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Well Written Meeting Minutes Are Mission Critical

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Minutes of meetings are important documents because they record in writing what was discussed in the meeting, and what decisions were actually made there. In organizations that maintain good practices, a review of the minutes of the primary management meetings over time would reveal an excellent record of the history of that organization.

During my 25+ years working in various organizations, there were many occasions on which I was tasked with either writing the minutes of meetings myself, or editing/approving minutes written by others. As a result, below are a few suggestions I have for you, should you ever be asked to write the minutes for any type of meeting.

5 Tips For Writing Good Meeting Minutes

1. Work From An Agenda
A meeting agenda that lists the main items to be discussed should be circulated to all potential attendees a few days (ideally) prior to the meeting so that they can make sure it is on their schedule and that they will have the necessary documents that will be needed to discuss the items listed. That very same agenda should be used by the meeting chairperson to conduct an orderly meeting. Keep this list short and focused! A good meeting should last no more than an hour. Anything more than that, and it becomes unproductive and a time-waster. Your colleagues will thank you for running a tight, short gathering.

2. Be Concise
Meeting minutes should NOT be a long-winded and verbatim “he said” – “she said” account of the meeting. They should briefly record only the essence of the major points discussed and/or major decisions reached, from a bottom line perspective. The key items to record are decisions made/deferred, the specific reasons for that decision, and most importantly who is responsible for any follow-up action.

3. Use Clear and Precise Language
Because minutes of meetings are an “official” record of corporate decisions made, they are often referenced many months later in order to recall what “exactly” was decided at a previous meeting. This makes clarity and precision of language very important when later trying to determine exactly what decision(s) was made and what specifically led to the decision.

4. Make the Right Person Responsible
In most organizations, a corporate “meeting secretary” is made responsible for organizing meeting logistics, drafting of minutes, and distribution of meeting-related documents such as agendas, minutes, and support documents. This is an important task; the person chosen for this should be well-organized with above-average writing skills.

5. Make Someone Else Accountable
Once the meeting secretary has drafted the minutes they should be carefully reviewed and revised if necessary, by the person who chaired the meeting. That individual, who will normally occupy a position of some responsibility in the organization, will then sign them off as “approved” before they are distributed by the secretary.

Well written minutes are critical to the effective functioning of organizations over time. Good minutes can be used as checklists for what has been achieved to-date in an organization, as well as action lists of what tasks have to be completed going forward. Making sure that your organization produces well written and meaningful meeting minutes will be an important element of its success.

 

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Don’t Forget To Write Goodbye

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I recommend you write a goodbye letter whenever you are leaving one organization to take a position elsewhere. It is a professional gesture to make; one that I believe is worth the extra few minutes that it takes, even though you are leaving and might not expect ever to be back. It is the kind of action that will make you stand out in people’s minds as a sincere person and colleague.

Just the fact that thousands of people from all over the world search out this particular type of sample letter each week, tells me that a lot of folks are looking for ways to leave a positive and lasting impression when they move on in the business world.

Here are a few points to keep in mind when composing a work-related goodbye or farewell letter.

Keep It Short
Two or three short paragraphs will do. Never exceed one page for such a letter.

Make It Sincere
Use simple, sincere and upbeat language. Keep it real — don’t forget that the people who receive it know you; so make sure whatever you say rings genuine and true.

Take the High Road
Even if you were unhappy in your position and are pleased to be leaving, make sure you don’t say anything that would burn your bridges. You never know when you might end up working with some of the recipients again in the future. Nothing good will come out of a negative farewell letter.

Don’t Include Details
I suggest that you do not provide the details about where you will be moving in your letter. Simply offer to give your contact coordinates if anyone wants to stay in touch. Your letter should be focused on the place and people you are leaving. So, don’t give too much information about your destination, except to those who request it from you directly. (That way, you’ll also find out who your friends really are!)

In my opinion, an appropriately sincere goodbye or farewell letter is definitely the most professional way to leave an organization, and is well worth the time and trouble. (As usual, I always recommend a real letter, but if that’s not possible a well-worded e-mail can also work).

 

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Secrets For Writing Better Business Reports

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Writing a business report can be one of the most difficult writing tasks we face, whether it’s for work business or school business. In fact, people often cringe at the thought of writing a business report. Granted, these are somewhat more complicated than business letters, but if approached in the right way, writing a business report can be a straightforward and reasonably painless process. So, to help people with their report writing I have put together a few tips that I have picked up over the years.

