Recruiter Layoffs Are Coming…Are You Prepared?

Any savvy recruiter is well aware of the economic downturn that is facing most industries today. If that downturn has not yet affected your job as a recruiter, let me assure you that soon it will. Where I work in the Silicon Valley, the wave of recruiter layoffs is well underway. But whether you manage a recruiting function or are just an individual recruiter, there some things you can do to help avoid becoming a layoff statistic. Preparing the Employment Function It’s common knowledge that recruiting functions expand and shrink with the economy; however, if you want to avoid any unnecessary shrinkage you need to take some steps to prepare the recruiting function for the upcoming budget knife. Some of things you can do include:

  1. Begin to forecast future economic and business growth. Talk to sales managers and study industry trends in order to forecast when the economic downturn for your firm might end. If the economic downturn is estimated to be short-lived then prepare the business case for keeping your recruiting staff intact in order to be prepared for the coming upturn.
  2. Begin developing workforce plans, which show the upcoming need for new hiring. In addition, demonstrate to managers the importance of redeploying your current workforce into high-margin areas. Become the redeployment department. Use your recruiting staff to identify internal candidates that can be moved from low-return areas on to higher-return areas. Demonstrate to management that hiring should begin prior to any large upshift in business because of the lag time necessary to bring new hires up to speed.
  3. If you haven?t already, build a strong business case for recruiting. Identify the return on investment of great recruiting and show how having a strong recruiting function is essential if the firm is to recover from the economic doldrums. Don’t just present your case to HR but also present it to senior managers in the divisions that are most likely to grow.
  4. Begin shifting your focus toward the retention of top performers. Convince managers that you can also serve in the role as retention experts. Prepare plans and tools so you can train managers on retention tools and develop the ability to identify who might leave and what works best to keep them at your firm. It’s relatively easy to make the business case for retention because the ROI why is almost always relatively high and the results can be seen almost immediately.
  5. Use any slack time during a hiring freeze or requisition slowdown to pair back your recruiting programs and to improve your recruiting tools. Use metrics to identify which sources produced the best candidates and reduce or drop the remaining programs that offer little value.
  6. Make the case for increasing hiring during tough times because of the wealth of talent that is available. Demonstrate to managers the quality of hires that can be obtained by poaching the very best from firms that have been weakened by the economic downturn. Also consider increasing college hiring when others have curtailed theirs because the same effort will result in significantly higher quality candidates (because others have cut back their hiring).
  7. Begin dropping the dead wood. Get rid of mediocre recruiters and hire new ones on a contract basis so if necessary, you can easily reduce/secure recruiting team. Consider reducing your team voluntarily through attrition before others do it for you.
  8. Make the business case for branding and other long term recruiting efforts. Demonstrate to management the value of building your brand even during a hiring freeze. Show the impact that a great employment brand can have on product sales. Also show how a strong brand will make recruiting a snap when the economy recovers.
  9. Prioritize your recruiting efforts. It’s important to realize that certain key jobs in technology and “IT” will still need to be filled, even during weak economic times. Polish your strategies and tools so that the resulting effort produces fast, high-quality hires so that managers can see the results right away.

How Can Individual Recruiters Avoid Being Laid Off During hard economic times it’s survival of the fittest. Although recruiting can be a team sport, it is also essential to build the case that you, as an individual, are essential to the success of the firm. If you want to differentiate yourself from other recruiters consider the following:

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  1. Become an internet recruiting expert. It’s becoming common knowledge that almost all recruiting will soon shift to the Web. Individuals who can search the Web and find candidates on list servers, chat rooms, personal web pages, and other non-job board sources are most likely to succeed. Learn how to use “bots” and search engines to identify the harder to find passive job seekers.
  2. Before the budget gets cut, take advantage of any still available funds to upgrade your skills through recruit training.
  3. Become a metrics expert and demonstrate that you produce the highest quality hires of any recruiter. Also show that you utilize the most effective tools and that you build great relationships with managers.
  4. Begin to identify future recruiting trends and issues and prepare yourself to be an expert on each. Some areas to look at include globalized recruiting, recruiting passives, Internet recruiting, diversity recruiting, employee referral programs and building the business case for recruiting.
  5. Begin writing articles and speaking at recruiting and business conferences to build your own image and to expose yourself to others. Increase the participation in professional recruiting organization. this exposure both helps build the firm’s employment brand and it also makes you more visible within the corporation, which will likely lead to greater job security.
  6. Begin to identify the firms that will be growing, in spite of any economic downturn. Benchmark with them and build relationships so in case you are let go you know which firms are still hiring recruiters.
  7. Don?t be na?ve. Hang around with finance types within your company in order to determine when and how severe the budget cuts may be. If cuts are inevitable, be prepared with an updated resume and a current list of contacts, so that you can react rapidly should a layoff occur.
  8. Consider retraining yourself into more stable HY Fields. HRIS, for example, is seldom cut during a downturn and generalists in growing divisions almost always survive. Avoid training and OD because they are usually the first to go.
  9. Consider a little vacation. The war for talent has been a real battle and any recruiter worth his or her salt has earned a little vacation!


Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



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