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Talent Recruitment During Turbulent Times
Before we get caught up in the inevitable panic whenever the stock market plunges and the economy spirals out of control, it is important to take a more long-term view.
We’ve seen this cycle repeat itself a number of times during the last decade when the dot com bubble burst, after the NASDAQ tanked in 2001, after 9/11 in America, after SARS in Asia and Toronto, and now during the worst global economic meltdown since the Great Depression. Many organizations had felt that they had no alternative but to lay off talented and experienced professionals. Currently, the pool of available talent in the labour market is large and expanding. Before we get caught up in the inevitable panic whenever the stock market plunges and the economy spirals out of control, it is important to take a more long-term view.
Over the long haul, the impact of shifting population demographics on the labour pool will be staggering. As the baby boom generation continues to age, we can expect acute labour shortages similar to the ones we experienced in the high technology sector during the dot com boom. At this time, when there is a short term a talent surplus, firms would be wise to take stock of their needs and take proactive steps to attract, recruit and retain the brightest and the best to fuel their organization's growth and profitability. Add the right players to your team and you have a key source of competitive advantage.
Attract the wrong talent and you will have difficulty meeting your strategic goals and objectives. The days of placing ads in the newspaper and receiving a flood of resumes from qualified applications are drawing to a close. In the future, organizations that want to ensure that they have a steady stream of applicants will have to think outside the box to broaden their repertoire of talent recruitment strategies. This will involve a change in mindset
A Change in Mindset
Don't be in Such a Hurry to Hire
Far too often, organizations create their own talent recruitment challenges. When business is booming, some companies go on a massive hiring spree. It almost feels like any live body will do. The workforce is expanded without really take stock of talent requirements both in terms of technical and performance skills. Technical skills are specific to particular occupations.
Performance skills are transferable skills that can be used in a variety of fields. Sometimes, companies hire individuals with strong technical proficiency without taking the time to assess the degree to which their work style is consistent with corporate values and the constraints of the organization's environment. For example, in an environment that is project driven and in which teamwork is a critical ingredient in achieving results, too many lone rangers are added to the team. In an industry that requires product innovation and the ability to spin on a dime to remain competitive, stodgy individuals with a conservative management style are added to the senior management team.
Instead of automatically expanding your workforce, it would be more prudent to spend more time assessing corporate culture fit during the hiring process. It would also be wise to bring individuals into the organization on contract and give yourself more time to evaluate performance in YOUR world before making an offer full time employment. Another wise move would be to identify which positions are core to an organization's mission and purpose and which can be filled through contractors, independent consultants and other forms of outsourcing on a long-term basis.
Don't be so Quick to let Them go
After staffing up, when the economy cycles down as we know it will from time to time, many organizations an begin cutting jobs. Some of these jobs probably should not have been created as full-time positions in the first place. When turbulent times come, this is another opportunity to identify the roles are core and which can be outsourced. For key roles and positions, lay-offs aren't always the best and only option. Instead of hitting the panic button and shifting into lay-off mode, why not consider a more creative approach.
* identify the percentage by which revenue needs to be increased and expenses have to be cut to remain profitable
* engage employees in a facilitated process of brainstorming to come up with ideas for generating revenue and cutting costs
You never know what employees with suggest. They may come up with everything from going to a 4 day work week, reducing the length of the workday, providing unpaid leave days or, as Toyota recently did, unplugging hand dryers in the washrooms to save electricity.
Out of the Box Talent Recruitment Strategies for Growing Your Team in a Turbulent Economy
Once you have identified your needs, determined which positions are core, which can be outsourced and which are not required, then you are in a position to begin your talent recruitment efforts. Putting the right long and short-term strategies in place will ensure that you attract the right talent now and into the future.
Your first challenge is to generate a large enough talent pool from which you can draw when searching for top talent. This should not be difficult when there is a surplus of talent on the market. The second is to develop an effective process for screening and selecting the best candidates.
Short-term strategies for generating a talent pool include:
* talent auditions
* job fairs
* incentives and contests for employee referrals
* the use of web based resources such as job boards, social networking sites, and job distribution services.
Longer term strategies could/might include:
* giving executives and senior managers time off to become actively involved in the leadership of professional associations or the alumni associations of universities and secondary schools from which they graduated
* sponsoring employee participation in high profile sporting events
When we recently conducted our behaviour based interviewing workshop in Singapore, a Vice-President who attended the session indicated that his company had sponsored an employee's participation in a high profile sporting event. The company received so much publicity and exposure that it was more than worth their while to allow the employee to take time off to attend practices and compete in the event.
* giving executives and senior managers time to broaden their network of up and coming professionals by teaching at university or community college (this can be done on a part-time basis or through sabbaticals)
* summer and co-op placements for high school and college students;
* providing scholarships for high potential high school graduates from low income families in exchange for a certain number of years of service
* sponsoring tutoring and upgrading programmes at elementary and secondary schools with high failure and drop out rates
* partnering with local junior high and secondary schools to arrange field trips and site visits to company locations
Some of these strategies may seem far-fetched but the talent has to come from somewhere. If we don't help the schools to grow it, the talent may not be there for us to buy when we need it.
