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Don’t Fire Your Recruiters Just When the Recovery is About to Begin

by
Lou Adler
Jan 9, 2009, 5:31 am ET

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.

If you’re still considering cutbacks in your recruiting staff, think again. Recruiting top people is a repeatable sales process that’s fundamentally different than hiring average people. Instead of cutting back, replace the underperformers with people who can sell complex intangibles and services, those who can learn solution selling, and those who have demonstrated they can follow a realistic sales process including meeting quotas and being managed by the numbers.

Forget the Lone Rangers and those experienced recruiters who have not gotten significantly better over the past two years. Hiring top people is a business process, equivalent to selling your firm’s products and services. Now is the time to start implementing new training programs and changing your outdated pre-recession recruiting processes.

The amount of stimulus Obama, Bernanke, and Paulson/Geitner have already induced and are planning to induce into our economy system will jumpstart the recovery faster than can be imagined. So get ready to rumble. The best people are now sitting on the sidelines waiting for some reason to think about the future, rather than holding onto the past. (Take our annual recruiting challenges survey if you want some instant insight on what’s happening.)

Instead of minor changes and improvements, I’m going to suggest a wholesale rebuilding of your recruiting department is in order. This will give you a chance to hire the best people as soon as there is evidence the economy is changing direction. So starting with a fresh clean slate, here are three things you should be doing right now to get ready for the upcoming hiring recovery.

Set up a forward-looking workforce forecasting system. This is a quickie version of a workforce plan, but used more for predicting when hiring will come back in force, rather than a full forecast of all hiring needs. To prepare this, have your line managers forecast their hiring needs by quarter for the next 12 months for just your biggest needs. This could be all of your highest volume hires or those who are critically important to your business. Select job classes that drive your business and have some predictive power to reflect all of your job needs. Have your managers update this forecast every quarter or whenever they see a big change in upcoming requirements up or down. If you add some analytical rigor to these forecasts, rather than just rely on intuition, these changes will be meaningful and provide an early-warning signal that something big is about to happen. Most people don’t realize that forecasts are as much about improving communications throughout a company as for having reasonable numbers for planning purposes. Regardless, having a 90-day headstart on the competition will allow you to see and hire more of the best people, especially those now in the starting blocks just waiting for the gun to fire.

Create talent communities. These are talent hubs on steroids. A talent hub is a creative micro-site designed to be found by a group of people (e.g., developers, engineers, Gen Ys, retirees) who are on the margin — i.e., not actively looking, but open-minded. These people become prospects for your future opportunities, so you need to provide some incentive for them to give you basic bio data. These prospects then need to be nurtured along using some type of robust CRM (candidate/customer relationship management) system until something exciting pops up. Reporting is minimal since these people are not yet candidates for a specific job. The steroids bit has to do with the degree of automation, amount of regular contact in the form of emails and the variety of touch points, like video, RSS feeds, and chat features. (If you’d like to learn more about this, sign-up now for an upcoming free webinar on January 22, 2009 I’m hosting with Jobs2Web on this critical topic.)

Build a team of great recruiters. The best people are more discriminating. Technology can help you separate the good from the bad (one example: search on award terms), but you need to be a good recruiter to convince the best that your job is worthy of serious consideration. Without good recruiters you’ll just be hiring the above average; that’s why a serious investment in upgrading and training your recruiting team is absolutely critical. In my mind a good recruiter applies applicant control at every step in the process, understands real job needs, and uses solution selling to position each job as a career opportunity, not a compensation move. (Here’s a quick recruiter test: if candidates frequently say they’re not interested in what you have to offer anytime in the hiring process from first call to final close, you don’t have applicant control. Recruiters who use applicant control switch roles and determine if they’re interested in the candidate at these points.) Applicant control is less important and easier to maintain when you’re dealing with an average or above-average candidate, but essential when dealing with a top performer. That’s why a well-trained recruiting team is critical if you want to consistently hire the best.

The first six months of the recovery will be a free for all. If you do nothing different, you’ll find a few good people and a few above-average people. But if you make wholesale changes in how you source and upgrade the quality of your recruiting team, you’ll dramatically increase the number of top people you hire who you previously would have lost. Even better, if you set up a predictive workforce forecasting system, you’ll know 60-90 days ahead of everyone else when the recovery in your industry is ready to begin. Start now and get the best people into your prospect database. Before you know it, you’ll be hiring great people every time. However, if you wait to read about the recovery, it will be too late.

(Note: make sure you participate in The Adler Group’s annual Recruiting and Hiring Challenges survey to discover some other leading hiring indicators.)

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Robert Dromgoole

    Lou, I wish the recovery were going to start in Q2. However, in my opinion, the recovery will not come for at least 24-36 months and we haven’t hit bottom yet. At best, I see us flat lining. My worry is that we’ll be like Japan was with flat growth for years.

  2. Jim Sullivan

    I have a real issue on your use of the term “applicant control”. If you really believe for one minute that you can “control” another individuals thoughts or actions I think you are sadly mistaken. I believe that you must have “process control”. Controlling the process is much more focused on the entire hiring situation. This includes getting the right information to candidates, making sure that your hiring team gives you the answers you need to overcome objections, making sure that the top managers have “bought in” to the process and that the process is not too extended because the best people don’t wait for decisions – they are top performers partly because they make timely decisions. “Applicant control” is an easy way to push away the best candidates, process control empowers the recruiter to make sure that they are taking the necessary steps to have the information and communications necessary to keep the best interested.

    Otherwise a timely article and I hope that you are right in your assesment of the current hiring trends. Personally we have not seen much of a drop off in our clients recruiting needs. Even with the downturn in the economy we are still 5 years behind in getting the technical, engineering and management talent needed by many companies, who even with the current economics don’t have the top talent they need to drive excellence.

