A Surge in Demand Means Some Small Businesses Are Hiring
A worker wearing a protective mask and gloves assembles face shields at the Cartamundi-owned Hasbro manufacturing facility in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, U.S. (Photographer: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg)

A Surge in Demand Means Some Small Businesses Are Hiring

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- If you’re a small grocery store or drug store owner, a gardening supplier or an online provider of services and crucial products, you may be pressed to bolster staffing to meet the recent surge in demand.

Unlike major corporations, including Amazon.com, CVS, and Walmart, which employ their own recruiters who can quickly fill mass hiring needs, small business owners usually find and select new employees on their own. That’s difficult to do in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, especially for entrepreneurs who suddenly have more customers and are preoccupied trying to keep their companies running smoothly.

“We’ve been so busy, it’s hard to find time to hire anyone—but we need more help,” says Marta Edwards, co-owner of Amelia Smarty Plants, a two-acre garden center in Lake Worth, Fla., near West Palm Beach. When Covid-19 began spreading in March—the height of the company’s busy spring season—two of its nine full-time employees and one of its two part-timers quit, saying they were too afraid to keep working. Meanwhile, there are more customers to serve than ever, “maybe because people sheltering at home want to do more gardening and grow their own vegetables,” said Edwards, who allows no more than 15 customers to roam the center’s acreage and offers curbside “contactless” pickup of plants. She needs at least one additional employee who’s a “local plant expert” and another with both gardening and computer skills; she’s been trying out some candidates.

How can you safely fill immediate openings during the Covid-19 outbreak?

1. Analyze your staffing needs. Do you need full-time or part-time help, and will you bring people on as temporary or permanent employees, or a combination of both? At this time of uncertainty, no employer wants more employees than he or she can afford. You’re apt to lose business, however, if you don’t have sufficient staff to meet customers’ needs and expectations.

2. Rely on your business networks. From suppliers to professional associations, customers to friends and family, check in with all to identify potential employees. Ask local small business owners who’ve shut down because of the pandemic if employees they’ve laid off would be suitable for your needs. In addition, ask your staff if they know any potential hires—and consider offering them a bonus if you hire someone they refer.

3. Post/advertise the openings. Don’t leave out important details, like all the qualifications required. Send your listing to local newspapers, popular online job sites, including Indeed.com and LinkedIn, and community message boards such as Nextdoor.

No matter how busy you are running your business, schedule time to assess a few candidates for every opening. Interview final candidates on Zoom, Skype, or other videoconferencing apps. Or consider offering some applicants a tryout for a day or two, before making a formal offer.

“If you’re small and smart, you know you can’t afford to take on staff who aren’t qualified or able to learn quickly on the job,” said Pat Cook, chief executive officer of Cook & Co., a Bronxville, N.Y., executive search firm.

4. Take advantage of the large pool of suddenly unemployed people. Especially if you’re a startup that expects to keep growing after the pandemic eases, this could be a very good time to create a bigger talent pool for your business. That’s what Better.com, a New York-based digital mortgage financing startup is doing. The company has seen a 200% increase in demand since the beginning of March, 80% from people seeking to refinance, said spokeswoman Tanya Hayre.

As a result and because of expected continued growth, the company is hiring about 150 new employees each month in sales and mortgage operations—or about 1,000 new staff in 2020—and is targeting laid-off hospitality workers in New York, Charlotte, and Orange County, Calif.

“Working in hospitality requires a customer-centric mindset and an ability to be levelheaded and calm under pressure,” Vishal Garg, Better.com’s co-founder and CEO, wrote on the company’s web page aimed at job seekers. “These attributes are very valuable and transferable to our sales and ops teams, and college degrees are not required.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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