What’s Going to Be Different in 2009

Ah, another recession — maybe the mother of all recessions – is upon us. Predictions for recovery range from a few months to two years, but however long it is it will permanently change how we work and recruit.

This recession is our real introduction to the 21st century. For the first eight years of this century, most things stayed as they were with a few small modifications. The Internet infiltrated relatively slowly into the lives of ordinary people. Traditional work remained central, organizations replaced and added workers according to traditional formulas; travel got more uncomfortable, but remained a requirement for those who worked nationally or globally; and the media remained dominated by movies, DVDs, and paper. Energy and the environment became issues — but primarily only for the educated and wealthy. Few of us could identify really major differences between, for example, 1995 and 2005.

But the differences between 1999 and 2009 will be obvious.

We will become aware of how deep the changes have already been to employment, travel, entertainment, politics, and the media. These changes are not new or sudden; in fact, almost everything that we are feeling and living today has already been with us for at least five years. It just takes time and a crisis for us to realize them in our daily lives.


Work has been changing for a decade. Telecommuting has slowly become permissible, for some on a part-time basis and for a tiny few as a normal way of work. Working virtually is still not something most of us are comfortable with, yet it will be the dominant working style of the future. Gen Y — those under 30 — is most comfortable with this working style but many older people also enjoy it once they try it.

In 2009, in the interests of saving energy, reducing overhead costs, and employing people on a global basis, organizations will ask fewer and fewer people to come to a central location to work. This will give both employers and employees flexibility over work schedules, and time wasted in commuting will be become useful time for family, personal pleasure, or for that second or third job many will have. We will never return to working at a central location. A dispersed workforce creates the need for a workforce more capable of independent work, and for a recruiting model that can source, assess, and hire people without actually seeing them in person.

This virtual workforce will also reduce the number of employees an organization needs. It will need many fewer facility people, real estate agents, secretaries, receptionists, maintenance people, foodservice folks, groundskeepers, as well as fewer supervisors and managers. Some firms may see a 20 to 30% reduction in overall employee needs, and this will further stimulate the acceptance of virtual work.


Recruiting will undergo massive change over this year and those that follow. The change will begin with a rapid movement to virtual sourcing, which is already well established and practiced by most recruiters. Virtual sourcing includes such things as Internet search, job posting, and website attraction. It also includes cold calling and the development of sophisticated marketing and CRM tools. Fewer recruiters will use conferences or meetings as a sourcing mechanism as there will be fewer and much smaller conferences this year and in the future. Blogs and even simple tools such as Twitter will become part of a complete sourcing strategy.

Social networks will continue to expand and become the core of a recruiter’s working space. In the social network, a recruiter will be able to communicate with candidates, screen them, get recommendations, refer them to others when appropriate, and stay in touch when nothing is available. I see 2009 as being the Year of the Recruiting Social Network fueled by cost-cutting and a steady demand for good candidates.

The next and simultaneous movement will be to online, virtual screening and assessment. This may take the form of short tests and simulations followed by video interviews or, for some organizations it may mean a video panel interview. Career websites will contain more complex screening tools such as video job previews, short interviews, virtual interviews with hiring managers, or the management team. On-line chat using VoIP will become normal this year. Many organizations will revisit the use of virtual worlds such as Second Life, and find that they do have a place in recruiting. Very few candidates will ever meet a recruiter face-to-face unless they already have a natural physical proximity.

This year and forward, a significant number of people will be recruited, assessed, and made an offer to work without actually seeing anyone in person. They may not have even met their boss face-to-face prior to starting work and they may not have seen the headquarters or office as they will telecommute from home.

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Computers and office equipment will either be delivered to them or they will pick it up from authorized distribution places.

Recruiters need to become very accomplished and comfortable in the virtual worlds that will continue to grow and dominate the way we work.

Performance and Compensation

Telecommuters’ biggest concerns have been visibility and the lack of ability to casually chat with the boss and get to know him or her on a personal basis. These are real concerns, given how most of us are paid as much for attendance and our relationship to our boss as we are for our actual accomplishments.

While there has been a trend to pay for performance, e.g. the achievement of goals and objectives, for a long time, it has always been mitigated by politics. Managers will now have to find new ways of fairly assessing the work of the many that will be telecommuting. This will mean more focus on establishing realistic goals, on pre-determining the requirements for success, and a more streamlined approach to setting pay. In 2009, I see smaller base pay and more bonus pay based on goal achievement. Stock options will steadily decline as a form of compensation due to tax laws and their unpopularity with Gen Y and X who prefer cash — today.