  3. Lou Adler

    Every day I change my opinion on this one, but one has to assume a $trillion-plus infusion will have some impact on hiring needs. For example, the mortgage industry will need the handle the increased flow of refinancings; the accounting industry will need to ramp up to handle the international accounting shift; the C&E industry will need to expand its efforts to handle more infrastructure projects; there will be more training programs and trainers needed to train laborers to handle heavy equipment; there will need to be more people needed to handle the massive rebuilding of our electrical grid; and the list goes on.

    While things look tough now, there is opportunity abounding for those who are looking forward, rather than backwards. The point of the article is to get ready using new tools, rather than relying on the stuff that didn’t work too well in the past.

  4. Lou Adler

    To Jim re: applicant control. Your response indicates a lack of understanding of what “applicant control” is. If you assume it’s a good thing, rather than manipulation, you’ll discover a useful tool for increasing your placement rate. If you’ve ever had a great candidate pull him or herself out of the race for the wrong reason, lack of applicant control is the likely cause.

    The basic concept behind the need for applicant control is recognizing that people initially think short term when first approached about job or taking one over the other. Applicant control involves the idea that you need to get people to think long term, focusing more on the career rather than the compensation. Applicant control allows you to make this shift. Without it, recruiters are selling cars, not careers.

    Most good recruiters can influence candidates to think long term, overcoming normal resistance and presenting their jobs as career moves, not just a shift to a similar job with more money. This is applicant control, whether it’s called that or not!

    Misrepresenting a job as a career move is not applicant control, that’s manipulation. If the job is clearly not a career move then it’s inappropriate for the candidate to take it. Applicant control ensures the candidate has full knowledge of the opportunity and making the decision to say “no” based on all the facts, not superficialities. Most candidates pull themselves out of consideration long before they have all of the facts. Applicant control ensures they get them.

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  6. Jim Sullivan

    To Lou: I am not opposed to your concept only your nomenclature. Applicant control – just the word control – does not imply what you are saying, control, by any sense of the word means that you are leading by a leash instead of guiding thoughts and actions.

    Once you try to ‘control’ instead of influencing, guiding, educating and motivating you are heading in the wrong direction.

    Thus my use of the term ‘process control’, this is where you control the entire hiring process – NOT the individual. In that process you must be able to identify issues before they become problems, be aware of the real reasons someone even will speak to you in the first place and tailor your process to meet each individuals needs in order for them to realize that you are not trying to “sell them a bill of goods”. (or in your example a used car)

    We are in agreement in what must be accomplished but my intense dislike of the term “applicant control” is what prompted my posts.

  7. Keith Halperin

    Who can predict when or how the recovery will take place? Will it be in six months or three years? Will it be sharp or gradual? What completely random and unpredictable factors may influence it for better or for worse? What we CAN predict is what can be done right now or in the near future:
    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.

    Cheers,
    Keith Halperin keithsrj@sbcglobal.net

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

  8. Lou Adler

    All – I’m forcing myself to remain optimistic. This is hard to do, when reading the headlines. However, there will be $1-2 trillion dollars inserted into our ecnonomy that will do more than just increase inflation (at least for the first 12 months). Keith’s point about process reengineering is a valid one, so is the need for predictive forecasting, not historical reporting. Building pipelines of prospects and deep networks are two critical sourcing programs that will put you ahead of the pack, when the economy turns-around. There will be a shortage of accountants, equipment operators, sales people, civil engineers, etc – before the general economy picks up. So there is a need to do something proactive, rather than complain or be the bearing of bad news.

    Jim – controlling the individual is critical. Getting the person into the process requires applicant control, even if you feel uncomfortable with the term or the technique. 90% of my candidates are glad that I pushed them to see the light, even if they didn’t take the job. Convincing someone to take a job they shouldn’t is manipulation. Convincing the person to hear all sides requires finesse and an understanding of behavioral economics and pyschology. This often requires asking questions in such a way that they say “yes” even if they normally would say no. Attend our free audit on Jan 16 for some specific techniques.

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  10. Jim Sullivan

    To Lou: We can go ’round and ’round on the terminology. But even per your last post, you are not ‘controlling’ those individuals but ‘convincing’ them, ‘educating’ them, and probably ‘encouraging’ them. You are controlling the situation (the process), not the person.

    To be a successful recruiter you also need to be educated about the job, too many recruiters only know the basics; you need to listen to candidates, they will tell you what is on their mind if you listen closely, read between the lines and listen to what is not said; you need to know what the hiring team really needs so you can make sure that the information that you are passing along is reality (or as close to it as one can get).

    You can (and I’m sure will) continue to use the term ‘applicant control’ and I will continue to flinch every time I hear it or read it.

  11. David Levine

    Lou,

    Your optimism is a nice change of pace and I agree with your outlook. Most of the posts that have been going up on this site have been doom and gloom and I normally don’t respond. I work in the construction industry and I’m a pretty big biller and my billings have gone up during these times and not down. It appears people are using the empty space on the ERE site as a means to vent fear. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “perception is reality” and whether the economy turns around or not, if a recruiter is going to continue to grow the focus needs to be on growing, building and thriving and not if and when the economy turns around. The economy is going to do what its going to do. We as recruiters are going to do what we are going to do. I guarantee you this, all recruiters wondering and trying to figure out if and when their is going to be a turn around are struggling now because their focus is on that. This business has never been about the economy being good or bad rather about the attitude towards the business. We as recruiters need to “tune out the noise” and keep going. See you at the top! Best of luck.

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