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5 Tactics That Will Improve How Your Small Business Hires

Newsflash: size doesn’t matter. Small businesses have a huge impact on the economy, accounting for as many as 80% of all jobs in the US. But since we have fewer employees individually, our success can often hinge on their talent, dedication, and all around awesomeness.

Maybe in multinational corporations with a staff of 100,000, it won’t hurt if a few people fall asleep on the job. And maybe a few bad hires won’t bring the company to its knees. But as the owner of a small-but-mighty boutique copywriting agency, I can tell you one thing: every one of my employees needs to (and does) pull their weight.

One person who agrees with me on this subject is Ed Nathanson, a man with 20 years’ experience in talent acquisition and the founder of Red Pill Talent. I caught up with Ed recently to pick his brain, and together we’ve compiled five top tips to help small businesses recruit better.

1. Define the role—including its title and future prospects

If a candidate is truly great, you’ll want them to stick around for years to come. And one of the best ways to find that person is to clearly define the role before you start recruiting for it. This includes giving it a fully realized title (something the candidate will be proud to display on their business cards and LinkedIn profile), and figuring out the career growth and promotion path it leads to.

Most small businesses haven’t figured this out, but they should. It goes a long way when you’re competing with huge enterprises for top talent.

Plotting a clear career path might take drawing up an org chart and working backwards, but it’s worth the effort.

More importantly, Ed says, small and medium-sized businesses need to consider the impact the role will have, both for the company and for the candidate. After all, if they’re coming from a multinational corporation, they need a juicy reason to downsize.

When you know what you’re offering, you can target your campaign for candidates that meet the background and experience the role demands—and be ready with an enticing offer when you pique their interest.

2. Develop a recruiting plan that eliminates bias, while maintaining your unique allure

When you’ve got a small team, especially if it’s working at or close to capacity already, the thought of developing a deeply complex recruiting process can be daunting. It might be hard to hear, but suck it up. You need a plan, and that includes figuring out your non-negotiables, creating screening tests, and figuring out what traits you want and how to interview for them. Hard work, yes, but incredibly worthwhile.

Having a clear structure before you start seeing candidates keeps your recruiting process consistent and fair. When you’re small (and busy), it can be tempting to hire the first candidate that strikes you as likeable, competent, and a good culture fit.

But dedicating the time and effort to really listen to candidates and figure out who matches those crucial traits you’re looking for pays off—you’ll get the best person for the job and limit unconscious bias in one fell swoop.

But Ed cautions small and medium-sized businesses not to seem too routine in their hiring processes. If your multi-step, test-driven interviews are near identical to the big corporations your candidates are used to, they’ll have no motivation to leave that setting.

That doesn’t mean go back to hiring on a gut feeling. Instead, focus on selling your company culture throughout the process, from the job description right through to the onsite meetings.

Emphasize your size and what it means for your team—efficiency, great working relationships, lack of tangled matrixes, or all of the above.

3. Consider potential over experience and qualifications alone

It’s easy to be blindsided by a stellar resume. 10 years at this high-profile corporation, qualifications from that prestigious school… Wow. But remember, that plucky up-and-comer with a resume light on name recognition might be exactly what your company needs. Don’t count them out just yet.

Discovering candidates who are moving upward rather than laterally can deepen your talent pool significantly, Ed advises. Search for applicants who are passionate and hungry—that’s the kind of fire that will fuel your business for years to come.

4. Decide who on your team does what throughout the recruiting process, and stick to that structure

When you don’t have a dedicated in-house recruiter, it’s tempting to fling recruitment-related tasks at whoever has bandwidth without thinking about the process as a whole. This invites bias and only succeeds in jumbling the process in the long run, potentially leading to bad hires, and time and money wasted.

Rather than scrambling, sit down and talk to your team about which roles they’ll be filling. Create a standardized process where everyone pulls their weight. Ed suggests making sure they know that recruiting is a priority and should be incorporated into their daily work. He also notes that partnering with agency vendors can be beneficial before you’re able to onboard a recruiter of your own.

