Recent Trends in Human Resource Management

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tapping Top Talent in a Downturn

Tapping Top Talent in a Downturn

HR leaders often are faced with the task of downsizing in one business unit and recruiting highly skilled professionals in another. They have to cope with an exponential increase in applicants for a much smaller number of open jobs, maintain morale in constantly shifting external and internal environments and help their organizations retain key employees. This must be done with reduced recruiting and HR staffs and slashed budgets, at a time when brand image is a critical success factor.

Today, more than ever, organizations must recruit and select the best talent where they have openings and upgrade talent in areas where it will advantage the business. Change in the business environment has happened so fast, many organizations have been slow to adjust and take action. In the current economic climate, it is necessary to take a step back and evaluate workforce plans, as well as talent acquisition processes and enabling technology and determine a strategy that works for the organization in the new recruiting reality.

A Fresh Approach

The biggest mistake an organization can make in this challenging environment is to let down markets drive its vision and shut down recruiting completely. Don't ignore reality. Take a well-planned, creative approach to workforce planning and talent acquisition.

When recruiting departments are faced with more work and fewer resources, build in efficiencies, maximize existing tools, eliminate waste from existing processes, innovate, manage vendor relationships and establish strategic partnerships.

Consider the following steps:

1. Re-evaluate recruitment marketing strategies.
Don't stop running ads and posting jobs, but do be strategic and take a planned approach. The market has shifted from a scarcity to an abundance of candidates in a very short time - adjust accordingly. Don't overspend or spend in the wrong areas. Now is a great time to be out in the market as the competition for talent is much lower. Take advantage of it.

Also, renegotiate existing vendor relationships; don't pay last year's rates this year. There will still be skill shortages and geographic recruiting gaps, so rewrite copy and spruce up the company's look. Speak in a genuine voice for the organization by working with the marketing department.

2. Leverage the hidden gold mine.
Arguably the most commonly overlooked tool in any organization is its existing database. A real gold mine of information, the resumes collected by recruiters and HR staff during the past few years should provide great leads on passive and active candidates. For instance, run a Boolean search on the company's internal ATS database.

3. Improve competitive insight.
Leverage candidate interviews to collect market data on competitors. Actively call leads and network to gain insight into their knowledge about competitors. As talent managers interview candidates from competitors, gather critical information to help position the company to win in the market.

4. Tap the current employee pool.
Take a fresh look at the existing employee pool. Which individuals shine in the downturn? Identify individuals who have been interested in gaining experience in other functional areas and who would be willing to wear two hats during difficult times.

For the right employees, the current climate might provide real opportunities to gain much needed and desired experience in another area. Strong employees will appreciate the opportunity for long-term career growth, and it will show them how much they are valued.

5. Maximize social networking in recruiting.
When used properly, social media networks are an effective tool. The time demand is surprisingly low. If an organization has limited time, choose one or two networks to try. One recommendation is LinkedIn, which is targeted to professionals and requires little maintenance.

6. Automate candidate contact, and employ well-designed self-service.
Tracking down candidates can be time-consuming and frustrating, not to mention costly. Be efficient. One of the easiest solutions is to work with a provider to automate the process. There are myriad tools and software options on the market. The most attractive are those that include auto-scheduling, online minimum qualification screening and telephony/video interviewing platforms. Talent leaders also will want to improve and perhaps automate selection tools to ensure they find those few best needles in the now huge haystack.

Many talent managers can relate to the challenge of responding to the growth in candidate calls to "check status" and a single candidate applying for multiple positions. Turn on auto e-mails. A recent Pinstripe survey showed that less than 20 percent of organizations use that functionality in their ATSs.

Books Are Fun Ltd., a Chicago-based subsidiary of Reader's Digest, and the world's leading display marketer of books and gifts, experienced the benefits of automation firsthand. To meet expansion goals and cover attrition rates, Books Are Fun recruits 250-300 independent sales representatives every year. Before automation, the company's six internal recruiters spent 70 percent of their time screening applicants.

"We knew that the most important part of the recruiting process is the late-stage conversation that we have with a candidate about the job as a lifestyle change rather than just another position," said David Hammond, vice president of sales recruitment. "We needed our internal folks to focus on these late-stage conversations. It was a waste of time for my staff to handle the screening process."

Books Are Fun outsourced the sourcing and screening process to an organization that was able to reduce costs and time to fill by streamlining candidate tracking; managing all recruitment marketing efforts including postings and active and passive candidate sourcing; and accessing additional resources, including community-based recruiting from libraries and organizations, franchise and sales-niche recruiting, various national and regional job boards and TRM contact searches.

7. Find the right candidates from the onset.
Many organizations put too many people through too far in their processes. Design talent acquisition, screening and selection processes carefully and stick with them. Screen people in - and out - early.

"In the past, Books Are Fun offered a contract to the first qualified candidate that appeared. Now we want to offer a contract to the most qualified candidates only," Hammond said. "Our new system generates enough volume of qualified candidates to provide us with real choices."

8. Review the funnel and revise processes.
An organization may have fewer openings, but now there will be more people applying, which will significantly increase the amount of time spent screening and responding to applicants. This can exhaust an HR team, particularly one that recently reduced staff, and could increase effective cost per hire.

Adopt a high-volume recruiting model to process a high volume of candidates in a time of low job requisitions. Technology enables the process in a candidate friendly way. Move online prequalifiers to the top of the funnel, and save the paid online screens and assessments for the spot where the funnel is slimmer.

Books Are Fun revised its process and brought about significant improvements, including a 45 percent decrease in costs, a decrease in time to fill from 52 to 42 days and clear recruiting metrics including weekly summaries, pipeline reports, hiring funnels and detailed process maps.

9. Protect the brand.
When an organization is one of a few that is hiring, and getting 500 resumes for every job posted, process change is necessary. Work with experts to ensure the company doesn't miss good people or alienate future prospects and customers. This is particularly important if an organization is a major consumer brand, and every applicant also is a consumer.

Be polite and respectful every time. Companies are not usually good at this, and HR will find it especially important to partner with marketing and hiring managers when everyone is being asked to do more with less.

Times are tough and the human resources function is on the frontlines of the battle. But remember, every downturn yields winners and losers. Some organizations will not merely weather this storm; they will seize the opportunity to emerge as a more efficient and successful.

[About the Author: Sue Marks is founder and CEO of Pinstripe Inc., an HR and recruitment process outsourcing firm serving large- and middle-market domestic clients, as well as the Global 5000.]