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We asked human resources (HR) experts in South Africa for some practical advice for small businesses looking to hire new candidates. 

1. Word of mouth is the best policy

Hiring is one of the most important things an entrepreneur will do to grow his or her company. Philip Park, owner and CEO of specialist recruitment agency Professional Career Services, says his key tip, and the way he recruits, is to give preference to word of mouth referrals.

“We tend to phone people we know in the business and ask who they know who might be interested in a career move. Our experience is that people you know personally won’t recommend a poor candidate,” says Park.

2. Fish in the right pool

Park adds that where you fish depends very much on your industry. Specialist businesses would be well advised to look at specialist publications and subscribe to job websites. Although, bear in mind that paying a subscription fee to a job website could be too expensive for a once-off hire.

For small businesses, or more general job vacancies for less-qualified positions, Park recommends publications such as The Star and The Citizen, “and at least a couple of job websites”.

3. Sell your firm, sell the position

Most likely, your small firm is not yet in the ‘employer of choice’ category that top graduates are queuing up to join. That means you may have to sell yourself a bit.

Park gives the following advice: “Don’t make the job sound easy. Talk about how the business is in a growth or expansion phase, and what its vision is. Emphasise that the candidate will only do well financially and career-wise if he’s willing to work hard and contribute to the growth of the company.”

“Emphasise that benefits are all performance-related – that way you’ll attract a performance-driven individual. Tough jobs attract tough people,” he says.

4. Get ready to process 500+ applications

Steve Jobs was spot-on when he once said that recruiting is about "finding the needles in the haystack". Kelly Groenewald, head of HR at Tintswalo Property, says: “For this reason I try to see as many candidates as possible for each vacancy we advertise to find that ‘needle in the haystack’ – this can be as many as 20 candidates shortlisted from more than 500 applications.”

5. Shape the interview process

Applicants all tend to put their best foot forward in an interview situation, so try look outside the confines of the interview to make personal evaluations.

Groenewald says she looks at factors such as: “How efficient is the candidate in responding to my emails, how accurately do they grasp and retain information telephonically and even what their spelling is like.”

6. Don’t be baffled by hot air

“During the first interview I ask candidates to tell me about their performance/accomplishments in a previous position – you can tell a great deal from these answers. Following on from that question I always ask what they think their previous manager would tell me about their performance – this is where any possible deception can come out. For example if they suddenly get very flustered or lose focus at that point I know there is more to the story of their vast accomplishments than what they’re saying!”

7. Verify everything

A final point is that thorough reference checks  – including checking references with people not listed on the candidate’s CV, even their last payslip at their former employer – cannot be over-emphasised.

“Human instinct is to trust someone at face value – unfortunately in the world of recruitment you learn to become a cynic,” adds Groenewald. It also reduces the chance of having to fire people who aren't right for the position.

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