With the recovery of the job market and unemployment rates at a near-record low of 4.1%, qualified candidates are in high demand. Exacerbating this situation is the impending “workforce gap” facing the country – as droves of baby boomers reach retirement age, they will leave a shortfall of an estimated 10 million workers that need to be replaced.

All of these factors together create a “tight labor market” and present a number of challenges for small business owners seeking to fill job openings in their company. A tight labor market is generally defined as an economy that is close to full employment and one in which recruitment can become troublesome. Put simply, in a labor market such as this, there are more jobs available than there are qualified workers.  This is great news for the labor force but can place employers in a difficult position.

Hiring top talent that is reliable, skilled, and experienced can amount to what feels like a staggering task to small business owners.  However, with dedicated resources for recruitment and a strategic plan in place, organizations can find and retain competent employees even in a time of workforce shortage.

This post aims to provide four practical ways a small business can adapt in a tight labor market and ensure they are successful in selecting qualified candidates for jobs.


  1. Get Creative with Recruiting

Because many companies will be vying for the same top talent, you may need to level up your recruiting strategies. The same tactics that you may have been able to use almost a decade ago aren’t going to be as useful in this competitive market.

For example, now is the time to seriously consider hiring college interns, or even high school students, for work that provides them academic credit.  Not only do paid internships and work-study programs offer young adults a terrific opportunity to gain professional experience, but they also offer benefits to the employer. For example, internships can offer organizations potential access to new technology that students are exposed to during their schooling, which can help a company thrive and compete in their industry.

Another benefit that these programs provide is that internships can be structured to be temporary, but also provide talented, trainable employees who can tackle those neglected or overwhelming projects.  Hiring interns not only can be valuable for your immediate business objectives but can demonstrate that your company fosters a positive sense of caring, skill-building, and learning in your local community.

Your business may also benefit from expanding your job pool to include sectors of the workforce you may not have considered prior, such as the recently retired population or employees registered with vocational rehabilitation agencies.

Finally, ensure your recruiting plans include canvassing the various and diverse social media and networking sites to reach a wider audience of potential employees.  To entice talent, be clear in outlining the benefits, rewards, and unique opportunities your business offers.  Utilize testimonials, videos, and posts to engage and attract talent.


  1. Review Your Job Requirements

Many employers make the mistake of recycling former job postings that haven’t been recently reviewed. This means that many postings, and their included requirements or qualifications, may not be relevant in the current job market. Take time to scrutinize these requirements to make sure they are applicable and necessary. This may mean making the consideration to lower minimum skills or experience recommended for certain positions, particularly if such requirements are outdated.

Think outside the box and determine your company’s unique hiring needs; you may be surprised to find out that your guidelines for some jobs are much more stringent than necessary.  Remember that many capable workers are teachable and trainable.

Along this same vein, it is imperative to streamline your hiring process.  If it takes too long, or is too cumbersome to hire an employee, then you have potentially already lost them to a company with a more efficient hiring process.  Reevaluate your communication practices, your process for encouraging internal promotions, and the methods for job application and training.  The key is to integrate new technology where appropriate, as many affordable programs are available to assist in the overall hiring system.


  1. Be a Branding Ambassador

Don’t underestimate the power of branding, even for small business. Creating a powerful and consistent presence in the workforce is a huge factor in attracting top talent, especially in a scarce labor market.

It’s never been easier to devise a simple and efficient social media campaign of your brand, vision, and career opportunities.  Achieving this doesn’t require a massive advertising budget, but rather a dedication to consistent marketing through channels such as social media, blogging, or professional and community partnerships.  If your branding is strong and reputable, it becomes much easier to recruit and retain talent.


  1. Retain the Talent You Have

 While recruiting is often touted as one of the most critical elements of hiring, a small business would be remiss to overlook employee retention.  Most companies cannot afford to lose proficient and loyal employees. Yet, without a sufficient program in place for employee retention, many workers don’t find the paycheck enough of a reason to stay with an employer during a tight labor market.

Employee retention methods can vary from offering bonuses or referral programs to presenting options such as remote or virtual work opportunities.  Some small businesses furnish employees with perks such as gym memberships, on-site childcare, a rideshare program, or extra paid time off days.  Often the benefits of employee retention strategies can outweigh the initial cost investment to employers.

Another compelling way to retain employees is to simply involve them in decisions and changes. Ask for their opinion on programs that they’d like to see included in their benefits package. Arrange for yearly brainstorming and thinktank meetings. Distribute employee surveys and carefully evaluate the results and comments to continually improve on the areas that matter most to your workers.  This sense of inclusivity and engagement can make a huge difference in the way your company is viewed and thus can affect your success in future recruitment.


Staying in the Game

In summary, your small business isn’t alone in the often-arduous task of attracting and hiring productive talent in a tight labor market. By implementing a manageable and competitive hiring and retention strategy, your company will be able to prosper even during the most challenging of times.