Shift Your Recruiting Strategy as the Economy Changes

Most recruiting strategies are relatively static and unchanging. Unfortunately, keeping the same strategies during an economic downturn that you utilized during an economic upturn can have a disastrous effect on your recruiting results. Often it’s hard to see a downturn in the economy coming, but the recent crash has been so dramatic that it’s hard to miss. Smart recruiters and staffing strategists must now begin shifting their recruiting strategy as a result of the economic changes. The net result of these economic shifts is a surplus of labor, which causes a shift in power away from the worker and back towards the employer. This power shift is a direct result of the recent round of corporate layoffs, hiring freezes and slowed growth rates. Shift your strategy today. Although there are many things you need to do differently when the power relationship between the employee and employer changes, some of the ones that I recommend you consider immediately include:

  1. Be careful of ?Laid Off? people. People who have been recently laid-off can be dangerous people to hire. Although it’s not fair to stereotype them all, quite often laid-off people do share some similar traits:
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  • It is unlikely that a “laid-off” person would be a top performer, because top performers are seldom the first to be let go.
  • Because of the job loss trauma that the recently laid-off went through, they are likely to stay in their current job/firm for a long time. This means any hiring mistake is likely to be with you for good while.
  • Their recent layoff has probably reduced their willingness to take risks because they fear that failure may lead to another job loss – a trait which may or may not be desirous
  • Let-go “dot-commers” may not fit in at a slower corporate culture.
  1. Re-calculate your business value. Act NOW before the CFO cuts your budget (it’s axe sharpening season). Calculate the return on investment of the recruiting function. Forecast the future and the immediate need for talent. Show that now is not the time to weaken your recruiting team and your branding efforts. Show the long lead-time it takes to rebuild a recruiting team and the financial impact if there is a sudden need for talent. Work with the CFO’s office to ensure your numbers are credible and that he/she is a supporter of your effort. Also find alternative work your staff can do during any freeze.
  2. Double your focus on the passive jobseeker. Currently employed top performers (sometimes called passive job seekers) are almost always the best people to target because of their superior performance record and their ability to get along. Because this working talent is in such high demand, most passives don’t even need to actively seek jobs. In fact, jobs find them. When the economy goes sour, normally passive job seekers often go hyper-passive mode. As a result, it takes a superior sales effort both to get them to consider a new position and to convince them to accept any offer. This means that the recording function must make their offers to these employed candidates sweeter and more personalized than ever before. It’s essential that you identify their job move “triggers” and also tailor the job offer and the job to their unique needs. The days when “standard offers” work are gone!
  3. Volume can be deadly: prepare for the flood. As technology improves, it will soon be possible for applicants to push a button and to send “Spam-applications” to every job at every company in the world. As more and more applicants have access to improved technology the “push of the button” and apply capability will allow them to inundate you with applications in volume and almost at will. As a result, systems will be strained with a huge number of applicants, even when there are no job openings. If you are to survive this dramatic increase in volume the quality of the “sorting mechanism” in your ATS must improve dramatically. This means that ATS systems must work on increasing their ability to sort through huge volumes of applications in order to identify the few high quality applicants to focus on. Volumes of resumes have always been deadly (to quality hiring) but it’s just been in the last few months that we have begun to see the rise in volume that will soon reach levels that have never before been experienced. Even traditionally effective sources, like employer referral programs, can become inundated with volume as friends ask their “employed friends” for help in finding a job. The increased volume of resumes also mean additional chances for lawsuits and an increased record-keeping burden!
  4. Focus on quality sources. Sources like job fairs, job boards and want ads that have produced poor to moderate results will soon explode, resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of resumes received from these sources. This can be a problem because such large volumes tend to dissuade most recruiters from seeking additional resumes from higher quality sources. Top performers have to be “fought over,” but often a huge database of resumes discourages most from seeking out candidates that have to be fought for.
  5. The quality of your recruiters. Experienced recruiters that can actually market and sell jobs have been rare for years. Now that even Cisco has a surplus of recruiters, it’s time to change the DNA of your recruiting department. Seek out the best recruiters and fire the mediocre ones.
  6. A focus on branding and technology. Even though less actual hiring is likely now, it’s important to use any “surplus” recruiter time to build and improve upon your branding efforts. Building a corporate employment brand takes some time and as a result an improved image is likely to appear exactly when the hiring freezes are lifted. In a similar light, any extra recruiter time needs to be used to implement technology which will allow the recruiting function to shift from the current face-to-face model into an almost exclusively Internet model. Some firms are already there. For example, Cisco Systems boasts that as much as 81% of their hires come through the Internet in some manner. Unfortunately, other firms have yet to realize that globalization and remote work trends will soon make technology THE driver of recruiting change.

