A Cure for the Summertime Blues

Every year, it is with mixed emotions that I watch summer draw closer. The horticulturist in me cannot wait to spend warm evenings and weekends in the garden. I love cool cocktails and late nights with neighbors on the porch talking about pretty much nothing in particular and everything else of little importance. I start dreaming of days at the beach with warm sandwiches and sun baked Coca-Cola. Then there is the fun of planning a week on the Maine Coast, or maybe the White Mountains. Life just sort of becomes a TV commercial for lemonade. And then there is the other side of the coin, figuring out how you’re going to do your job and get the staffing done! Managers are not available for interviews. Candidates do not return calls, or they return them a week later when they get back from their trip to Washington, D.C. (“Weather lovely, roads congested, Billy got car sick. Love to all, see you when we get home.”) The simplest process becomes complicated due to the fact that it remains undone waiting for input from somebody currently in Key West singing “Margaritaville” at 2:00 AM in Mallory Square. Sometimes, I just hate the summer. Why does this always happen, and can you prevent it? (And why didn’t I write this in April when it could have helped!) The “why” is easy; everybody is on vacation, or:

  • Working hard to get caught up so they can go on a vacation.
  • Working hard to get caught up having returned from a vacation.
  • Working hard covering for somebody who is on vacation.

Additionally, many candidates feel that they will be “exposed” slipping out for an interview due to the number of people already missing on their vacation week. (Geez, where the heck did Billy run off too? I need him now!”) There is further concern that taking a new job may interfere with their current vacation plans. More importantly, it is easy to give up free time to interview in bad weather, but during the glory of summer, free time is spent more wisely, like surfing. In addition, there is the “Urban Myth” that companies stop hiring during summer. As a result, candidates stop looking for a job they believe will not be available for two months. Companies feel that the candidates are not interested in looking, so they stop advertising. The end result? Voila, a textbook example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But now that we see why all this happens, how do we stop it? The “Five Ps”, what else! Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance You know summer is coming, you know what happens, you even have a calendar that shows the date it all starts, Memorial Day, and the day it all ends, Labor Day. There is no excuse to be taken by surprise when the crisis is pre-printed on a calendar! So what do you do?

