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Dilemma of the month: how can I attract entry-level candidates without increasing their salary?

I manage employees who earn $17 an hour to begin with. We were once an employer of choice for entry-level candidates, as we paid more than our competitors and our jobs require minimal training – a few hours, and you’re good to go! California’s minimum wage is now $15 an hour, so our “great pay” is barely better than minimum wage, and we’re getting fewer applicants. How can I continue to attract entry-level candidates when I really can’t afford to raise their pay rate?

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Entry-level jobs that are genuinely entry-level are a great thing to offer. You say anyone can learn to do the job in a few hours, giving you a big advantage over your competition. Advertising higher salaries is one of the easiest ways to attract more applicants, but the reality is that most companies have been hit hard by inflation. Prices for materials, rent, and labor are all rising, and it can be difficult to raise salaries when the cost of doing business is rising so rapidly. Here are some ideas for attracting entry-level candidates at your current pay rate.

Make your job descriptions very clear that no experience is required.

Sometimes you see jobs labeled “entry level” that require five years of specific experience and a degree. If you need experience, the job is not entry level. If you need a college degree, state that clearly. Entry-level jobs for recent graduates are not the same as for applicants without a degree, and recent graduates can charge upwards of $17 per hour.

Make it clear that you will be happy to hire people who have difficulty finding work.

Has anyone taken five years to get a child from birth to kindergarten? What about a candidate who lost their job in March 2020 and has been struggling ever since? Would this person be welcome in your company? What about someone who retired but realized there wasn’t enough money in the bank to swear off work? How about someone with a criminal record?

It’s hard to find a job when you don’t have one. Your company is ideally placed to hire those who have not worked for a long time, train them and compensate them. Target these groups of people and see what happens.

Be flexible as much as possible.

I don’t know what your company does; maybe flexible hours are doable, and maybe they aren’t. If they are, it can be a huge attraction. A company that offers to work around student class schedules may pay a little less than a company that requires 24-hour availability from its employees. You’ll be able to appeal to parents if you offer hours that coincide with their children’s school days, so they can earn money without incurring childcare costs.

Provide career progression.

I guess since you’re hiring so many entry-level people, there aren’t many opportunities to grow in your company. But that doesn’t mean you can’t offer career progression. You already know that people won’t stay in these jobs forever, so build that expectation into your program. Let your employees know from day one that you want the best for them, and you’ll realize it’s just one step on their career ladder.

If your jobs don’t require high school diplomas, partner with the local community college to offer on-site classes for the General Educational Development test. You can also offer career coaching, resume writing courses, and other continuing education courses. Let people know that they will be better off after two years with your business.

Support non-native English speakers.

Many jobs that people can do with minimal training do not require English proficiency. This is another group you can approach. In addition to GED classes, offer ESL classes for real adults – teaching the vocabulary needed for parent-teacher conferences, car trouble, and doctor’s appointments. You may be able to partner with the local community college to offer these classes for free or at a reduced cost.

Anything that provides real value to your employees can help attract and retain them for a reasonable amount of time. Recognizing that your jobs are just a short step on the road to success can help you determine what entry-level candidates value.

Of course, everyone wants money! But many people want a path to success. Focusing on the things that will help them succeed can go a long way in attracting the best candidates without dramatically increasing your costs.

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