Recruiting in Tough Times

There are plenty of studies that show a key challenge for businesses going forward is the inability to attract and retain highly talented employees. At the same time, organizations are finally beginning to recognize the powerful impact that good talent management can provide not only in the good times but in difficult economic times as well. For some companies, a downturn means reduced hiring and staffing reductions and for other companies, this can be a great time to locate their next rising star.

At the same time, however, research shows that hiring continues even when the economy slows down. While certainly there may be shifts in the job market, there will indeed still be jobs. For instance, the financial services market is shrinking and many professionals are unemployed. However, the professional, technical and food service industry sectors are anticipated to grow because these industry sectors serve consumers critical needs such as health care, home and family health and energy. That’s why there has been so much reference by American presidential candidates about “Joe the plumber”. In other words, technical trades professionals are already in short supply and will become even more in demand during the economic downturn.

But recruitment and selection of new employees during a downturn economy requires a much more strategic hiring process. Companies must be able to quickly identify candidates and get them into the job as soon as possible so that any potential financial drain resulting from open positions or poor productivity is mitigated. Develop a target list of potential candidates that you can identify from your networking and industry contacts. Whereas we are now in a global world, companies are finding they must go further and further afield to find a qualified candidate. If you don’t have national or global contacts then it is best to use the services of an executive search firm that can conduct research on your behalf. These professionals already have global contacts in every industry sector and can more quickly identify and screen candidates on your behalf.

Next, a company must ensure there is an effective process in place to manage the flow of applicants. It is anticipated that a much larger volume of resumes will be arriving on your desk and/or by email during an economic downturn. It is very time consuming and difficult to sift through all the resumes and find the right candidate. Therefore it is important to develop your selection criteria right up front and to assess the resumes against those criteria. For those with an automated recruitment platform, resumes arriving by email can be screened easily. No matter what, saving time at this stage of the recruitment process also saves money.

Create a more complex recruitment screening and interview process so that finalist candidates are screened through a number of steps. Making a mistake at any time is costly, let alone making a hiring mistake during a downturn. Use panels of managers and/or technical experts to participate in interviews. Consider having the candidates engage in a business simulation which would enable you to judge their skills in activities that parallel your company. Be sure to use an assessment tool that helps to judge the level of communication, teamwork and leadership skills required for success in your company.

Most senior executive appointments break down within the first eighteen months. In other words, candidates are always assessing whether or not the job is the right fit and if it isn’t, they will leave. Therefore, it is important to build a strong employee orientation program for your new employee. The best approach is to engage these leaders in a results centred leadership program with an executive coach. Having a personal executive coach enables the individual to consult for confidential advice when needed. It also helps the new leader to strategically plan for building the new leadership team. This is especially important when one or two of the senior team members were also candidates for the senior leadership role.

Typically once the recruitment process is complete, companies retreat once again into themselves and focus on their corporate success. However, a good recruitment strategy is to continue to keep in touch with candidates who were part of the earlier recruitment process. Keep their resumes on file and personally stay in touch. You never know when additional opportunities may arise. This will also help you to stay in touch with industry trends and to more quickly access other network contacts when needed.

Having the right people, at the right time and doing the right things is key to success at any time and more so, in a down turn economy. Therefore, once your current recruitment project is complete, recognize that a downturn economy is also a good time to conduct a review or audit of your entire recruitment and selection process. Where can you create efficiencies? What can you do to make it more effective? Are you continuing to use outdated candidate search, resume assessment and interview methodologies? What needs to be changed? Engage in process improvement and get ready for the next economic upswing.

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