When my husband and I first hired employees for a family business, we had little idea where to start. While we knew the legal obligations associated with hiring staff, thanks to my background in employment law, the actual practicalities of where -- and how -- to find people to hire was beyond our expertise. 

We learned through trial and error how to attract qualified candidates, narrow the applicant pool, and find the perfect person -- but we made mistakes in the process. And we aren't alone. Small-business owners often find it difficult to perfect recruiting, but your company can avoid struggle by learning about five top hiring mistakes to avoid. 

Woman pointing at search bar that reads "Find job."

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Writing a bad job ad

The quality of applicants is directly driven by your job ad. Ensure that it's clear about what the work entails and the required qualifications. Detail mandatory and desired skills, including both hard skills, such as technical knowledge, and soft skills, such as creativity. 

While you should specify what you're looking for in a candidate, don't go overboard with tons of specific demands lest you miss out on qualified candidates who might not have every trait you're envisioning. 

2. Failing to prescreen candidates

While you may be eager to get candidates in for an in-person interview, a brief prescreening can save you time and hassle. A simple 20-minute phone conversation weeds out candidates who've embellished their resumes and don't have the necessary knowledge.

Prescreens also reveal red flags, such as a job seeker who isn't available on time, doesn't communicate in a professional way, or has unreasonable expectations.  

3. Putting candidates through too cumbersome a process

You want to do sufficient screening to find the perfect employee -- but talented candidates won't jump through endless hoops to get hired.

A hiring process that takes too long will cause you to lose candidates who get offers from more decisive employers. And making too many requests will chase the most qualified away. I've given up applying for writing jobs when asked to produce multiple lengthy samples for free, and most skilled employees simply won't put up with endless demands as part of the recruiting process.  

4. Messing up the interviewing process

The interview is your best chance to ensure a potential candidate is a good fit, so make sure you're prepared. This means deciding in advance what questions you'll ask and what criteria you'll use to evaluate candidates. Don't do too much talking and make sure interview questions are designed to give candidates a chance to truly show their stuff. 

As you devise your interview plan, keep in mind it's easier to tell if a candidate has the right technical knowledge than to determine if they're a good cultural fit. Focus on questions that provide insight into values and personality. People can learn processes and techniques, but can't learn to exhibit empathy and work well with others. 

5. Failing to make a competitive offer

There's nothing more discouraging than finding a perfect candidate and extending an offer -- only to have them reject it. When this happens, you've wasted time and money -- and lost the opportunity to bring a talented person on board.

To reduce the likelihood of candidates turning you down, make sure the salary and benefits are commensurate with what competitors are offering. It's easy to research expected compensation using online tools, so put together an offer that's enticing. 

You can find the perfect candidate

Once we perfected our hiring abilities, we were able to find employees who've stayed long term and are true assets to our business. Streamlining the process was definitely worth the effort. When you work on recruiting techniques, you can build a solid team to help your business succeed. 

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