5 Steps to Thrive in This Recession

Nov 20, 2008

Organizations rapidly adjust headcount the moment orders slow. As early as last June, the statistics on Monster, CareerBuilder, and other job boards began to show a decline in postings and traffic. The number of jobs listed on corporate career sites also declined, indicating less demand.

I am not sure if recruiters noticed, but several analysts did. I recently read an analyst’s report that compared several high-tech companies on the number of open positions they had as an indicator of long-term earnings and profit.

Given that analysts are doing this, we should be, too. We should be very sensitive to what our own management is thinking, how orders are shaping up, what the sales team is projecting, and then adjusting our own efforts accordingly.

If you don’t have access to this information you have two ways to get it. First of all, go to your manager and ask him or her for help. They will hopefully share what they can with you or help you find it. Second, cultivate your own sources by making friends with someone in sales or another part of your organization where people have that “inside” information that gives you an early indication of how things are going.

With that information in hand, here are five specific actions you can take to increase the odds of surviving, and even thriving, in this down economy.

Action Item #1: Get in Shape

You can’t make much progress in building credibility with management until your own function is in good shape. Recruiters who saw the signs of a recession could have begun trimming the fat in their processes months ago. Get aligned with your management team and cut when they cut, slow down when they slow down, and show them you are aware and responsible.

The last several years of high demand for talent have allowed many recruiting functions to increase their headcounts, add tools and services that are not providing a significant return, and get sloppy in measuring efficiency. This is the time to examine every step in your recruiting process and see where you could be more efficient – in other words do more with fewer resources, less time, or less money. What are you spending on job postings? Could that be reduced? Could you switch to using targeted emails or some other lower cost methods? Where are you spending the majority of your budget? How could you reduce that by 10%? 20%? What can you stop doing that really won’t hurt you?

By prioritizing and cutting, refocusing, and rethinking everything you do, you will end up with a much healthier function. You will better weather the recession and be poised to aggressively deal with the boom that will inevitably come.

Action Item #2: Be Nice

Every act of discourtesy to a candidate will eventually be reflected in how they talk about you to other people. Employment brands are built on small acts – not on the big campaigns or websites. A solid brand is the accumulation of years of good deeds, happy candidates, satisfied managers, and authentic communication. Many candidates will be stressed and perhaps out of a job. They need honest feedback and guidance, if possible, on how they present themselves.

Firms that take the extra time to sit down with a candidate or send them an email and let them know their status, possibilities, and even strengths and weaknesses will reap many benefits in a stronger brand.

Action Item #3: Ruthlessly Focus

Target your marketing and sourcing only on the kinds of people you most need. Cut out or reduce all the resources you spend on marginal activities. For example, you might reduce the use of agencies that recruit volume candidates, stretch out the time to fill less critical positions, or try to use some of the new social networking tools to reach out to certain groups of candidates.

Look at internal hiring and see if there isn’t a way to improve the number of employees who move. Talk to management about increasing that number and decrease external hiring.

The goal should be to attract mostly the types of candidates you need and who are qualified. You can use this slower time to experiment on messaging, screening techniques, and on ways to get fewer but better candidates.

Action Item #4: Use Technology – Experiment!

As always, I harp on using technology whenever you can. Social networking tools can help you create and build relationships with candidates. Most are very inexpensive or free.

Experiment with better, more frequent emails to certain candidates on your shortlist; create a newsletter or blog to give interested potential candidates updates on your organization; and experiment with tools such as Twitter, Broadlook, or Checkster.

Action Item #5: Build Relationships

I am more and more convinced that posting job descriptions is an archaic process. While I have no doubt that the practice will live on for a long time, it is not the best, cheapest, or fastest way to find good people.

Using technology to develop relationships and to communicate regularly with a selected and screened pool of candidates is the key to your real success.

In general, you are going to find only a few of the people you need by posting on Monster or any other job board. The most successful recruiters use their network, ask employees (and others) for referrals, and focus on building communities of potential candidates. This is what agencies and headhunters have been doing for decades and it’s why they have been successful.

Learn from product and service marketing how to do a better job. Watch how some leading organizations are using social media to attract and recruit candidates. Begin to generate candidates from relationships formed online. Make it a rule of thumb that if you are generating hundreds of responses to a job posting, you are doing something terribly wrong.

I guarantee that if you do all five of these things in an organization that is well-managed, you will survive this recession and become an example of how to positively deal with stressful times.

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