It goes without saying that when an economic crisis hits, companies start cutting costs and one of the first things they do is stop hiring, however if history tells us something, it’s that once the storm calms, which it seems to always do, the urgency to hire once again becomes a top of mind issue for most companies and the war for talent rages on.
One example of this would be the period of time that followed 9/11, where the economic outlook seemed grim at best. With the United States starting a war in Afghanistan, the collapse of Enron, other corporate scandals rising to the surface, SARS, and the situation in Iraq, there was much to be worried about for Corporate America.
Being a recent grad that was just starting my career in technical recruiting, the experience was painful. Jobs were few and far between, competition was thick to say the least, and as a Technical Recruiter working for an outside agency, finding an excellent candidate with the technical chops and mindset to excel within a client’s environment was simply not enough to make a placement.
During these times, it was feast or famine and making a placement involved identifying and attracting the absolute best candidate in the market for the role the client was looking to fill – and even then, it was 50/50 with budgets being lost at the last moment and projects being eliminated. Not an ideal environment to prosper in, however there’s always a silver lining to any situation and in this case, it was having an opportunity to learn a very important lesson about agency recruiting, an industry that’s often considered a grind even in the best of times.
It was that having a growth mindset, being forward thinking, quickly adapting, and persisting in the face of setbacks, makes it a whole lot easier to prosper and rise above the rest when the times change for the better – which they always inevitably do.
This is definitely not a foreign concept, however I think Corporate America could learn a lot about this when it comes to hiring during difficult times. What seems to happen is that companies choose to avoid risk versus capitalizing on the opportunity to upgrade their staff. Instead of taking advantage of a buyer’s market by cleaning house, assessing the talent gap, and hiring the best and brightest, they choose to retain only their strongest people and let everyone else go for fear of the unknown. This includes both the up-and-comers as well as less tenured but highly capable employees whom, if given the chance to round out their skills, would likely end up being the strongest players on their teams.
This short sided approach to headcount planning and staffing in general during difficult economic times proves itself to be very problematic for companies looking to get ahead in future. They end up letting go all of those employees that they worked so hard to hire when times were good. When the economy rebounds, it’s these companies who find themselves once again at ground zero – struggling to hire in a much more difficult environment with lots of companies competing for the same talent.
Things will always turn a corner – both good and bad so why not find ways to get ahead by doing the opposite of what your competitors are doing? During the tough times following 9/11, it was the forward-thinking, agile companies that came out on top because they staffed for the future by taking advantage of the buyer’s market to build stronger and more capable teams. By June 2003, the war for talent was again in full force, with companies hiring aggressively until the economy went into another tailspin in 2008.
History will again repeat itself and we are seeing this play out again with the scare of COVID-19. It doesn’t take a genius to know there’s lots of exceptionally talented professionals on the market right now looking for their next gig and I think most executives agree that people are their company’s greatest asset. So make some moves, and take advantage of the current hiring climate to sharpen your axe for the future. Do this even if it means taking on a bit more risk in exchange for the reward of hiring better people to do the same jobs more efficiently. If it isn’t you, it’ll be one of your competitors so seize the day and plan for the future.