Employee Retention Strategies That Work: An Interview with Clint Smith

We sat down with Clint Smith — Founder and CEO of CareerPlug and author of the upcoming book, How to Hire — to pick his brain about why retaining employees is more important than ever. We are excited to share his insight and 10 employee retention strategies that work.

The cost of employee turnover

The cost of employee turnover can be high, and not just financially. It’s true, the cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. But other unseen costs include:

  • Opportunity costs — How much could your business have grown if you kept your team together?
  • Culture costs — How will the departure of good employees impact the rest of the team? When you lose employees who make positive contributions to your culture, what happens to your culture when they take those contributions elsewhere?

As a small business owner, any time you spend on recruiting, hiring, and onboarding is time you could have spent on running your business instead. 

Employee retention strategies

Turnover is something that employers have the power to control. In our Toxic Work Environment Report, we found that 84% of employees that were planning to leave their jobs, would stay at their current jobs if their employers made positive changes to the workplace. 

So what changes can you make? 

Here are Clint Smith’s top ten strategies for creating a workplace with high employee retention.

1. Hire the right people who share your core values.

Take the time to develop a structured hiring process you can count on to produce the right hires every time. It’s time (and money) you’ll save on the backend. Recruiting problems become retention problems. 

Smith’s advice on how to accomplish this: “We developed specific interview questions for each core value and we devote a section of the interview to it. We also try to get peers involved in some of the interviews so that you, as a leader, have different perspectives.”

“The number one recruiting strategy is retention. Hire the right people and do everything you can to keep them,” says Smith. 

At CareerPlug, the first step in our hiring process is to create an Ideal Candidate Profile. This serves as a guide for hiring managers to determine who the potential right person could be for the role. 

For more advice on how to create an Ideal Candidate Profile, check out this video featuring CareerPlug’s Senior Director of People, Natalie Morgan.

2. Invest in enticing benefits.

Smith says: “Benefits can be your secret weapon when it comes to a compelling compensation package. I think that every dollar you spend on benefits is worth $3 to $5 in compensation. Plus, offering your team benefits says more about your commitment to being a great place to work than a raise ever will. And they are an excellent retention tool: People will think twice before giving up their benefits. Think of benefits as an investment in your growth.”

Our own data backs this up. In our 2022 Compensation Expectations Report, we found that the majority of employees were willing to accept benefits over a pay increase – even those who were unsatisfied with their current pay. 

But what if your business is in a tight place financially? 

Smith adds: “All benefits don’t have to be expensive like healthcare or 401k. For example, flexibility is something that a lot of people value right now. Or giving people a paid day off to volunteer at a charity.”

“A lot of times, there isn’t even one thing that keeps people at your company. But if you have enough small benefits, they end up being more than the sum of their parts — they’re the signals to employees that they’re valued, they’re treated well, and the business has made a commitment to caring about its people.”

Benefits should also align with your company’s core values. For example, if your company’s careers page advertises volunteer opportunities and charitable donation matching as a benefit, that will resonate with job seekers who value those things. On the other hand, job seekers who don’t value those things may not be won over by the opportunity — and that’s okay. They may be looking for a different environment than the one you’re offering.

3. Be generous with recognition and appreciation.

According to a Gallup study:

  • Only 30% of employees say that they’ve received recognition or praise for doing good work within the past week.
  • Employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.

Smith cautions against a lack of verbalized, concrete recognition in the workplace. “One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is when they take current employees for granted, especially their top performers. You need to show them that you care about them.”

Smith also says, “Gratitude and appreciation are so important, but so is being open with your team about what you are thinking — even if you don’t have all of the answers. And you need to do it more often.” 

Upgrading to formal employee recognition programs can also be an effective way to keep employees engaged and performing at a high level. 

4. Give employees a sense of purpose in their work.

The Gallup study we mentioned earlier also found that when employees have a sense of purpose in their work, their engagement skyrockets. Workers who said they can link their individual goals to the organization’s goals were 3.5 times more likely to be engaged in their performance. 

