In her second blog for us, HR expert Viv Foster, from business consultancy Positive Momentum, provides tips on how you can attract the ideal candidate for your vacancy.

If you run a small firm, getting hiring decisions right is even more important than it is in a big company, where there are usually tools and experts to do the job for you. Making the mistake of employing someone who’s bad at the job, or even just not as good as you’d hoped, will directly affect your company’s performance, reputation and growth.  Not to mention your own sanity… So where do you start?  How can you maximise your chances of finding the right person?

There are two aspects to this, in my experience. The first is being realistic about what you’re really looking for in your ideal candidate. The second is sussing out how well your candidates really match up to your requirements.

Start by writing down a description of the job, and the attributes of your ideal candidate. These two documents will be your foundation for publicising the job, sifting through applications, and making your final hiring decision. Take your time putting these together, as the hours you spend on them now will save you plenty of time and effort later on.

For the job description, remember to include basic information like hours of work and job location.  Then describe the purpose of the role and list the duties.

Who has the X Factor?

Aim high when you write the candidate spec. Ask yourself: if somebody were to do a great job in this new position, what exactly would they be doing well?

Believe it or not, research has shown that a person’s character traits can have a bigger impact on their performance than their knowledge or skills, so be open minded about what you consider to be the most important attributes in your winning candidate.

In a small business, how well someone does their job doesn’t tend to depend on whether they have A-levels or know how to use a particular software program. It’s their personality and attitude that makes the difference: how proactive or enthusiastic they are, if they are good at dealing with customers, or their ability to cope well under pressure.

Unless you know what you’re looking for in an ideal candidate, you won’t be able to properly assess the applications you receive or the people you interview.

Having said that, you need to be aware that there are laws against being discriminatory in who you hire. You can’t have criteria regarding an applicant’s age, gender or culture.

Finding the right candidates

The next question you need to ask yourself is who is your job likely to appeal to? You need to be honest about this from the outset, not least because it will cut down the time it will take you to sift through the candidates. In today’s tough jobs market it is possible that you will get lots of applications for your position, from people with very different academic records and backgrounds.

Be realistic and open minded about what the job requires, using your candidate spec to guide you. Does the ideal candidate really need to have experience in your sector? Must they work from 9 to 5, or can they fit their working hours around their family commitments? How important are qualifications? In what type of roles might people have developed the kind of attitudes and capabilities you’re looking for?

The best predictor of future performance in a job is past performance, recruitment experts have found. This is the key to a smart interview, but you can also make your task of shortlisting easier by asking candidates to write an accompanying letter to their job application, giving examples of how in their previous jobs they have shown the attributes that you’re looking for.

Once you’ve settled on what the job entails and who would be best at it, use your imagination when thinking about where to advertise the position. Place your ad where you think your ideal candidate would look. Using Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn might be more effective than your local paper or recruitment agency. Or, if you think your job would be ideal for a parent, for example, why not use networking sites like Mumsnet or Netmums, or perhaps place an ad in your local school newsletter?

The Y factor – why should they work for you?

Next, you need to think about how you can make your job as attractive as possible. You want to create an overall package that will interest and engage applicants and make the ideal candidate think: “I want to work for this company.”

As a small firm you’re unlikely to be able to offer the same salary or career progression as a larger company, so you’ll need to be a bit more creative to attract the best candidates.

Put yourself in the shoes of your prospective employee. Why should they come to work for you?

Be imaginative in devising benefits that come with the job. You will probably have a strict budget, but they needn’t cost all that much. They could be flexible working hours, or getting their birthday off every year. You might not be able to pay a large cash bonus, but you could offer your employee a family ticket to Legoland or perhaps a day trip to a spa if they do really well. They might appreciate a gift that reflects their personality or interests much more than a cheque.

In my next blog I’ll look at how you should run the interviews, so you identify the best person to work for you.

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About this author…

Armed with a psychology degree and a passion for helping businesses to maximise the potential of their people, Viv Foster embarked on a career in HR over 15 years ago. After working for a range of firms across sectors such as finance and marketing services, Viv is now a Partner with Positive Momentum, a business consultancy. In her blogs, Viv will use her no-nonsense business approach, deep HR experience and natural people insight to explain how to hire the right people, how to get the most out of them, and also what it takes to be a good employer.