Friday, May 15, 2009

Fact or Myth: Recruiting is Less Important in Economic Downturn

Although gross job creation remains fairly consistent regardless of economic conditions and many companies continue to hire, either consistently or sporadically, many companies have hiring freezes and are moving to outsourced recruiting to cut costs. These companies may be right to focus on cutting costs and/or retaining their critical employees rather than on new recruiting strategies.

Nonetheless, as Dr. John Sullivan points out in his article ‘Managing Recruiting During Economic Downturn: The Top 10 Action Steps to Take’, in volatile economic times companies must prepare not only for inevitable hiring freezes but also periodic spurts of growth. And it goes without saying that when it’s time to hire someone, it’s less expensive if you can find and onboard the right candidate(s) quickly. Moreover, during economic slumps recruiting administrative activities tend to increase as companies are bombarded with resumes from laid-off employees.

Also, while it may be true that the traditional recruiting task of filling seats is less critical during economic downturn, there is much more to strategic recruiting than just filling seats. For example:

Workforce Planning – When it comes to defining medium- to long-term recruiting strategies, it never hurts to take a good hard look at which people and competencies you have today, analyze turnover and projected retirement rates to determine what gaps you have and will have and take a crack at estimating what skills will be needed over the longer term to keep the company successful.

Retention – Retention is a key component of internal recruiting, at least to the extent that it’s harder to recruit someone internally once they’re gone. Recently there has been some dispute about whether retention is less difficult during tough economic times. To a certain extent it is easier – people are more grateful to have a job and the plight of the unemployed tends to put small grievances into perspective. Additionally, while it is true that top people can always find a job, even they hesitate to leave financially sound companies in a fragile economy. But long term, not worrying about retention strategies will backfire when the economy picks up again.

Social Networking – Although you may not be hiring today, you still want to keep an active pipeline of desirable candidates for your company. This includes not only people who are good fits today, but also potential future good fits (such as students, interns and even former employees). There are many ways to do this today that were not thinkable as little as a decade ago, including using professional networking platforms like LinkedIn. And recruiters are not the only ones with new tools to stay connected. Employees also enjoy an unprecedented level of retained connections, which means that they are not only more likely to refer former colleagues but also come up with their current contact details.

Branding – When times are tough, security becomes more important and it’s more challenging to lure desirable candidates away from their current jobs. Companies that want to recruit high performing employees should focus on creating brand awareness that inspires trust and a desire to be part of your fabulous company culture. Thanks to popular adoption of relatively new technologies there are myriad inexpensive ways to do this available today, including social networking platforms, YouTube and even (if you were being strategic all along) reaching out to former employees.

Buying Bulk
– Although this analogy is not perfect, people shop at discounted bulk megastores like Costco in order to save money in the long-term. The idea is that they buy more than they specifically need, and pay a bit more than if they had purchased less, but over time save money. And there is something to be said for proactive hiring during a downturn in order to satisfy future workforce needs because it may be cheaper than developing internal skills. This may sound a bit cynical, but although recruiting and onboarding cost money, so does training.

Regardless of economic circumstances, activities such as workforce planning, retaining critical skills, maintaining relationships with past, present and future talent, creating positive brand awareness and cutting recruiting administration costs make sense. These strategies will stand companies in better stead long-term than knee-jerk downsizing and cessation of all recruiting activities.

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