A Time for Rebirth: Rethink and Refocus Your Career

Feb 26, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Tough times offer opportunities that cannot exist in good times. The brightness of good times means that shadows are deep and lots of creative ideas and innovations lie in the dark shade cast by the glow of success.

But when clouds roll in, suddenly many things are revealed. We are now in such a time.

This morning I went to my favorite bookstore in San Francisco and sadly learned it is closing in a few weeks. The age of books is probably over; their manufacturing process consumes water, trees, toxic inks, and gasoline for transportation. We now have a new model — e-books delivered via the Kindle and Sony Reader and even via the iPhone.

Not as satisfying to us old guys, but the way it will be.

Manufacturing plants close for several reasons including automation, lower consumption, and more efficient processes. Durability, recycling, and re-using change the economic model.

Cars last 10-15 years now, can be largely assembled by robots, and are increasingly recyclable. Furniture, houses, most material things only need replacing due to the pressure of fashion. The cycles of fashion will slow and sustainability will be our watchword.

So what does all this have to do with recruiting?

Maybe everything. If talent is an increasingly rare resource, we will need to sustain, develop, and engage people more than we have in decades.

Employers will hire fewer people as regular employees and then make sure they are taken care of. The age of disposable people, although hard to see right now, is also over. We will hire more carefully and develop more completely than we have. This means recruiters will have to be better at assessing candidates and at aligning personalities to corporate cultures. Many jobs will be performed by contracted employees, leased employees, and consultants.

But these people will also be working for organizations that nurture and value them. We could be entering a very good time with better opportunities for many people.

Finding people with specific skills will most likely become less critical for some positions and more critical for others. The recruiting models will be far more complex than they tend to be now. Good employers will try harder to anticipate needs and re-skill workers as much as they can. It will simply be a cheaper alternative to hiring. Internal transfers and movement will increase along with this and recruiters will be finding and placing people from inside companies as well as from outside.

If you are a recruiter today, what should you do? What does the future look like?

First, I believe there will be a need for fewer of us overall, but those who remain in the profession need to build a set of skills that are deeper and more strategic than they are today.

Here are some of my thoughts depending on whether you are currently working as a recruiter or if you have been laid-off and are thinking of changing careers.

If you are working today…

  1. Plan on settling down at this one employer for at least five years. Make a personal commitment because the rapid turnover of the 1990s and early 200os is ending.
  2. Nothing new in my advice here, but learn the business of your business. Recruiters should not be as interchangeable as they seem to be today. What core value do you provide your organization that I couldn’t? Usually this would be a very thorough knowledge of what your company does, of its technology, processes, and competition. Sometimes this is gained by spending time outside of recruiting as a worker in some other function. Rotations or temporary assignments are great. Take a class, talk to the CFO, CEO, CTO, CIO, or whoever holds knowledge around your products and services. Learn what the key culture elements are for success. Study successful employees and try to determine why and how they are so successful.
  3. Broaden your skills beyond recruiting. Learn the basics of employee and career development and succession planning. The best recruiters will have interchangeable skills — they can develop people one week and recruiters the next. These two functions are merging rapidly and may eventually be considered as a set.
  4. Of course, continue to build your technical recruiting skills. Learn Internet search, social networking skills, and candidate relationship management. Stay up-to-date with emerging technologies and skills; the traditional skills are valuable and useful but they will not be enough to remain competitive.

If you are unemployed today…

  1. Make sure you are ready to commit to at least a five-year learning and working stint. As I say above, the time for job-hopping is over. Pick an industry that is growing (medical devices, computer security, financial planning, auditing, and government services) and learn the technical side of that business.
  2. Try to get a job in that industry in any capacity to learn the business. I don’t think you can be a successful recruiter if you have never worked in the industry you are recruiting for. This is contrary to what many recruiters believe, but I think the emerging successful businesses will demand this depth of knowledge. They may outsource recruiting of administrative positions, but the good jobs will go to the most knowledgeable recruiters.
  3. Don’t let any recruiting skills you have slip. Stay up-to-date. Perhaps volunteer to help others who are job-hunting. Help them rewrite their resumes, plan a job hunting strategy, or prep them for an interview. This way you keep your skills sharp, learn what to look for in candidates, and even pick up industry knowledge.
  4. Stay optimistic. This is not the time for self-pity. Reflect, learn, volunteer, and stay active in your job search. Unless you are starving, eventually choose a job where you feel comfortable making a long term commitment and then get to work learning all you can.

If there is anything I know about what’s coming it is this: we are in a new era when learning the new and forgetting the old will be a primary skill.

Grasp new ideas, even if you don’t at first understand them. Waiting will just put you behind a huge wave that will be hard to surf.

My best example is Twitter. This seemed like a pretty limited and, frankly, dumb tool when I first saw it two years ago. But I could see that it had potential. If enough people began to use it, it presented a novel way to engage candidates and connect with them. I presented it at a recruiting conference as a potential recruiting tool and was met with skepticism and even some disapproval.

Today, it is becoming a mainstream tool for recruiting and search. It is even being touted as a replacement for Google!

Time waits for no man, as the saying goes, and it has never been truer.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.