Recruiting In Any Economy: The New Candidate

Whether you are an agency recruiter or a corporate recruiter, the candidates you will be dealing with during this economic down cycle (at least a down cycle from a staffing perspective), will differ in many ways from the ones you have come to know over the last five to ten years. Ring! Ring! “Ricky Recruiter here, how can I help you?” “Ah Ricky, this is Cindy Candidate, I sent you my resume two weeks ago and I was wondering what my status was?” “Oh yeah, well, I sent it off to the hiring manager and I hope to hear back-” “Ah, that’s what you said last week. Is there any interest? Last spring I was getting calls everyday…” Ring! Ring! “Cindy, let me put you on hold, that’s my other line.” “Ricky Recruiter, can I help you?” “Ricky, it’s about time, I have left you seven phone messages today!” “Gee, I am sorry, who is this?” “Craig Careertransition. I sent my resume yesterday and I wanted to talk to you about my special circumstances. You see, for the last four years, I have worked at six different dot-coms and I think this gives me a special perspective. I mean, it was fun, I remember one company that had pizza Thursdays…” Ring! Ring! “Can I call you back? I have another call on hold, my lines are ringing and this is not a good time for me.” “Sure, I’ll be here for the next half-hour. I will expect your call.” “Ricky Recruiter, can I help you?” “I interviewed there last week, Dave Disaster here, and I was wondering when I could expect an offer? I have had three other interviews over the last eight weeks and I expect an offer any week now from any of them.” Ring! Ring! “Ricky, this is Marlene Mad-at-the-world. I cannot believe that the same company that just laid me off still has openings posted on the Web that I am perfect for. Some even sound like my old job! What’s going on!!??” “Listen, during times of adjustment, unfair things may appear to happen. But…” “But nothing, my nephew is an attorney and he says that….” Ring! Ring! “Augh!!!!!!!” “Beep. This is Ricky Recruiter, I am sorry I missed your call. But I am in the nearest saloon trying to forget the backlog of voice and emails I have from candidates who never used to call me back last year when I needed them and now call incessantly when I have no needs or answers. Leave your message, call back, whatever. Beep.” For the last few years the toughest job in recruiting was getting a qualified candidate to call you back. Everybody was calling them and offering whatever it would take to get the candidate to commit, even just a little. Many candidates took advantage of the situation by becoming difficult and demanding. They either:

  • Did not show up to the interview on time, if at all
  • Never called you back, or if they did, it took a while
  • Stacked interviews one behind the other and would announce their need to leave to go to the next interview
  • Were often unprepared to discuss the actual position
  • Did no research on the perspective employer (what do you guys do anyway?)
  • Started the interview with their list of pre-interview demands
  • Expected same day offers and same day counter-offers.
  • Exacted serious attitude on recruiters, staffing professionals, and hiring managers
  • Had a list of work-environment and work-life demands that made you wonder if they ever actually planned on spending a day, actually in the office, working!

