How to overcome the skills gap when hiring

The hiring process is a two-way street, which is why it's important to make sure your business is as appealing on the outside as it is within. Here's how.

It is often said that a company is only as good as its people, and most small business owners will no doubt agree. A solid workforce is crucial to success, yet building the right team is a highly complex process. A recent report published by Albion Ventures highlights that, while 50 per cent of small UK businesses plan to recruit more staff over the next two years, the majority believe that finding the right people will present a major obstacle.

The so-called skills gap is something that all small businesses need to navigate – whether it’s recruiting for growth or strengthening your existing team. So how can your business move forward when the required talent is apparently lacking?

Pool your existing resources

As business booms and new roles emerge, hiring externally might seem like the most obvious solution. Before you advertise new vacancies, however, it’s important to ask yourself: is there someone already working for you who could fill the position? When faced with a skills shortage, promoting and training your current employees is often more worthwhile than searching in vain for a ready-made candidate. Your current employees know the business, understand its values and share your vision – everything else can be learned on the job. Whilst this doesn’t solve the issue of needing more hands on deck, it may prove easier to recruit for more junior positions. The key is to focus on maximising the talent you already have before extending the search externally.

Get creative with the hiring process

If you’ve been trying to fill a vacancy for what feels like forever, it might be time to rethink your approach. Perhaps the right candidate doesn’t exist – or could it be that you’re just not looking in the right places? The way in which people network has changed, and so too must the hiring process. Social media plays an increasingly central role, and having an understanding of the most prominent social platforms to post vacancies on will enable you to quickly reach a wider talent pool. Your current employees can also help out; consider introducing a referral programme that incentivises them to join the search. As with most things, it pays to think outside the box—and recruitment is no different.

Give your job spec a reality check

It is all too easy to blame unfilled vacancies on a skills shortage; however, it is also necessary to critically evaluate your search criteria. A highly specific job spec with a long list of demands can be extremely off-putting, and you may unwittingly rule out the ideal candidate. In fact, there is no such thing as the perfect match, so avoid fixating on a set profile. When listing the required skills and experience, distinguish between what is essential and what is negotiable—what comprises a fundamental quality, and what can be learned on the job? Ultimately, it is essential to be both flexible and realistic; if you keep an open mind, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Reverse the roles

A shortage of skilled candidates means that sought-after applicants can afford to be selective. The hiring process is a two-way street, and it is therefore important to make sure that your job offer is appealing. This is a great time to review your workplace, so put yourself in the jobseeker’s shoes and think about what might attract – or deter – them from your vacancy. Consider things like employee benefits, company culture, and physical working space: is your office somewhere that your dream candidate would want to work? If yes, make sure you sell this in the job description; if not, it may be necessary to make a few internal changes before launching your search.

5 hacks for better hiring

Having the right staff on board is crucial when building a business and if you have happy employees then you will have happy customers. Here, Sinead Hasson outlines some key ways small and growing businesses can improve their recruitment processes.

Build a network, build a brand

Smart SMEs get the best candidates knocking on their door. Building your employer brand is the key to becoming a magnet for talent. This means communicating intelligently, about the right topics with the right people.

By focusing on building a list of influential contacts in your sector, and earning their respect, you can build a team of advocates whose recommendations will steer talented individuals to you.

Organised networking events are a start, but it can be hard to identify the key influencers in a room full of people.

Try chatting to the event’s organisers beforehand. This action alone may trigger far more valuable introductions than you would have achieved working the room from cold.

Remember to use these opportunities to share your ideas and ambitions for the firm. Enthusiasm is infectious and by sharing yours you will naturally attract others who share the same spirit.

Attending a networking event is a significant commitment, so be sure to make the most out of the time you have invested.

Use the right channels

Networking will always create opportunities but rarely is it clear when these will materialise.  So, if you’re looking to recruit immediately it’s important to use other channels.

If you don’t have one already, add a ‘working for us’ page to your website and use it to tell the story of your business as well as to carry vacancy information.

What makes your business different? What motivates you and your team to come in each day? You can then share the page on Twitter and LinkedIn, helping to build your online presence and create conversations about your brand.

Boost team morale

Using social media and having an impressive website won’t change your company culture. If your current staff are unhappy, you need to ask why. And quickly.

Detractors can up-end all your good work and SME employees in particular feel the pressure of a people shortage. Make sure you let them know about the steps you are taking to address the issues.

That’s the basics. But if you can find ways to include your staff in the recruitment process you can use it as a vehicle to boost team morale and increase their value to the business at the same time.

Ask them for suggestions. Which recruitment companies have they worked with in the past? Have they worked with anyone previously that would fit the role? Involving more senior staff members in interviews will also relieve some of the pressure on you.

Consider incentivising employees with a spot bonus for a successful candidate referral. And always re-emphasise that a successful new recruit will help to reduce everyone’s workload.

Invest time with your recruiter

Time-poor business owners don’t always make time to build a relationship with their recruitment partner. This is a mistake.

How can anyone match your vacancies with strong candidates if they don’t first understand the specific requirements of the role, or the culture of your firm?

Before jumping in with a recruitment agency, make sure you meet them first, you like them (yes, this is important) and, crucially, that your values are aligned.

Once you’ve chosen a recruiter it’s important to communicate regularly. They will contact you, but you must also take their calls!

If you only talk to your recruiter when you have an urgent role to fill, then you’re missing a trick. The best candidates may seek a change of scene at a different time. And if they’re available, trust me, you’ll want to know.

Even if you can’t offer a role straight away, making the connection is an investment in the future.

Quality over quantity

Keeping control of your communication with the market for future employees is important, so focus on nurturing relationships with just one or two recruiters.

Some SMEs work with a high number of recruiters, which is fine, if they all deliver. But a recruiter that feeds you inappropriate candidates can be a colossal waste of time.

If they don’t respond to your feedback, don’t be afraid to bid them farewell and take your business elsewhere.

Sinead Hasson is MD and founder of recruitment company Hasson Associates.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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