If the CEO is the main hiring manager, consider ensuring that they see as many candidates as possible. This helps candidates get a feel for how hands-on the company’s leader is, and how dedicated they are to its success.

A standardized process also helps stamp down on bias. At my company, one method we employ is splitting our interview panel into groups, with each group spending an allocated amount of time with every candidate. The groups remain consistent between candidates for a given job, and after interview rounds, each interviewer fills out a scorecard focused on five traits. No single opinion can disproportionately impact our decision: the numerical average rules the day. It’s a process we’re proud of, and one that’s led to several high-quality hires.

5. Show candidate’s what’s special about your company

You’re not a large company. So don’t try to compete with large companies in terms of benefits and compensation packages, because that’s a game you’re likely not going to win.

Stop and take stock of what’s special about your business. Remember, something has attracted the candidate to you over a large company—and the candidate almost certainly knows your benefits and comp won’t compete, so don’t sweat it. Think about what you can offer them instead.

Instead of focusing on what you don’t offer, Ed advocates talking about what you do. Maybe it’s early equity. Or perhaps it’s the opportunity to work closely with an inspiring CEO and learn directly from them. Whatever it is, emphasize it throughout your negotiations.

You’ll also want to do your homework on what the candidate actually wants. If you find this out early into your conversations, it can guide your negotiations and help close the deal. Whatever is important to the candidate, emphasize how your company meets that need—use their own motivations as a magnet.

Finally, remember that pay is always going to be important, regardless of the size of the business. Candidates don’t want to feel below the market any more than you would. So negotiate. And if their total comp comes with massive equity or other perks, be sure to explain this to them and make clear how it differs from larger companies’ offerings. Not everyone is aware of this, and assuming they know might cost you a hire.

Following these five tactics won’t guarantee success. But it will put your small business in a better position whenever a position opens up. Don’t be afraid to aim high—you deserve those exceptional candidates just as much as a giant corporation.

CREDIT: Jean Tang
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5 Recruiting Skills That AI Can’t Replace

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk around AI and recruiting—will it take over recruiters jobs? Will the way we recruit and hire completely change?

But, while AI will certainly play a big role in the future of recruiting, only 14% of talent acquisition professionals are concerned that AI will take away their jobs, according to our survey.

That’s because the core of the recruiting profession—the parts of the job that require personal and emotional engagement—can’t be replaced by AI. Instead, AI will automate more menial, structured tasks (like data collection) and free up recruiters to focus on building their skill sets that require a human touch.

These are the top recruiting skills AI is least likely to replace

  1. Building relationships with candidates
  2. Seeing candidate potential beyond credentials
  3. Judging “culture add” or “culture fit”
  4. Gauging candidate interpersonal skills
  5. Convincing candidates to accept offers

By nurturing and growing these skills, you can be sure to stand out as a recruiter and add value to the hiring process that AI can amplify, but not replace. Here’s a look at each recruiting skill:

1. Building relationships with candidates

Unsurprisingly, the most AI-proof skill is the one that relies most on the human touch—building strong relationships with candidates. It’s these relationships that leave a lasting impression on candidates—one that can make all the difference when they’re choosing between multiple offers or deciding whether to leave their current role.

You can build a strong relationship with candidates through personalized outreachthat’s tailored to their interests, being open about yourself and your career, and being transparent about the interview process and the role (the good and the bad). Helping to prep them for interviews also goes a long way and leaves a lasting impression.

2. Seeing candidate potential beyond credentials

It takes a talented recruiter to spot the true potential of a candidate, especially one who has minimal experience or is switching careers altogether. You can develop this skill by defining the traits and soft skills that have made previous employees successful in the role, and screening for them in your hiring process. While AI can enhance your potential-spotting skills, it can’t replace them.

3. Judging “culture add” or “culture fit”

Figuring out whether a candidate will fit in with your culture, or more importantly be a culture add, is a skill that requires human interaction. Pre-screening AI tools can come in handy here as well, but what will really help you make this decision is meeting with the candidate and, even better, bringing them in for a job audition. By letting them work alongside their prospective coworkers for a day, you get a firsthand glimpse of what they’ll bring to the culture (and how good they’ll be at the job).

