in your company and beyond.

Although you want to encourage employees to stay with you as long as possible, it’s also true that the best ones expect to depart for another employer somewhere down the road. You can attract the best people—and encourage them to stay longer—by outlining how you can assist them in their long-term career development.

Career-advancement comes in two varieties, “vertical” and “horizontal,” and your assistance offer is attractive whichever path the prospect chooses. In vertical advancement, employees “move up the ladder” in your business by means of promotions through the ranks of management. In horizontal advancement, employees hone and expand their skills by taking courses and other learning opportunities, especially in adjacent work areas, making those employees more valuable as team members. These enhancements increase their chances for horizontal promotion—”lateral” (sideways) rather than upward—which is often equally desirable, especially to employees with specialized skills. And at the same time, their value (“employability”) to other businesses increases.

Horizontal advancement is necessary today. “With baby boomers in their forties now, many more are people clamoring to get into more responsible roles,” says Challenger. “But there just isn’t enough room for everyone who is driven and talented.” If people can’t move up, they can move sideways with greater education and expertise.

“You must be able to show there is growth potential in your business,” says Don Schackne, president of Personnel Management and Administration Associates, a consulting firm in Delaware, OH. Schackne knows of one employer who tells each prospective employee about three ladders of advancement at the company. “The [newly] hired employee may climb one ladder as far as possible, or transition to adjacent ladders—representing different career paths—and then move up,” he explains. This employer shows prospects the growth potential in the company and describes exactly what individuals must do to climb the ladders. “There’s no doubt about how far the employee could go.”

Bonus tip: Offering tuition reimbursement for appropriate courses can tie the employees to you at a time when they are being courted by others.

5. Work with local organizations.

You network to get new customers—why not network to attract top employees? Here are some proven techniques:

  • At community colleges: Teach a business course to bring you into contact with prospective job applicants.
  • In high schools: Give seminars on “Life after High School” to explain the world of work to young people. Again, this raises your profile considerably among those who will soon be looking for part-time or full-time work.
  • At chambers of commerce: A growing number of chambers are offering assistance in matching resumes with employers. “Don’t overlook the job fairs that are often sponsored by chambers and other local organizations such as the Rotary,” says Ethan Winning, an employee-relations consultant in Walnut Creek, CA. “These aren’t just places to show off your business, but all the job applicants in town come with resumes. They pick up application forms and start applying.”

6. Advertise in fresh places.

“Place your ads where good prospects are likely to see them,” says Dr. Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting (East Greenwich, RI). Instead of advertising in the help-wanted section, try the sports, auto or local-news sections. “Even a modest help-wanted ad, when it’s standing alone [in a different newspaper section], has a better chance of being seen than a great ad that has been positioned with 12 other great ads,” says Weiss.

And maybe the local paper isn’t even the best medium. Weiss suggests considering flyers published by local organizations. It may cost only $5 or $10 to place a small ad in mailers from local groups such as PTAs, Welcome Wagon®, Scouts and fraternal organizations.

Finally, get permission to post help-wanted flyers in local beauty salons, health clubs, libraries and anywhere else you think you might reach good prospects. These are places where people spend a lot of time—and your ad won’t be overwhelmed by competing pitches.

Bonus tip: Place ads in out-of-town media serving areas of high unemployment (or with a concentration of people with the special skills you need).

These six recruitment strategies should help you avoid the costly mistake of hiring the wrong person just to fill a slot. Inexperienced people can wreak varying degrees of havoc in your operations; unprofessional staff might alienate customers and push them toward your competition. At the same time, hasty hiring decisions can lead to turnover, just as costly and damaging as confused operations and loss of sales. Says Kleiman: “The most expensive employee you hire is the one you have to fire.”


Phillip M. Perry

Perry is a freelance writer based in New York, NY.

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