SOI 2013 - Hunting for Top New Hires

How To Attract Talented Workers

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New HiresDistributors are tapping social networks and offering greater flexibility to attract talented workers.

As the economy continues to heal, distributors are hiring. Whether taking on an additional salesperson or expanding operations staff to meet growing demand, ad specialty companies report that they are adding new members to their teams. In fact, the State of the Industry survey shows that the average distributor firm employed 10.4 people in 2012, an increase from 8.3 in 2009. Further, 29% of distributors said they're planning to add more employees in 2013, while only 4% said they're planning to decrease their headcounts.

As they seek out new talent, though, distributors are finding that they have to get creative in their hunt. A recent survey conducted by staffing firm Express Employment Professionals found that 54% of companies say they are having some difficulty recruiting for and filling positions — an increase of 3% compared to the year before. As many top performers already have jobs, or require more compelling reasons to come on board than they did even a year ago, the employment pool has become a seller's market.

To help overcome this challenge, many employers are embracing "social recruitment" in their hunt. "Social recruiting is having its moment," says Adam Robinson, CEO of Hireology, a platform that streamlines the hiring process for employers from candidate search to background checks. "Innovative small businesses who want to compete with big companies will source talent directly from places like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn if they are looking for top talent."

Robinson points to the new Facebook Social Jobs app, launched last November, which allows users to conduct job searches and pull in data from their social network. He suggests that distributors approach their Facebook and Twitter followers as potential recruits. The more personal approach of these sites compared to traditional platforms like Monster.com can work in a small business' favor.

But of all social media platforms, LinkedIn continues to be the richest aid for seeking qualified talent, allowing distributors to post when there is a job opening and search for candidates based on job title, industry, responsibilities and more. It can also serve as a valuable tool for checking the references of applicants and others who can provide a clearer picture of their skill set.

"LinkedIn is a great resource because you can contact second- and third-tier connections," says Nicole Witt, executive director of small-business consultancy Success with Witt, who urges business owners to look into employee references beyond those they provide. "Ideally, try to find a direct report, a peer and, if possible, a former boss to really round out your picture of this person."

Referrals are the primary way that Adam Dyer, vice president of Tarheel Promotions (asi/109480), seeks out new workers, consulting with members of his team and connections at other organizations. Named the third fastest-growing distributor of 2012, with 284% growth in business compared to the year before, Tarheel has been quickly adding new members to its team. This growth has meant more hiring, with the company bringing on two new members to its sales staff in the last year (doubling its sales team) with expectations to add another two to three people over the rest of 2013.

While sales experience and a background in promotional products are key differentiators for the reps Dyer seeks, he believes even more important is how they fit with the company's values.

"Every business is different, and we want to make sure the person that we hire has the outlook on how to grow sales and market themselves that will be a good fit for our company culture," says Dyer.

Most recently, this has meant hiring a salesperson to run the team at Tarheel's Houston office. Since the position required that the rep oversee several other members of the sales team, Dyer sought out a candidate with both sales and managerial experience. Finding the person with the right balance of skills and background took several months of interviewing and reaching out to colleagues for additional referrals, but eventually Dyer found the right person for the job and believes the investment of time was worthwhile.

"We would rather spend six months to find someone who is very good than six weeks to just get whoever," says Dyer. "If we find the right person and know they'll be successful, it's worth paying them more or better – putting more resources toward them."

Greater Flexibility
One way that distributors are attracting top candidates who are highly in demand is by offering greater flexibility to do their job, both in the work required and in its schedule and location. With mobile devices that can serve as their own remote offices and platforms like Skype, GoToMeeting and other videoconference technology, it has gotten simpler for sales staff to operate away from the company office. This means distributors can work to attract employees in far-flung parts of the country.

By offering a flexible schedule, tailored in a way that benefits both the candidate and the company, distributors are also better able to attract currently-employed talent.

"Whether candidates currently have a job or not, offering the option to work flexible hours or telecommute occasionally is an enticing benefit that could help tip the scale in your favor as a desirable employer," says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, which connects candidates seeking part-time work and employers willing to offer it.

Opening jobs up to those with a fairly diverse background can also make the hiring process more flexible and attract more desirable candidates than might be interested in a basic sales position.

That has been the experience for Eric Beguelin, president of Regency Print Solutions (asi/306196), which enjoyed 346% growth between 2009 and 2011 and has been steadily hiring recently.

The company began as an office supply company before expanding into custom printing, promotional products and managed printing, meeting a wide range of customer needs with a single invoice – a program that Regency has dubbed "Value Squared." This wider variety of services allows Regency to open up its search to candidates with experience in any of these areas, which means more potential hires.

"When you sell a single product, that's all you can do," says Beguelin. "But when you can bundle it and have several product lines, you can talk to the C-level people and ask, ‘do you have a good relationship with your office supply company? OK, you do, then what about your promos and apparel?'"

Regency also uses social recruitment, letting friends and followers of the company know when a position has opened up, which has allowed them to find candidates who share the company's adaptable approach to promotional products and printing.

"Social media helps qualify people from the start – we want someone who is comfortable with technology," says Beguelin. "I don't want to hire someone with an old-school mentality."

New Hires Chart