There are a number of different generic types of business reports including: general business report, business plan, business proposal, marketing plan, strategic plan, business analysis, project report, project analysis, project proposal, project review, financial plan, financial analysis, and others. Although the technical content and terminology will vary from report to report, depending on the subject and industry context, the actual “report writing process” will be essentially the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s a short 10-pager, or a major 100-plus pager, that process will involve the same fundamental steps.

The following seven points are what I consider to be the essential steps for writing any type of business report; whether it’s for your organization or for a school project. Follow these steps carefully and you won’t go wrong.

Confirm Exactly What the Client Wants

This is a very important initial step. Whether the client is a customer, a teacher, a professor, or someone else, be sure that everyone is talking about the same thing in terms of final outcome and expectations. When determining this, always think specifically in terms of the final deliverable (usually the final report). What issues must it address? What direction/guidance is it expected to give? What exactly will it contain? What bottom line are they looking for?

Determine What Type of Report Is Required

This is another very important initial matter to clarify. There are a number of different types of business reports. Although there is usually overlap among the different types, there are also important differences. For example, do they want: a business plan, a business proposal, a strategic plan, a corporate information management plan, a strategic business plan, a marketing plan, a financial plan, or what? Know exactly what type of final report is expected from the outset.

Conduct the Initial Research

Once you know exactly what the client (or you) wants, and the specific type of report they are looking for, you are ready to conduct your initial pre-report research. This stage may be as simple as collecting and reading a few background documents supplied by the client, or it could involve developing questionnaires and conducting detailed interviews with the appropriate people. It will vary with each situation. The Internet of course, can really simplify and shorten the research process, but don’t forget to double and triple check your sources.

Write the Table of Contents First

In my experience, drafting the Table of Contents (TOC), before you start writing the actual report is the single most important key to developing a successful business report. This document can normally be done before, or in parallel with, the first phase of project information gathering. This should be more than just a rough draft TOC. It should be a carefully thought out breakdown of exactly what you imagine the TOC will look like in the final report. Although this takes a certain amount of time and brain power up-front, it really streamlines the rest of the process. What I do is to actually visualize the final report in my mind’s eye and write the contents down. This really works! This TOC then becomes a step-by-step template for the rest of the process.

Sidebar:
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If you are writing the report for an external client, it’s a good idea to present the draft Table of Contents to them at this point in the process and get their approval. This will force them to think it through and confirm what they really want early on. Once they have agreed to a TOC you will have their buy-in for the rest of the process, therefore significantly reducing chances of any major changes or reversals at the final report phase.
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Do Additional Research

After thinking through the TOC in detail, you will know if any additional research is required. If yes, do this extra information gathering before you sit down and start to actually write the report. That way, once you begin the writing process you will have all of the information needed at hand and you will not have to interrupt the writing process to conduct any further research.

Write the Report by Filling In the Blanks

That’s right, by filling in the blanks. Once the TOC skeleton framework is in-place as per the previous step, writing the actual report becomes almost like filling in the blanks. Just start at the beginning and work your way sequentially through the headings and sub-headings, one at a time, until you get to the end. Really. At that point, with all of the preparation done, it should be a relatively straightforward process.

If you follow the above steps in the “report writing process” you will be amazed at how quickly your reports will come together. Give it a try – it really works.

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Never Write A Proposal From Scratch

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A very important lesson I have learned over the years is that one should never write any type of proposal document from scratch. It’s way too hard and just not necessary anymore. This is something I learned the hard way many years ago, after slaving away to write my first few proposals from a blank page. Since then, I have written thousands of business documents, including hundreds of proposals for many different situations without ever having to work from scratch.

In fact, the most effective way to develop a proposal is to work from a model that has already been created for another proposal submission situation. It also doesn’t need to be for the exact same situation; as long as it is along similar lines. I know from my various writing-related websites that there are five main proposal types that people seek help with online: grant proposals, business proposals, technical proposals, project proposals and sales proposals. Nevertheless, it turns out that it doesn’t matter very much (if at all) what type of proposal you are writing; the approach and basic structure will be very similar.

