On November 22, 2002, the ER Daily carried my article entitled Recruiting Today: Good People in Difficult Times. It was a straight-from-the-heart look at how the economy had decimated the recruiting community. The response was overwhelming, and I was buried in emails for almost a week. I must have hit a nerve. Recruiters from all walks of life struggled to remain alive as the bubble exploded and blew some of our industry’s most uniquely talented individuals into jobs they did not want ó or worse, into no job at all. Fifteen months separate that writing from this one, and I am searching to find the elusive content of what has really changed. From where I sit, things look slightly better, but not much. Sometimes, I think that the recruiters who tell me things are getting better are so used to the bleak misery of this economy that virtually anything that comes across their desk is cause for celebration and hope. The prognosticators tell us that we better be ready for the next hiring frenzy because it is coming. Perhaps I am not a patient person (I’m not), but, frankly speaking, I have grave concerns about the arrival of this hiring frenzy. After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the wait for this new economy is over, because the new economy has already arrived. As Flip Wilson said, “What you see is what you get.” This is indeed the new economy. The effects of 9/11, globalization, the utilization of the Internet in ways we never dreamed possible, and the trading of pinstripes to prison stripes for the respected leaders we once trusted has taken its toll on who we are and where we are. Financially, career-wise and psychologically, it has really taken its toll. With this cheerful perspective behind us, let’s look at a basic rule of existence. As altruistic as people would like to be, they act in their own self interest. This is not bad. It is how we as a species survive. Speaking of self-interest and survival, let me ask you a question: Are you absolutely certain they can’t send your job overseas for ten cents on the dollar? If you are absolutely sure this cannot happen, you are in the greatest danger of all ó because you feel safe and comfortable in an economy offers neither at the moment. To reside in that zone of perception is a very dangerous reality. With the best defense being a good offense, I believe that recruiters must retool for the times ahead. If things get better, that’s great. If they don’t, you will be a more valuable asset to yourself and the rest of the world. Following is a list of five skills that will be “must haves” for the times ahead. I strongly suggest you do whatever is necessary to incorporate them into your professional bag of tricks.
- Learn to speak publicly. Public speaking has a way of scaring the life out of some remarkably bright and normally courageous people. This is unfortunate, because sharing your knowledge through the forum of public speaking ó whether as a keynote, in a training session, or at a seminar or workshop ó is in demand. I can assure you it is easier than you think. Consider joining Toastmasters, taking a speech course, or joining some group that encourages public speaking. You will be great. The more you do it, the better and easier it will be. I promise you will not die, no one will laugh, and you might even like it. Your value and confidence will increase dramatically. You will not only be able to do your job but be able to tell the world about it as well. (As an aside, I will be speaking to the Northwest Recruiters Association on March 24th at 6:00 p.m. in Woodinville, Wash. Click here for more information. Please come. I hear there will be beer!)
- Learn how to write. So much of your value comes not from what you do but what you know. As a flip side to public speaking, if you can clearly articulate what you do with the written word, you will have developed another critical skill that will work wonders down the road. Writing is far easier than you think. People always tell me that they would love to write but don’t know how. My advice is always the same: Get a pen and start to write. You have to start somewhere, and that’s as good a place as any. There are endless writing workshops and college courses to help you to fine tune this craft and you will be amazed how easy it will become. I also suggest that you locate a good editor; a good editor will make you look great. My editor is Judy Cohen. She has known me since I was in second grade, and it’s not easy to slide anything by this retired English teacher. She makes me look as literate as I will ever be, and for that reason alone I will be eternally grateful for her help and advice.
- Justify your existence. As a presenter at ER Expo 2003 Chicago last fall, the great Dr. John Sullivan told a packed house to “show them the money.” He is absolutely correct. Years ago, there were staff positions and line positions. Staff positions such as HR were thought of as a cost. Line positions such as sales were thought of as making money for the company. Those days are gone. If you are perceived as a cost, they will stay up nights thinking about how to make your job, and you, disappear. Take John Sullivan’s advice and show them the money. Document ó using real numbers, not concepts ó how what you are doing is saving or making the company money. For example, if you saved $127,000 in agency fees over last year due to a new ERP that only cost $8,000 to implement, let management know it. Do not be shy. This type of straight-line business thinking creates a case that supports your existence within the organization. Toot your own horn on a regular basis, because if you don’t there may not be any music to hear.
- Recruit different types of candidates. We all know that recruiting is a core competency and that a good recruiter can find any type of candidate. However, most organizations do not accept that reality and never will. Rather than trying to change the impossible, change yourself by recruiting individuals in different disciplines and at different levels. Beware of being known as a just a technology recruiter or a finance recruiter. This exercise in career development will make you more marketable to a community of organizations that will never understand what recruiters do or how they do it. It will also help you to not roll your eyes when they can’t seem to fathom that a software recruiter can actually recruit a financial analyst.
- Learn how to build a network. Most recruiters have a relatively good network because of the type of work they do. Remember, building a network is more than just collecting business cards. However unique the meeting, you will not remember the person after a few weeks. Organize your contacts in a database and create categories. Make notes on where and when you met the person; it will help you make that mental connection. Input the data ASAP. It is not fun to input 300 contacts. ó trust me, I know. Try to keep in touch with an occasional call or email. Doing this builds relationships and a sense of history between parties. A strong network is a critical tool in managing your career because more positions and assignments are found through a network than any other way. Also, keep in mind that a network is a two-way street. Do not call people only if you need something; you will be seen as a user. Call people to find out what is going on in their lives, how they are doing, and if there is anything that they need. I use my network to make introductions between people that I believe should know each other for one reason or another, and it has proven to be a great tool in creating other relationships. I would always rather do a favor than ask for one. It is better for relationships, and provides a lot of chips to call in if ever you need some help.
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The ongoing development of these skills will not necessarily protect you from the slings and arrows of a lethargic and unpredictable economy. It will, however, make you a more valuable and capable asset to yourself and others. From a practical standpoint it has been said that it is better to be prepared for an opportunity that never arises than to be unprepared for one that does. The acquisition of these skills will help you do just that and not coincidentally, support the creation of a new and better you.