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Finding Talent Remains the Single-Biggest Issue Facing Small Businesses. These Tips Can Help Find Your Next Great Employee Regardless of shifts in the economy, talent is at a premium. This column will share best practices for helping small business owners and entrepreneurs find their next great hire.

By Kathleen Duffy Edited by Maria Bailey

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In its recent monthly jobs report, the National Federation of Independent Businesses revealed what many small businesses already know: finding quality labor is a challenge.

In fact, the report noted that filling open positions is the single largest issue facing small firms. Nearly one-quarter of owners said the worker shortage is affecting their ability to fill open positions and limiting their ability to grow.

Among the respondents, 46% said they were unable to fill job openings in September. That brings the number of unfilled job openings to a historic high.

While finding the next great employees may seem futile, it is not impossible. Contrary to popular belief, there are qualified candidates in the market. It's just a matter of knowing where to find them and capturing their interest in a compelling way.

Sourcing talent requires a strategy and creativity that reaches beyond posting positions online and praying for a rush of candidates to apply. A more effective approach is to unearth passive candidates who may not be looking for a career move but would entertain the right position. That means searching for high-performing individuals through trade associations, events, universities and even those who may be working in another industry but whose skills are applicable to the open position.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Find Great Talent Despite a Labor Shortage

Here are some proven ways to re-energize your recruitment process and unearth candidates with the skills and passion for your business:

1. Revisit your company's mission and values to use as selling points in attracting talent

As a business owner or department leader, you undoubtedly are familiar with your company's mission. But do you understand what separates your firm from others in your industry? That is, does your company have a unique product or service, a nurturing culture or a penchant for giving back to the community? Use this information to craft a compelling company story that will pique the interest of job-seekers and passive candidates alike.

2. Audit your brand to find out what others are saying about you on popular websites and social media platforms

Shoring up your reputation with positive reviews from current and past employees and customers will go a long way in selling a position to a potential new employee.

3. Put yourself in the candidate's shoes

Why would someone want to work in this role? What are the opportunities for advancement (a key consideration for job candidates)? In what ways can the employee contribute to your company's mission and the greater good? Equip your hiring team and recruiting partner with details that serve as selling points for the organization.

4. Consider what's most important to candidates in a changing work environment

Pay remains a top driver in attracting quality candidates to jobs, but work-life balance and an opportunity for employees to do what they do best rank high on the list too. In a study among 13,085 U.S. employees conducted by Gallup earlier this year, 61% of respondents said greater work-life balance and personal well-being were important — a steady rise since 2015. This includes more flexibility in how and where they work. It may sound obvious, but workers also want to focus their efforts on areas where they have strength and training. As such, hiring leaders must be in sync with what candidates want, and in the words of Gallup "sell what employees want to buy."

Related: Why Small Businesses Struggling to Hire New Employees Should Embrace Gig Workers

5. Plan for your hiring needs today and devise a strategy for filling open positions

Some things to think about: What is the budget for recruiting? How will you plan to find candidates in a tight labor market and for hard-to-fill positions? And what does your company's diversity hiring plan look like? Answering these questions before you begin the recruiting process will help crystallize your hiring plan and move the recruiting process along quickly and efficiently. Remember to start the search now for positions that need to be filled in the first quarter. And consider engaging an outside recruitment partner to get a fresh perspective and uncover candidates in unexpected places.

6. Before initiating a job search, understand the candidate's journey

Where do they congregate? What are their circles of influence? How do they get their information? Then put your detective skills to work by searching for "passive" candidates – those who may not be actively looking for a job but may consider the right opportunity for a career change online, through professional networks and even cold-calling.

7. Ensure your company and the candidate are aligned

If you are wondering about the focus on passive candidates, it's because some of the most desirable individuals are not looking for work. Oftentimes, their skills are in direct alignment with the open role. They are also transparent, sharing exactly what they want in their next career move, including opportunities for advancement, plus how they would approach the job at hand.

8. Create a story that humanizes your company and piques your candidates' interest in the job

For example, share ways the company engages employees, celebrates success and gives back to the community. Using information gathered in your fact-finding exercise for the company and the position, craft an interesting "pitch" to attract best-in-class talent to your company.

9. Strategize ways to keep in touch with top candidates

Your candidates are probably entertaining multiple offers. Find reasons to check in and do it in ways, such as texting, that are effective without being intrusive.

10. When the search is over, create customized, in-depth candidate profiles

Include details on their skills, abilities and passions that may not be evident in a resume. Highlight silver medal candidates who may be a perfect match for your next job opening.

Recruiting new staff members can be a laborious task. But the investment you make into recruiting will pay dividends in the form of stellar employees who can help your business prosper.

Kathleen Duffy

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

President and CEO

Kathleen Duffy is CEO of Duffy Group, a global recruitment firm that helps people find joy in their work. She was among the first in the nation to lead an entirely remote workforce. Kathleen balances her CEO duties helping other small business owners and women secure corporate leadership roles.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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