Cutting your Recruiting Capabilities Now May Be a Big Mistake Later

Cutting your Recruiting Blog

[This blog post first appeared on Fistful of Talent in May 2020]

Recessions, just like a great Stephen King novel or an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, give us the shivers. Recessions give us the exact opposite of “all the feels.” Recessions are spine tinglers because, frankly, we have no consequential control on the immediate situation. My perception is that nothing I do right now will impact a direct outcome, especially a positive one. And, many times, that perception is the hard truth. When a ‘black swan’ event like COVID happens, companies are forced to cut bait (jobs, budget, spending) and run quickly. Understandably, companies have to do whatever it takes to get through the next crisis point and figure out the rest later. 

In our world, that equates to hiring freezes, recruiter furloughs, or talent acquisition team layoffs, which to most, including me, makes sense (and I am biased in favor of recruiting). However, is it possible, just maybe, that the logic is flawed?  

This HBR article titled, Now Is an Unprecedented Opportunity to Hire Great Talent, indicates our gut instinct to cut and run does need serious tweaking. The best opportunity to secure top talent actively and passively is RIGHT NOW. So, why do companies default to throwing out the proverbial baby (aka your recruiting team) with the bathwater? During recessions, why do we think in terms of either/or? Are we going to either continue hiring or begin freezing job openings? This article asks, can’t we do both?

With a cool head and a little data from the past – we can. Data from past recessions showed a bizarre contradiction. In one study, the most frequent crisis response from companies was to cut back recruiting. However, the same respondents indicated one of the most effective interventions to their previous recession crisis was selectively hiring high-performance employees from competitors. Hmmmm? 

There is the rub. Selectively hiring top performers during a recession has excellent long term ROI; however, the people best qualified to find those top performers should be immediately laid off. What to do, what to do?

It appears the companies with cooler heads, who did not embrace the “either/or” approach, prevailed. Obviously, not all recruiting jobs can be saved during a pandemic-driven recession, but eliminating talent acquisition teams based primarily on hiring freezes is short-sighted. In my opinion, before the plug is pulled on valuable TA resources, companies need to slow-their-roll a bit and assess two things: 

  • How can our company leverage the current circumstances and selectively attract and hire the best talent? 
  • How can our company re-purpose the TA team to help in non-recruiting activities? What inherent skill/talents do recruiters have that can be effectively utilized in other critical areas. For instance, customer support, communications, or HR.  

During times of crisis, successful companies prevail through great communication programs, the ability to listen and connect with others, a desire to make things better (show empathy, perhaps), and plain-old hard work. Great TA teams have all of this in troves. 

So, before adding the recruiting team to the top of the furlough list, think critically about what “recession market” opportunities should be leveraged now, that will benefit the company well beyond the recession. And when you realize those opportunities are much higher than anticipated, you’ll be glad you kept both a cooler head and your TA team.