Conclusion When the economy improves, power shifts from the employer to the applicant. During these times, applicants often achieve “free agent” status and they can even be “bid on” by firms. However, when that scarcity disappears (as the unemployment rate rises) the power shifts back. Smart employers take advantage of that power shift. Not to increase the volume of applicants or to lose our customer service orientation but rather to focus on the quality of the applicant and the hire. As the volume of applicants increases (as the labor surplus expands) it is essential that recruiting shift its focus and change it’s strategy. This is to ensure that they do not become inundated with applications, which in turn can lead to a lowering of the quality of hire standards. It’s quality or mediocrity…the choice is yours and the time to act is now! <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

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," Staffing.org 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 www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

 

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10 Comments on “Shift Your Recruiting Strategy as the Economy Changes

  1. I concur with the majority of the article, however, I adamantly disagree with item #1. Why, for the reasons listed below.

    1. I was a laid-off worker and top-performer….outstanding reviews, there are so many biases in those who are downsized for a number of reasons its just unbelievable… What about the age factor, the manager dislike for the employee factor, the race factor, the disability factor, the gender factor.

    Moreover, I have friends who were also top performers with outstanding performance who were also reduced, downsized, rightsized or laid-off.

    Yes, you just told thousands and thousand of folks just what potential employers already think, which isn’t necessarily the case.

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  2. I could not agree more with the thoughts of this article.
    As a recruiter for a search firm, we have fallen victim to this more than most.
    I am facing companies with the we want to do this ourselves idea. However, in a lot of cases
    they do not have a clue about recruiting? How can an in house recruiting department, tap in to
    passive candidates? They rely on internet job boards to hire their best and brightest. Unfortunately, so do most
    search firms these days., What has happened to the real headhunter? The person who gets people to
    leave a job they thought to be completely happy with? I am that guy and my company is that company, but we keep getting lumped in
    with the dot com boom recruiters, who used to place low end temporary staff. Just needed to vent….

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  3. Ben,

    You are not the only company that believes in doing it the old fashioned way.
    I do not subscribe to any major job board. I believe in networking and research to
    find the “ideal” candidates. I know several recruiters who work in the same manner as I.
    You are not alone, perhaps a minority, but not alone.

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  4. I must disagree with the comment made by Ben that corporate recruiters cannot source passive candidates or those not actively seeking employment. Many of the same skills that are tought and or gained through experience as an outside recruiter can be duplicated by an internal staff. All you need is the knowledge and resources. Resources that include technology,financial and human capital. Because I understand and have experience utilizing a multi-source recruiting strategy which includes techniques utilized by “headhunters’, and not to mention the wealth of knowledge that is shared in the recruiting community, I have been able to gain the support necessary to develop internal corporate recruiting staffs that effectively utlize some of the techniques used by third party recruiters. Now I am not saying that there isn’t a place for recruiting firms in your corporate strategy. But they have to be the right firms that can support your current business needs and they should be a part of your strategy, not the bulk of your strategy. Not to mention they too can be unsuccessful if they do not become a strategic business partner. Which a company already has in its own corporate recruiting staff.