The downside is that only 44% of those workers polled said that they can actually see these connections. You can put your business at a significant advantage in terms of retention if you’re able to connect people’s work with a greater purpose.

Smith likes to lead with empathy by imagining and answering the kinds of questions his people have about purpose. “Is this going to be challenging work? Is this a team I’m going to like to work with? Do I like my boss? Do I feel good about the impact that we’re making, both for our clients and for the community? That’s what people are asking themselves,” Smith says.

Smith believes the message he sends his employees at CareerPlug is clear: “For us, as a company, our purpose is to help people hire better, but we’re also able to help job seekers find the right jobs for them. Every role at the company exists to contribute to our greater purpose in some way.”

Smith advises spending time figuring out how to give each role on each team the three things that drive intrinsic motivation:

  • Purpose: Articulate a clear basis for how their work contributes to the company’s purpose.
  • Autonomy: Give them their own space to perform and innovate without micromanaging. What parts of the process do they have ownership of?
  • Mastery: Ensure they feel like they’re honing their craft and growing.

When people are intrinsically motivated to perform, they’re more engaged in their work and will think twice before leaving your company for the uncertainty of another organization.

5. Provide frequent feedback to help employees improve and grow.

Smith admits that as a manager, he used to be terrible at providing critical feedback to employees. “Part of it had to do with being a naturally conflict-averse person. The other part is that I would blame myself for their performance issues. I did not set them up for success — at least, that was the story that I told myself,” he says.

“Then one day, I got called out by one of my leaders. He told me that I owed him feedback, and that getting honest feedback was the only way he was going to improve. He was totally right.”

“Feedback got easier for me after I read Radical Candor by Kim Scott. She uses a quadrant to teach the Radical Candor concept. To get into the Radical Candor quadrant, you have to 1) Challenge Directly and 2) Care Personally. I had the Care Personally part covered, but I was failing at Challenge Directly. That put me in a quadrant called Ruinous Empathy, which sounded terrible to me.”

Smith says this change in thinking allowed him to deliver feedback that challenged his employees to improve and grow. Now, the culture at CareerPlug is one that fosters frequent open communication at every level of the organization.

“I usually give my feedback during our weekly one-on-one meetings or directly after an event that created new feedback. If it’s positive feedback, I will praise people in front of their peers. If it is negative, then I will pull them aside and address it as soon as possible,” he says.

But his most important piece of advice: “Don’t wait until formal performance reviews to deliver feedback. We do them twice a year, and I put a lot of energy into them. But most of this is feedback — positive or negative — that I’ve already shared with my employees. My goal is for there to be no surprises when I give performance reviews,” he says. 

6. Find out people’s big dreams and motivations and help them achieve what they want.

This retention strategy starts with the job interview. When Smith thinks about the hiring process, only three things matter when evaluating a candidate:

  • Can they do it? (Ability)
  • Will they do it? (Motivation)
  • Will others do it with them? (Culture fit)

All too often, hiring managers overlook the “motivation” component when hiring, maybe because they think it’s not relevant, or they need to hire someone quickly… even if that means cutting corners. 

We think this is a mistake. If an employee’s motivations are unknown to you during the hiring process, how do you know what they want out of a role at your company? How will you be able to give them what they want? Which begs the question: How will you retain them in the long term? 

Just like your work is not 100% of your life (we hope!), your employees have a life and goals outside of the workplace. “When you connect with your employees’ motivations and give them opportunities to advance toward those goals, they’ll work hard for you (and themselves),” says Smith.

Smith says: “The best way to evaluate a candidate’s motivation is to look at where they have been and where they are headed. You can learn a lot by listening to someone’s life story and then asking them about their goals. With high performers, the motivation usually comes through loud and clear. If it doesn’t, then you need to think twice before making the hire.”

To learn more about how we evaluate for motivation during the interview process at CareerPlug, watch this video from our Senior Director of People, Natalie Morgan:

7. Develop growth plans or career tracks.

Growth plans and professional development are so important to CareerPlug that Smith makes sure to include a discussion of professional development opportunities when making the initial job offer to a candidate. 

