How to Make and Use a Crystal Ball in Recruiting

Perhaps you have had a conversation similar to this:

“Hello, Robyn? It’s Michelle from recruiting. Do we need to revise the staffing forecast for your group, given that it’s August and we’ve already filled more than the 350 positions forecasted for the year?”

“I’m dumbfounded,” responds Robyn, HR manager for the operations department. “I didn’t think we would be hiring much this year. I guess I was wrong. Why don’t you up our forecast to 360?”

“So you’re saying that in the next four months until year-end, the operations department will only fill 10 more positions? Are you sure?” Michelle challenges.

“You’re right,” says Robyn. “Go with 365. Let’s play it safe.”

Or maybe you’ve had a conversation similar to this:

“Sheri, it’s Adam from recruiting. I’m looking at our current resources and wanted to confirm that the sales organization is not planning a fourth-quarter expansion this year. We have an expansion in another client area in Q4 and I am planning to realign resources from the sales recruiting team to support that group.”

“I was going to call you,” says Sheri, HR manager for the sales organization. “We just got word yesterday that not only are we going to be expanding, but this will be the biggest sales-force expansion in five years. We need to fill 200 territories within eight weeks.”

Or maybe you have heard one like this:

“Sandy, I’m calling to get an estimate on what the hiring projections will be for the marketing department in 2007. We are forecasting our own resource needs in recruiting and need to have an understanding of what your hiring looks like next year so we can be best prepared to support you.” Mark waits for a response.

“Oh, Mark. If only I had the crystal ball to give you the perfect answer,” says Sandy.

Does Anyone Have a Crystal Ball?

If you work in recruiting, you have been in these types of conversations, and chances are few individuals possess the proverbial crystal ball. It is the rare recruiting professional who has boasted a robust and accurate staffing forecast to guide his or her team of recruiting professionals in supporting talent acquisition for the business.

In talking to colleagues who run talent-acquisition organizations, I’ve found the struggle to obtain realistic and accurate staffing forecasts is all too real. I’ve seen recruiting teams throw their hands up in despair and resign themselves to the fact that workforce planning and staffing is a luxury whose time has not come at their companies. And so the reactive “just-in-time” recruiting cycle continues.

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It doesn’t have to be this way. By taking a proactive approach to workforce planning in its simplest form, by using a staffing forecast, recruiting organizations can not only better prepare themselves to meet client needs in talent acquisition, they can raise the bar for the entire organization by providing a line of sight to the ebbs and flows of the businesses they support.

Instead of sitting back and waiting for HR partners and clients to figure it out, take the lead and figure it out for them by making your own crystal ball.

How to Make Your Own Crystal Ball, Recruiting Style

While Dan Hilbert and his team at Valero continue to redefine strategic workforce planning in ways no one thought possible, in the spirit of crawling before walking, most recruiting teams are focusing on the basics: a staffing forecast. It’s simple to develop and entails reviewing historical workforce data and trends and accounting for future events that will impact or determine the direction of the business.

Historical workforce data: Past performance doesn’t predict future results, as mutual-fund disclaimers often cite, but in recruiting, it provides a line of sight to what typical “churn” looks like in an organization. Start with a basic snapshot of all the employees in a particular business unit (numbers of employees, titles, time in position, tenure, location). Next, analyze past trends in attrition (voluntary and involuntary), retirement, and sources of hire, and you can come up with a working number or percentage of what future “churn” looks like.

When looking at historical data, consider factors such as:

  • Number and types of positions filled annually in prior two years
  • Trends in hiring statistics (front-loaded, evenly dispersed, fourth-quarter “burst”)
  • Types and sources of hires
  • Planned moves and transfers
  • Location(s) of hires (i.e., geographic region)
  • Turnover/retirements/separations
  • Expansions and restructurings
  • Plant or facility closures

This data alone will be invaluable to helping you and your client organizations understand the steady-state ebbs and flows of the workforce. To take it to the next level and dazzle your clients, look for correlations between the data points (e.g., higher attrition seen in employees with the unit five years or less; faster promotion rates for internal hires; and higher turnover for remote locations). You will know more about their workforces than they do!

Future events: If you’ve followed John Sullivan’s steps for becoming a top recruiter, you know a key to success is knowing the business you support inside and out. If you’ve done your homework and keep pace with your business, you should have a line of sight to its strategies, goals, and objectives. (If not, forget a staffing forecast for now and concentrate on learning the business!) Nearly all strategies and goals have in them a talent aspect; the best recruiters pick up on them and translate them to specific talent needs now and in the future.

When thinking about future events, consider factors such as:

  • Business expansion (mergers) or contractions (divestitures)
  • Changes in product mix: new products, line extensions, etc.
  • Competitor activities (such as new product launches)
  • Plans to enter new markets
  • Changes in markets or customer base
  • Changes in government regulations
  • Changes in technology or productivity improvements
  • Major projects and capital expenditures (e.g., building a new distribution center)

Looking holistically at the trends that have historically been part of the business and making educated guesses about future events, you can develop a forecast that translates organization needs to specific numbers and types of talent needed in an organization. Together you and your clients will have a thorough understanding of the current workforce and a strong plan that anticipates and proactively identifies talent needs.

Maybe the crystal ball isn’t an illusion after all.

Lisa Calicchio, SPHR, is Director of Recruiting -- Pharmaceuticals Team, for Johnson & Johnson Recruiting, the internal talent acquisition organization of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies. In this role, Lisa manages the development and delivery of talent acquisition strategies and execution for Johnson & Johnson?s U.S. pharmaceuticals and biotechnology operating companies. In addition to managing this segment of the business and a significant client base, Lisa focuses on enhancing JJR's consulting capabilities through specialty teams for business analytics, training, and recruitment marketing. Her background includes extensive experience as an HR generalist and recruiting, though she started her professional career "on the line" and held several line positions across key functional areas before moving from sales and marketing into HR.


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