This article is part of Talent Insider, a series containing expert advice to help small business owners tackle a range of hiring challenges.
When Zhe Scott founded her SEO consulting and marketing firm, The SEO Queen, in 2017, she expected her employees to stick around long-term.
But that hasn’t been the case. Over the past five years, she told Insider, her business has evolved, her expectations have changed, and it’s become difficult to find and retain the right team.
“I knew I needed to think about hiring differently,” she said. In search of a new approach, Scott joined the Insider mentorship program, created in partnership with Indeed, and was paired with Bernard Coleman, the chief diversity and engagement officer at Gusto, a payroll, benefits, and human-resources platform.
The pair met via Zoom once a week for several weeks to discuss solutions to her biggest staffing challenges. Their conversations led Scott to “think about talent acquisition the same way I think about customer acquisition,” she said. “I needed to build a pipeline.”
Attracting job candidates and hiring individuals best suited to the job can be costly and time-consuming for business owners, especially when an employee doesn’t work out, Coleman said. He and Scott shared how they overhauled Scott’s hiring process and came up with solutions to improve talent retention.
Creating assets to showcase her company culture
Scott said Coleman encouraged her to develop materials that showcase her company culture, which is becoming increasingly important to prospective employees, and outline in those materials expectations for her team. So she created a testimonial video featuring an employee’s perspective on working for The SEO Queen that touched on how the company operates and what Scott’s leadership style is like and posted it on her company’s website. Scott said she plans to make more videos in the future when she has more time.
“That was a fun idea we workshopped together,” Coleman said. Coleman added he also shared a job-posting template from Gusto with Scott to help her revamp her open roles to include more specific descriptions of job duties and expectations.
Hosting ‘hackathons’ to find qualified candidates
One of Scott’s biggest hiring challenges, she told Coleman, has been finding people with the right skill sets. She said she often hired individuals based on their portfolios, then found when they started they couldn’t handle the directions she gave them.
Under Coleman’s guidance, Scott came up with “hackathon” events, where prospective employees are paid for an hour of their time and asked to complete specific tasks. Coleman said he helped her create a rubric to score attendees on how they followed directions and met expectations to decide whether to interview the person for a role. “We’ve been able to see right out the gate who’s able to do the work and who’s not,” Scott said. “That’s saved us a lot of time and money.”
So far, she said, she’s hosted two hackathons and plans to hold them monthly in the future. She also plans to create videos about the program to include on her website.
Coleman said he liked the hackathon idea so much as a way to build relationships with job candidates that he plans to discuss it with colleagues at Gusto and potentially use it in-house or recommend it to other businesses he works with.
Expanding her network to attract new talent
Leveraging alumni connections is another recruiting strategy that came up during the mentorship meetings, Scott, who earned degrees from the University of Michigan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said. Universities often appreciate updates on their alumni’s achievements, and networking with them could allow Scott to create opportunities for students and recent graduates, Coleman said. “It’ll also lift her brand,” he added.
Developing a content calendar and placing thought-leadership content in national media are other ideas the pair came up with to expand her network, Scott said. “It would appeal both to potential clients and potential team members.”
Treating talent acquisition as an ongoing task
While she hasn’t found any new employees yet using updated new process, Scott said, she’s confident about the long term. “It’s a win because we didn’t extend offers to people who went through the hackathon and weren’t able to do the work. That saved me stress.”
Working with Coleman, she added, helped her get a clearer picture of her expectations for new hires and the onboarding process — and think about talent acquisition as an ongoing process. “We have created a shift in the culture at The SEO Queen for more excellence and more efficiency to help us grow even further and faster,” Scott said.
Coleman said he appreciated the chance to work directly with a small-business owner and generate ideas for solving problems and inspiring growth.
“A small-business owner has so many different hats,” he said. “They’re experts at what they do, they have to post jobs, interview, and hire folks. It gave me a deeper respect for what a small-business owner goes through — and the multiple balls they’re juggling and just can’t drop. It made me feel good to help.”