Thanksgiving, a New Century, and Recruiting

Recruiters have suffered mightily over the past two years. Statistics show a large decline in the number of third-party recruiting firms and even the established, larger firms have cut back on staff and services. Almost every corporation has either cut back or eliminated recruiting as they move to outsourcing, not hiring, employees. Most of us thought we would be coming out of recession by now and that employment would be steadily ticking upwards. Instead, we seem mired in a sluggish employment market and still face uncertainty about our jobs and our future. The opening sentence to Charles Dickens’s famous novel “A Tale of Two Cities” sums up the feelings of many. It almost seems that he was speaking directly to us more than 100 years ago as he wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” But as we sit down for Thanksgiving dinner (here in the U.S.) tomorrow, I hope we can find it within ourselves to be thankful for what we do have. We have much before us ó exciting stuff ó but challenging and demanding as well. This economic slowdown is not just about the failure of dot-coms or poor accounting standards and fraud in some of our largest corporations. It is really about entering a new century and dealing with the changes in the nature of business and work that it has already brought. A door has opened and let out the comforts and habits of the 20th century. Many of us now miss its familiarity and the rules that gave us a sense of security and certainty. Indeed, our profession has changed fundamentally, although we are just beginning to see and understand those changes. The habits and skills we developed in a slower moving, more certain 20th century no longer work so well. Our cheese has been moved, as the eponymous book says, and we miss the familiar world of paper resumes, face-to-face recruiting, ringing telephones, cold calls, and classified ads. Technology and the Internet still feel unfamiliar and foreign. But here are a few of the many things we have to look forward to:

  1. Personalization of the recruiting process. Today every candidate is treated pretty much the same. Recruiters call that being fair, but I call it lack of customer service and concern. We are all individuals, and we each want our uniqueness to be understood and evaluated. Retailers and product manufacturers understand this and provide hundreds of variations on products to meet our individual needs. We as recruiters will need to use technology to communicate with candidates better, more frequently, and at a deeper level than we do now. We will have to tailor jobs to meet candidates’ qualifications rather than looking for the “right” person for our standardized job profile. The whole matching process will become more dynamic and offer the candidate more choices.
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  3. Development integrated with recruiting. I used to work for a CEO who insisted that training was only necessary because of bad recruiting. He felt that a good recruiter would always find the person who knew how to do the job he or she was being hired to do, or knew enough of it so the rest could be learned informally. There is some truth to this. However, when the supply of skilled and ready people is exhausted, which will be soon, we will have to look at developing people internally or hiring people without the skills we need and training them. Sutter Health, a major healthcare provider in Northern California, has decided that it will be more cost effective in the long run to train nurses than to continue investing so much in recruiting them. They are starting a multi-million dollar nurses training institute. Other organizations, in other fields, will soon be following.
  4. Selling and marketing as important skills for recruiters. Even though it is harder than ever to see because of the slow economy, being able to explain to a candidate why your organization is better than another one will be a vital ability for recruiters to have. The candidate pool is going to get smaller, smarter and more discriminating – just as the consumer pool has. Why would you buy one video camera over another? Mainly because of the powerful marketing and communication campaigns of their manufacturers. Candidates will seek out firms with good reputations and financial track records, as they are already doing. That is why lists such as the “100 Best Companies to Work For” are so popular. Candidates are literally shopping for jobs ó not, for the most part, taking whatever comes along.

The entire recruiting profession will look different, run different, use different tools, and be based on different assumptions than it was in the 20th century. And that’s good, because we will need new tools for the new problems of talent shortages, rising free agency, smaller firms, and rapid change. Let us give thanks this week for the plentiful ideas and creativity that have contributed so much to America’s leadership in human resources, in developing human potential, and in continuously exploring the limits of our capabilities. And may all of you have a peaceful, bountiful, and happy Thanksgiving.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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