Aggressive Tips to Find the Right Employees

The best employees: Where are they? It used to be that business owners could simply run a help-wanted ad and enjoy a deluge of résumés from top-quality applicants. But nowadays, with unemployment at a 25-year low, chances are that the best employees are already happily working for someone else.

The current tight labor market means employers have to be more aggressive than in the past. How aggressive? Consider the following tips, suggested by some of the nation's top workplace consultants:

1. CALL GOOD EMPLOYEES WHO HAVE LEFT. Sometimes, it quickly becomes apparent to your former employees that the greener grass on the other side of the fence has some pesky weeds. "Former employees are absolutely your best source of prospects to fill your available positions," says Mel Kleiman, president of Humetrics, a Houston-based consultancy. "Make a conscious effort to call former workers. See if they are happy or if they want to return. At least keep the lines of communication open."

2. OFFER "FINDER'S FEES" TO ANYONE WHO REFERS INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE HIRED. Your current employees are also excellent sources for new hires, Kleiman says. But, he notes, don't confine your offer to current employees. Open up the offer to their relatives, as well as to third parties such as suppliers, members or the general public. "Most employers forget to expand the base of their finder's-fee offer," Kleiman says. Remember that the more people you have searching for you, the more choice you will have when filling positions."

To communicate that you are looking for employees who will stick around, structure your reward program to pay the referring individual half of the bounty when the new employee has remained 90 days, and the balance at the six-month anniversary. To increase the likelihood of long-term employment, have the referring employee orient the new hire.

3. OFFER FLEXTIME. While people's incomes have risen over the years, their free time has diminished. Many find themselves pressed to take care of children or elderly parents, or have other time-consuming interests. Offer flexible working hours and promote this benefit in your recruiting efforts and interviews.

"Employers need to recognize that people are looking for a balance between their work and home lives," says John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an employee placement firm in Chicago. "Flextime is a high-priority item for a lot of people. It allows them to adapt their schedules to the needs of what they have going on outside of work. For example, some parents have to get the kids off to school and come to work at 10 a.m. Others need to leave at 3 p.m. to pick up the kids."

4. HELP PROSPECTS NEGOTIATE THEIR CAREER PATHS. Although you want to encourage employees to stay with you as long as possible, it's also true that the best individuals expect to depart for another employer somewhere down the road. You can attract the best people and encourage them to stay longer by assisting them in their long-term career development.

Such assistance comes in two varieties: vertical and horizontal. To assist vertical advancement, a club owner must describe exactly what individuals must do to climb the ladder. "You must be able to show where there is growth potential in your business. There should be no doubt about how far an employee can go."

In horizontal advancement, the individual takes additional educational courses and expands his or her skills in adjacent work areas, which makes the employee a more valuable part of your team and reinforces his or her employability for other businesses. If you are unable to promise much in the way of vertical advancement within your business, offering prospective employees perks such as tuition reimbursement can tie them to you while they work to move sideways to greater education and expertise.

5. WORK WITH LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS. You network to get new members; why not network to attract top employees? Here are some proven techniques:

• Teach a business course at your local community college to bring you into contact with prospective job applicants.

• Give a high-school seminar on "life after high school" to explain the world of work to young people. Once again, this raises your profile considerably among individuals who will soon be looking for work, either part- or full-time.

• A growing number of chambers of commerce now offer assistance in matching résumés with employers. "Don't overlook the job fairs that are often sponsored by chambers and other local organizations such as the Rotary Club," says Ethan Winning, an employee relations consultant in Walnut Creek, Calif. "These are not just places to show off your business."

Get to know as many attendees as you can. Maybe they won't come to work for you right away, but they might later on.

6. ADVERTISE IN FRESH PLACES. Happily employed workers don't bother reading the help-wanted ads. That poses a challenge for anyone trying to attract the best and brightest. Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting in East Greenwich, R.I., suggests placing ads where good prospects are likely to see them. Instead of the help-wanted section, try the sports, automobile, health or local-news sections. "Even a modest help-wanted ad, when it's standing alone, has a better chance of being seen than a great ad that has been positioned around 12 other great ads," says Weiss.

The local paper may not even be the best medium; Weiss recommends flyers published by small, local organizations. It may cost only $10 to place a small ad in mailing pieces from local groups such as parent-teacher organizations, welcome wagons, scouts and fraternal organizations.

Finally, get permission to post a help-wanted flyer in local libraries or businesses - and remember to post one in your club. These are all places where people spend a lot of time, and your ad will not be overwhelmed by competing pitches.

Above all, avoid the mistake of hiring the wrong individual just to fill an available slot. Remember that inexperienced personnel throw monkey wrenches into your operations. An unprofessional, disinterested and incompetent staff can insult your members and make them jump ship for the competition. Worse still, hasty hiring decisions can lead to costly turnover. As Kleiman says, "The most expensive employee you hire is the one you have to fire."