Smith says, “The best candidates are going to want to see how this position will help them grow professionally. They will often turn down a job that pays more if they see a path to growth at your company. Show them what they will learn by working with you and what a potential growth path could look like for them. This is what gets the top performers really excited.”

One important thing to note: make sure not to confuse employee training and employee development. Employee training is focused on the short-term instruction that enables a person to perform the logistics of their job.

Employee development, on the other hand, focuses on long-term growth. These are skills that employees will be able to carry with them throughout their careers and personal lives, such as leadership skills and soft skills. A growing body of research suggests that this kind of whole-person development is crucial to maintaining high employee engagement and long-term retention. 

This is where a growth plan can be helpful. Using a growth plan, employees can take a little time to think about the skills they have and the ones they’d like to develop. They can think about both personal and professional dreams that they have and find more clarity on how they can reach them. This has been a great tool for supporting employee development that we use at CareerPlug. Click the button below to download your free Growth Plan Template. 

8. Find ways to nurture social relationships between employees.

Research shows that employees who say they have a “best friend at work” are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs. Those with besties are also rated as having higher levels of productivity, retention, and job satisfaction than those who do not.

Smith agrees: “People want to like who they work with. They want to have friends at work. That might be another reason for them not to leave.”

At the beginning of team meetings, Smith encourages the team to “share something good.” People take turns sharing a good thing that’s happened in their lives, either personally or professionally, that week. It’s a great way for people to continue to get to know one another and build empathy and camaraderie

“We try our best to create what we call culture moments, or little things that add up collectively to become what our culture is. For example, we have an all-team meeting Friday afternoons where people can give their peers shoutouts for things they did during the week. We also make a big deal about people’s work anniversaries (or ‘workiversaries’) with us. Our HR leader, Natalie, came up with the idea of a workiversary prize wheel people can spin on their special day.”

9. Create transparent and equitable policies around hiring, pay, promotions, and terminations. 

HR shouldn’t be a mysterious, secretive entity. Employees should be able to trust that leadership is being forthcoming with information at all times. 

Smith explains: “At CareerPlug, that starts at the very beginning of our relationship with all our employees in our hiring process. We take an open and straightforward approach with compensation. We start by listing compensation on every job posting. Then we share the exact compensation with every candidate on the phone screen and confirm that this works for them, as we don’t negotiate.”

“This helps us be more equitable and ensures that there are no surprises when we get to the offer stage. The candidate knows exactly what they’ll see on the offer letter. Candidates really appreciate it, and it helps us convert almost every offer we make into a hire,” he added.

10. Communicate openly, even during tough times.

Transparency shouldn’t end with compensation policies. 

Take for example, the COVID-19 crisis. Smith took an approach in which he was completely open and honest with his staff about what his plans were for weathering the storm that was coming.

“I really just tried to put myself in their shoes and consider the kinds of anxieties they were facing. When you go into a crisis, there’s a lot of uncertainty. I think that’s what makes people more anxious than anything,” he says.

Smith decided to share his plans with the entire team. He showed them financial models he created to predict the worst case scenarios for the business. His philosophy: When there’s a plan in place, people can be free to feel safe.

“It’s hard to get anything done if you’re full of uncertainty and anxiety, and we needed everyone to double down and work hard to get through this,” he says. 

Get the Right People for Your Team with CareerPlug

Employee retention starts as early as the hiring process. Streamline yours with an ATS to provide a great candidate experience and make more of the right hires. Hit the button below to learn more about our software.


Recent Posts

Nicolle Gatlin

Manager of Partner Success

Kacie Sommers

Creative Design Manager

Kacie was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in 2012 with a degree in Anthropology.

Kacie joined CareerPlug as an intern while still in college in 2012. Post-graduation, she joined the CareerPlug team full-time as a Talent Specialist on the Recruitment Services side of the business, eventually working her way up to be the Recruitment Services Manager. From there, she learned her passion for the internal processes of what makes the business tick and explored other roles at the company, including Internal Support, Implementation, and Quality Management, before eventually finding her home in Design. She is now building a Creative Design branch off of the Marketing team.

