While our economy and job market has a long way to go, most economic indicators point toward a positive job outlook. This means that an already tight talent pool of skilled and motivated employees will get tighter in 2012 and 2013. 

The window for ramping up productivity is closing. Employers are running so lean that when new orders or business me in, they don’t have time to waste in hiring employees to sell, produce or deliver the services. Here’s a few basic steps every employer can take to ensure it has the right people in the right place at the right time.

Update job descriptions.  But don’t go crazy. Be succinct. Too many businesses turn writing job descriptions into a year-long ordeal (which means they never get done or they get sourced to a consultant who creates a boiler plate document for legal purposes.)  Make sure that you define the essential responsibilities, functions and requirements of the position being offered. Use an abbreviated form of the job description in your career ads.  Let candidates read what you expect before they apply. This will likely limit the number of unqualified candidates who submit applications to your firm.

Tip: Use the 15 minute job description.  Imagine sitting with this employee 12 months from now for his or her performance review.  Ask yourself, “What are my expectations for an employee filling this position?”  Identify 3 to 5 specific goals you expect them to meet or exceed.  Then add or review the essential responsibilities, functions, and skills required for the employee to earn your highest performance rating. If you can’t write this job description in 15 minutes, you’re probably not ready to hire an employee without disappointing you in some way.

Centralize your recruitment and employee screening functions.  Choose one employee to review and post all job postings from your business. Using the same person for this task will provide greater consistency and minimize the possibility that hiring managers don’t start personalizing the ads for their preferences and put the company at risk. For example, the desperate manager might remove or edit some job responsibilities or skills to fill jobs faster.  While filling the job faster keeps his production high, higher turnover and lower quality might end up costing the company a lot of money.  And many managers are inclined to seek candidates who are currently working. This practice is under scrutiny by the EEOC for discrimination because it excludes a disproportionate number of minorities, disabled, and older workers. If “employed only” is a job requirement, that decision should be made by management who assumes the risks if challenged by a disgruntled candidate, not individual managers or HR.

Be more selective with recruiting tools. Traditionally, employers have tried to broaden their searches by advertising on sites that reach a wide audience. But job boards, social networking sites like LinkedIn, and classified ad sites like Craigslist have made it so easy for candidates to apply for jobs that the volume of resumes and application coming through HR’s inbox overwhelms capacity. The knee-jerk response of many companies, especially the smaller ones, is to cut back on advertising and narrow the search.  Unfortunately, this also significantly diminishes the chances of finding the right person, especially if the business is seeking a skilled worker. You may find better candidates by relying on industry-specific sites, recruiting firms or networks of professional associations. Ads on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google can also be targeted to different age groups, geographic regions, or other demographic criteria. Current employees as well as previous employees should also be encouraged to make referrals or recommendations.

Use applicant processing software to screen applicants. Allow candidates to submit applications online. The cost for online applicant processing has dropped significantly, to a point where it is affordable for a small business that hires only a few employees each year. Applicant processing software can help you narrow the search by screening out unqualified or high risk candidates before recruiters make the first contact. A few applicant processing systems include pre-employment tests too. Time to hire improves because recruiters, HR and managers are wasting time contacting and interviewing candidates who don’t meet the minimum requirements. Additionally, you’ll be able to save resumes for the future and build a talent pool if you don’t have an immediate opening for someone who wows you. Also, this technique makes it relatively easy to respond to each applicant. Many of the applicant processing systems have auto-responders which can be customized for a more personal approach.

The outlook for business in 2012 is improving. Don’t let the competition get the drop on you because you can’t find the right people fast enough.