The irony is, it really was not their fault. Inside recruiters or third-party agency recruiters, we all let them get away with it due to our lack of control of the employment situation and staffing process. If the candidates took advantage of our weaknesses, is it really their fault? After all, aren’t we supposed to be the staffing professionals? Aren’t we paid to be in charge? Half a generation of candidates entered the job market during the last ten years of economic “boomtown.” They never had trouble getting an interview or offer before. Nobody was really reading resumes much past education and skills section. Where they had worked, for how long, and doing what, seemed to fade from importance in the interview. We were desperate for candidates and they took advantage of that fact. Who can blame them? Many of these candidates saw their fathers and mothers get “RIFed” in the recession of 1989-1991 by companies that their adult role models had given their loyalty to for 10, 15, 20 years. Their older brothers and sisters had graduated into an economy where MBAs were keeping their fingers crossed for a shot at that “Hamburger Joint” night assistant manager position. (I hope I got the question on “French fries” correct.) Well, the employment situation has changed once again, for now anyway, and it is not up to us to now take advantage of the situation, but rather to manage it. But first, what is “new” about this new candidate? 1. Persistent, not distant. The new candidate will call, often, a lot, beaucoup. The less likely you are going to be able to help a candidate will be in direct disproportion to how often they will call. Follow up calls, status checks, did-you-do-what-you-promised calls can, and will, eat up a serious percentage of your production if you do not control it. For the last ten years you have been conditioned to call all candidates whose resume had the slightest chance of being a fit. After all, the presence of a pulse was 50% of the pre-qualification process. You probably would have a job somewhere for just about any candidate that called. You may need to be willing to let candidates go. Inside recruiter or third-party agency, you are not running a charity. Be polite, be professional, but remember you do not have time to deal with the number of calls and issues you will face if you try and maintain an inventory of candidates that exceeds your current requisition load. 2. Less sure of themselves, seeking assurances. Suddenly the phone is not ringing off the hook with offers and opportunities. Working to get an interview is not a skill many workers have acquired in their first one to ten years in business. Explain the process and procedures of your business to the candidates. Be sure you advise them of the expected time involved to begin and end the review/interview/offer process. If you have hiring managers or clients who are being indecisive due to their concerns over new hiring, tell the candidate. The more aware the candidate is of issues in the beginning, the less likely they will blame you at the end. When hiring becomes a priority again, you want candidates who respect you for the knowledge and control you exerted during the interview process. Promising the world and failing will make it unlikely they will want to approach you, or your company in the future. 3. They need you teach, train, and mentor. Since getting interviews and offers has not been all that difficult for so long, many candidates lack the basic interview skills recruiting professionals take for granted. Even if you work inside a corporate recruiting organization, be willing to assist candidates in preparing for the interview. It would be a shame to lose a top 10% candidate because they are a bottom 10% interviewee. In acquiring talent for your organization or clients, preparing a candidate is not only a smart thing to do, it is part of your job description. Your mission is to insure that when hiring managers and candidates meet, the stage has been set for an open and useful exchange of relevant information so both parties can make honest and professional decisions. The new candidate might need:

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  • To be reminded to do research on the company and the position
  • To be reminded that good jobs are scarce and it is in their best interest to “work the interview”
  • To be reminded to negotiate after a positive interview has occurred, not before
  • To be reminded to focus on their skills and contributions, and not their misfortunes and missed past opportunities