The important thing is to be able to use the approach and structure of the sample template that you work with as your guide for the new proposal that you need to draft. Using an already-proven template that matches your situation as closely as possible can have numerous benefits as follows:

• You will save significant time by not having to start from scratch.
• The template will act as a “checklist” to ensure you cover everything.
• A template will tend to stimulate your thinking and give you new ideas.
• You will know you are using an approach already used successfully by others.

In the end, using a previously developed proposal should give you a result that is even better than the model from which you are working.

Take a few minutes to do a web search for “free ____ proposal template,” where the blank is your specific project need. Bonus: switch your default search engine to use the Ecosia search engine and you’ll help the Earth by planting trees with every search you make.

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What to Look for in a Qualified Employee

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Running a business is both a challenging and rewarding endeavor. With so many facets and angles to worry about, the importance of hiring exceptional—not just qualified—employees gets overlooked. If you own and operate a small business, a dedicated HR department might not be in your company’s budget. Whether you have a dedicated hiring team or not, here are some helpful tips on how to hire new employees and what you should be looking for as a business owner.

Ask the Right Questions

Interviews are all about learning everything you possibly can about your potential employees. You can’t get an accurate overview of a candidate’s experience and qualifications if you aren’t asking the right questions. Some of these questions might sound obvious, but they are important to ask nonetheless.

  • Tell me about your greatest achievement at work.

An applicant’s answer will reveal a lot about their values as an employee and what they consider to be important.

  • What kind of work environment and culture are you looking for?

Finding out what an employee wants out of their work environment is important. You want your employees to desire the same climate and energy that your company provides. This is one of the best ways to make sure your new employee is a going to be a good fit.

  • Where do you see yourself in 2 years? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

As an employer, you want to make sure that you’re hiring someone who wants to stick with your company. An applicant may not always answer this question honestly, but it’s still an important question to ask as it will reveal some of their short and long-term goals.

  • What skills do you bring to the table and what can you contribute to the company?

This is an interesting question because it will force the applicant to ponder on their skills and qualifications. You need skilled laborers and employees; while a resume can reveal what kind of experience they have, it may not indicate the skills they picked up along the way.

  • How do you stay current on your knowledge and skills in the field?

If an applicant stumbles over their answer for this one, you know they probably aren’t taking steps to keep their knowledge and skills sharp. Your business needs someone who is determined to be the absolute best at what they do. A qualified employee stays motivated outside the workplace in the development of their craft.

Conduct a Thorough Background Check

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Every employer is required to do a background check, but it’s important to consider your timeline, especially if you desperately need to place someone in an open position. So how long does a pre-employment background check take? Traditional checks can sometimes take up to a week, so you are going to want to make sure that you have enough time for the check to come through before you give your new employee a start date. Online screening services can expedite the process, so shop around and find a convenient (and trustworthy!) screening solution that will give you the information you need. Obviously, you want to avoid hiring anyone with a criminal record. A background check can give you the details you need to decide if their past will disqualify them from the position.

Credit Check

Depending on what jurisdiction you live in, there can be some strict rules and regulations regarding credit checks. Before conducting a credit check on a potential employee, make sure you are in compliance with your local laws. You may be required to get consent from the interviewee before you can obtain their credit history. A credit report is a great way to see what kind of debt and credit your new employee might have.

References

Call the interviewee’s references before the interview if you can. A former boss or manager is going to know more about their former employee’s work ethic and qualifications than anyone else. Far too often employers completely skip over this process. You might be surprised as to how many fake references someone will put on their resume. Taking the time for this important step can save you the trouble of hiring a dishonest employee and cut the number of interviews you will have to conduct.

When it comes to hiring new employees, trust your instincts and use these tips and tricks to streamline the process, saving you time and money.

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How To Keep a Letter to One Page

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One of the key pieces of advice I include in all of my letter writing kits is that you should always try hard to keep a letter on a single page.

Regardless of the subject of your letter, you should be able to make your key point(s) on one page. That doesn’t mean that you won’t sometimes have supporting documents as attachments. However, even in cases where attachments are necessary, you should always try to make the covering letter a one-pager.

I’m sure you’ve received letters that overflow onto a second page for the sake of a few words or a sentence or two. Such letters tends to look very tacky and unprofessional, and they’re very wasteful to boot. So try to avoid doing that when you are writing your own letters – especially business letters.

