An angled side view of several job candidates dressed in business casual wear. The candidates are sitting in a row in a large room with brick walls. Most of the candidates are out of focus, but one woman in the middle is in-focus. She is looking up and straight-ahead at something out-of-frame, and she is smiling.
For companies with the resources to do so, it's a good idea to continually recruit and maintain a pool of job candidates. — Getty Images/skynesher

While large corporations spend big money on third-party recruiting firms and fancy software to fill job openings, smart hiring still boils down to nuts and bolts that are often overlooked—tactics any small business owner can leverage.

Your search for the perfect candidate should start with a detailed yet realistic job description, so that you and any potential candidates are crystal clear on what’s expected and what’s not. Do not inflate the requirements or expectations, experts advise.

If an existing employee has all the necessary skills and other attributes you’re looking for, your search may be over. If not, you need to find someone from the outside who can hit the ground running.

Here are a few expert tips for how to hire smart.

Focus on the now

“You’re looking for people who can do the job you need done now, not grow into the position,” said Peter Cappelli, a professor of management and director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “The way to do that is to find someone who has done it before in an organization like yours.”

[Read more: Recruiting Tech Tools for Building More Diverse Teams]

Check the attitude

With external candidates, it’s vital to look beyond skill sets and resumes to determine if a person has the drive, vision and flexibility you’re looking for.

One tactic, detailed in a Wharton School compilation of best hiring practices: In interviews, look for people who are eager to know what they can do for you, said Christy Lamagna, founder of the firm Strategic Meetings & Events.

“How they show up, their values and their work ethic are baked in by the time you meet them,” Lamagna said. “Those aren’t likely to change.” Your job in an interview is to draw out a candidate’s core personality and values. “If the person asks about how they can be an asset to you, that’s a fantastic sign,” Lamagna said.

Another good sign: Candidates who are well-prepared for the interview.

“When someone shows up to an interview having researched the company, the history, the products, etc., I am always impressed,” said Elle Shelley, founder and CEO of Cobalt, a digital collaboration platform. “Those that are prepared also tend to have better questions that allow us to move deeper into a conversation about the role, as opposed to the usual, more scripted ‘getting to know you’ type questions.”

[Read more: 5 Important Interview Questions Every Business Should Ask]

You’re looking for people who can do the job you need done now, not grow into the position.

Peter Cappelli, professor of management and director of the Center for Human Resources at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School

Keep it simple

If your company has the resources, some experts advise making recruitment an ongoing function, so you have a pool of candidates when the hiring need arises. Otherwise, start the search by reaching out to your own network of contacts.

“This is one of the few times people in your business networks will be happy to hear from you, because they all benefit if they can get a contact [of theirs] a job,” Cappelli said.

While your intuition is important in the hiring process, don’t skip the vital step of checking references and seeking perspectives from others beyond those listed on a resume.

“The entire purpose of interviews is to find out what candidates really did in a setting that is similar to yours. It takes a lot of work to do this well,” Cappelli said. “For example, the good use of references is to find out who else to talk to and what to ask them about concerning the candidate. If you can’t do that, pay someone who can, only do it for the short list, as it is expensive.”

Be careful about vendors whose fancy systems or software claims to find the perfect candidate, however. Many of them outsource the search process to contractors overseas, and the candidates they turn up may have loads of experience but often have good jobs they’re happy with, so hiring them can be an expensive longshot, Cappelli notes. Also, the supposedly smart matchmaking tools these vendors use are far from proven.

“They use voice recognition, body language, clues on social media, and especially machine learning algorithms—everything but tea leaves,” Cappelli wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

His advice to small businesses: “Don’t bother with the fancy stuff.”

[Read more: 6 Ways to Hire Employees Fast]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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CO— is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Published July 12, 2021