Always_Interviewing_body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


A small business owner is already performing many roles—star, producer, and director. But how can you possibly play talent scout, too?


The competition for your next great employee never stops. With highly qualified candidates increasingly scarce, the task often can be even harder for smaller firms, as the fits and starts of growth make the addition of another salary a perilous financial leap. For many, it’s no longer only a rival across town that’s hiring from the same talent pool, technology has enabled national and global competitors to search out the same folks as well.


“With skilled-worker shortages increasing, the need to build a company talent pool is a necessity,” says Ira Wolfe, president of Wind Gap, Pennsylvania-based Success Performance Solutions and a recruiter for small firms as well as blue-chip clients. “The problem is supply and demand—small business owners want to hire just-in-time, but the supply isn’t there. You can’t think you’ll run an ad and have a position filled within two weeks.”


New tools like LinkedIn and other social-media sites have become a virtual resume bank and Rolodex of every colleague you and your staffers have ever known. But that seeming abundance also makes those hiring more optimistic than they should be. While these sites can be a valuable tool, they also are rife with incomplete, out of date, or outright inflated information, making searches frustrating and unreliable.


So how can small businesses best keep a finger on the pulse of their real talent pool? Technology can make short work of some of it, but there are also time-tested techniques and insights that small business owners, and the recruiters they work with, swear by. Here’s a look at four approaches:


Try new technologies

LinkedIn and its 225 million users is a good place to start, but know the limits. Combined with Facebook, CareerBuilder, Monster, the Ladders, and Glassdoor, the “sharing” updates can be a 24/7 window on the comings and goings of staffers—who’s leaving, who’s unhappy, and, importantly, who’s looking. Still, it takes an effort to learn the etiquette and build a presence—time and energy that busy small business owners likely don’t have. Two new alternatives comb LinkedIn and other boards’ data and cut to the chase—for a price. HiringSolved works like a search engine, spanning global sites and industries, to constantly filter candidates and send the best to your attention. (Prices start at $199 a month.)


There’s also the startup NextHire, which works with small businesses to set up the search criteria, runs its algorithms across the various resume boards, then narrows down the field and presents a list of eight to 10 pre-screened finalists. It charges a flat rate of $4,000—a fraction of the 25 percent of first-year salary that many traditional recruiters command, says CEO Bob Myhal. Among NextHire’s cool tools: a one-way webcam interview with candidates that offers a glimpse of the character behind the resume. “We’ve come to realize that a resume is limited. It’s just one view,” Myhal says. “We set out to give clients multiple views. This gives another piece of the puzzle.”


Cast a wide net

Remember the old yarn about not putting all your eggs in one basket?  Don’t rely on a single niche job board posting, either. In the budding tech city of Nashville, talent coordinator Heather Neisen says she hits all points in search of candidates for TechnologyAdvice, an IT adviser for B2B. Her most recent list of scouting spots: local chambers of commerce, career fairs, career centers, networking events, college faculties, industry associations, paid posting boards, and even Craigslist. It’s about building a contact list and keeping in tune with which sources are the most helpful, Neisen says. “Just one is not going to be enough for a small business,” she says. “You never know where the one perfect applicant is going to come from. The answer is everywhere—there’s not one pattern that we’ve found. And that’s why you constantly have to keep looking.”


Keep the lines open

The minimum time to fill an open spot is 45 days, says Wolfe. Small business owners need to be constantly recruiting, watching the local openings and closings and keeping track of talented individuals who might be looking. One way to build an internal network: Set up your company’s website to always accept applications, which can build a go-to pool of preferred and interested candidates. (And even if they’re not available, they may know someone who is.) One smart tip from Wolfe: Keep an open mind when it comes to skills that might unexpectedly translate to other industries. He had an arborist client who was always looking for people available to take care of trees. Their solution: They started posting job openings at a rock-climbing center, where people who likely wouldn’t mind scampering up a tree would gather. Wolfe knows a bit more than most about abilities with other applications. He spent 15 years as a dentist before he started getting paid to find the right people for companies in need. His one common strength in both fields, he says: Diagnosis.


But don’t let ‘the one’ get away

Is this person smart? Someone who’s good to be around? Then hire them and the business will come. That’s the advice that family lawyer Randall Kessler says he’s followed for 30 years for his Atlanta firm (and he wrote about this recently here). It’s wonderful if a candidate has great skills, but the bigger goal is to find someone that you respect and trust to add value to your team. Kessler says it’s hard for small firms to know when the next emergency might come or when it will be imperative to add on, so he’s found it’s just wise to always keep track of who’s making a good impression. “Even if I’m not hiring, I’m keeping them in mind,” he says. “Sometimes you don’t need to post a job application to know they’re the person to tailor a job to.”