7 Savvy Recruiting Tips for Uncertain Times

With the new year right around the corner, businesses should keep an open mind to the possibilities, and the risks, that await them. Rick Gray, CEO of TalentRISE, offers a stockingful of suggestions to help you thrive in the days ahead. Veteran recruiters Shelli Herman and Robin Judson also chime in.

December 14, 2018 – Optimism . . . or pessimism? Volatility . . . or predictability? Growth . . . or downturn? No matter where on this spectrum your organization falls in anticipation of 2019, the best strategy is to prepare for both the expected and unexpected, according to a recent report authored by Rick Gray, CEO of Chicago-based executive search firm TalentRISE. 

“Given that labor costs are the single largest expense for most businesses, this is particularly true for talent acquisition,” Mr. Gray said. “The Goldilocks-like challenge is to hire the right skills, at the right time, in the right amounts.” The goal, he said, is to take advantage of opportunities while at the same time mitigating risks associated with issues like over-hiring and having to reduce the workforce shortly thereafter.

Regardless of whether you’ll be ringing in the New Year by toasting with a “glass-is-half-empty” or “glass-is-half-full” mindset, Mr. Gray offered seven strategies to help deal with the challenges ahead:

Tip No. 1 – Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate.

Workforce planning is problematic. So many variables impact your talent needs beyond demand for your goods and services that forecasting is often little more than an educated guess.

“However, by making someone in your organization (most likely your HR leader) accountable for working in sync with line management on workforce/succession planning and tasking that individual with monitoring key metrics (like retention and retirement rates) while searching for potential pipelines of new talent as needed, you will be better prepared for all contingencies,” Mr. Gray said.

Tip No. 2 – Be flexible.  

In ambiguous times, the ability to “scale” recruitment is highly desirable. “Being ready to accelerate the hiring of quality employees on a just-in-time basis is a significant competitive advantage,” said Mr. Gray. “That’s why many businesses are turning to outsourced recruitment solutions that provide scalability; especially ones that offer flexible arrangements integrated with the organization’s overall talent strategies.”

“RPO solutions can also provide the necessary hiring structure to select and hire the talent you need – when you need it – and without adding headcount to your internal recruitment team,” he said. “Rather than hiring in-house resources or relying on contractors, the RPO team can essentially be turned on/off as needs ebb and flow.”

Tip No. 3 – Identify/cultivate individuals NOW to fill future needs.

Even if growth slows in 2019, the lowest unemployment rates recorded in decades reinforce that demand for many types of talent will continue to exceed supply, according to multiple reports. “This is a particularly acute problem for industries embarking on digital transformation who seek to hire employees with different – and scarce – technology skill-sets,” Mr. Gray said.

The answer is to invest today in smart, strategic thinking (whether inside or outside of your organization, or a blend of both) to determine what skills you may need. “Then, invest resources to identify your future employees and go after them where they are found to create pools of talent that you can dip into in the future,” said Mr. Gray. “At the same time, pay really close attention to your employment brand. Don’t be left behind if your branding message is outdated, confusing, inaccurate, unauthentic or doesn’t appeal to the talent you are trying to recruit.”

Tip No. 4 – Evaluate – or reevaluate – how you search for executives.

Traditional executive search firms are changing their business models to become more flexible and cost-effective, especially when conducting searches a level or two below the C-suite tier. “Whatever executive-level hiring needs you may have in 2019, our advice is to shop around for the firm that best fits your needs,” Mr. Gray said. “And, of course, we’re more than happy to talk to you about our approach!”


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Tip No. 5 – Recognize that your in-house recruitment team shouldn’t – and can’t – “do it all.” 

Talent acquisition in today’s world is a complex and ever-changing activity, requiring recruiters to wear multiple hats as social media experts, researchers, “salespeople” for the company, and more.

“Expecting the recruitment team to “do it all” – and do ‘all’ well – is unrealistic,” said Mr. Gray. “And usually not in your best interest. Instead, determine what really matters, recruitment-wise, in your organization and focus in-house resources on those activities and ‘buy’ specialization from outside experts.”

Tip No. 6 – Redefine recruitment for the next generation.

More than one in three American workers (35 percent) are Millennials, making them the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, according to Pew Research Center. Millennials, and up-and-coming younger generations, have an entirely different approach to job search than their parents. By extension, using the latest tech tools to attract and hire talent is a “must,” not a nicety.

Related: 13 Rules for Getting the Most Out of Your Executive Search Firm

It is unnecessary to be an expert on the actual tool-sets but leaders do need to understand what’s at their disposal for targeting these demographic groups. “The range of tools available is enormous, ever-changing and evolving and is turning the industry inside out,” said Mr. Gray. “Ultimately, hiring cycles will be compressed and candidates will be screened, reference-checked, assessed, video-interviewed, made an offer and hired within hours, rather than weeks and months, without stepping a foot over a brick-and-mortar threshold. We’re just at the beginning of a whole new era in the field and those who win at the talent game will be the ones who anticipate and react to these changes.”

Tip No. 7 – Be creative.

In 2019, commit to open yourself to new ideas about talent acquisition. “That may be as simple as borrowing ideas for recruitment from an industry outside of your own,” Mr. Gray said. “Or experimenting with a new tech tool to see what may, or may not work, for your organization’s needs. Or reviewing job application procedures to be sure you’re not limiting the flow of qualified, but non-traditional, candidates into your pipeline. Or perhaps partnering with your colleagues in the marketing department for help in refreshing your employment brand.”


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“By looking at age-old recruitment challenges from different perspectives, you may uncover fresh new solutions,” Mr. Gray said.

Looking into 2019

Shelli Herman, president and founder of Shelli Herman and Associates, said she is highly optimistic going into 2019. “Never has there been a time when the need for a strong executive search partner is more essential,” she said. “It is also important that company leaders see the best way forward and partner closely with internal and external recruiting teams.”

In her view, the only way you can attract and retain the best talent is if current leadership has a clear forward vision, understands what the role requires, is honest about who would be the best fit for the role, and can articulate how the opportunity surpasses others available in growth potential, compensation, and values fit, she said. “The stakes have never been higher.”

Related: Why Finding Effective Leaders Remains a Challenge

Anyone who is active in the search business knows that the hiring marketplace is rapidly changing, said Ms. Herman. “Organizations that want to compete must be fully prepared for the changes happening or risk losing out on attracting the best talent available,” she said. “Gone are the days where searches take months; innovators find ways to reduce the time it takes to hire the best of the best.”

“Market leaders are also not afraid to make mistakes, course correct, and see their way forward with a sense of urgency,” Ms. Herman added. “We are being asked to fill executive level searches in record time without compromising quality. I strongly believe that those organizations who are both willing and able to see around corners into 2019 will flourish.”

Robin Judson, managing partner and group founder at Robin Judson Partners, said that she would add one crucial point to Mr. Gray’s list: Don’t lose talent while looking for new talent. “Assuming that a company has valuable staff already in place, make sure that in bringing in new talent, the company does not discourage the top employees,” she said. “That means considering existing employees for a higher level spots before hiring an outsider, even if it means a little mentoring.”

“If the gap is too large, find ways to encourage them to stay on with some development opportunities,” said Ms. Judson. “Training courses, attendance at industry conferences and bringing more junior staff into higher level meetings will encourage them that they have a future. If the company makes new hires at the same level as some top performers, make sure to level-up the comp of top current staff to mitigate the potential need to pay more to hire than existing staff receives.” 

Related: Close the Book on Searches and Hire the Best Candidates Quickly

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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