The national jobless rate continues to hover at about 5 percent, with unemployment in some states dipping below 3 percent. While this may be good news for workers, it's another challenge for employers. When you combine low unemployment with the need for greater job skills, it's easy to understand why competition for qualified workers is stronger than ever.
What can you do to attract the caliber of employee you need? Peggy Isaacson, a human resources consultant in Orlando, Florida, suggests beginning with a creative search plan.
"You can't just place a help-wanted ad in the newspaper and expect to be flooded with top-notch candidates," Isaacson says. "While advertising has its place in the hiring process, it's not enough. In this market, good people won't just come to you; you have to aggressively look for them."
Some techniques Isaacson recommends:
- Tap into your personal and professional networks. Tell everyone you know--friends, neighbors, professional associates, customers, vendors, colleagues from clubs and associations, and so on--that you have job openings. Someone just might know of the perfect candidate.
- Establish an employee referral program. Encourage your current employees to recommend your company to people they know, and offer cash bonuses for referrals that result in hiring.
- Contact school placement offices. List your openings with trade and vocational schools, colleges and universities. Check with your local school board to see if high schools in your area have job training and placement programs. For example, the new Toledo Technology Academy in Toledo, Ohio, has developed a special curriculum to prepare high school students for high-tech manufacturing jobs.
- Post notices at senior citizen centers. Retirees who need extra income or a productive way to fill their time can make excellent employees.
- Use an employment agency. Private and government-sponsored agencies can help with locating and screening applicants; often their fees are more than justified by the amount of time and money you save.
- List your opening with an appropriate job bank. Many professional associations maintain job banks for their members. Contact groups related to your industry, even if they are outside your local area, and ask them to alert their members to your staffing needs.
Once you find a candidate, be sure you have something to offer and present it well. "When I teach job-search skills, I tell candidates they have to sell themselves in the interview," says Isaacson. "The employer has to do the same. You need to sell the applicant on accepting your job offer."
To persuade a candidate to join your company, Isaacson suggests:
- Be sure your compensation package is competitive. The salary should meet or exceed industry standards for your area and include as many perks as you can afford. "To people who say they can't afford to pay decent wages, I ask `How can you afford the cost of turnover because you can't keep people?' " Isaacson says. "You'd also be surprised at the type and scope of benefits you can offer at little or no cost to the company, if you're creative."
- Create a working environment that is positive and inspires loyalty. Take a look at your facility through the eyes of an employee; would you want to work there?
- Treat the candidate courteously and professionally throughout the interview process. "How you treat candidates is a strong indication of how you treat employees," says Isaacson.
- Introduce the candidate to existing employees. Isaacson says this allows the candidate to see the people he or she would be working with so you both have a chance to determine the potential compatibility. You can also go back to your employees after the interview and get their impressions of the candidate, which may help you make the right hiring decision.
Finally, always be on the lookout for good employees--even when you're not actively hiring. Isaacson notes, "You never know when you're going to meet someone who is perfect for your company.Neither one of you may be looking at the time, but if you make a note of that person's qualifications, they just might be interested in talking to you when you do have a spot to fill."