Based on your interview with the candidate you may discover other areas of need to be reviewed. Those of us who entered the workforce during difficult times have the advantage of understanding how to “work an interview.” The advantage of the new candidate over the last ten years, a great economy, has now turned into their greatest disadvantage, they often were hired no matter how badly they interviewed. Now, it is just a bad interview. 4. Less sure of self and future. The new candidate will be less willing to “risk” a current “OK” job, even for the prospect of a great job. Difficult times make people insecure and reluctant to change. Just as you will always hear from the needy, you will still find yourself selling your company or your client to prospective candidates. A candidate who was actively trying to leave their current job six months ago will now consider that same job a “port in a storm.” Be prepared to make allowances and concessions on the interview structure. You will have hiring managers and clients who think, in this economy, getting people in for interviews should be easy. It will be, for the bottom 10%, the top 10% will still require consideration. 5. Bad resumes. You graduated from college six months ago into a job where your salary is greater than your own father’s, who has been working for 25 years. You get 15-20 phone calls a week from corporate and agency recruiters offering you $10K more to do the exact same job, only for someone else. Six months later, after changing jobs, the calls and money starts again, and again, and again. A lot of good candidates made bad career decisions over the last few years. The irony is that many of us who now sit in judgment of their unstable work records were in fact the people encouraging them to leave their jobs after only six months. After all, we had requisitions to close. Now it is our job to make sure that good candidates with bad track records get presented in the context of the times. The hiring manager who is refusing to see candidates with perceived unstable track records needs to be reminded of the context of the times. But the candidate also needs to be counseled to deal with their stability issue on the interview. They should bring it up, deal with it, and move on. Don’t get me wrong, a bad track record can also be an indicator of other issues, do what you have to do to make a fair and balanced assessment. But remember, “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.” 6. Nobody wants to hear it. All too often, during down times, candidates use interviews as an opportunity to make themselves feel good by talking endlessly about the “good old days at XYZ.com,” or how close they came to making millions at a pre-IPO that failed in eighth-round financing. Talking these issues out is good therapy, but ensure you counsel the candidate on keeping to the basics during the interview with the hiring manager. After all, why remind the manager that you worked for a project, division, or company that failed! This is also part of preparation, but I think important enough to merit it’s own mention. Do not let your candidate talk themselves out of an offer. This is still an important issue for internal recruiters, after all, their your candidates 7. Last hired, first fired. There is no doubt that there is stigma attached to candidates looking for work without a job. Like all assumptions, sometimes it is unfair and untrue; on the other hand, sometimes it is true. For your managers to accept candidates with a balanced and fair opportunity to be considered, they have to trust your judgment. It is all too easy to want to help a person out who is having a difficult time getting back on their feet. But remember, your primary goal is to provide the best possible candidates to your managers and clients. If you just started recruiting in the last ten years, you may never have had a candidate call you and tell you that if they do not get a job in one month, they will lose their house. I have in my career. It is a tough call to take, to handle, and to hang up on. But regardless of the candidate’s personal or professional circumstances, your job is to evaluate skills, not tragedies. 8. MPAs always get jobs. Good economy or bad, “Most Placeable Candidates” are the goal, not total numbers. It is possible to build quite a collection of resumes right now. There might be some logic to doing just that for the return of the economy, but maybe not. When companies start hiring again, it is going to be a more detailed, cautious, and eye to the future process that was experienced for the last 5-10 years. Corporate and agency recruiters who have maintained a base of motivated and highly qualified candidates will continue to close requisitions, albeit fewer of them, during this down cycle, and be positioned to “spin up” quickly with the improved economy. Those who allow themselves to be inundated will not be. Available and willing to interview is no longer the definition of an MPA. Talent, interviewing skills, career direction and business maturity always have been, and always will be, the hallmark of an MPA. 9. The money is gone. The new candidate will have to be prepared to accept, without an attitude, that when the economy left town, it took all the money with it. The unemployed candidate with five years experience and a $120K price tag might be sobered by the knowledge that in the current economy, an offer of $60K is a big favor and the most they could hope for in the current circumstances. But, to work with candidates in this down market, you have to discover who are the ones you can “bring home” at the end of the process. Make sure you do a reality check and pre-closing to their new bottom-line part of your pre-screen process. Many candidates will refuse a fair market offer to keep the illusion alive that they will get their old salary back one day. We give up our fantasies last. 10. The myth of abundance. The unemployment rate has gone from 4.3% to 4.5% over the last three months. Not a great situation, but hardly the “Depression of 1929.” Candidates are still hard to uncover, harder still to recruit. Do not think you have a situation to take advantage of here, you do not. Good candidates require your best efforts to manage their career goals within your organization, or that of your client’s. You still need to sell them as aggressively as ever. In any business, in any economy, there are constants. In recruiting – internal or third-party – finding, screening, recruiting, understanding, and controlling candidates is the single greatest set of skills you need to succeed. Circumstances change, economic environments alter, but people are a constant. They want and expect service and respect. Sometimes in a bad economic cycle that service and respect means giving bad news. Until recently, open job requisitions were in abundance and uncovering candidates required the bulk of your day. Today, the opposite is true. Keep your desk clear to find hot requisitions for a few MPAs. Your hiring managers and clients still expect production, more to the point, so does your bank account. Have a great day recruiting! <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

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