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Whew - that was a close one.  For a while there, it was economic Armageddon, financial meltdown, the collapse of the world economy and the Earth falling off its axis.  Not even Superman, Greenspan or Bernanke-in-a-cape could come to our rescue.

Fortunately though, it appears that we've been able to avert disaster (for now).  If you've been looking closely, you've seen the first signs that the economy is on the mend.   The latest economic news has moved from bleak to balanced.  There will still be plenty of bad news to come, but we're starting to see the signs of economic growth take hold.  With any new beginning, there is opportunity.

So, assuming you're committed to your company getting through this, the question then becomes: How do we take full advantage of this new beginning?  The answer:  win the talent war before it begins.

Any successful business owner will tell you that you must hire great people - not just good people, great people.  Today, we'll talk about how to find the very best talent in any economy.

There are six key components to hiring highly talented people.

It's always a seller's market: The first thing to understand is that economies go up and down, but the best people will always be in demand.  Top talent will frequently have a job, multiple suitors and at least one recruiter representing them in the market. So sell first, screen second.  Unfortunately, most interviews begin as the Spanish Inquisition. Employers spend the first 45 minutes trying to find skeletons in the closet and only briefly discuss the job.  The very best people need to be sold on the company. Start by getting them excited about your company and then make your hiring decision.

Your story: Most people talk about a job in terms of responsibilities, tasks and requirements - boring. To get someone truly excited, talk about the history of the company, your successes and what makes you unique in your market. Talk about your challenges and how this person will make a difference to the company and the team. Once you have that in place, then you can discuss specifics of the position.

You: Understand your weaknesses and your strengths because they both have equal value. Great employees have high expectations but do not want to join a "perfect" company. Don't be shy about your weaknesses, great employees see them as their opportunity to make a difference. Your strength, on the other hand, is what you can offer them.  They need to believe that your business (and you) are viable and credible - especially in this market.

Plan ahead: Too often, companies approach hiring like the wack-a-mole game. An opening pops up and immediately gets filled - that's reactionary.  For many positions, the best people must be sourced well before a need arises. But regardless of the position, you should be proactively talking to people within your competition.  That dialogue can take years, but it will pay off with huge dividends when it comes time to make a hire.

Know what you want: Only start the hiring process when you know exactly what you want to achieve. Identify your top priorities and what is considered a requirement versus a preference. Make sure your entire interviewing team is in agreement. The fastest way to lose a great talent is to appear disorganized, indecisive or even worse, internally at-odds.

Hire for the long term: When it comes time to decide between two top candidates I advise my clients to look two to five years into the future. Look for the person who will improve the company not just the job. Frequently the focus is on solving an immediate need, but the candidate with more ambition, intelligence, professionalism and work ethic can learn most any job in six to 12 months and will be a better resource long term.

As the economy starts on the path to recovery, there is a golden opportunity to capture top talent and position your company as a leader. Soon enough the competition for talent will heat up.  Some companies will wait on the sidelines while others will venture forward seeking out the opportunities.  Who would you want to work for?

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Jim Geist is the regional manager for Nelson & Associates - Financial Recruiting and Consulting.  He has been in the North Bay recruiting business for over 10 years and has placed hundreds of people in jobs at varying levels. Jim is a regular contributor to "The Drive" on KSRO radio and is a graduate of Sonoma State University.  For more information about Nelson & Associates and our services visit nelsonandassociates.com.