How Individual Recruiters Can Avoid Being Laid Off

Jul 14, 2008

During hard economic times, it’s survival of the fittest. Yet many corporate recruiters fail to understand or acknowledge the cyclical nature of our business; every five to seven years, recruiters are let go en masse.

If you work for an auto company in Detroit or an airline or a mortgage company, the time to prepare for layoffs has already past. For the rest of us, the time is now to improve your job security.

While recruiting can be a team effort, it is also essential that you take some time to be selfish in order to protect your own career.

Here are 15 concrete steps to improve your job security as a corporate recruiter:

  1. Make the business case for the department. Before you start being concerned about your own job, consider building up the reputation of the recruiting department as a major contributor to corporate success. The best approach is to lead a team that builds a strong economic case for the direct dollar impact recruiting has had on business revenue (work with the CFO’s office to make those calculations credible). Help the department demonstrate the catastrophic recovery time required following the last dramatic reduction in the recruiting function. Not only will this effort help limit departmental layoffs, it will also demonstrate to recruiting leadership that you know how to make a strong business case and that you’re doing your part to support the team. Build the case for continued hiring during tough times because of the wealth of talent that is available. Demonstrate to managers the high quality of hires who can be obtained by poaching the very best from firms that have been weakened by the economic downturn.
  2. Be recognized externally. If any recruiters are to remain, those who have received external recognition for their excellence traditionally have been much more likely to be retained. External recognition can include winning awards (like ERE, RASBIC, or Optimas) or becoming an officer in professional recruiting associations like EMA. Write articles for the leading recruiting websites (like and the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership. Speaking at local and national recruiting events can also improve your credibility internally as well as your visibility externally at other corporations that might consider hiring you.
  3. Focus on growing business units. Most corporations have learned the value of continual hiring in certain key strategic business units even while simultaneously laying off employees in others business units (ask someone in strategic planning to point out the growth areas). Focus on requisitions for these key business units or consider a transfer so that you become the assigned recruiter for one of these growing business units, because this will decrease your chances of being laid off. If you can impress the GM of that business unit by producing some significant recruiting results, they might agree to go to bat for you with your director of recruiting. If you make yourself indispensable, some business leaders might be willing to actually fund your position during down times.

  1. Identify the decision-maker. Who would make the layoff decisions within recruiting and HR? Strengthen your relationship with them and make them aware of your successes.
  2. Become the “go to” person. Identify critical areas where the recruiting department will need to be strong in the future and become a leader in that area. Proactively make recruiting leadership aware that you are the person who can be counted on to be a project lead (before others) in critical “new” or hot areas of recruiting.
  3. Increase your visibility. Identify and become involved with any high-profile projects that are underway at your company (within recruiting, HR, and in the business) and try to take on some type of leadership role on those teams. The more visible you are to management, the more likely it is you’ll be recognized for your contributions to the company. Obviously, becoming valuable to the business and to the broader HR department will improve your chances of survival. If you’re bold, do your own calculations to demonstrate that you have a high ROI to the firm. Also, provide recruiting management with a list of your company’s top performers, innovators, and award-winners that you have recruited.
  4. Be a global recruiter. Despite an economic downturn, there will still be recruiting needs somewhere around the globe. If you become an expert in recruiting in one of those geographic areas (or if you show a willingness to transfer to an international office), you can increase your job security.
  5. Become future-focused. Forecast for future problems and trends in global recruiting, generational recruiting, CRM, baby boom retirements, employment branding, recruiting technology, and metrics. Incidentally, if you demonstrate your expertise and convince senior management that the recruiting “lull” will only need to last over a short period of time at your firm, you might save both you and your colleague’s jobs.
  6. Start a blog or be active in online forums. Writing a periodic blog that covers recruiting and how to get a job at your firm can help your company’s recruiting efforts dramatically. In addition, writing a blog sends a message internally that you are knowledgeable and that you know how to use the Internet. You can use metrics from the blog to demonstrate its popularity. Being active on Internet recruiting forums can increase your visibility both internally and externally. By answering questions and proposing new ideas, you make it easier for your boss to see the breadth and depth of your knowledge.
  7. Train recruiters. Individuals who can successfully train new recruiters have an obvious value at firms that will need to hire and train “rookie” recruiters after the downturn.
  8. Offer to go on a contract basis. Sometimes volunteering to work on a contract basis will provide you with income during a time when your organization is unwilling to invest in “permanent” recruiters.
  9. Sales is an option. Great recruiters are, by definition, great salespeople. During down economic times, great salespeople are still in demand. As a result, consider transferring to a sales job until recruiting jobs return within the firm.
  10. Transfer into HR. Unfortunately, great recruiters don’t always “fit” within the less-aggressive HR department. But if you’re looking for security, it’s an option to consider until recruiting returns. Avoid OD and training because they are often cut dramatically during corporate downsizing.
  11. Become an expert. Make everyone aware that you are an expert in critical areas of recruiting that are unlikely to be totally eliminated (even after the recruiting department is decimated). Some of those areas of expertise that are likely to be more secure include employment branding, employee referrals, technology, metrics, social networking, and internal movement, among others.
  12. Use budgets to stay current. Before the recruiting budget gets frozen or cut, take advantage of any available funds to upgrade your skills and employability through recruiter training (i.e., AIRS), seminars, and conferences.