You can also help candidates who won’t like your culture self select out by making your company values and culture show in job descriptions and on your website.

4. Gauging candidates’ interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills impact how well an employee can communicate with their managers, work with other teams, and respond to customers’ needs. The best way to assess interpersonal skills is the simplest, and something recruiters are very good at: chatting with  candidates.

You can tailor your interview questions to uncover interpersonal skills by asking things like “describe a conflict you’ve had with your manager, and how you dealt with it,” or by posing a specific problem they might encounter on the job and asking how they’d solve it.

5. Convincing candidates to accept offers

Accepting a job offer is a huge decision, and it requires a personal approach. When you’ve spent the time getting to know your candidate, you can focus on the things that matter most to them (beyond salary) when making the offer. If they’re really excited about career growth, for example, you know to discuss their career trajectory at your company, showing them what their next five years might look like. Recruiters can also discuss any concerns and anticipate why a candidate might reject an offer.

The human touch is only going to become more important as AI streamlines the hiring process and handles the menial tasks for you. Mastering these five skills will ensure that your candidates always have welcoming and engaging interactions with you and your company, even if they encounter AI along the way. Their experience will be better, and your job will be secure for years to come.

For more insights about how AI will impact the future of recruiting, download the complete Global Recruiting Trends 2018 report today.

Credit: Samantha McLaren

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Employees Share What Gives Them a Sense of Belonging at Work

Studies show that feeling a sense of belonging in the workplace leads to more than just good vibes and friendships. Belonging is what allows employees to feel like they can be their authentic selves without fear of different treatment or punishment—and it has a major impact on performance and retention.

Diversity and inclusion still matter, but they won’t cut it if you don’t consider belonging as part of the equation. Belonging is the crucial piece of the puzzle, leading to psychological safety and employee engagement. Supportive environments even trigger different responses in the brain, leading to better collaboration and problem solving.

But, you might not know how to actually create a culture of belonging. Though more and more companies are accepting the importance of fostering a sense of “belonging,” it’s still a relatively new and developing concept. For those wondering how to create a culture of belonging, LinkedIn’s Inside the Mind of Today’s Candidate report reveals some concrete insights on what employees say they need to feel like they belong.

Here, we’ll walk you through the main factors that make employees feel like they belong and four key things you can do to help foster a sense of belonging.

belonging at work

1. Recognize employees for their unique efforts and accomplishments

Mentioned by a whopping 59% of respondents to our candidate survey, being recognized for accomplishments at work was the largest single contributor to an overall sense of belonging.

Not surprisingly, being recognized for their accomplishments was most important to millennials—coming in at 60%, compared to just 53% of baby boomers. Many a joke has been made about millennials and “participation trophies,” but plenty of studies show that millennials are actually uniquely conditioned to want continuous, regular feedback on their work.

Recognition for accomplishments was also more important to women (62%) than it was for men (57%). Though the reason isn’t clear from the data, it could be because women often feel undervalued at work, especially compared to their male colleagues.

Interestingly, valuing recognition is also correlated with an employee’s company size. It was cited by 63% of employees at enterprise companies (with over 1,000 employees) compared to 59% at small businesses (with fewer than 200 employees), indicating that the average worker might feel more valued in a smaller pond.

Small, simple gestures are an impactful and cost-effective way to make employees feel truly valued, like allowing them to announce big wins, honoring employees’ work anniversaries, and unique award programs that go beyond the standard “Employee of the Month.”

Keep in mind that not all employees are motivated the same way—for example, while some like to be recognized in public, visible ways, others prefer a private message or reward.

That said, all employees want to be recognized not just for showing up, but for offering something unique to the organization. To accomplish this, show them how their individual contributions are irreplaceable to the company.

Leaders should aim to always speak intentionally, challenging employees and emphasizing their unique skills.

“You did a great job designing that website last week,” writes The Muse’s Avery Augustine, as an example conversation. “We have a new client who seems pretty picky, and since your work is so detail-oriented, I think you’re the only one for the job.”

