Why Advertise If You're Not Hiring?

Published: Jan 21, 2009

By Peter Weddle -- The conventional wisdom—or at least the “wisdom” of the Finance Department—is that recruitment advertising should stop when hiring stops. The organization doesn’t need candidates, they will argue, so why bother to recruit them. It’s a waste of money when money is tight.

This view has that inimitable bean counter logic, but as always, it’s terribly shortsighted. In fact, I think an economic downturn is the most appropriate time to advertise for new talent. Why? Because the logic of our friends in finance is framed incorrectly. You don’t need candidates right now, but you will in the future. And, since that’s indisputably true—and because you want to be ready for the upturn when it comes (not after it)—this is the very best time to invest in talent acquisition. Here’s what I mean.

In tough times (as well as good ones), it’s absolutely critical that an organization spend its money wisely. From the Finance Department’s perspective, that means doing more with less. From a rational economic perspective, it means getting the best return possible on any expenditure of scarce financial resources. And, there are at least two reasons why you can generate a better than normal return on an investment in recruitment advertising when you aren’t hiring than at any other time.

Reason #1: It Takes Time to Build a Pipeline

The best talent are almost always employed, in bad times as well as good ones. They are the last workers an employer will let go and the first workers to receive whatever raises, bonuses and plum assignments there are to be doled out. For that reason they don’t jump at the first employment opportunity that comes along, even if it involves a potentially more lucrative and interesting job. They need to be convinced that it’s the right career move for them.

And there’s the rub. Not everyone (or every organization) can convince the best talent to move. They want to be familiar with and trust those who will provide the information and arguments for making such an important career decision. What does that mean for us recruiters? Although it’s a cliché, it’s also absolutely true: the best talent can’t and won’t be sold via as transaction; they demand a relationship.

As anyone who’s ever been in a relationship knows—and that includes the CFO—it takes time and effort to achieve a meaningful level of familiarity and a genuine sense of trust. And it’s that necessary lead time that requires advertising now for the talent you will need later. Moreover, unlike in a stronger business environment, you actually have the time to invest in relationship building during a downturn. Instead of answering to clamoring hiring managers, you can reach out to top performers and pay attention to them so they are ready and willing to move six or twelve months from now, when you need them.

Reason #2: Your Competitors Aren’t Advertising

In normal times, you’re not the only one trying to connect with and lure away the best talent. Your efforts are complicated by competitors in your own industry as well as those that operate in countless others. Recruiting—at least recruiting those with hard-to-find skills and those who are top performers—isn’t a contact sport. You can’t just connect with them and expect that they will come. No, recruiting dream candidates is a nightmare.

It’s a cut throat business … except when it isn’t. And, this is one of those times when it isn’t. Today, you have a rare moment of collective myopia, a window of opportunity when the Finance Departments among your competitors will win out and force the cessation of recruitment advertising in their organizations. So, now is actually the very best time to strike. Because now, you have the marketplace for top talent almost all to yourself.

How does that help you? First, your message is likely to cost less, maybe even much less. (Job boards, like retail companies, are ready to deal.) Second, your message is much more likely to be noticed. There’s less competition from other employers’ job postings. And third, your message is also much more likely to work. It will be taken more seriously by more people as they worry about their job security.

All of that adds up to an extraordinary return on a present day investment in recruitment advertising. How can you calculate that return? The cost of a vacant position is typically estimated to be somewhere between one and three times the salary of the position’s incumbent. During a recovery, when having talent on hand and ready to go is critical to success, an unfilled position has the potential to cost far more. The key, therefore, is to monetize that vacancy so that even the CFO can understand.

For example, a Java programmer position that pays $100,000 per year and remains open for just sixty days is likely to cost your organization somewhere between $16,700 and $50,000; a senior sales technician job that pays $60,000 per year and remains open for 90 days could cost your organization between $15,000 and $45,000. And that doesn’t include the real cost of diminished productivity and lost growth opportunities that would accompany those talent shortages.

So, here’s the bottom line (as our friends in finance are fond of saying): investing in recruitment advertising in the present is the single best way to spend money wisely in the present and for the future. It’s as close to a two-fer as you’ll ever get in talent acquisition.

Thanks for reading,


Back to news