When Michael Dwan starts interviewing job candidates, he doesn't use the phone or an in-person meeting -- he texts with them.
"It's a real-world test of how we actually work," says Dwan, chief technology officer at Highrise, a business software company where employees including programmers and design engineers work remotely.
The changing dynamics of the U.S. workforce -- its shrinking pool of available workers and ever-increasing use of technology -- have led some small business owners and managers to be more creative when recruiting staffers. Some like Dwan use messaging or chatting programs to make that first significant contact with a candidate, or social media to lure potential hires. Others go low-tech: They offer free training to prospective hires because of a shortage of skilled workers, or meet with candidates in casual atmospheres away from the office.
A look at the strategies of five small companies:
Recruiting Strategy: A two-month, tuition-free course in caregiving at a senior care company.
Owner, Company: Carrie Bianco, Always Best Care Senior Services, Los Angeles.
How the Strategy Works: Bianco hires a nurse to teach a course in caregiving for seniors to prospective employees. The course includes lectures, homework, videos and exams. Before it begins, prospective students are interviewed to see if they have the compassion to be caregivers. When they've completed the course, they agree to work for Bianco with pay for 60 days.
Why Bianco Uses It: "I saw the demand for caregiving rising and the supply of caregivers dwindling rapidly. And the standard way of recruiting was falling short," Bianco says. She also advertises online, asks staffers and clients and their families to refer potential hires, and she seeks recruits from schools that train nurses' aides.
Why It's Successful: Bianco has gotten 15 staffers from four courses during the past year. The courses also help with a necessary winnowing-out process -- some people realize they don't want to be caregivers to seniors, and Bianco finds this out before trying to schedule them with clients.
Recruiting Strategy: Spending time in a coffee shop with prospective hires.
Owner, Company: Tim Gerst, Thinkswell, online marketing company based in Nashville, Tennessee.
How the Strategy Works: After looking at resumes of people he finds via LinkedIn and recruiting software, Gerst invites prospective staffers to meet him at his favorite coffee shop. He sets up appointments with the first 10 who respond, then chats with them individually. If he feels there's chemistry with candidates, he'll invite them for more formal meetings at his office.
Shy Gerst Uses It: Talking at a coffee shop takes away some of the intimidation an initial meeting in an office can create, and that helps Gerst get a sense of whether a candidate is someone he and his staffers would be comfortable working with. "I know your personality pretty quickly," Gerst says.
Why It's Successful: Gerst gets to see how a candidate interacts with people -- because it's his regular hangout, people he knows often come say hello, and he always includes the candidate in the conversation. "When hiring, personality and how the candidate will meld with our team is most important," Gerst says.
Recruiting Strategy: Visiting online forums where prospective employees network, and using websites that cater to a specific profession.
Owner, Company: Idalia Gastelum, Translation Direct, translation and interpretation service based in Miami.
How the Strategy Works: When Gastelum needs full-time staffers or freelancers for specific projects, she visits TranslatorsCafe.com, a forum where translators and interpreters connect with one another. People often post about their work, so Gastelum gets a sense of their experience. She also searches the website of the American Translators Association, which has a directory of people offering translation and interpretation services.
Why Gastelum Uses It: She finds that websites focused on translation and interpretation have many more qualified people than more general job sites. That focus is especially helpful when Gastelum gets a project with a tight deadline. "We go into the chat rooms to try to pull out people," she says.
Why It's Successful: Recruiting within a community of people has helped Gastelum build a network of staffers and freelancers she can call on for a project. And if a specific translator can't help, "they'll usually give you someone else in their own circle," she says.
Recruiting Strategy: Using an online text chat for a first introduction and screening for a job candidate.
Manager, Company: Jennifer Orozco, recruiting manager for Braden Business Systems, office equipment and information technology company based in Fishers, Indiana.
How the Strategy Works: When Orozco finds promising candidates on job search sites like LinkedIn or Indeed, she texts them through the online service Canvas. She'll start a chat, sharing details about the position she's trying to fill, and asking about their experience and what they want in a job. The back-and-forth can be immediate, or the chat might extend over a few days; Orozco understands candidates are at work, and she gives them time to answer a question thoughtfully. If candidates seem like they could be a good fit, Orozco requests an in-person interview.
Why Orozco Uses It: "We thought, this would be great for capturing talent in the millennial generation," Orozco says. She wants to communicate with prospective hires in a way that will be comfortable for them.
Why It's Successful: Orozco has found online text chats to be a good way to easily find possible hires or rule out people who clearly wouldn't be a match with the company. And she has found that candidates of all ages like this form of initial contact.
Recruiting Strategy: Using social media to build relationships with potential hires.
Manager, Company: Rob Janicke, SoundEvolution Music, record label in New York.
How the Strategy Works: Janicke discovered by accident that his posts on social media about the music business and other topics can be a recruiting tool. His followers respond to his posts, and he's gotten to know several, including one who asked how he could get involved with SoundEvolution. "That person eventually did come on board, a couple of months ago." Janicke is also considering another follower, who said, "I want to learn more about what you're doing."
Why Janicke Uses It: Online exchanges give Janicke a good introduction to people and allow him to see whether they might be a good fit. Later on, in-person interviews are part of the process.
Why It's Successful: Janicke expects to hire younger workers who are technology-focused. "I need to go where they are," he says.