‘Help Wanted’ Signs Go Unanswered at Some Small Businesses

Small businesses that can't find the right people to fill their job openings may be suffering from a Great Recession hangover.

Their futile searches may partly reflect a healthier economy -- more people have jobs, reducing the pool of applicants and the success rate of broad strategies like online job postings. For some, the challenge is finding staff with very specific technology skills. Changes in the workforce can also make it difficult, especially among younger people who may prefer big cities and have different work goals. Nearly a fifth of small business owners surveyed by American Express this spring said finding the right staff is their biggest challenge while expanding their companies.

But owners can also make life difficult for themselves. Some hold to inflexible models developed during the recession -- like posting complex jobs for relatively low pay -- and many candidates say no because they get better offers. Some employers are still trying to hire one person to do the work of two or three, a tactic that might have worked several years ago but not now, says Steve Lindner, CEO of The WorkPlace Group, a recruiting firm based in Florham Park, New Jersey.

"You're asking for way too much versus what you're willing to pay," Lindner says.

The recovering economy helped many entrepreneurs launch companies, but also has made hiring tougher in some areas. Paul Turano's 3-year-old restaurant, Cook, has six openings including a bartender, servers and a sous chef. The Boston area is filled with upscale restaurants like Cook.

"It's frustrating because I don't know how to change it," Turano says. "We've tried agencies, online, back to basics like hanging a sign in our window that says, 'Come join our team.'"

Cook offers incentives like vacation and a retirement plan. But Turano is also up against changing attitudes -- many people he...

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