If a job applicant can book a flight, deposit a check into his bank, or purchase insurance online 24/7, his expectation is that he can search for jobs and apply anytime that is convenient – from office, home, or mobile. In addition, applying for a job online should be “buyer-friendly.”

I’ve been recommending this strategy for 20 years. Small business owners (SBOs) should be recruiting workers 24/7/365.  I believed that was the right thing to do as early as the 1990s and the strategy is even more relevant and critical today.

Job applicants waiting for interviewWith skilled worker shortages increasing, the need to build a “company” talent pool is a necessity.  The problem is supply and demand – SBOs want to hire just-in-time but the supply just isn’t there.  With the economy improving, it floats all boats including those of competitors.  If competition is tough under strained economic times, it’s much worse when the need for more talent presents itself.  In addition to local supply, SBOs are now competing regionally, globally, and even cross-industry for the same talent.

To take the pulse of a skilled labor pool, SBOs must be constantly on the lookout.  They need to follow local business openings and closings.  Is the pool drying up or is a good catch lurling nearby?  They need to identify sources of fresh talent, even those with not directly tied to the industry and track business and hiring trends that might affect availability of skilled workers. Skills are often transferable from one industry to another and SBOs must keep their eyes wide open.

The best hiring practice begins with the creation and “schmoozing” a talent pool 24/7/365.  An SBO can do this using Social Media. They can build networks that can be reached often and tapped when the need arises.

A more traditional approach would include an applicant processing system that allows the company to collect applications 24/7 through a company career page.  The applicants can be screened quickly for job fit and suitability.  The company can build and nurture the database just like prospective customers – using social media, newsletters, and other ongoing communication. When a vacancy opens, the company will have a preferred list of applicants to contact.

Of course, you don’t need software to track applicants.  Applicant information can be recorded in a spreadsheet and resumes filed in a digital folder. But tracking every application in a spreadsheet like this is tedious and access to the information cumbersone.  Most small businesses don’t have the time and resources to recruit, screen and track applicants 24/7 without some automation. Without technology, the spreadsheet becomes just another activity and out-0f-date file.

Building a just-in-time talent pool in today’s labor market takes time and resources. But technology and automation can minimize both those factors.  Applicant tracking software can be very productive and cost effective for small business, especially when anticipating the cost of ramping up quickly or losing opportunity because the company can’t staff effectively.