Nowadays it’s easy to do this. With standard word processing software there are a number of handy little tricks that you can use to help squeeze your letter (or other document) onto a single page.

So, here are some page squeeze tips:

  • Move both the left and right margins out about 1/4 in. closer to the edge of the page. No more than that, however, as it will look too obvious.
  • Move the top and bottom margins out about 1/4 in. closer to the edge of the page. Again, no more than 1/4 in.
  • Take a good look at your draft letter and see if there are any paragraphs that have an ending sentence that overflows onto an additional line for the sake of one or two words. If so, make a minor edit or two in the paragraph to shorten it a little so that it will no longer overflow onto the following line. Don’t forget to reread to make sure it still makes sense!
  • Another thing you can do is, try reducing the size of the font size by 1 point, say from 12 to 11 points. Note: your font size should never be smaller than 10 points.

If your letter still doesn’t fit, but it is close, there’s one final thing you can try if you are the author of the letter. Go back and edit it one more time. Look for redundant thoughts and phrases, or those that can be combined into one sentence rather than two. Is every word and phrase absolutely essential to your message? You’ll be amazed at the space savings that this final edit process can result in.

Try the above methods in sequence, one-at-a-time, checking each time to see if your latest change has done the trick for you.

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A Good Resume Is Essential: Avoid These Problems

Making sure that you have a well written resume (or curriculum vitae) is always important. If you don’t take the time and trouble required to craft a good resume you will be sabotaging yourself. In fact, your resume or CV is likely to be one of the most important documents of your life; whether you write it yourself, or you have it written for you by a professional. Even in these days of the internet, social media, smart phones, etc., at some point you will still need a traditional resume or CV as you look for a job.

Almost every time we have read “draft” or “old” resumes, we have found the following problems:

Common Resume (or CV) Problems:

  • It is almost always too long
  • It doesn’t focus on what you can do for the new employer today in the job at hand
  • It tends to give equal weight to ancient history with not enough emphasis on recent experience
  • Insufficient focus on actual results achieved in the various job experiences described
  • It does not state clearly up-front what the applicant is looking for job-wise and career-wise

If you spend time searching around online you will find hundreds if not thousands of resume and CV formats you can follow which are promoted by numerous self-proclaimed experts. Of course, it is always good to have a resume format that is pleasing to the eye. However, if you do not address the above five points while creating the content of your resume, the format won’t matter much.

What’s the best way to address these problems? Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. They’ve advertised for a job and they’ve received 300 resumes.

  • Do you think they’re going to read each one of them word for word? No, they don’t have time. They’re going to skim. So if yours is short, punchy, and has key points bolded, that’s what will catch their eye
  • Your key points should be about what you can do for them, and how you can solve their problem
  • Your most recent experience should be first – i.e., your work history should be in reverse chronological order
  • You should talk about results and accomplishments that helped your last employer
  • You should be clear about what you’re looking for in your career trajectory, so they have an idea of what they might do with you long term

With these points in mind, go look at your current resume? Does it need an update?

 

 

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Why You Should Develop Your Practical Writing Skills

Did you know that the ability to write for practical purposes can be a very important and powerful ability? Really! Becoming proficient at letter writing, for both business and personal purposes, can help you advance in many different aspects of your life.

As evidence of this, the following paragraphs describe a real-life example from my recent past.

I own (and live) in a unit in a multi-unit condominium building. As with most condo buildings, mine is managed by an elected committee of co-owners. About two and one-half years ago, I was asked by members of our condo board if I would be interested in running for election to the committee at the annual general meeting. Having never done that before, I thought I would give it a try, so I agreed to run and I was elected. I ended up staying in that position for two years before I decided to resign and move on to other things; about six months ago.

What does this have to do with writing, you might be asking right about now? Everything actually! Early into my two-year term as a member of the condo management board, I realized that writing letters and support documents was one of the most important activities for the efficient day-to-day functioning of our building. These documents include such things as numerous letters and notices to residents, instruction lists and checklists for janitorial staff, as well as letters to contractors and government bodies.

So, after I resigned from the board I compiled a group of the most common types of condo-management letters and notices and turned them into generic examples so that I could post them online. I believe that such “real-life examples will help a lot of people who are involved in the management and administration of their building; whether it’s a condo building, a co-operative, or a rental building.

