It's Fall, Now What?  
9/15/2008 4:30:54 PM

By Peter Weddle -- Remember last year? Or even better, the year before? You would come back from a relatively slow summer, and bam!, the flood gates would open. The Labor Day holiday marked the end of summer and the beginning of a frenetic, sometimes even frantic period of hiring. The fall has traditionally been the first or second most active period of recruiting for large as well as small employers. You would hit the ground sprinting and not stop until the Thanksgiving Day holiday had arrived.

So, what about this year? While some employers are still hiring, many are not. Unemployment is up, layoffs are rising, and recruiting, well recruiting is sadly the last thing on many CEOs’ minds. Does that mean there’s nothing to do? Of course not. The question is not whether we still have important tasks to accomplish, but rather, which ones we should execute and in which priority order.

To help you think through your goals for the fall, I offer the following list of suggestions:

Recruiter training. It’s always tough to take time out for training when the demand for recruiting is strong. On the other hand, even the most season recruiters need to have their skills refreshed from time-to-time, and those new to the profession deserve to have a full kit bag of competencies as they begin their work. Start by upgrading individual skills in the use of your applicant tracking system so that everyone takes greater advantage of its full functionality. Then, hone the skills of each recruiter in:

  • online sourcing techniques;
  • networking, both online and off;
  • interviewing strategies and methods;
  • interpersonal communications, both verbal and online; and
  • interpreting and using the organization’s financial performance data.

    Hiring manager training. When business is booming (or even when it’s recovering), there’s precious little time to improve the skills of our partners in the recruiting process, especially those of hiring managers. While it’s clear they don’t always realize how much they need it, virtually every line manger who supervises more than just him or herself could benefit from having their capabilities upgraded in the following areas:

  • writing clear and reasonable position requirements;
  • interviewing strategies and methods;
  • building empathy with others, especially strangers;
  • selling the organization’s value proposition as an employer; and
  • understanding and actually believing the connection between talent acquisition and their success.

    Team training. The recruiting process seldom works well when it is executed by stove-piped units. Convincing top talent to leave their current employer and join yours (which remains the challenge of recruiting even in a down economy) requires an integrated and concerted effort by everyone in the organization. So, provide the training necessary to establish a team-based approach to recruiting that includes:

  • the CEO, CFO and the other senior leaders who must establish a vision, values and culture for the organization that will both accomplish its mission and coalesce into a compelling employment brand;
  • the HR Department on which the recruiting team depends for budgetary and moral support as well as the development of policies and procedures that will enhance the organization’s employment brand;
  • the IT Department which ensures that the data captured both about candidates and the operation of the recruiting process are accurate, easily accessible and efficiently used;
  • your sourcers and recruiters who must be genuinely committed to excellence and to the mission and values of the organization; and
  • your supervisors and managers who must be able to evaluate candidates accurately and sell the best prospects persuasively on joining their team.

    Workforce planning. All too often, recruiting teams are forced to engage in reactive, ad hoc sourcing because they aren’t given visibility into line units’ staffing needs in advance. As a result, they are forced to wage the War for Talent as a struggle for any talent rather than as a search for the best talent. Workforce planning is the only way to solve that problem, and despite what the pundits will tell you, it need not be conducted with supercomputers and MBA graduates. Back-of-the-envelope analysis will give you enough information to forecast:

  • which open positions will be refilled first in the recovery;
  • which positions are likely to change in content, location or both;
  • what new positions will be created by changes in market conditions, the competitive landscape or technology;
  • when and how fast the demand will ramp up in specific fields and locations; and
  • where there might be demand-supply mismatches that could affect the timing and certainty of successful staffing.

    Building your organization’s employment brand. The best candidates are almost always passive, so the only way to pull them into your recruiting process is to develop and promote a compelling and differentiating image of your organization as an employer. This brand is a combination of what you say about what it’s like to work in your organization and what you do to and for candidates in the recruiting process. As a result, building an effective employment brand encompasses all of the following:

  • creating a statement (not a tag line—we’re selling employment opportunities not tires) that will depict the unique aspects of the work experience your organization offers in a persuasive way;
  • promoting that statement in the key places where your target demographics hang out, both online and off;
  • training every hiring manager to articulate the statement without butchering it and with enough passion to sell even the most passive prospect;
  • training all employees to articulate your employment value proposition accurately and with feeling so they can more effectively participate in your employee referral program; and
  • simulating the values and commitments in the statement during your recruiting process and living up to them in the way you treat candidates as they move through that process.

    Building a prospect warehouse. When business is booming, resume databases quickly become repositories of static documents and databases of prospects (not applicants) never even get established. Hard charging recruiting organizations simply don’t have the time that’s required to build relationships with the people behind the resumes or the candidates who aren’t yet ready to apply. Yet, that’s exactly what is needed. The best talent only responds to those they know and trust and only when it’s the right time for them, so organizations must build large warehouses of individual connections that enable them to nurture such relationships. These efforts include the following:

  • creating multiple channels (e.g., your employee referral program, data mining online) to identify and connect with the top talent in the career fields for which your organization recruits;
  • developing and implementing an opt-in communications program with the necessary messaging to build familiarity and trust among those prospects;
  • developing and implementing a similar campaign for those applicants whose resumes are already in your resume management system;
  • targeting specific individuals in the two databases for specific openings in advance (i.e., before the opening occurs) and pre-qualifying and pre-selling them for those positions; and
  • using the additional information gathered about individual prospects and applicants in the warehouse to identify the best-fit individual for each current opening and sell them on that position.

    Of course, not every organization will need to perform every one of the above tasks. The key is to use this fall of slower economic growth to best advantage for your employer, and any one of these tasks (or more) would be a step in the right direction.

    Thanks for reading, Peter

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