I Have Good News, And I Have Bad News

Boy, let the stock market drop 873 points in one day and watch the panic. Lemmings are watching us right now with pure envy in their little rodent hearts. I mean, sure, they periodically rush headlong over cliffs into the sea for no apparent reason, but they have over one million years of evolution for their excuse. All we had was a bad week in the stock market and we all seem to be running around in every direction. “Chicken Little” would be proud. But, truth be told, many in the staffing industry suspect that these concerns may not be all that unfounded. For the time being it would seem a more cautious and negative outlook has eclipsed the “Golden Days.” Have you been to a Corporate Strategic Staff Planning meeting lately, chaired by your average “abandon ship” executive? Here’s what you might have heard them say:

  • “I have full faith and confidence in the future and a quick and speedy turn around. But, meanwhile, let’s cut back on advertising, job fairs, resumes boards, agency fees….”
  • “This is an excellent opportunity for us to stand out and drive home a serious staffing program focused on hiring scarce and expensive intellectual talent now, before the time required and expense involved begins to climb again as this temporary slump dissolves. Nah, let’s play it safe like everybody else. Headcount freeze! Anyone for a quick 18 holes?”
  • “I do not want to risk losing any good people during this crisis. But, there is no harm in asking all hiring managers to do a critical cost justification on their current staff/budgets. Just to make it interesting let’s tell them we assume they can find, oh let’s say, 5% of current staff as redundant.”
  • “Damn the torpedoes! All stop and drop anchor.” (With apologies to Admiral Farragut, who in a crisis said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”)

As ineffective managers everywhere like to say, “Nobody ever got fired for saying ‘Hiring Freeze’ during a period of economic uncertainty.” Then again, fame and fortune are rarely the rewards for trend followers or the faint of heart. Those are the prizes set aside for leaders and visionaries. But unlike Alan Greenspan, we recruiters must exist in the economic environment with which we are presented, otherwise “The Market” would have received the full point discount they wanted. So what is the good news in this good news/bad news scenario? Good recruiters already knew all this and have been building substantial business relations with a reputation for effective recruiting and solid customer service. Even in “Good Times.” Why? Because good recruiters knew that you may want to let the “good times roll,” but beware they do not “roll over you” and the quality of your workmanship. I have a mantra for great recruiting and staffing professionals and those who want to be (This should be repeated ten times every morning while in the lotus position, followed by a glass of fresh spring water and a tofu souffl?):

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  • Good recruiting is not, never was, nor ever will be easy.
  • Good times or bad times, good recruiting is good customer service.
  • Good recruiting practices thrive and collect dividends in any economy!
  • Bad recruiting practices are paid in kind during slowdowns.
  • Ohhhmmm, Ohhhmmm – Hey, it’s a mantra, remember?

So what criteria will determine your ability to survive business slowdowns? Try this “Did I do that?” checklist on for size:

  1. Do you have an established block of clients, say 15-20, whom you have routinely maintained and to whom you have delivered consistent successful recruiting efforts? (My recruiting mentor used to called them the “Bedrock Clients.”)
  2. Did you choose your market and prospects by a careful selection process looking for long-term business growth potential, or was your sole criterion that they called you back? (Groucho once warned us, “I would never belong to a club that would have me as a member.”)
  3. Did you stay focused in a critical and vital area of business expertise and establish an extensive and diversified network amongst senior management, human resources/recruiting, and potential candidates?
  4. Do your clients actually like you? (Do you know their hobbies, birthday?)
  5. Did you avoid the temptation to recruit all over the clock chasing job orders and “neat candidates.” (Last week I couldn’t even spell Bio-Statistician, now I am recruiting for one. Next week, left-handed Java Developers with red hair.)
  6. Did you forget to get offline and get out of the office to meet actual and real people (Sometimes “virtual” is just another word for “not really there.”)
  7. Did you keep in touch with people, even when you did not need anything from them? (Dave is calling? What does HE want!)
  8. Did you join and participate in your client industry’s events, trade shows, seminars, diners and award banquets and meetings? Are you known and perceived as a “player” in the market and industry you serve?
  9. Did you maintain a reputation as a “dealer” in quality candidates and screen your prospects carefully? Do you associate yourself only with the best and therefore, by association, establish your client’s perception of your standard (Lexus Dealership). Or did you allow yourself to represent “anything with an engine?” (A1 Used Cars and Screen Door Repair – I guarantee it will at least make it off the lot.)
  10. Did you continue to actually “recruit” and not merely “pull resumes” off paid websites? (You and 15 other recruiters sent me this resume, thanks a lot!)
  11. Did you email two hundred resumes a day and sit back and wait to see what happened and call it “Cyber Recruiting?” (Clients call it SPAM.)
  12. Did you “play games” with clients trying to get one to offer a better deal than another?
  13. Did you get over committed and miss appointments, not follow up with clients, take assignments and not work them due to volume or better offers?
  14. Did you engage candidates in pre- and post-interview conversations and deliver timely and accurate feedback to the client? Even negative candidate feedback?
  15. Did you close candidates, or merely release an offer and go back for a hiring bonus pretty much “pro forma”? (What a sales professional – give him/her unlimited funds and unreasonable benefits and they can close anybody!)
  16. Did your candidates show up on interviews motivated and prepared due to your pre-interview motivational and educational efforts? (The signature of a true quality recruiter.)
  17. Did your candidates feel well treated by you before, during, and after the hiring process making them “messengers of good will” for you and your business?
  18. When you leave a message for a client to call you back, do they? (Or do you have to a call back four or six times a day hoping they will “pick up?”)
  19. Is the phone still ringing in your office from callers other than “laid off” placements from last quarter?
  20. Do you currently ask everybody you know to verify your self supporting suspicion that the economy will bounce back full force by 11:37 AM EST tomorrow, because you are scared to death you cannot survive a tight economy?