Even if you aren’t directly involved in such activities, I suggest you take a look at some of the examples I have posted so that you can get a clear idea as to how important practical writing skills can be, and why you should continue to develop yours.

Remember, this is just one example of how strong practical writing skills can be important in your day-to-day life.

Here’s the link to the condo management letters article and samples:
http://www.writinghelp-central.com/condo-letter-samples.html

 

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In Business Writing, Make Sure You Keep It Simple…

Something we notice on a regular basis when we read business letters, memos, reports, and other such documents is the use of unnecessary words to over-describe a situation or condition. These are known as redundant or superfluous words. It’s very easy to get into this bad habit when writing.

In fact, using two or three words when one will suffice can weaken your point rather than strengthen it. For effective written communication, we recommend that you make every effort to avoid using unnecessary words and phrases.

The following is a short sample list of some of the more common redundant words and phrases that we often see, alongside shorter alternatives:

absolutely essential ………………… essential
accounted for ………………………….. caused by
actual experience …………………… experience
attached please find ……………….. attached is
at your earliest convenience …… soon
consequent results …………………… results
despite the fact that ……………….. although
few in number …………………………. few
for the purpose of ………………….. for
free of charge …………………………. free
in advance of …………………………… before
in the process of being …………….. being
in the near future ……………………. soon
is suggestive of ………………………. suggests
make a decision to ………………….. decide
make the acquaintance of ……….. meet
mutual cooperation ………………….. cooperation
on behalf of ………………………………. for
on the grounds that …………………. since
perform an analysis of ……………… analyze
provided that ……………………………… if
take under advisement …………….. consider
under no circumstances ……………. never
until such time as ………………………. until
within the realm of possibility …… possible

We should mention that the words and phrases shown on the left-hand side above are not wrong. They are just a more cumbersome way of saying something that can be stated more simply. Nevertheless, for style reasons, there may be situations where the phrase shown on the left is more appropriate in a particular context. Or, there can be situations where one may choose to alternate between the two approaches, in order to avoid repetition.

 

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22 Tools and Blogs for the Savvy HR Professional

HR Professional

HR Professional

As an HR professional, you wear many different hats—especially when you are operating within a small business.

Your daily tasks probably include things like managing schedules, resolving disputes, sorting through mountains of resumes, and running interference between management and employees, all while ensuring that your company is a great place to work.

As more Baby Boomers retire and the skills gap increases, finding the right employees and talent is becoming harder and more competitive. HR is no longer a backend operation; it is central to the overall strategy and success of the business.

With so many responsibilities and so little time, we thought we would streamline the process by compiling a list of tools that will make your life as an HR professional easier.

Email Organization Software

First things first: organizing that overflowing inbox. There are tons of great tools to help you get your inbox under control.

  1. Google Inbox: If your business uses Gmail as its primary email system, this tool is a must. It is an email organization system that can be integrated on both your phone and computer so that everything is easily accessible. Watch this video to learn more about what it can do for you.

Price: Free

  1. SimplyFile: If your business uses Outlook as its primary email software, then SimplyFile is the tool for you. It acts as your own personal email filing assistant. Its advanced algorithm learns your filing habits and can file emails automatically after a training period.

Price: Free

Employee Training Courses

Making sure employees are properly trained can be daunting. Standardize the process with some helpful courses that are applicable to professionals in every field.

  1. ProofreadingCamp: Whether your employees are communicating within the office or with suppliers and clients, they must be able to communicate clearly and accurately to avoid causing confusion or seeming unprofessional. The expert editors at Scribendi.com designed the course, so you know that what you are learning is correct and the best quality.

Price: $199

  1. Microsoft Office Training: Make sure everyone is working as efficiently as possible by utilizing the many features of Microsoft Office. This Ultimate Microsoft Office 2016 Training Bundle is a comprehensive guide to Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and Access, sold through Udemy. Udemy also offers in-depth courses for specific software in the Microsoft Office Suite.

Price: $205

Scheduling Software

Depending on the size of your organization or the typical hours your employees work, Excel spreadsheets might not be cutting it. Luckily for you, there is some great scheduling software available.

  1. Setmore: This scheduling tool is great for scheduling employees within a small business. With widgets that you can integrate onto your Facebook page and website, it can also be used for booking appointments.

