small business recruiting

After more than a year of Zoom calls, remote work, and kids waving hello to their grandparents through closed windows, Americans are ready for a booming summer filled with concerts, hugs, and restaurants. Normally, the prospect of more customers would fill business owners with excitement. But this summer, small companies are facing a labor shortage that makes taking on more business feel like a herculean task. Thankfully, there are some adjustments you can make to your recruiting strategy that will attract potential candidates and help you hire the best talent.

1. Go Digital

Kicking off your talent acquisition strategy online is an obvious choice in 2021, but there are still many small businesses who are either not online yet, or who haven’t taken seriously the fact that most candidates are beginning (and ending) their job search online. Job boards, social media, geofencing, and LinkedIn all offer interesting opportunities for you to take advantage of.

Job Boards

Many small business owners I work with assume that popular websites like ZipRecruiter and Monster are only for big businesses with hiring managers, human resource departments, and professional recruiters. But you don’t have to be a big company to attract job seekers online—anyone can post a job to these sites and find qualified recruits. The key to success is writing a clear job description and ensuring that the relevant information is accurate. For example, the location, salary range, required experience, and job responsibilities. You can also proactively search resumes, as many job seekers make them publicly searchable.

Social Media

Every small business should have at least a basic presence on social media. This typically means posting regular content on a free Facebook business profile, along with your hours, services, and contact information. But it can also include Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter accounts. If you have a loyal following and people regularly engage with your content, social media is a great place to mention that you’re hiring. But don’t stop there; be sure to share the post on your personal social media pages and encourage friends, family, and coworkers to do the same.

There is a caveat here: If you don’t have a strong social media presence, it probably won’t do any good to open a new account and start posting positions. It takes time and a lot of intentional work to build a following from scratch, so your efforts are better used elsewhere.


Geofencing is one of my favorite tactics for marketing small businesses. It involves drawing a virtual “fence” around a target area, then putting ads on the mobile device of anyone who enters that area via their existing apps. For example, a construction company looking for new employees might draw a geofence around local Lowes and Home Depot where qualified candidates are likely to spend time. Or a legal firm might target locations where law students go to take the bar exam. Anyone who enters the geofence would then see company recruiting ads for the next 30 days on their mobile devices.


For white-collar jobs, LinkedIn should be top of mind for small business owners. It is a platform that combines a job board, social media, and networking, allowing businesses to post jobs, applicants to share their resumes, and anyone to reach out and connect with peers. Your current employees can even share open positions with their network, increasing your company’s organic reach exponentially.

2. Focus Your Messaging

Improving your online presence is an important aspect of recruitment in this job market, but it’s just as important to make sure you have the right messaging. What is it that makes your company stand out? Is it work-life balance? The fact that you’re a startup and there is ample opportunity to grow? The work environment? Make this an intentional part of your employer brand and mention it in all job postings and in any ads that you run. While other companies are offering cash incentives just to get people to come in for interviews, your company will stand out to serious job seekers, and it will help you with the hiring and retention of the right people—people who fit your company culture, get along with your current employees, and enjoy their job.

3. Be Flexible About Remote Work

Before the pandemic, around 20% of the labor force worked from home at least part of the time. During the pandemic, that number increased to 71%, and surveys show that over 50% of the talent pool wants to continue working from home after the pandemic. This means that employers will have to adjust their expectations and become more flexible as employees gain bargaining power. If you find yourself in a situation where new hires and your existing team members all request more flexibility, it’s probably a good idea to grant it. Just make sure that in your onboarding process you place a strong emphasis on company culture, and that you plan regular trust building activities so that your people continue to work together effectively. If you do require people to come into the office, make sure you communicate the safety precautions that you are taking. A significant number of Americans do not intend to get vaccinated, and many others have lost a loved one. In order to create an environment of respect, post clear guidelines about what is expected, and continue to maintain flexibility when possible.

4. Wages and Perks

In a capitalist economy, employment is tied to wages and perks in the same way that sales of a product are tied to price. When there is a limited supply of an essential good, prices increase. In the same way, when there is a labor shortage, wages must increase. As much as small business owners may not want to hear it, the current state of the labor market is such that you might need to increase compensation to fill all of your shifts. For some, this will be a struggle. For others, it will require long overdue improvements in operations that lead to a more efficient business. Or it will require innovations and new compensation packages that include things like health insurance for both full-time and part-time employees, and 30-, 60-, and 90-day pay increases. If the tactics that we’ve already covered don’t work, your recruitment strategy may have to include higher pay if you want to fill those job openings. But if higher pay isn’t possible, then consider things like flex days, more vacation time, and maternity and paternity leave. Just remember, if you offer perks like this, you have to be all in. Nothing puts a damper on morale than a company culture that pretends to offer great benefits but frowns on people actually taking advantage of them.

5. Leverage Your Relationships

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that the best candidates are strangers who will submit a resume online, or see a sign hanging in the window of your store and stop in to drop off a hard copy of their CV. But 85% of jobs are acquired through networking. And this means that 85% of all jobs are also filled through networking. Have you incentivized employee referrals? Or at the very least, asked your current employees to recommend people for your open positions? According to Harvard Business Review, people perform better when they work with friends. They are also happier and less likely to quit (which is important when you recognize that the average cost of hiring and onboarding a new employee is $4,129). So while it’s important to cast the net wide and post your open positions where anyone can find them, you are still likely to fill most positions through referrals, either from employees or from people in your wider network.

One Last Thing…

We’ve all been through a crazy year and a half. It would be easy to jump to conclusions about why you are having a hard time filling positions, but if you do that, you will have a hard time trusting your new hires. There is a narrative out there that people are simply being lazy and don’t want to return to work. Or that unemployment benefits are too high, and so there is no incentive to work (which is really another way of saying that people are lazy).

While there will always be outliers for whom this is true, it is unlikely that this is the source of the current state of the job market. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently published this report showing that the number of available workers per open job has been falling steadily since 2009. While there were four available workers for every job in 2012, today there are only 1.4, meaning that if in the past you had four candidates to choose from, today you would have one and a half (and this number was even lower before the pandemic).

Give your interviewees the benefit of the doubt. If you want to hire the best candidates for the job, you have to trust the people who come in for interviews, believe the best about them, and not jump to conclusions about their motivations. After all, you spend a third of your life at work. Don’t you want to be around people that you like and trust, who are fulfilled by what they do, and who enjoy being part of your team? If you:

  • increase your online presence
  • focus your messaging on your recruiter brand
  • maintain a flexible attitude about remote work and time off
  • pay competitive wages
  • and leverage your network

then you will ultimately succeed in your hiring process.

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