Tough Tactics for Tough Times

There are three types of recruiters in the world. One will see a modest shortfall in this downturn, one will see a significant reduction in billings, and the third will go out of business. Where do you stand? Once you know, you’ll be able to take action now to maximize your opportunities. In good times, many people enter the field with the expectations of easy money. Some succeed, some don’t. But a slowdown like the one we’re in now pushes those on the margin off the bandwagon. As I compare those that have survived and thrived in bad times to those that didn’t pass muster, three distinct recruiter types emerge. The Sought-After In normal economic times, this type of recruiter is called when a new assignment becomes available. Sometimes they’re even called when a company or an executive is just thinking about adding a new position, re-organizing the department, or letting someone go. The sought-after recruiter acts as an advisor and consultant, providing a wealth of value-added services in the areas of HR, staffing, and management. Once given as assignment, this type of recruiter knows how to deliver top quality candidates in short order. This person is equally respected by candidates for providing great advice and counsel. Professionalism, great execution and value-added services are the hallmark of the sought-after recruiter. It’s a goal for all of us to target. The Tolerated Most recruiters fall into this category, even if they don’t want to admit it. The truth is that most recruiters are considered necessary evils. Companies don’t like to pay our apparently inflated fees, for apparently doing little work. (I personally consider recruiting the hardest way to make easy money, but that’s another story.) Recruiters in the tolerated class are called when a company can’t fill an assignment on its own. Being tolerated is still a pretty good position to be in. You may not be loved and admired, but you’re still listened to and involved when an assignment is handed your way. You bring a wealth of directly related value-added services to the table – including great candidates, great execution, great assessment skills and an ability to hold a deal together and close it by getting both parties to compromise. This is vitally important to the recruiting process, so don’t feel to bad if you’re not part of the inside team. This type of recruiter can work all types of positions in any type of company. The Avoided Many recruiters fall into this category, and some even make pretty decent money. This group epitomizes the traditional headhunter – making lots of calls to get assignments, going around HR, pushing candidates in, closing deals fast, and then making more calls. The best of this group are street smart and savvy. Candidates and clients might not love them, but they get results due to their aggressiveness. This type of recruiter is so common that they even have policies and procedures written just for them. These generally involve prohibitions on hiring managers from talking directly to these untouchables. The avoided are generally contingency recruiters working mid-level or lower positions. The boom of a year ago altered these distinctions for a while. The normally avoided recruiters moved up into a state of being actually tolerated. They were called daily with assignments. It was like the gold-rush all over again. Companies were so hungry for people that pushiness and closing skills were admired. The tolerated class of recruiters – the necessary evils – became sought-after, even invited to fancy dinners and planning sessions. The sought-after recruiters were considered gods, and spoke at company meetings and led the planning sessions. But harsh reality returned in a short 90 days, as boom led to bust, and as our temporarily inflated self-worth nosed-dived well past normality, into oblivion. Now the once king-like sought-after recruiter is only tolerated, getting a few calls, but must pay for the lunch. The tolerated are now avoided, as voice mails go unanswered. And the avoided? Well, they’re going out of business, or are making more and more and more calls in the vain hope of securing an assignment and some breathing room. The good news is that you can offset the disparaging impact of the slowdown’s cruel effects by moving yourself into a better class of recruiter. You’ll have to change your ways and learn some new skills, but it will go a long way to improving your current income and setting yourself up with a new foundation for the coming turn-around. I’ll get into these issues in more depth in upcoming articles, but here’s a quick preview:

  1. Differentiate yourself. Provide some type of value-added advice. This could be on expert sourcing techniques, better interviewing and assessment skills, or new ways to organize work.
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  3. Become more professional. The best recruiters meet all their candidates and clients. Their job description write-ups are professional, and their candidate assessment write-ups are insightful.
  4. Specialize. Move into a field that is still hot if yours is not. Use networking and the latest e-cruiting techniques to quickly find the best.
  5. Execute. Become a better interviewer and assessor of candidate competency than your clients. Prepare performance profiles, not job descriptions when taking assignments. Only present 3-4 great candidates. This will help differentiate yourself, and move you into the sought-after category.

You can start preparing for the coming recovery now by improving your skills. In the process, you’ll probably find enough work to not even worry about paying for lunch! <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


4 Comments on “Tough Tactics for Tough Times

  1. I think it was very insightful and obviously, very timely. I do have two questions. Re: Value Added. When Lou discusses Differentiating Yourself, it seems that he is saying – “Find and present candidates that meet or exceed you clients needs, quickly and effiently. His he really saying more than that? Also, what is meant by organizing work and how does that translated to Value Added?

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  2. The article states there are three types of recruiters. They range from those that “in this slowdown” will experience a modest shortfall to outright failure. WHAT ABOUT THE RECRUITER WHO ACTUALLY INCREASES HIS/HER SALES WHEN THE ECONOMY TIGHTENS. Lou, usually I agree with your positions, however, I am quite surprised that you would expect the entire industry to produce less. In point of fact this so called downturn does not have to inhibit business growth. Competent well schooled Recruiters should expect to continue the growth of their busineess.

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  3. Pat – when I refer to differentiation I mean a number of things.

    At one level, it’s execution. This is doing all the things a great recruiter needs to do. Being in the top 10% is differentiation in itself. This includes finding great candidates quickly, understanding job needs, and great negotiating and closing skills.

    Another level of differentiation is providing services other recruiters don’t. These are things like providing training, leading interviews, and coaching your clients in better understanding the job.

    Expertise in these areas will ensure you keep getting the calls for new assignments.

    Good luck,

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