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  • COMMUNICATE: Remind your managers of the approaching crisis. Do not let them go into the summer assuming that their hiring plans will be unaffected! At the very least, this places you in an excellent position to say, “I told you so!”, come July if they did not work with you in planning for the crisis. In every emergency the first step is to sound the alarm. Do not expect people to run to the lifeboats if you are pretending there is no “iceberg.”
  • PLAN: If you know recruiting suffers in the summer months, budget and plan accordingly. Do not forecast your annual hire plan on 12 months of an evenly distributed success ratio. If you need an average of 20 hires per month to meet your year end goal of 240 anticipated adds and replacements, assume July and August will be hard pressed to make 50% of that goal. As a result you need 22 hires a month during the other 10 months to compensate for your shortfall of only 10 hires per month in July and August. Better you plan this way than try and always use September and October to play catch up.
  • PRIORITIZE: Remind your managers that with limited anticipated success, it would be best if each and every recruiting cycle be spent on the real and urgent needs of their teams. Send them the list of their current openings. Ask them to list each, 1 through whatever, in order of importance. It is their list, it will be difficult for them to complain if you follow that plan. (Difficult, not impossible. After all, they are hiring managers.)
  • MODIFY PROCESS: If you tend to delete files after 3 days if a candidate does not call you back, allow six during the summer before you assume no interest. If you try and plan interviews 4-5 days out during the bulk of the year, you may need to plan 6-10 days ahead in the summer to accommodate the various schedules and vacations. But whatever your benchmark is to consider an issue closed, double it!
  • SUBSTITUTIONS: Every member of every interview team should have an “automatic alternate” to stand in their place for interviews. The alternates must be on a different vacation schedule for this to work (Duh!). The alternate has to be advised by the person they will be replacing exactly what it is they should be discovering during the interview. They must understand their interviewing mission goal, they need to exchange views and priorities. All too often the substitute, with no prior planning, comes up to you after the interview and says, “I liked the candidate. But I do not know what John is looking for in a candidate. So I do not know what to tell you.” (“Yeah! Thanks for standing in for John. Next time I’ll use a store mannequin.”)
  • HIRING AUTHORITY: You may need to verify that you always have at least one person able to authorize an offer for each group during the vacation season. In some environments, you may need to map this out ahead of time to have letters of authority signed and inserted into the requisition folder. But do not find yourself unable to interview or hire because you failed to get substitutions and did not get prior commitment to the substitution plan. (“I don’t know, I am not sure if I can sign an offer letter?” Better hope the other companies the candidate interviewed with are as poorly prepared as you!)
  • PRE-RECRUITING: In the two months preceding the beginning of the holiday season get the message out there that you are in the hiring game for the duration. Newspaper ads and website banners should be added onto your regular recruiting advertising message, making your commitment clear: “XYZ Company – we’re so hot we don’t not even notice the summer. Come talk to us!” Advertise a special hiring bonus for all summertime hires, “Get a new job?and a new set of water skis! XYZ pays you to change jobs in July.” Continue this advertising during the summer months.
  • GO WHERE THE CANDIDATES ARE, UNDER BEACH UMBRELLAS: Send your recruiting message to airports, train stations and other transportation hubs during the summer months. Billboards near lakes and beaches become prime recruitment advertising spaces. That airplane towing the suntan lotion sign could just as easily be looking for “Systems Analysts.” See if travel agencies will allow your recruitment banner on their website. Maybe AAA’s magazine would be a good place to advertise. It’s summer, get “funky” with your summertime advertising message. Go where “they” are now, not where “they” usually are the rest of the year.
  • OPEN HOUSE/SUMMER BARBECUE: Resumes and Potato Salad do not make a bad combination. Set up a big tent, have summertime food, advise candidates that they can bring their family for a summer cookout while they talk informally (“Bermuda shorts and T-shirts encouraged!”) with hiring managers about career opportunities. Tough not to come off looking like a great environment in which to work. You’re creative, inventive, and fun. It might make sense to set this event up at a recreational area near your location rather than your parking lot.
  • POLICY: Place a special vacation policy and procedure in your employee handbook covering “Summertime Only” hiring. The company can commit to honor all pre-planned vacations, despite time with the company. Add on that the time can be taken “in the hole” if necessary. Make sure this policy is advertised and made known. Most companies have this unofficial policy in place but make no effort to make candidates aware of it. (Gee, nobody knows about it, I wonder why it isn’t working?) A good line might be, “Your first day on the job is a week with your family.”
  • STREAMLINE PROCESS: Due to the extra work involved in setting up summer interview schedules, reduce the number of interviews and interviewees to the minimum quality will allow. Accept one quality reference for offers in the summer instead of the two or three you usually require. The candidate’s old boss is on a three-week fishing trip with the other two references, and you have an offer getting dusty. Another idea is to place a disclaimer in your offer letter that stipulates the offer is not “official” until the completion of background check information?a policy many companies already follow. But this way the offer is “out the door” and the candidate knows you are serious.

Unlike King Lear, we are not cursing the tide, we are working with it. Or, more to the point, if you cannot change your reality then you must change how you function within your reality. The summertime mindset is a fun mindset. Work with it! You can recruit during the summer; you can even make it enjoyable. But it is a different recruiting environment, with its own unique recruiting issues and solutions. But as the summertime approaches and surrounds you, do not forget for one minute that your hiring mangers and clients still expect to see resumes flowing, interviews being scheduled, offers being extended, and new hires showing up for their first day on the job. It is important to them and the business. As a matter of fact, it is so important to them that as soon as they get back from their two weeks cruising the Mediterranean, they intend to deliver that very message to you in person. Believe it! Have a great day (summer) recruiting!

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

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