Increase Opportunities

Although risky, here are some steps if you decide to leave early:

  • Target growth firms. Identify the firms in your industry or region that are likely to continue growing, in spite of any economic downturn. Benchmark with them and build relationships with recruiting management there to increase your options.
  • Build your networks. Great recruiters are experts in networking and now is the right time to utilize your networks to help judge your future employability.
  • Target customers and competitors. If your firm’s customers and competitors see the excellence of your work, they are more likely to consider picking you up after a layoff.
  • Think consulting. If your firm allows it, do some external consulting (even for free) in order to improve your skills in case you later want to become an independent consultant.
  • Consider third-party recruiting firms. This only works if you’re really aggressive, but building relationships with the vendors that your firm currently works with might increase your options.
  • Consider relocation. Even during severe downturns, there is intense recruiting going on somewhere around the world. Because most international firms realize that U.S. recruiting expertise is some of the best, your chances are good, if you are willing to relocate and you have strong language skills.
  • Consider a little vacation. The war for talent has been a real battle and any recruiter worth his or her salt has earned a little vacation! If you saved your money, you can wait out the recession until recruiting returns.
  • Post your résumé. It’s often a good idea to test the market before layoffs get out of hand. Use sources and methods that can be successfully hidden from your current employer. If you’re risk-adverse, at least talk to some laid-off recruiters with similar expertise to get some idea of what the market is like.

Early Warning Signs

Don’t be naive or caught blind-sided. Now is the time to begin assessing the risk of potential layoffs and to determine “where you stand” in the potential layoff order.

Some possible action steps include:

  • Work with finance, budgeting, and strategic planning types within your company in order to determine when and how severe the budget cuts may be. Examine previous down cycles to see what indicators were accurate “predictors” in the past. Review your own firm’s financials, 10Ks, stock price growth, sales and production forecasts, and external analyst reports to assess your firm’s stability.
  • Look for early warning signs of turmoil like merger activity, scandals, pay freezes, promotion freezes, travel freezes, and purchasing freezes for nonessential items. Also view the exit of senior managers and major players as an early warning sign. Use your network within HR to see if anyone is exploring RPO outsourcing options. Be especially cognizant of any activity involving “WARN” notifications (Government mandated layoff notices), or soliciting outplacement vendors. Obviously, major cuts in requisitions or actual hiring freezes must be looked at as a possible “beginning of the end.” Finally, look at similar firms in your industry, because they might be early indicators of what is likely to happen at your firm.
  • Look at your own awards, recognition, seniority, performance appraisal, customer service ratings among managers, and forced-ranking scores to estimate your own survivability. If you’re really bold, sit down with your recruiting leadership and ask what you can do to assess your position and then to improve it.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, I’ve known hundreds of recruiters who were forced to abandon recruiting permanently because they were either “naïve” or they waited too long to be proactive in building their job security and employability.

Like it or not, recruiter layoffs are coming. If you love recruiting as I do, take steps now to ensure that you have a long career (without interruptions) in this exciting field.

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