A Pre-Turnaround Hiring Strategy Allows You to Hire When There Is No Competition

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that when business revenues are down, it simply doesn’t make sense to carry a large-scale recruiting effort, but if you’re smart, you know that once an economic turnaround begins, the competition for talent will again be fierce. Starting a major recruiting effort too early or too late both have negative consequences. An alternative strategy with many upsides involves targeted recruiting just prior to competition for talent heating up. This strategy is known as a “pre-turnaround hiring strategy,” and allows you to cherry pick top talent before everyone else starts aggressively courting the same people.

Time Your Recruiting to Occur When Competition Is Low

Recruiting is a lot like fishing. If you go out fishing on the first day of the season, there will be lots of fish available but there will also be a tremendous number of other fishermen trying to catch them. The ratio of fishermen to fish won’t be favorable and you will have to battle for good fishing spots. As a result, the odds of landing a trophy fish are small simply because of the intense competition at the start of the season. If you make the mistake of waiting even a month into the season, the odds of catching a trophy fish will drop to nearly zero. Imagine the results if you were granted permission to fish before the season began? If you came a week before the season started, you would be the lone fishermen among a large pool of available fish.

If you wait until the economic turnaround begins and everyone starts up recruiting again, the competition for talent will be intense, and the odds of landing a trophy candidate will be severely reduced. Fortunately, in recruiting, there are no laws limiting when you can recruit, so smart recruiting leaders will time their recruiting effort precisely prior the point before everyone else re-enters the recruiting game.

The Advantages of Pre-Boom Hiring

The broad concept of hiring when the competition is low is known as “countercyclical hiring” and is one of the 26 distinct recruiting strategies that recruiting leaders have available to them. Some of the advantages of this “acting immediately before” everyone else does include:

  • Low competition — few firms are recruiting, so even if you have a weak employer brand or a bad location, you won’t have to fight for top talent
  • High-quality talent is available — because of large-scale facility closings, mergers, and layoffs, there will still be a good number of high quality unemployed candidates available before the economic turnaround gets underway.
  • Frustrated employees may jump quickly — because many employees have been frustrated with their current employer over the last two to four years, many employed individuals are likely to jump at the first available opportunity to leave their current firm. This pent-up frustration may cause them to accept even a less-than-perfect opportunity (surveys have shown that a majority of employees would consider another job).
  • Talent costs are low — when the economic turnaround begins, competition and bidding for talent will cause salaries to begin rising, making the cost of hiring more expensive. But prior to the turnaround, talent will remain relatively cheap.
  • Business leaders understand pre-turnaround strategies — executives in sales, marketing, and product development already know the value of pre-cycle strategies. As a result, it won’t take much convincing to show executives the potential ROI and the competitive advantage to be gained with a preemptive recruiting strategy.
  • Hiring early allows time for training – hiring a month or two before your business actually needs the talent allows time for training and acclamation. As result, the new hires will be operating at full speed precisely at the time that the business needs them at full capacity.
  • Prioritization can increase your impact – if you are faced with limited recruiting resources, your plan should prioritize recruiting so it focuses solely on high-impact jobs. In addition, identify the jobs that are likely to be the hardest to fill after the turnaround, so that you can also move them to the head of the recruiting queue.
  • Weak recruiting might still yield results – because so few employers are in the marketplace, even a weakened recruiting team that may be using outdated tools may be able to produce significant results.  If you focus on boomeranging some of the top talent that you recently released you should be able to score some immediate results with little effort. In addition, harness your employees’ social media contacts and direct employees to convert them into candidates through your refurbished employee referral program.  Using these approaches, you should be able to make a killing.

Be Forewarned, the “War for Talent” Will Return

A key element in any pre-turnaround strategy is to correctly identify the precise time when recruiting competition will return. The competition for top talent will be extremely intense almost immediately after the turnaround begins. It would be naïve for anyone to assume that the “war for talent” will not return. Experts may disagree on when it will return, but mark my words, it will return. It has already returned in Silicon Valley and in parts of Asia and it never really subsided in healthcare. If you remember the last “war for talent,” the competition was so intense that it was hard for any firm to really “win,” even if it had the best strategies and tools. So the key is to make significant recruiting gains before it restarts.

Tips on Identifying When the Turnaround Will Begin

It’s hard to argue against the logic of this pre-turnaround strategy, so the key issue among doubters is correctly identifying when the turnaround will begin. Some of the things that you can do to identify an upcoming turnaround include:

  • Focus on your industry — predicting the turnaround for an entire economy is certainly difficult, but fortunately, you only need to predict the turnaround of your industry, which is much easier.
  • Use your strategic business planners — fortunately, within your firm there are already a large number of forecasters in business functions like sales, finance, marketing, and strategic planning working on predicting the turnaround. So instead of working alone, use their data and forecasts to identify the right time.
  • Look for historical business patterns and “first-mover” firms — because every industry has gone through many business cycles in the past, there are patterns and precursors that if identified can give you a heads-up warning of an upcoming turnaround. For example, by examining past business turnarounds in your industry, you are likely to find that there are one or two “first-mover” firms that begin to grow before any others. Simply tracking their business expansion and investment, you can then predict when the remaining firms will see an upturn in revenues.
  • Identify “first-mover” recruiting – in addition to looking at business expansion as an indicator of the turnaround beginning, you should also look for patterns that identify which firms in the past were the first to successfully begin large-scale recruiting in your industry. By identifying the order in which most firms reentered the recruiting marketplace, you can successfully predict when the competition for talent will again become intense.
  • Internal alert factors – there are even some early warning signs within a firm that can give you a “heads up” about when your executives will likely authorize expanded recruiting. Typical internal precursors that can be identified prior to the ramping up of recruiting at a firm include: authorizing increased overtime, salary increases, and increased hiring of contingent workers. Incidentally, college hiring usually lags behind experienced hiring.
  • Look at job postings – by tracking the volume of position postings on job boards and corporate websites, you can almost immediately see if any firm has made the decision to ramp up its hiring. Some jobs historically open up first (i.e. recruiting managers and recruiters must be hired months before a recruiting turnaround can begin), so tracking these “first-to-open-up” jobs can give you an early warning sign that recruiting is about to expand at a firm.
  • Option B: develop the plan and then wait — even if you can’t accurately predict in advance when the recruiting turnaround will begin, another option is to have a plan in place so that you can react quickly when it does. Although you won’t be first, because your plan is already developed, you should be able to recruit fairly successfully if you enter the marketplace before the majority in your industry have time to develop and implement a brand new recruiting plan. A second option is to build a “talent pool” of viable candidates in advance and hold off actual hiring until you are sure the turnaround has begun.


Final Thoughts

Being strategic is a relatively simple concept. You need to plan ahead and implement a program that has a major impact on business results. Pre-turnaround hiring can produce those dramatic results because the lack of competition makes it relatively easy to target and land a handful of high-impact game-changers, top performers, and innovators.

If you haven’t already developed an “explode out-of-the-blocks” plan for implementing large-scale recruiting after the business turnaround begins, you are already behind. Supplement that large-scale plan with the pre-turnaround component that I have described in this article. This pre-turnaround approach allows you to take advantage of the lull just prior to the turnaround and to make your critical hires before the next “war for talent” begins.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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