10 ways to recruit and retain employees

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by Melissa Walker

A competent and effective workforce is vital to the success of a company, and employers have numerous factors to consider when seeking that next hire.

In some cases, employers may sift through dozens of applications before deciding which individuals to interview and move through the recruiting process in the hope of finding the candidate with the right amount of experience, technical skills and a personality that will fit within the culture of their company. In other cases, employers struggle to receive a single application.

Experts and employers say recruiting practices must update with the times and evolve — gone are the days of simply using help wanted advertisements to find employees. Improvements in the way a company seeks its employees will result in a more qualified pool from which to hire.

Dave Leto, executive vice president of The Palmer Group, right, with two of the company’s employees he has helped hire: PJ Amys and Amy Vokoun-Lutter. Photo by Melissa Walker

1. Manage your company’s reputation and brand

According to a survey conducted by Glassdoor, a jobs and recruiting website, 46 percent of jobseekers read company reviews at the beginning of their job search. Top candidates may not apply for jobs if they don’t like what they read. In that same survey, 69 percent reported they would not take a job with a company that has a bad reputation even if they’re unemployed.

A company’s reputation and brand can be built up developing a “treat everyone with fairness” culture and operating with integrity.

“To me, it’s as simple as treat your employees well,” says Dave Leto, the executive vice president of The Palmer Group, an employment firm in West Des Moines. “If you do that, they’re going to advertise for you.”

That word-of-mouth recommendation cannot be downplayed and helps a company create its brand, he says. Businesses hire Leto’s company to help them recruit permanent or contract employees or to help them downsize their workforce.

Leto says joining local chambers of commerce or business partnership groups, as well as meeting with community and business leaders, can also help a company build its brand and create a positive reputation.

2. Ask for referrals from current employees

Be sure to ask current employees if they know anyone who might be a good fit for the position. Many positions are filled through referrals, and companies can increase their success using this method by offering their current employees incentives for referrals who are hired and meet expectations.

“Word of mouth is our biggest way we recruit talent,” Leto says. “With unemployment as low as it is, people aren’t as readily posting their information as they were. Most jobs are filled by word of mouth and with a good reputation.”

Leto recommends companies create incentive programs for their employees to utilize their own social media outlets to advertise positions and for referrals.

Marcy Klipfel, who works in human resources for Businessolver Inc. in West Des Moines, says word-of-mouth referrals have been the greatest way the company has recruited new, quality employees. The business is rapidly growing — 126 employees were hired in 2015, and she estimates another 150 will be hired this year.

“We don’t have a concentrated employee referral program,” she says. “It’s always been organic, with employees bringing other great talent to our doors. With the tightness of the Des Moines market, we’ve reaped the benefits of this.”

Undercover Recruiter, a jobseekers’, human resources and recruiters’ blog, reported that referral hiring shortens the recruiting process, is less expensive, and that referral hires tend to report more job satisfaction and stay longer at companies. About 47 percent stay for more than three years.

3. Utilize social media and jobs websites

Seventy-three percent of 18- to 34-year-olds found their last job through a social network, according to a study from Aberdeen Group, a Boston company that educates and helps businesspeople improve their performance by conducting research and finding subject matter experts to help with decision-making and business strategy decisions.

Jeni Betts and Hassan Atarmal opened Fresh Mediterranean Express in Waukee with three employees. In about 18 months, the restaurant has grown to seven employees.

Betts has a recruiting background, which she utilized in seeking employees for the couple’s business. The couple has used social media, Indeed.com and Craigslist to post open jobs, as well as advertisements through the Waukee Chamber of Commerce and referrals from current employees, which led to hires for seasonal, part-time help.

Current employees at Fresh were given a monetary bonus for a referral if the new employee stayed for at least four weeks.

Hillary Frideres, the human resources director at Stivers Ford Lincoln in Waukee, says her company recently started using Indeed.com to post job ads.

“We’re fairly new to it,” she says. “We do get a lot of spam or no-shows from it, but we’ve gotten a couple of new hires from it.”

The car dealership also has used Craigslist ads and advertises openings on its Facebook page but wanted to try a new way to recruit employees. Stivers employs about 120 people.

Leto says social media has been an effective method in The Palmer Group not only to advertise open positions, but once again, to create awareness of the company’s brand. His company employs about 65 people and plans to hire another seven or eight this year to meet growth demands.