Outside of work, you can find Kacie walking her dogs Bixby & Bean along Buffalo Bayou, hanging out with friends (and their pets), and tending to her 40+ house plants.

Jenny Leman


Native to Texas, Jenny graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2004 and joined CareerPlug in 2017. She retired her first career path as a Registered Dietitian after 10 years, and has found her true belonging in business operations.

As CareerPlug’s President, Jenny leads all teams to an aligned effort toward achieving our vision. She works to build healthy and scalable internal systems to equip and empower the CareerPlug teams to bring their best for our clients. She loves contributing new ideas and rethinking the status quo. Jenny really connects with the company’s core values, but especially with our intent to “Keep Growing.”

In her non-work life, Jenny enjoys time with her family, playing drums and performing with the Austin Samba School, and finding excuses to be on the lake.

Chris Igou

Vice President of Sales

Chris accidentally started a 20-year career in franchising when he was 18 years old and took a job painting houses for College Pro Painters. That job turned into the ownership of his first franchise (a house painting franchise). While at Monmouth College in IL, he operated his business, played on the varsity football team, and studied to become a teacher.

The taste of entrepreneurship and desire to coach others led Chris deeper into franchising, working with a few franchise brands helping them grow their businesses. He lived in the Chicagoland area his entire life until recently moving his family to Austin, TX.

In his free time Chris coaches youth sports, especially youth football, and spends as much time as he can with his wife and 2 children.

Andrew Robinson III

Vice President of Product and Engineering

Natalie Morgan

Senior Director of People

Leslie Chamberlain

Senior Director of Client Experience

Brad Pilot

Director of Sales

Teresa Hall

Director of UX & Product Design

Canaan Davis

Director of Engineering

Ashley Garia

Director of Product Marketing

Desiree Echevarria

Senior Content Marketing Manager

Ashley Johnson

Implementation Manager

Originally from small town in central Texas, Ashley Johnson graduated from Texas State University in 2013 with a degree in Business Administration. She was hired by CareerPlug as a Talent Specialist in 2014, and moved up to ultimately lead the Recruitment Services team. From there, she pivoted to Implementation, and is now the Implementation Manager.

As the Implementation Manager, Ashley and 3 direct reports function as a transition between Sales and Partner Success in helping our clients get set up and established in our software. She spends her free time raising her 2 dogs, playing cornhole, and perfecting the art of charcuterie.

Tulay Solak

HR Manager

Aiden Kinney

Consultant Manager

Zach Garcia

Sales Operations Manager

Kirsten Penaloza

Director of Client Experience

Eric Morales

Manager of Account Executives

Brandy Lee

Operational Manager


Use our templates to create an attractive careers page and job posting. Then promote it through our job board partners, as well as directly with your employees, customers, and social network.



Use our notifications and automations to be the first to respond to qualified applicants. Send texts and emails from directly from CareerPlug to convert applicants to scheduled interviews.



Use our prescreen questions and assessments to identify the best applicants. Then use our interview questions and scorecards to evaluate for the right things consistently.



Once you think you have found the right person, use our reference and background check resources to verify them. Then, send an electronic offer letter from CareerPlug to close the deal!



Hiring is hard, but partnering with us makes it easier. From posting jobs to scheduling interviews, CareerPlug allows you to automate certain parts of the process to improve your results and save you time.


Polly Schandorf

Engineering Manager

Joe Lepis

Engineering Manager

Clint Smith

Founder & CEO

Clint founded CareerPlug in 2007 with the simple idea that there was a better way to help employers connect with quality applicants. Today Clint works every day to fulfill CareerPlug’s mission: Make Hiring Easier. Leading by example, Clint loves spending his time developing new ideas and teaching others.

After graduating from the University of Florida, Clint worked in investment banking and strategic marketing; both experiences influenced the development of CareerPlug. He also spent a year away from the business world teaching 5th grade in Boulder.

Clint is passionate about helping others succeed and is involved in numerous mentoring programs. He and his wife, Sarah, are also foster parents. Clint enjoys family time, beach volleyball, and outdoor adventures.