If you are having trouble recruiting qualified staff in Northern Virginia, you are not alone. This place is on fire. Virginia’s unemployment rate for September (2.7%) is the lowest it’s been in 18 years, the Governor’s office reported. The state also tied with Colorado, Hawaii and Utah for the third lowest unemployment rate in the country.

Northern Virginia had the largest job gain in the state — an increase of 14,500 positions (1%), followed by the Richmond area and the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News region.

Accordingly, the number of job postings rose 18% in 2019, according to State of the Workforce, a quarterly report published by Northern Virginia Community College. Finding good talent in a tight labor market is a challenge for any company, but for smaller businesses, it can be particularly demanding. Among the positions that are in the hottest demand are software developers, managers, retail salespersons, and registered nurses, according to the College.

No matter what industry you’re in, you need to get creative. “We are seeing now that the best employees are passive job seekers, not going to job boards,” said Sarah Torres-Ferrick, founder of HR Circle, a Bristow firm that specializes in helping small businesses.

Hiring Do’s and Don’ts

So how can a business fill those critical gaps? Torres-Ferrick and recruiter Lovey Hammel, founder and president of Employment Enterprises in Manassas, offer some tips:

Do keep the application process simple. “It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes,” Torres-Ferrick said, as people have shorter attention spans and less patience. more boxes and buttons have to fill out, they are less likely to complete it.” If the application can be mobile friendly, that’s even better.

Don’t keep a good candidate in limbo – make the offer as soon as you can. “You can’t afford to wait,” Hammel cautioned. She recommends employers be ready with at least a contingent offer, even if background checks or other steps need to be completed.

Do maintain a regular social media presence so job candidates are more familiar with your business, both recruiters stressed. “Don’t do feast or famine,” Hammel advised. In other words, don’t wait until there is a vacancy for a business to venture out into LinkedIn or other platform.

Don’t just rely on job ads. Customers can be a good source of referrals, as well as enthusiastic employees, Torres-Ferrick commented, suggesting that employers approach recruiting as they would marketing to a customer – think of your ideal candidate and where they would be, both virtually and physically.

Don’t underestimate the value of benefits such as a flexible work schedule and training. Candidates have been trending toward larger companies, so smaller firms will want to talk up opportunities to telework and develop new skills, particularly in highly competitive fields.

Do consider seeking professional recruitment advice or services. Hammel noted that if a small business cannot afford a headhunter, it may want to hire one to help with developing a creative and competitive benefits package.

Another Word on Benefits
Benefits can be a deal maker or breaker. At a panel discussion hosted by the Northern Virginia Technology Council, experienced tech recruiters made this point repeatedly and suggested that companies:

• Consider offering a menu so it can be customized (e.g., a candidate may not need family-oriented benefits but would like pet insurance.)
• Avoid assuming their benefits package is competitive. Many companies offer what is actually baseline.
• Investigate the value of smaller items, such as the type of computer the employee would be using; these can really matter to some candidates.

Do Referral Checks Really Matter?
Torres-Ferrick says yes. When her clients had to fire people, they often had not performed a reference check or followed up when a reference did not respond. Inquiring about employment gaps is also important. Torres-Ferrick suggests asking questions that align with the job, such as: “Can you give me examples where he worked with a team that had no leader?”

A Pound of Prevention
When the phone is ringing off the hook or a large contract is looming, you may be tempted to take a shortcut and hire someone, anyone, to get the work done. But remember that every member of your team makes a difference in the workplace culture and morale, which are key factors in retaining good people. A wrong hire can be costly in many respects.

To find that right fit, explore these resources to help you:

SkillSource Group offers a range of free services to help businesses with hiring and retention, including job posting, onsite recruitment, and training.
Didlake is the number one provider of employment services for people with disabilities in Northern Virginia.
Northern Virginia Community College offers corporate training, recruitment and partnerships.

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