Expert Advice for Medium and Midsize Businesses

4 Ways to Hire Where Others Aren’t

Human beings have been rolling along for a few million years or so, yet the ingenuity, fresh thinking, bold, adventurous creativity of our species still regularly amazes us.

Take Velcro and Post-It Notes–who doesn’t wish they’d thought of that? Or a recent favorite of mine: WD40.  And, when it comes to digital revelations, online shopping, social media, and smart phones just breach the list of things I wish I’d come up with.

When looking for a new opportunity, we often look to the old for inspiration. We like to play it safe by iterating on the tried and true. Success might be found this way, but the better chance is that we are going to be crushed by our already established competition. Unless we devise something new and improved, we become competitive risk.

In many situations, we aim to avoid or minimize our risk of exposure. Our preference for competitive risk is a manifestation of that. Taking a competitive risk feels less precarious because it involves engaging in an opportunity that is already established and has proven successful. We think we’re safer because we can see and quantify demand for our product/service. But, we risk being less certain to compete and win in the market; as a late entrant, we are unlikely to do so in most cases

I like to use the example of my friend’s triplets who, a few summers ago, were casting about for a way to earn money. They settled on setting up a lemonade stand—with a twist. Instead of rolling out their business in front of their home, on the corner of their street, or adjacent to their local grocery store, the kids opted for the sidelines of a nearby high school football field, just as practice was concluding. They weren’t sure their lemonade would sell at the football field, but they knew there were no other kids selling there and that there were thirsty athletes.

The result? They earned $75 in about twenty minutes. Don’t you wish you’d thought of that when you were ten?

This is a great example of market risk. It feels risky to us because we don’t have data to prove our new idea will be well-received, but it actually greatly increases the odds that our gamble—if it pays off—will pay off in a big way. Although usually applied to entering a market with something new, I also like to apply it to hiring strategy. Are you desperately searching for someone to fill a position at your company? The gap is a real pain point, and you need to act quickly? In this scenario, I adapt the old adage “married in haste, repent at leisure” to “hire in haste, repent at leisure.”

This is a good time to examine risk. You could hire an experienced, Ivy League-educated MBA who has admirably performed the same job for the past four years, and you’ll feel pretty safe doing this—it’s a proven method.

But there’s a surprising amount of (competitive) risk involved. You could be:

  • Competing against numerous other companies for a candidate of this sort.
  • Spending valuable time engaging several qualified candidates in conversation with no certainty that any of them will choose your firm.
  • Paying an inflated price tag associated with winning this candidate, and their tenure in the position will be brief
  • Picking someone with the very qualifications that make them attractive means they’ll quickly exhaust the new challenge, become bored, and start searching for their next opportunity.

Instead, you can assume a market risk approach and hire where others aren’t hiring.

  1. Internal hires: The very first step is to look around your firm. Who could be promoted or moved? How could teams be reconfigured? There are probably several employees who would welcome a new challenge or disruption in their work. These proven employees, who relish the jump to something different, are an extremely valuable resource. They shouldn’t be overlooked or neglected because they tend to leave for greener pastures when they’re not cultivated. 
  1. On-rampers: A sizeable group of nontraditional employees to investigate are on-rampers. On-rampers are candidates who took a career break for family, health, or other reasons—and they often possess the necessary skills and competencies gained from previous work and education. These candidates are often right-priced; such potential employees are hungry for new opportunities. They’re eager for a chance to re-enter the workforce and prove themselves.
  1. Gig workers, interns, contract employees, remote employees, or job-sharing employees: All of these are potentially lucrative playing fields for hiring managers that are frequently eschewed by traditional HR practices. You can take your pick, with little competition.
  2. Boomerang employees: Once taboo and sometimes still treated as such, boomerang employees are also a market risk sector for potential hiring. Individuals who have worked at the organization in the past and can return with new skills acquired in a different venue can be exceptionally valuable. Maintain good relationships with this pool of talent, and tap into it when you can. You might be surprised by how many companies won’t do this to their detriment.

A nontraditional employee can be a storehouse of education, skill, and experience. By looking to hire where others aren’t, we can discover human resources that aren’t picked-over or overpriced—and capable of offering great return on investment for your company. Unconventional hiring can lead to unconventional success when we are willing to embrace market risk and hire where others hesitate.

Want more insights on managing your workforce? Join us at the next #SMBExperts Tweetchat, Maintaining a Corporate Culture in a Changing World, on Thursday, March 22nd at 3 p.m. ET. Join the conversation or follow along using the #SMBExperts hashtag.

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