Businessolver also utilizes LinkedIn, a professional networking service, and other social media. A partnership with local colleges and universities has also been helpful in recruiting talented employees who have technology and engineering skills.

“This helps us bring in the talent that cultivates from the universities,” Klipfel says. “We’re not the largest employer in Des Moines, so we have to be very creative with how we attract the right talent.”

Employers also need to make sure their recruiting efforts target passive candidates who may not be looking for a job in addition to those who are actively searching.

Hassan Atarmal makes a gyro in Fresh Mediterranean Express, the restaurant he and wife, Jeni Betts, own and operate in Waukee. Photo by Melissa Walker
Hassan Atarmal makes a gyro in Fresh Mediterranean Express, the restaurant he and wife, Jeni Betts, own and operate in Waukee. Photo by Melissa Walker

4. Be clear about expectations

Companies that want to attract a quality pool of candidates need to make it easy and effective for people to apply by:

Creating a resume and application submission process that is easy and straightforward.

Providing job seekers with timely follow-ups at various stages of the recruiting and hiring process.

Placing friendly and professional people in recruiting and hiring roles.

Explaining the hiring process in a step-by-step way.

Sometimes more is not better when it comes to detailing the responsibilities and requirements in a job description.

The Wall Street Journal reported that listing too many responsibilities and requirements could alienate qualified employees. In the study, researchers rewrote job ads with two different styles — one that focused on what the company could do for the candidate and one that focused on what the company expected from the employee.

The hiring pool that applied to the ad in the first approach produced higher quality applicants.

Job descriptions should explain the skill set needed but also the personality attributes a company is looking for and relevant experience that sets the applicant apart from others.

An effective interview process is just as important. Many companies start with a phone screening process to identify those who are more qualified and eliminate the rest. Some employers then choose to use assessment tools to determine behavioral traits that are important for the position.

Interviewers need to make sure they focus on issues other than just competency in the job. These include the interviewee’s ability to accept constructive criticism and work with a team to improve, and his or her overall emotional intelligence, temperament and motivation. Leadership IQ, a leadership training and research firm, reports that 46 percent of new employees fail within the first 18 months, and only 11 percent of those are because they lack the required technical skills to do their job.

5. Hire and keep the best

Sometimes an employee may have looked good on paper and sailed through screening and the interview process but wasn’t a fit within the company. To avoid this, make a commitment to only hire skilled, top performers. It may take longer to hire, but it will save the company time, money and stress in the long term.

“The cost of a bad hire is the fact that person may be negative on your team,” Leto says. “That’s not always a dollar amount; it may be on the culture of the company.

Betts says Fresh has had a couple of full-time employees who didn’t work out, which makes it harder for a small business environment.

“It means hours for us as owners,” she explains. “Everyone else has to kind of chip in when there’s a bad hire.”

Businessolver has a rigorous, seven-step hiring process that all employees go through in order to cut down on hiring individuals who are not the proper fits. Last year the company considered 3,000 applicants and performed almost 3,000 interviews that resulted in hiring 234 people.

“We consider it an investment,” Klipfel explains.

She says it can cost the company up to five times the person’s salary if a candidate is hired incorrectly for a position. Businessolver employees go through an incubation period before they work with clients. In some cases, those who have been hired but didn’t fit were paid to leave the company.

6. Seek out passive candidates

With a low unemployment rate and fewer employees in specific job areas, some positions are more difficult to fill than others. Employers may need to seek out more passive candidates who are already employed but not actively looking for a new job.

Businessolver tries to utilize technology associations and other networks to find the type of technical employees they’re seeking and those who can handle secure information, Klipfel says.

This can be a challenge in the Des Moines market with a low unemployment rate and the fast expansion of the company, she says.

Leto says his organization sees a variety of positions that are difficult to fill from a range of clients that include office administrators to customer service representatives to chief financial and information officers.

“For a lot of those positions, people aren’t out there looking,” he explains. “We do a lot of direct recruiting and getting referrals from other people.”

Positions that are more technical in nature are increasingly getting more challenging to fill.

“There are just fewer of those people out there, and the demand keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Leto says.

7. Consider temp employees

Some companies have success in filling positions when they use a flexible employment model and keep a percentage of their workforce as temporary employees. This model has grown during the past couple of years, he says.

