If you’re like some corporate recruiting leaders before the current downturn hit, you had your staff balanced with a solid mix of regular full-time staff, supplemented with contract staff to get you through the hiring peaks.
But maybe you weren’t quite as fortunate, and your crew was heavily loaded with regular staff recruiters, who were going full steam to keep up with the incredible hiring requisition load. Or maybe you have shed the contractors, but even your remaining staff is struggling to stay busy. Unfortunately, now that the economy has gone south, they’re running half the req loads they once did. Not only are they questioning their own job security, but you’re constantly fending off queries from your boss, the rest of HR, and maybe even the CFO as to just what the recruiters are doing, and why should you be maintaining the same staff you had when the current workload has shrunken so dramatically. Sounding familiar?
Hopefully, back in January of this year, you took Lou Adler’s sound advice that “hiring will start to recover in Q2, 2009, and now is the time to rebuild your recruiting team and massively upgrade your sourcing and hiring processes.” Perhaps you’ve done just that, and are now well positioned to address any coming business increase. Or possibly you didn’t get that opportunity, or your business still hasn’t begun to bounce back.
In any event, you do have alternatives — methods you can use to gainfully deploy your staff resources in ways that clearly, and measurably, demonstrate their ongoing value to the business. The challenges will be different, depending on the size of the company you’re in. In a small firm, you are likely to have more latitude in initiating change — but possibly fewer resources available. In a larger firm with more resources, you are likely to need to build a support coalition of colleagues, business partners, or executives to create the right atmosphere for change. But in either situation, it’s critical that you build the “business case” — show the ROI through well-tracked and supportable metrics.
In my more than 20 years of recruiting leadership, predominantly in hi-tech, I’ve had ample opportunity to face this challenge, given the cyclical nature of that business. And as you can imagine, I willingly responded to a blog posting earlier this year asking other recruiting veterans for their experiences in facing the same issue. 13 of us shared our stories, from a variety of industries and backgrounds. The following are a few snapshots of some of the proven practices and strategies that have been successfully implemented by others to preserve their key recruiting assets during previous business slowdowns.
Some of these are creative twists on previous themes, while others represent really out-of-the-box thinking. [NOTE: All of them are predicated on the assumption that you know your staff — their skills, strengths/weaknesses, and backgrounds. If you’re new in the role, you might want to begin with a resume review and light career discussion with each of them.]
I do hope you find some of the suggestions below fascinating, creative, and useful. I will be presenting a seminar/workshop on this very subject, and with a lot of additional detail on implementation, at the upcoming ERE Expo in Florida in September, and we’d love to see you there.
- (Internal) Outplacement Services: For the regular recruiters, create a corporate career university — in essence a full outplacement program modeled after those offered by external vendors (at ridiculous prices). The recruiting staff would run workshops, on and off-site, such as resume writing, interviewing skills, campaign management, negotiating offers, use of the Internet, etc. This one is very easy to show a solid ROI for.
- (External) Outplacement Services: Take the same offering “on the road” to college placement offices, state unemployment offices, and even social groups/non-profits, as a community service. It may also be a tax write-off.
- Business Development: Deploy researchers/sourcers on business development activities. You can gain access to your sales department’s CRM (client/customer relationship management system), and then scan those prospects that had weak or limited knowledge recorded in the database. Then you can create a full Company Profile — sort of like a Dun & Bradstreet Plus workup, and at no cost to the organization.
- Directed Research: Those same researchers/sourcers, working with the senior admin staff, can get a “heads up” on all planned executive travel that would be visiting customers or prospects. Once you know who they are meeting with, create a “personal dossier” on each of the individuals they will be meeting with, (including home addresses, photos, personal data, etc,), put it in a packet, and give it to the traveling executive the day before departure, as “airplane reading.”
- Top Grade your Recruiting Staff: Assuming you’ve already reduced your roster of contract recruiters, go through a performance-based ranking of those remaining, with career development as an outcome, (and preparation for further staff reduction if needed).
- Build a Talent Pool Pipeline: Assess your past “hardest to fill” position, and launch a branding outreach campaign to candidates for future consideration. Be very clear about any available openings, and work from a perspective of building a “friends of (our company)” that you want to stay in touch with. Newsletters can be perfect for this.
- Train the Hiring Managers: This is something we often never had the time to do, but certainly do now. There are some great programs available in the market — or better yet, create your own.
- Re-skilling: While you’re in training mode, what could you deliver internally to your own recruiting staff to better equip them for when the market picks up and the “war for talent” resumes? Do they need refreshers on the latest Internet recruiting techniques, or using social networking tools in recruiting? There are some great resources offered right here on the ERE website, or you may even have a resident guru on your own staff.
- Internal Process Analysis: When was the last time you sat back and closely examined the actual workflow in your recruiting operation? Most any analysis will turn up innumerable inefficient practices, roadblocks, and artifacts of “the way we always did it.” This is a great time, during low volume recruiting, to experiment with new ideas and even some best practices you “borrow” from other firms.
- Technology Upgrade: It may be a little tough to get resources approved for an upgraded applicant tracking system, but when was the last time you shopped the market? As the competition and functionality has grown, prices in many cases have come down, and if you “upgrade” to a less expensive system, you’re the hero! This also applies to your firm’s recruiting website, which most of us will admit is often out of date.
- Special Project Work: Thinking outside the walls of recruiting, what special projects may be in need of some of the skills your recruiters can bring to the table? HR has many cyclical programs that roll out throughout the year, such as newsletter releases, career/succession planning, etc. that may lend themselves well to the recruiter’s skill set.
- Assist HR in Core Services: Recruiters often have two key ingredients that could add value in assisting with employee relations issues (which often escalate during a downturn). Many of them will have previous experience in many aspects of the “HR Generalist” role, and all of them have pre-existing relationships with many of your employees — because they hired them!