Recruiting/HR Lessons Learned in the Superstorm’s Aftermath

Nov 17, 2012

Three weeks after Sandy, life is getting back to normal … or is it? Walking the dog this weekend morning around a relatively unscathed block of homes in central New Jersey (miles from the shore) today, reminders are everywhere. Tons of debris lies in front of every home (more than 40 homes). The noise of still more 75-foot oak trees being cut while leaning precariously over homes rends the air. Blue tarps are draped over roofs (five homes) that were speared with limbs weighing tons are waiting for roofers. A flatbed truck finally eases up behind a flattened neighbor’s car (where my 75 -foot oak fell) … I check to make sure he doesn’t accidentally take the new car next to it.

Sandy was a storm that has little comparison even to Katrina, although we can take some comfort that lessons learned from that catastrophic event seven years ago were likely responsible for preparations last month that saved lives — speed to respond and pre-positioning among them.

Still, while the lives were lost by comparison to Katrina and other major U.S. disasters were few, there are some lessons employers and their HR and staffing leaders might find challenging in the upcoming weeks and months as the scope and the size of Sandy’s full impact unfolds.

  • Your disaster plans should have been in place. Some were. Some weren’t. Employers that reached out to check on employees in the affected areas, identify the challenges they were facing either personally or with family and friends, and authorized extended personal time, specialized teams, resources, donations, product, etc. etc. will see their employment brand, engagement levels, and retention rise.
  • Your employees may need to deal with personal time differently for several months. Loss of cars, access to supplies, friends, and family needing relocation (and just moral support), long lines dealing with insurance and government agencies — all will stretch personal-time policies. Performance may be temporarily affected. How is your firm responding, especially if your headquarters is located outside the affected areas?
  • Lots of jobs were lost, mostly small, local, and heavily retail (casinos may be the exception) but few people will be leaving the area to seek new work anytime soon. In fact, those who most need to get on with their lives and find new jobs elsewhere are least likely to do so before next spring if past disasters are any guide. Local career coaches — and there are plenty of them — should be offering pro-bono events around career and life issues.
  • Lots of jobs are also created. The economy may even spike upward with the sale of cars and rebuilding, at least temporarily, as people spend money they didn’t have.
  • Recruiters will have additional personal issues they’ll need to address when speaking with prospects and candidates willing to leave the area (i.e. needing to return often to handle unresolved family issues, and the value of real estate), or when helping people come into the area (Q: Where can I live where the power is likely to be on? A: Nowhere) and, just getting people’s attention to consider a risky move (looking for some stability for the time being). It’s nothing really new … just more of it more often.

Recruiting leaders might consider running occasional disaster scenarios. Every disaster is different and there are many small, localized ones between those that impact millions. As a recruiting leader if you have an all-hands meeting, think about breaking your folks into small groups and challenging them to solve some outrageous questions like the following:

A disaster in [name a country] has decimated our [name them] products and supply chain. Our business leaders want to move operations to [name a location] for 6-12 months. We need to hire in volume for [x], [y] and [z] jobs immediately. You have 30 minutes to develop a detailed plan. If you have questions, answer them to give you the best chance of success and identify the answers that would sink the initiative.


A [deadly contagious] disease has been uncovered in [a neighboring state]. All movement across state lines has ceased. Martial law along the borders has been declared — otherwise its business as usual. However 50% of our external hires have final slates with two or more out-of-state candidates. Can we fully hire and onboard without any problem? How often for example has remote video resulted in an offer rather than just for screening for finalists? How prepared are we to do all interviews via video, even local ones?


The Internet is down and will be down for three months at a minimum. Our success as a business will be dictated on how well we can adapt versus our competitors. Every function is being challenged to operate without the Internet, or they will be furloughed immediately.  List those elements of the recruiting processes, tools, and partners that are under water (like our cloud-based database of candidates) and how we will work around them?