Too preachy? Maybe. But clients feel that you should be in business to serve them, not the other way around. Ask any fulltime Human Resources/Staffing professional and they will tell you that for the last 5-7 years they have maintained two lists of agencies, agency recruiters, contractors, and consultants. One list, called “Keepers,” consists of the third-party staffing professionals they have felt well served by and with whom they will maintain contact come excellent, good, weak, or damaged economy. The other list, called the “Drop List”, consists of those recruiters who, in a great economy gone mad, represented the least sought after of all accolades in sales, “He/she are better than nothing.” But come a slower pace in staffing, this list is the first to go. (If you doubt me, call a couple of corporate recruiters and ask them which list you are on.) A few months ago, a reader made the comment that the changing face of employment had altered the client-vendor relationship in recruiting. That the candidate was in fact the new “client” and the company was merely one of many possible “buyers.” Well, with the old “corporate clients” cutting back on staffing, anybody getting 25% fees from the “candidate clients?” In business you always follow the money. Wherever it comes from, that is the “client.” That is the way it has always been, that is the way it will always be. Unless of course you are doing this for personal gratification and the money is of no importance to you whatsoever! There is not a business course in any university in the world, or an investment adviser or a financial analyst who recommends thinking “Short Term.” Yet so many of us in the Third Party side have allowed the “boom” years give us the excuse to adopt poor business practices, volume Vs quality, and forget who the client was and the ultimate control they have over our lives, they write the checks. Each item I listed in the “Checklist” has come from my own experiences in representing corporate clients and conversations with peers and recruiters in the business. But, if this is only an economic slump in what is predicted to be a period of economic growth that still has decades remaining, so what! If the current labor shortage has at least as long a life cycle as the current economic growth cycle, so what! The economy will bounce back. The clients’ will experience unprecedented challenges in meeting staffing needs and marginal recruiting will be back and volume will again eliminate the need for quality. Right? Ah, no, not so much. It is true that staffing will remain the #1 issue business face for the next 20 years. Effective, timely and cost effective staffing will determine which companies merely survive and which companies thrive. But, as our clients staffing problems persist, solutions will evolve and we want to make sure that we are allowed to participate in that solution process, right? As long as your clients see you as conveniently disposable, you will have to fear any change in the business environment, not just economic boom or bust. The long-term goal is to bond with our clients and be identified as their strategic business partners in resolving their staffing issues. Not as pests and a staffing solution that is “better than nothing.”‘ If the labor shortage and continued economic growth are here to stay, then you can be assured that our corporate clients are looking for innovative and effective solutions to resolve their staffing problems. If we keep coming at them with the same solutions we had to offer last year, only with a higher fee rate per thousand or a 20% increase in hourly rates, how long will we been seen as relevant? If a slight slump in the economy caused the phone to stop ringing for a while, or at least the over-all volume went down, you have been served notice. Or have you? If you are still as busy today as you were six months ago, then you get it and have already been laying the groundwork for a “slump.” If your business has significantly declined, then you need to get it. As long as you foster an image as a mere “opportunist” taking advantage of your clients’ problems, rather than as a “partner” working to help resolve those issues, they will never let you get close enough to be truly secure. Recruit for today, but develop relationships for tomorrow. Fair or foul. We will now form two lines, Lemmings on the left, Recruiters on the right. It’s your choice. Have a great day recruiting! (Authors Note: To all of you that I had the opportunity to meet at the ER Expo, it was great. If I missed you, next time for sure. To my “Eight Ball” partners who suffered my lousy playing in such good spirits, I promise to practice before next year.) <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

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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