Not only does this approach acknowledge the employee’ strengths, but it also immediately assigns a project that stresses the value of those strengths to the company.

2. Acknowledge and appreciate employee’s contributions in meetings to make them feel valued

50% of survey espondents said they feel a greater sense of belonging at work when their contributions in meetings are valued. Though similar to recognition, valuing contributions is more about employees speaking up during discussions, and less about their job performance. And like recognition, having contributions valued was cited by more women (55%) than men (48%), which could signal that women are less likely to feel “heard” in meetings and discussions.

The survey data doesn’t show a strong correlation with either seniority or age, which points to an interesting truth—feeling valued at work isn’t just about raises or promotions. It’s largely about how leaders treat their subordinates, from trusting their decisions to empathically listening to them in meetings.

Another way to show employees that their contributions are valuable is to simply listen respectfully and attentively. Note that this might look different depending on a team member’s personality: quieter team members prefer someone who “pauses, listens, and creates a space,” while more outspoken employees want room to bring their thoughts “whenever and wherever.”

3. Practice candor and give employees opportunities to share their honest opinions

Feeling free to express one’s opinions at work is another major component of belonging, called out by 51% of respondents.

Though similar to having your contributions valued, being able to express your thoughts and opinions at work is more about fostering an open, honest environment where employees won’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Employees who know they can speak their mind feel more motivated to contribute unique ideas that go against the grain, and even command more respect from peers.

Perhaps surprisingly, freedom to express opinions was generally considered most important to senior employees—cited by 62% of VPs, compared to 51% of managers. Though there was no correlation with age, it’s possible that millennials have different reasons for emphasizing open expression. Whereas older team members may wish to express needs and frustrations, millennials are significantly more likely to see the sharing of ideas and opinions as necessary for workplace inclusion.

Sometimes, employees have to learn to speak more candidly and confidently on their own—in interviews or performance reviews, for example. However, leaders also need to make sure they’re setting a tone that lets their workers feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.

According to Cornell professor James Detert, getting employees to speak freely can be especially difficult, largely due to workplace norms, along with their fear of losing out on bonuses, promotions, and even their job for speaking up.

“We have a deep set of defense mechanisms that make us careful around people in authority positions,” says James. Yet he believes lower-level employees are often more in touch with the organization’s “problems and possibilities,” and can identify small issues before they become large and unmanageable—making their opinions especially valuable.

To develop a more open and candid environment, start by identifying issues and subjects that seem to cause silence, then invite employees to lunch or other informal settings to discuss them. Make it clear you’re seeking their honest opinions and give them an incentive or reward for speaking up. Leaders can also promote candor by practicing it themselves—speak openly, and your team will follow.

4. Encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work to improve retention and performance

Feeling comfortable with being yourself at work might seem like a fuzzy goal, but 50% of survey respondents consider it an important element of belonging. And it’s not just about self-expression—in a major study, researchers found that emphasizing individuality on the job led to greater retention, less turnover, and even higher customer satisfaction.

Among the workers surveyed, freedom to be yourself was more important for women than men, possibly due to a pervasive “old boys’ club” mentality in many career paths. It was also more important to millennials than other age groups, which dovetails with the common belief that the millennial generation is especially individualistic.

Allowing your employees to feel comfortable with their true selves is especially important when it comes to improving diversity and company culture. When team members feel like they have to stifle parts of their personality, it doesn’t just harm engagement and feelings of belonging—it can also keep women, minorities, and other potentially marginalized groups from succeeding at a company.

In the study mentioned above, researchers found success by emphasizing individuality during orientation. For example, employees were asked what makes them unique, then given fleeces with their names on them, rather than the company name.

Leaders can also promote individuality and “walk the walk” by choosing not to hide important parts of themselves at work. Also, consider re-tooling your employer branding to reflect employees’ personalities—all it takes is a little trust.

