Friday, March 20, 2009

Specialization in Recruiting in Hard Times

Recruiting is only one part of the human resources game, but it’s a self-contained sector when businesses are clamoring for talent. It’s a specialization that has a hard time remaining sustainable when the economy isn’t vibrant enough to support specialization.

Recruiters who are having a hard time have an opportunity to un-specialize, and to turn the business into something that is aligned with circumstances in the here and now. That doesn’t mean that they’re guaranteed to survive, but if they do, they’ll be well-placed to emerge quickly from the slump when it ultimately comes to an end, and to do so with more diverse and compelling services. As difficult as things are right now, dealing effectively and creatively with constraints and surviving them is a darned good way to build a foundation that will support a bigger and better business when the economic tide finally turns.

Recruiting is a brokerage business. In good times, recruiters build well-tended relationships with buyers and often terse and purely functional relationships with recruits. The recruiter brokers the relationship between a business and the talent, collecting fees for acting as an effective middleman. At least that’s how it works when there’s flow through the system.

Without demand from buyers, the need for middlemen essentially collapses, but that doesn’t mean that the human resources business simply disappears. It means that the relationship broker’s role has to change to account for the deficient flow. When the market is down, smart recruiters can play the down market by investing!

Sooner of later, businesses will come looking for talent again. A recruiter that emerges from the downturn with a strong portfolio of relationships with good talent to broker with buyers will emerge strong, and can remain strong for the duration.

Here are a handful of things that recruiters can do now to help weather the storm and to prepare to emerge with strength on the other side:

Build Relationships with Employees
Recruiting is a relationship business. If the relationships with the demand side of the business have gotten quieter, then turn your attention to the supply side! Stay in the game: build more relationships with employees. There are more of them to connect with and they don’t know you as well as your buyers do, so trying to pull this off from your desk is likely not going to work. Get out from behind your email app and Facebook and show up in person at community events. Relationships with people should be personal.

Be a Career Counselor
You’re an HR professional with valuable experience. Get an understanding of employees concerns and give them the benefit of your experience as a professional to help them understand the current climate. You have inside knowledge of the kinds of things that employers value and of the things that make employees valuable. Understand their challenges and concerns and help them to stay focused on the personal development that will help to lend more stability to their professional lives. Listen to what they have to say. Giving the benefit of your experience to the employees is not only beneficial to the employees themselves, but it’s also valuable to employers whose employees you serve. This economy can only benefit from well-informed, level-headed employees that have a continuous source of good counsel.

Invest in their Skills
Nothing builds relationships like giving people something of value. Help people to step up to new skills and to improve the skills they have. Host creative learning and education events to help the supply side of your business to go deeper in their work. Connect them with teachers. Partner with teachers to make investments in the market and leverage the access to the supply-side to deepen your understanding of what makes them tick and what they are concerned with. Build them up!

For Goodness Sake, Don’t Recruit Them!
You’re not doing all this to prepare employees to be poached from their employers once the downturn is over. You’re building relationships with employees because relationships with employers are increasingly scarce. Great relationships with employees that have come about because you’ve made an investment in those employees will turn into great relationships with their employers. And if an employee chooses to move on from an employer, you may have an opportunity to help them find their next position, but under no circumstances should you try to actively harvest them.

When the employment market heats up again, the human resources business people with the best reputation building and sustaining a human resource portfolio – especially in a constrained market – will be in demand.

When this economic slump is over, I’d like to work with recruiters who have not only survived the downturn, but who have thrived. When the slump is over, the specialists are going to be crawling out of the woodwork again after having lain low while the going got tough. While the recruiters who have hibernated through the downturn may be just as good as any others, I’m more confident that those who have learned to thrive under constraints are definitely the ones I want to know more about.

In fact, I not only want to connect with them when all this is over, I want to connect with them right now!

Ampersand GT

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