If you’re overwhelmed by your search for quality employees, you’re not alone. The labor shortage is impacting business owners from coast to coast. Madeleine MacRae, creator of the FastTrack Sales System and CEO of MM MacRae Coaching and Consulting out of Detroit, is known as “the Fixer.” She has worked with many businesses, manufacturers and associations to drive changes, resolve issues and create growth. Here, she identifies several actionable steps – and avoidable mistakes – in finding great candidates.

1. Don’t Panic Hire

Many business owners rely on hiring strategies that hold them back rather than moving them forward. The first of those strategies? Panic hiring.

“This is a default position that most small business owners take,” Madeleine says. “We don’t have time, and someone shows up on our doorstep. We look at what we’ve got on our plates and say, ‘Any help is better than no help,’ and we just bring them in. I want to challenge that assumption, because bringing in a warm body to fill an empty seat is like putting a tiny band-aid on a gaping wound.”

Instead, Madeleine suggests taking the time to think about the position you’re filling and the type of person you need for that role. “You have to map out the personality and the person who will fit that role,” Madeleine says. “And then you really have to vet them out.”

2. Seek the Right Experience Level for the Position

One of the most tempting strategies is to hire experienced candidates. But that might not be the best choice.

“Experienced candidates can be worth their weight in gold,” Madeleine says. “But can you afford that and is it what you really need?”

Unless you’re honestly searching for someone with 25 years of experience for a high-level position, Madeleine suggests looking at two other areas of potential: skill and ability.

When hiring for skill, you’re looking for hires that have relative experience from working in another industry; have learned via school or textbooks but haven’t worked in the field; or have a natural skill they’ve honed as a hobby. When hiring for ability, you’re looking for individuals who are handy, pay attention to detail, are willing to learn and have what it takes to master the skills required.

3. Set Yourself Apart from Big Businesses

Another harmful strategy is competing head to head with big businesses. “You’re not going to win against a huge corporation if you play by their rules,” MacRae says. “You have to make up your own.”

What does that mean in practice? “You need to be clear about what benefits you have to offer that your ideal candidate would love,” Madeleine says. “Maybe you can’t offer a 401k or health benefits, but maybe your ideal candidate doesn’t need it. If you approach the position like, ‘I have nothing good to offer,’ then that’s how your candidates will feel about you.”

What are potential strengths you could offer?

  • Strong company culture
  • Well-respected local brand
  • Great staff
  • Flexible scheduling and work from home opportunities
  • Volunteering and community involvement
  • Employee recognition and rewards
  • Company events and celebrations

4. Look at Your Cost Not to Hire

If you’re feeling short-handed but you’re not sure that you can afford to hire, Madeleine suggests looking at it differently: Can you afford not to? There are two major red flags that signal you need to invest in a hire:

→ Unable to deliver on or accept projects: “Often, when projects are slipping and timelines are getting longer, it’s not just a function of having a lot of work on your table. It’s a function of not having enough team members to transmit that load.”

→ Hearing customer complaints: “If you’re hearing complaints, that is a burning hot red flag that you need to take immediate control over your team to ensure that your brand doesn’t get tarnished and you can live up to the promises you’re making to your clients.”

5. Consider Reorganizing and Delegating

Before you hire, assess your team and see if there are ways to improve internally.

“Some of your hiring woes can be solved by having a more efficient team,” Madeleine says. “Imagine what could be possible for your business if your highest-value team members got an extra 10 to 20 hours back; if you thought through what they’re actually doing with their time in a given week, reorganized some of their responsibilities, and worked with them to make sure they’re working on the things that are the highest value.”

What does this assessment look like? Madeleine calls it the Home Pro Money Test. She asks: How much is an hour of your time worth?

Tier one tasks ($10/hr)*
  • Answering phones
  • Looking up information on products
  • Tracking shipments
  • Running errands
  • Being in the shop or warehouse
  • Cleaning up
  • Buying supplies
Tier two tasks ($100/hr)*
  • Booking appointments
  • Managing projects
  • Resolving issues
  • Completing paperwork
  • Ordering projects
  • Doing inventory
Tier three tasks ($1,000/hr)*
  • Sales consultations
  • Vendor meetings
  • Advertising
  • Satisfaction surveys
  • Onboarding new team members
  • Implementing new tools/software
  • Training on professional skills
Tier four tasks ($10,000/hr)*
  • Hiring decisions
  • Sales training with team
  • Process improvement
  • Media and marketing strategy
  • Expanding sphere of influence partners
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Self care and time off
*These hourly rates are figurative and are not meant to reflect actual wages.

“Eighty percent of your time should be in those $1,000 and $10,000 activities,” Madeleine says. “If 80 percent of your time is in $10 and $100 activities, that’s a huge red flag for you to begin the hiring process. It isn’t wrong to take out your own trash, but think carefully about how you’re spending your time. What could be possible for you and your business if you got an extra 10 to 20 hours back?”

FAQs with Madeleine MacRae

1. Where is a good place to post jobs?

“You want to fish in the pond where your fishes are swimming,” Madeleine says. “You can try online (Linkedin, Indeed), but it depends on who you’re looking to hire. If you’re looking for a crew member or someone who’s going to be tactically doing what you want them to be doing, they might not be looking online for those jobs. Think about where they might be congregating. Are there any groups that they might be in? Are there any associations that you belong to? Other noncompeting businesses that might have someone in mind who wasn’t a fit for what they do, but could be a fit for you?”

2. What kinds of questions can you ask to reveal a candidate’s character without being obvious?

“First of all, it’s okay to be obvious,” MacRae says. “You don’t want to ask leading questions, which means you don’t want to ask questions that give them the answer inside of the question. If you’re doing that, you’re defeating your own purpose. When we’re working with clients, we have a 12 step hiring process that we teach and the first step is: Get clear on your position. What does that position look like? And the next step is: Get clear on the type of person. And the third step is to write an ad that attracts that person. We spend thousands of dollars and so many hours of effort on advertising to get leads. Why wouldn’t we put considerable effort in how we position to our candidates for hiring? I always tell my clients that you catch the fish that you bait your hook for.”