Travel and Teleconferencing

These trends, combined with security concerns, the price of energy, and the cost, will cause business travel to plummet this year and over the next five years. Businesses will introduce video conferencing and spend more money on teleconferencing equipment than on travel. Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard have seen a rise in the sale of teleconferencing systems recently and the technology is so good that the objections to using it are falling. We will interview candidates using these systems or even VoIP-based applications such as Skype.

This year we will see airlines cutting capacity and reducing the frequency of flights as an early effort to avoid meltdown. Business sections of airlines may be reduced as fewer organizations pay for business travel, and economy sections may get more legroom and amenities.

We will still continue to travel for pleasure and some airlines may become focused on this segment and develop novel ways to entertain us and make flying more attractive than it has been.

2009 will be a seminal year — a year that will install and make mainstream the trends and applications that have been infiltrating but not really taking hold over the past five years. Successful recruiters will grasp the implications of this recession: we will never go back to what was because it was too expensive, wasteful of resources, time-limited, and no more effective than the virtual tools now at our disposal.

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.


12 Comments on “What’s Going to Be Different in 2009

  1. Kevin – thanks for confirming much of what I’ve been feeling about expectations for the year ahead. I think you are right on with 2009 being the year of the Recruiting Social Network – it just makes sense!

    And while I know that many still struggle with thoughts of incorporating Twitter in their search strategy, let me give you one example that’s personal to me.

    The recession has impacted my business greatly, and I’m currently searching for a new role. I received a Tweet from somebody a week or so before Christmas (had never met them previously). We’ve exchanged multiple notes on Twitter since then about a project they have in the works. I’m talking with them tomorrow to explore the opportunity about working on their project. To date, we’ve not had a single telephone conversation – all communication has been via Twitter.

    Excellent article – thanks again.

  2. Good points Kevin. Thanks for being the Seth Godin of the recruiting world.

    Many leading experts express similar predictions for 2009 marketing engagements – “Advertisers will pull-back in overall marketing spending, coupled with a serious re-examination of traditional media, will set in motion a series of permanent changes that will affect how media is planned and measured, as well as the media mix itself.” Geoff Ramsey.

  3. Great Article… I agree 100% with all major points.
    We live/work in a world that moves (Recruitment is not different), with little or no guarantees. Those who are not flexible will not be around for too much longer. (Sadly)

    I am excited about 2009 and beyond, and pray for those who are oppsosed to change.

    Brian/Johnston Search-
    (Third Party recruiter with 231 hires in 11yrs)

  4. Kevin, Wondering if you see any trends towards brain scanning using recent advances in nuerotechnology for lie detection in corporate recruiting/screening.

  5. Kevin,

    First of all, thanks as usual for your insight. However, the section about “Recruiting will undergo massive change” did not seem (to me) to point out anything really that different. I am hopeful that 2009 is a year that a truly unique and game changing recruiting strategy emerges that takes us all in a new direction.

    Scott Beardsley

  6. What CAN be different in 2009 is that smart recruiting organizations will do the following:

    1) Analyze your recruitment processes, better yet- have the people actually doing the work analyze your recruitment processes- they know what’s REALLY going on.
    2) Determine what areas are the most valuable uses of your staff’s time.
    3) Eliminate, automate, or outsource the least valuable parts of recruiting- for example, you shouldn’t have to pay more than about $3500 per month for high quality, cold-call telephone sourcing to identify candidates or hiring managers in companies with a gatekeeper/”name generation,” $1250 per month for internet sourcing, or $800 per month for interview scheduling and coordinating between candidates and the hiring team.
    4) If your people can’t effectively do the high value-add work remains, consider training them.
    5) If there isn’t enough work remaining to go around, consider reduction-in-work before reduction-in-force. (Those who object to the former are good candidates to for the latter.)
    6) As conditions improve, continue following Steps 1-5- don’t go back to paying “*guru” salaries to folks to do lots of “grunt” work.

    Keith Halperin keithsrj@sbcglobal.net

    * High-touch, high-skill, high-value add, creative work.
    ** Low-touch, low-skill, low-value add, routine work.

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