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  5. Thank you, Jordanne, for your enlightened response to this article. I also strongly disagree with point number 1 ? just because someone is laid off does not mean he/she is a poor employee that recruiters should be wary of. In fact I think it is an archaic response that should be reexamined in light of how our economy has changed – particularly the onslaught of dot-com layoffs we are experiencing. I have worked in the dot-com industry and have seen wonderful people get laid-off simply because the company failed. I have seen top performers get let go while poor performers are kept on for flimsy reasons. I believe there are advantages to hiring someone who has been through such a lay-off ? insight into how NOT to fail, and a greater level of commitment to their new job, because they don?t want to be laid off again (the article lists this as a disadvantage, but I disagree). There are people who get laid-off due to poor performance, but I don?t believe that when someone states they were laid-off they should be automatically dismissed as a candidate. It is worth investigating why the candidate was laid-off; his or her insights into the experience could give you valuable information about her/his abilities. I would be interested to hear other peoples? comments on the stigma attached to laid-off people.

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  6. To Liz and Jordanne,

    I happen to agree with the article, and at my current company we are doing a lot of the steps that Dr. John Sullivan has listed. I disagree with your disagreement with his 1st point. Your right just because you?re laid off does mean you?re a low performer, it could me that you?re an average performer. As a recruiter, I’m looking for a super star or high performer that will add value to the bottom line. And if your a super star that does get laid off because the business is closing shop, your probably walking out the door with a nice severance and a new job, because Super Stars or High Performers don’t look for jobs…. JOBS find them and they’re not on the market for very long. The probably already have had several offers in hand, so don?t assume your a super star because you got high marks on subjective performance appraisal, prove by showing me your business results, and how many offers for top companies you have.

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  7. As viewpoint from “the other side,” Liz
    hit the nail on the head. Anyone who
    thinks that people who are laid off must
    be poor employees has their head in the
    sand regarding today’s market reality.
    Wake up before all the fantastic people
    who worked for failing companies get
    snatched by someone else.

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  8. I disagree with point #1 of John Sullivan’s article. There several top performers I knew from a previous gig with an Internet consultantcy that were recently laid off. John apparently forgets that market forces can, and do impact the livelihoods of even the most competent superstars. He should also not forget that most employees (this includes top performers) will face at least one layoff in his/her professional life. John’s writing is usually right on, but on point #1 of this article he was way off.

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  9. I have several thoughts and disagreements about John Sullivan’s points of view about “Laid Off People”.
    1. From a legal standpoint, is it a valid criteria to only consider candidates who have not been laid off? In other words, is it legal to disqualify candidates solely on the basis of a recent lay off?
    2. So Mr. Sullivan, what is the definition of a top performing recruiter? What are the criteria, how are they established, who sets the standards of performance that you refer to?
    My experience indicates that standards of performance and expectations vary widely from company and industry sectors. Recruiting is a business partnership between the recruiter and the client and the recruiter’s level of performance is based on the quality of the partnership. Experienced and professional recruiters know that sometimes there is only so much we can do…
    3. Top Performing Recruiters who have been recently laid off may have worked themselves out of job, by filling the majority of openings in their client company so they are no longer needed and move on to the next clients.
    4. Most mature professionals have experienced one or more layoffs or firings in their career, I disagree with Mr. Sullivan that this is always a “trauma” and consequently the laid off person is likely to stay in their next job for a long time. The strong performers quickly move on to new and premium opportunities, as they are regularly courted by other employers/clients.
    5. Top performers are not afraid to take risks because they are confident about their ability to make significant contributions and are frequently being courted with other opportunities from companies who may not care about a lay off.
    6. Let go dot commers may not fit in at a slower corporate culture. This is a rather vague assumption suggesting that let go dot commers are inexperienced and unfamiliar with different (slower) corporate cultures. Hardly accurate. What common qualities of let-go dot-commers are you using to back up this assumption? What qualifies a person to be put in this seemingly undersirable category?
    7. Many of us who have had the opportunities to be part of start up companies have worked very, very hard and we have learned a tremendous amount in a short period of time. How about a discussion about what we have learned and how other companies and old-economy employers could benefit from this experience?

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