“It helps them be able to keep their full-time employees but meet the demand with a temporary workforce,” Leto says.

Employee needs vary by industry. In food service, Betts says it can be more difficult to fill daytime positions that are just a couple of hours.

“Finding someone who’s just looking for a lunch shift seems to be a little bit challenging right now,” she says.

There’s a lot of turnover in the food service industry, as well. Part-time positions are often held by high school or college students. They are easy to fill, but turnover frequently when students graduate and move on. Betts says other full-time employees have stayed and seen the restaurant through the challenges of a growing business.

Frideres, the human resources director at Stivers Ford Lincoln, says sales and the maintenance shop where tire rotations and oil changes are done often have the most turnover. Administrative positions are quicker to fill.

8. Offer more than money

Filling positions can also mean creating a competitive package to draw in prospective employees and the creation of an environment that will keep them challenged with a feeling of reward.

Leto says wages are important to employees, but his company has discovered that factors such as how employees are treated and whether their input is valued are more important to the individual. Flexible work schedules where employees have the ability to work from home also are attractive and are being offered by more companies.

“You have to get that person engaged in making sure they understand their voice and their opinion matter, making them feel valued,” Leto says.

Betts says her restaurant offers a wide range of employment opportunities and hours, which has been a draw to prospective employees.

“There are options for somebody who’s just kind of starting out to those who are looking to go into that industry,” she says.

Employees also have enjoyed the expansion of the business, including its sales of hummus in an area grocery store chain. This allowed employees to set up demonstration areas in the stores and at farmer’s markets, creating a different type of work environment, Betts says.

“Being a smaller business, we’ve found employees are really excited about what we’re doing and being a part of something from the get-go,” she says. “It’s not a set list of duties that doesn’t ever change.”

Klipfel says employees are drawn to Businessolver because of the competitive pay, but more so for the professional growth opportunities they will receive. They also have the opportunity to quickly move into leadership positions and work in a collaborative environment.

“If you’re the type of person who wants to take on things every day and new challenges and really stand out, this is the place to be,” she says. “Here, you cannot fly under the radar. The work matters.”

Jeni Betts and Hassan Atarmal opened Fresh Mediterranean Express in Waukee with three employees. In 18 months, the restaurant has grown to seven employees. Photo by Melissa Walker
Jeni Betts and Hassan Atarmal opened Fresh Mediterranean Express in Waukee with three employees. In 18 months, the restaurant has grown to seven employees. Photo by Melissa Walker

9. Use an employment firm

Leto also recommends employers consider using an employment firm to help recruit quality employees.

Staffing agencies or employee recruitment firms can help businesses that don’t have the time, expertise or resources to make hires. Some agencies provide temporary workers; others find candidates for companies to consider as permanent employees. Recruitment firms can have numerous resources from which they can tap into potential workers.

These agencies and firms have employees who have a higher level of experience related to specific job industries, employment trends and recruitment practices.

There are about 35 employee recruiting firms and agencies in Waukee and West Des Moines.

Recruitment firms can be a less expensive option for companies. The firm oftentimes pays the benefits and retirement plan contributions for temporary workers the company may hire, Leto says.

The firm also takes care of pre-employment testing, background checks and drug screening. The company also can save on payroll processing and benefits administration.

The business or company will face fees associated with the use of an employment firm. Typically, a firm collects a placement fee for each worker that is hired. These fees can range from 10 percent to 25 percent of the employees’ first-year wages. Some hires that involve an aggressive search may also result in a search fee.

10. Help wanted ads work

Although reports indicate the decline of daily newspapers, experts say don’t forget about the power of traditional help wanted advertisements. The most effective way to advertise is to create a marketing plan that utilizes both social and digital media and print advertisements.

With the increased competition from online jobs boards, newspapers have improved their ad pricing. Most create package deals for print ads and an online job board posting, which makes it doubly effective.

Newspapers are still a source of information people turn to on a daily basis. Many start their morning with the paper and a cup of coffee while they browse the job opportunities. Newspaper ads are an effective recruitment source for mass recruitment in a specific region and are most effective for audiences older than 30.

Help wanted ads in newspaper sections other than classifieds could also assist in reaching the passive job seeker, especially when used to build the company’s brand. Local weekly newspapers, city magazines or shopping guides also are effective places to advertise because their readership in the local market typically exceeds any website or social media.