How to Find Your Next Star Employee

Traditional advertising on employment sites or in newspapers can attract a variety of job seekers, but hiring from these sources can be something of a crapshoot. Rather than sorting through a stack of resumes and trying to divine someone’s actual abilities, here are three better ways to find your next stand-out worker.

Offer an Internship

Assuming the positions at your business require some level of skill, you may find a college student who would love to gain real-world experience through a short stint at your workplace. Reach out to local community colleges and universities to inquire about internship programs.

Depending on the type of experience you can offer, students may intern for college credit or for a reasonable hourly wage. However, be aware the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act places restrictions on the use of unpaid interns by some companies engaged in interstate commerce.

In addition to giving students experience, internships give you the opportunity to test-drive potential employees. If you find a stellar student, you may be able to transition him or her to a permanent position. If you don’t find long-term potential, you can part ways amicably once the internship ends.

Ask Colleagues and Social Network Contacts

Consider offering a small recruiting bonus to current employees for referring qualified candidates — particularly if you hire a candidate, and he or she performs well.

Before you were the boss, you were likely an employee for someone else. Perhaps you had a former colleague that you’d love to have in your office. Assuming you aren’t bound by a non-solicitation agreement, you can contact that person and discuss open positions in your firm. Regardless of whether or not the individual you approach is interested, he or she may know someone with similar skills who fits your requirements.

Posting information about job opportunities on Linked-In or other professional networking sites can be helpful, but don’t forget about your extended social connections. Alumni networks may facilitate job postings; your kids’ school might send email newsletters to parents and be happy to include a notice about jobs; homeowners’ association bulletins can be accommodating; clubs and religious groups might let you advertise at low or no cost.

Remember to speak about open positions in your company with others at fundraising events, social gatherings and sporting activities. Ask smart people if they happen to know anyone with the specific skills that you need and explain your open position. The goal is to reach candidates connected to you with the fewest possible degrees of separation, so that your applicant pool comes from the people you respect and trust.

Poach Your Competition

While not for the faint of heart, looking to your competition for top talent can be an option worth pursuing for high level and other positions. Retaining an executive recruiter is the easiest way to pursue competitive talent, but — if your budget doesn’t permit this luxury — you can conduct your own search.

Maintain a file containing local and regional news clips on promotions and significant new hires in your community or industry. For local competitive employees, ask friends and acquaintances if they know an individual you’re interested in meeting and, if so, whether they can arrange an introduction. When you meet, congratulate the person on a notable accomplishment and mention that you’ll be happy to explain how working with your company might be mutually rewarding when he or she is ready to consider a next move.

When interested in talent located in distant communities, try picking up the phone to explain that you’ve noticed press about their accomplishments and are wondering if relocating to your area might be something to consider at some point. If you encounter openness, probe about timing and make a note to follow up.

View this as a long-term project and avoid a hard-sell approach. You don’t want to gain a reputation as a poacher so tread cautiously. Express your interest, and let the employee make the next move.

Hiring the right staff is critical, so view it as an ongoing process. Be an ambassador for your organization and encourage your existing employees to do the same. Rather than rely on episodic bursts of resumes, maintain a steady dialogue with recommenders and candidates. This will give you people at varying stages of hiring readiness in your pipeline at all times.

For even more small business hiring tips, be sure to read Find and Recruit Talent for Your Small Business.

Maryalene LaPonsie has been writing professionally for more than a decade on topics including education, insurance and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Western Michigan University.

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