Price: Free

  1. Sling: Scheduling shift work is a challenge for HR professionals. Sling allows you to craft schedules faster, notifying you of double bookings and time-off requests and allowing you to communicate with employees through the app.

Price: Free

Payroll Software

Make payroll much simpler with a tool that tracks employee hours, benefits, time off, taxes, and more. Not only will a payroll software streamline your processes but it will also ensure your employees get paid on time.

  1. Wagepoint: This payroll software is great for small businesses that need to automate their payroll system. Employees get paid on time, every time.

Price: ($20 + $2/employee)/payroll

  1. Employee Based Systems (EBS) Payroll: This flexible and intuitive system makes payroll easier by helping you manage all the tasks associated with processing payroll.

Price: Custom

Communication

Depending on the structure of your organization, communicating through email might not be cutting it. Whether you are managing independent contractors or remote employees, a more advanced system may need to be put in place. Here are some great options.

  1. Slack: Slack is a communication tool that can be used on your phone or computer. It allows you to organize people into groups, message other users, and send entire files. Slack integrates disparate platforms—from phone to text message to email—into one streamlined tool.

Price: Free (with paid premium plans)

  1. Skype: Although it’s not new, Skype is a tried-and-true video conferencing platform that is especially useful when working with remote employees (think performance reviews, meetings, conferences, etc.). It is also a great tool for conducting long-distance interviews, as many people already have accounts (and if not, they can sign up for free).

Price: Free

Brainstorming and Note Taking

Ever have a great idea that you somehow manage to forget 10 minutes later? These tools help you to preserve your brilliant ideas as you think of them.

  1. Mindly: Trying to organize an event or project? It can be hard to set priorities, goals, and plans. Luckily, the people at Mindly created an easy-to-use mind-mapping tool that enables you to visually organize your thoughts by color and task.

Price: Free

  1. Google Keep: Google Keep is an app that you can also download onto your computer. Jot down notes, ideas, and to-do lists quickly and efficiently. It has several systems of organization and connects with Ask Google for Android users, letting you take notes verbally.

Price: Free

  1. MindMeister: This mind-mapping software helps you create stunning visuals, assign tasks, and collaborate with other employees to create beautiful presentations.

Price: $15/month (business version)

Recruitment

Recruitment can be a long process, especially if your industry has a high turnover rate. Recruitment software can increase your chances of finding the perfect candidate.

  1. iCIMS Recruitment Software: This software has “Hire Expectations” for your company, allowing you to share job openings and find the best candidates more easily.

Price: Custom

  1. Workable: Streamline the recruitment process with Workable. It utilizes job board advertising, social media, sourcing tools, and referrals to find job candidates. It also helps you to schedule interviews, rate interviewees, and share information with your team.

Price: $50/job/month

  1. Zoho Recruit: This tool is great for HR professionals who have to sift through a lot of applicants. It allows you to format resumes, send emails, make calls, manage groups, and post to multiple job boards. You can also customize the layout to your liking.

Price: $25/month

The All-in-One

If your HR department is a one-person operation, as is the case in many small businesses, then it may be worth investing in an all-in-one automated HR solution.

  1. BambooHR: This Human Resources Information System (HRIS) streamlines HR tasks so you can focus on other aspects of your business. It ditches traditional spreadsheets, makes hiring easier, reduces the amount of paperwork you need to do, and has built-in scheduling software.

Price: Custom

  1. SutiHR: This all-inclusive HRIS program manages recruitment, benefits, training, scheduling, payroll, and performance reviews.

Price: $2–$8.50/user/month

  1. EffortlessHR: This HR management system includes an employee portal, a time clock, an applicant tracking system, file storage, and more.

Price: $39/month

HR Blogs

Stay up to date with news, laws, and industry information with the help of these blogs.

  1. The HR Bartender: Need to find information quickly? The HR bartender’s resource list answers many hard questions HR professionals face every day.
  2. Workology: This blog offers HR advice based on your position in a company, from interns to executives.
  3. The HR Daily Advisor: Here, you can find HR news, technology, advice columns, and resources to answer pressing questions you might not have realized you had.

We hope these tools will help you navigate the day-to-day HR activities that are so vital to your organization. Which HR tools do you already use that you can’t live without? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

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