3 ways your small business can break the hiring mold

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Labor — at least in certain professions — has become hard to find. The job market has been suffering from a shortage of qualified workers, and that's a challenge that can hit small businesses harder.

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To work around that, as a small-business owner or manager, you have to be more clever than your counterparts at bigger firms. The good news is that you won't have to deal with the roadblocks and red tape that are often in the way at big firms.

You can work at filling open positions by being more clever than your larger rivals, and by throwing aside some traditions. That's not always an easy path to follow, but it may lead to the hires you need to keep your company running.

1. Hire skills, not degrees

While some large employers are willing to look at whether employees can do the job instead of whether they have the right degree, that has certainly not become the norm. But as a small business owner or manager, you're not bound by those requirements. Someone who gained skills in a nontraditional way (or has the ability to learn them) might not be a candidate elsewhere.

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If you hire that person, you're not only filling your need — you're adding an employee who will appreciate the chance you gave him or her. You'll also be hiring someone who may not be able to leave as easily, since big companies may not be willing to overlook the degree issue.

2. Hire young

During my senior year of college, the editor of the magazine where I worked part-time was fired around Christmas break. I had a vague idea of what needed to be done, and managed to get the next issue put together. The big boss noticed — and I was hired, even though I was still in school.

It was a mutually beneficial deal. I got a job, at a time when the market for editors was awful, and the company got an inexpensive employee who could be brought up in the ranks over time.

3. Look for unusual candidates

During my days in the newspaper field, I was once a finalist to lead digital strategy for a family-owned local-newspaper company. It was a cool job that I lost out on at the last minute, when a much more qualified (overqualified, really) candidate emerged late in the process.

He'd held the same job at a much bigger company, but needed to move home to deal with a sick parent. He needed flexibility, and that meant that larger companies in the area where he needed to live weren't interested.

By allowing him to handle his personal business around his job, this smaller company got a skilled worker it would otherwise never have been able to recruit. You can use that same logic to hire people who need special consideration.

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That might mean someone taking classes, a person with young kids, or someone providing care for an elderly parent. Be open-minded and focus on whether the person can do the job, not on the exact hours that will be worked.

Don’t be bound by convention

At a small business, you don't have to do things the way they've traditionally been done. You can mix and match job responsibilities based on your employees' strengths. You can seek out skills from freelancers or consultants that you may not be able to find in full-time workers.

Be open to any ideas, and focus on results, not process. Have both patience and a willingness to be ever-adaptive. Those may well be the only ways to succeed in this hiring market.

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