Feeling like you belong at work makes employees happier, but the benefits don’t end there. Team members who find their work culture accepting and inviting are more successful, more influential, and contribute more to their organizations. By emphasizing the four factors outlined here, you can help create the perfect environment for future growth.

Credit: Maxwell Huppert
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The 3 Reasons Why Your Employees Are Disengaged

Roughly three out of four employees are not engaged. And, many of them are pointing the finger at their manager or boss. In fact, the majority of employees say their boss is the most stressful (and often worst) part of their job.

But, at the same time, we have high reports of satisfaction at work. According to SHRM’s annual Job Satisfaction report in 2014, 86% of U.S. employees reported overall satisfaction with their current job, an improvement of five percentage points since 2013.

As a boss and a hiring manager (and let’s face it, my very own HR consultant) I am confused. And that’s because, like many, I have long correlated happiness or satisfaction with engagement. As a result, I did what I could to be a great boss, believing that my focus should be solely on my employees and their happiness at work.

But recently, I realized, that engagement and happiness are NOT the same thing. I’ve written elsewhere about this phenomenon and while I won’t change my compensation practices, how I review employees and give feedback, or suddenly start treating my employees badly, I realized a simple and freeing truth: If an employee is unsatisfied, disengaged or unproductive, it’s not entirely their boss’s fault. They are partially responsible.

However, there are still things you can do to increase employee engagement. Here are three reasons for employee disengagement and guidance you can offer to help them turn the beat around.

1. They don’t fit the company culture

This is an easy mistake anyone can make during a particularly long job hunt. The average job search takes 43 days, so the new hire decided to nab the first decent paying gig they could get. Or, they truly thought they were cut out for a corporate job, when really they are more suited for freelance nation. Either way, they didn’t pay attention to cultural cues during the interview process or neglected taking the time to understand personal work values.

What you can do: When recruiting, using a personality test or work matching algorithm is a pretty good idea, simply to understand who will actually work well in your professional realm. Explaining thoroughly how your office works helps, but it ultimately is on the employee to know how they work best. But when an individual who is hired and turns out to not be a great fit, use the review process and practice transparency to help them understand what can make them better at and more satisfied within the position.

2. They aren’t taking charge of their own career

While some have an excellent point that the freelance nation discussion is mostly had from a place of distinct advantage (we’re not talking about “work-flex” at McDonald’s or for the school janitorial staff), engagement is also not something we ascribe to hourly or minimum wage jobs.*

If a worker is in a field they intend to make a career, then isn’t the auspice on them to…engage? Many of the facets of engagement revolve around things one CAN work on. For example, more engaged workers have friends at work and also cite recognition for their work.

What you can do: Creating opportunities for employees to bond will encourage team friendships and trust. Of course, many of these things have to happen outside of work hours so it’s on the employees to participate. The same goes for projects. Offer opportunities to team members, but realize that some people will never be up for the challenge.

3. They feel under valued

37% of employees say their boss failed to give credit when credit was due. And this matters because if employees feel like their recognition is being stolen by their manager, they won’t be incentivized to work as hard. In turn if you do give them credit, they will be more motivated. In fact, according to Towers Watson, in companies where both leaders and managers are perceived by employees as effective, 72% of employees are highly engaged.

What you can do: While some people are great at tooting their own horn, others are not. So, keep track of who is doing what in order to avoid having employees take credit for things they really didn’t do or downplay their own contributions. Sometimes, your biggest contributors are the quietest and it’s up to you to make sure they are recognized. But remember, credit loses its value if everyone gets it all the time – even if they didn’t really do very much. Be specific with your acknowledgements and continue to provide constructive feedback as well.

While being disengaged at work is a problem in our workforce, it’s not one that can be corrected without employees taking their careers, their happiness and yes, their own engagement levels into consideration. But, you can help by encouraging them to flesh out what they value as a professional, providing tools and opportunities to push their own careers forward and calling them out when they do. Just remember, leaders can guide employees to engagement, not necessarily make them engaged. Do your best to empower your workers, but realize that the worker of 2016 can control some of those elements themselves.

*Image from Mad Men | Credit: Maren Hogan

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