For much of recent history, employers were in the driver's seat when it came to hiring. But that has changed in many fields due to a shrinking labor pool.

With unemployment levels having fallen to record or near-record lows, employees have more choices in many cases. That makes it harder for employers -- especially small businesses -- to find the talent they need.

But it's possible to find qualified employees if you're flexible and open-minded. You may not be able to pay more than bigger businesses, but there are ways to make your company an attractive place to work -- and one that will attract top-tier employees. Here are four ideas to consider:

A help wanted sign

A tight labor market means some employers have to be creative in hiring. Image source: Getty Images.

1. Hire based on ability, not degrees

A number of big companies, including IBM, have been hiring what has been called "new collar workers." These are people who can do the job -- or who can be trained to do it -- who lack traditional degrees. This isn't a case of companies hiring people as doctors just because they own white coats. It involves finding people who have experience or ability in areas like coding or marketing but who don't have formal degrees.

2. Offer flexibility

There are a lot of talented workers out there who are underemployed or unemployed because they need flexibility that most employers don't offer. They could include parents whose young children are in school only part of the day, and adults taking care of an elderly relative.

If you allow potential employees to work around their needs, then you have access to a whole new pool of people. In many cases, it's possible to empower your employees to cover for one another and work out schedules that benefit them and the business.

3. Hire young

Everyone needs a first chance, and even in an employee-friendly market, that's not always easy to get. As an employer, you can identify young people who deserve an opportunity. That gives you access to talent you can develop, benefit from, and then send off to bigger and better things.

4. Hire old

Just as it can be a struggle for young workers to land their first big break, older workers can sometimes be frozen out of the job market. Consider hiring older employees (maybe on a part-time basis) to meet your needs.

In my last job as a newspaper editor, we had a very experienced copy editor who was beyond traditional retirement age. He didn't really need to work, but he liked the job, and he filled in for us as needed while also sharing his deep experience with a generally inexperienced staff.

Look everywhere

In a tight labor market, you need to be open to finding the right people wherever they might be. Try to recruit in places other employers might not be looking (like posting jobs in senior centers or reaching out to colleges). Don't dismiss candidates for trivial reasons. Look for ways to give people a chance, rather than finding ways to disqualify them.

That may lead to more mistakes than if you followed rigid standards. But it will also help you uncover some gems whom you otherwise might not have considered when labor was easier to come by.

Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.