Creative but effective ways to hire great talent with small budgets

If you’re a small business or community-based organisation, the reality is you likely can’t pay people as much as you’d like. You’ve probably had the experience of multiple attempts to fill positions where you just can’t find the right person. Not experienced enough, or perhaps not quite the right experience, or maybe you’ve found someone amazing but (very reasonably) they want a higher rate than you can pay.

There are ways, though, of finding and catching rare gems. These are my top 5 favourite strategies (in no particular order).

  1. Harness the amazing and under-employed part-time workforce. Don’t reduce the salary budget you have, just the FTE you apportion to it. This allows you to effectively pay a higher rate than you would otherwise. I can’t tell you how much value I have got from part-timers looking for legitimate, meaty roles or those wanting the stability of an ongoing position while they make time for their side hustle. Some recruiters have told me you can’t find them … I’ve never had any trouble. Perhaps part-timers get told by recruiters meaty roles rarely come up, so they do their own search. This is my top strategy if part-time fits the role. And it most likely will – don’t be scared (even for senior roles); while they will be there fewer hours, it won’t matter because their greater skill and contribution than the full-timer you’re trying to hire on a low salary will ensure efficiencies.

  2. Where you just can’t pull together the bucks for someone really skilled, go for curiosity and potential rather than experience, and grow your own. There are some roles where obviously this won’t work (brain surgeons perhaps, but you’re probably not hiring them), but those roles are few and far between. I’d even chuck a green, smart executive role in this basket if you haven’t got much to pay. If someone wants to learn, is open to feedback and guidance and has enough knowledge and/or nous to get the ball rolling, they are going to be far more valuable to you (and far cheaper, both directly and indirectly) than someone very experienced but burnt out and taking the lower paid job because they can’t find anything else.

  3. Look really closely at the role you’re hiring for. Does it need to stay in its current form? Could you split out some of the functions and make it more junior (more competition among candidates, opportunity to find a great, enthused person?) Is it even needed at all? Could you use that money on a more pivotal role?

  4. Wage subsidies to reduce salary costs. There are various subsidies associated with traineeships, mature age worker programs and programs for workers with disabilities (among others). You will likely find amazing people plus get some assistance toward wages, and often support with how to access that cash and the recruitment process through Employment Service Providers (just make sure they’re not a shonky operator because despite the Government’s best efforts there are a few out there – you’ll know one if you come across them; run if you get even a whiff of used car salesman).

  5. If you’re an NFP, utilise volunteers. There are some weird notions about volunteers out there – I get it, people don’t want to feel like they’re taking advantage of people, but people volunteer for two primary reasons: they want to give something productive back or gain skills (often both). Leaving them licking envelopes is not doing either you or them any favours. Ensure you understand your obligations around volunteers but give them real work to do, and you might just free up some of that salary budget for other roles.

Small salary budgets make life hard but thinking outside the square gives you more bang for your buck. Just remember, when your budget is small, hunger, curiosity, integrity and smarts with less experience will pay dividends.