* attracting media coverage and publicity by shaping a unique and vibrant corporate culture and environment where up and coming professionals will want to work.
Shaping a Winning Corporate Culture
Other long-term strategies involve positioning your organization as an employer of choice. A lot of it has to do with the corporate culture that you shape and the way you treat your employees. During the last 2 recessions, some employers took advantage of the fact that it was a buyer's market. They offered new employees rock bottom wages and treated the members of their team in a harsh and demanding manner. When the economy picked up, those organizations experienced a mass exodus of talent and severe talent retention challenges. It is important to learn the right lessons from their experience. Some long-term strategies to explore include:
* initiating tele-commuting, flex hours, job sharing, and part-time work to tap into the female labour force on a long term basis
* investing in the members of your team by providing opportunities for training and development, an area that is typically cut in turbulent markets
* increasing your organization's public exposure by making it possible for employees to participate in high profile activities (e.g. the Olympics and other major sporting events, acting) even if means giving them some time off work. Like Home Depot and McDonald's, you can then feature them in some of your advertisements.
In Canada, a major credit card company, fast food restaurant and a retail chain have used a similar same strategy. They hired and sponsored Olympic calibre and ensure that their schedules are flexible enough for training and participation events. Every time the Olympics rolls around (summer, winter and special Olympics) they have a ready made and unique angle for team commercials. They also generate a lot of free press. Although the retail chain will be ending this programme in March, 2009, it was an effective marketing strategy and a great way to position itself as an employer of choice 16 years.
Key Skills for Turbulent Times
Once you have ensured that your organization has access to a pool of talented IT professionals, the next step is to be rigorous in your screening and selection processes. To be successful in the turbulent high technology industry, employees need much more than strong technical skills.
They must also be able to:
* embrace change
* tolerate ambiguity
* learn quickly
* produce high quality work within short time frames
* maintain constructive relationships with team members, team leaders and clients even when under stress;
* juggle multiple projects, tasks and priorities
It can be challenging to assess how well candidates will fit your environment. During periods of job shortages and intense competition the job market, candidates develop strategies to present themselves favourably during traditional interviews. Many candidates receive:
* assistance in designing resumes
* image consulting regarding dress
* coaching to improve their effectiveness in handling typical interview questions.
This preparation can mask a candidate's deficiencies. Although interviews are the most widely used selection tool, they are not the best predictor of on the job performance. Strategies such as assessment centres, job samples and rigorous reference checks will uncover much more reliable data. Whenever possible, these strategies should be used in conjunction with selection interviews.
Interviewing Do's and Don'ts
To ensure that interviews yield the best possible data on which to base selection decisions here are some tips to share with your executive and management teams. First let's look at some interviewing pitfalls:
Avoid questions, which make it easy for candidates to bluff their way through interviews.
For example, if you are still using the following dinosaurs as part of your standard battery of interview questions, you will miss key information that you need to assess potential employees:
* Tell me about yourself?
* What is your greatest strength?
* What is your greatest weakness?
* Why do you want to work for us?
Don't inadvertently screen candidates out because they don't fit your non-job related pre-conceived notions about your ideal candidate
(e.g. Caucasian, attractive, mid thirties, plays golf, no foreign accents).
Make sure that you don't inadvertently "telegraph" the right answers to the candidates
(e.g. "We are a very fast-paced company. How well do you deal with pressure?") This is a very common interviewing error.
Don't be fooled by a smooth interaction style during an interview.
Dig deeper. You may be dealing with a charmer or a con artist who will, at best, fail to produce results and, ultimately, cost you money.
Don't neglect to contact the candidates last 3 immediate supervisors for references.
Some candidates try to impress potential employers by supplying as references the names of high profile executives with whom they are personal friends. Sometimes, these individuals have no direct knowledge of an individual's work styles or habits.
Don't get so caught up in the intense pressure of a turbulent industry that you fail to do some long term manpower planning.
Decisions made in haste because filling a particular position is left until the need is urgent can be costly.
Don't leave the bulk of the hiring up to inexperienced managers and then fail to give them adequate training or tools.
Their mistakes can cost you time, money and even get your company involved in a human rights complaint or discrimination in hiring lawsuit.
Here are a few ideas to help your team improve the effectiveness of their selection interviews:
To improve your selection decisions, use a panel of 2 - 3 interviewers instead of relying on the judgment of one person.
Pre-plan the interviews with structured interview guides and questions.
Develop a clear picture of the type of corporate culture you want to foster and the values that will support that culture.
Design behaviour based questions to give candidates an opportunity to provide specific examples of when they have demonstrated those values. ("Please describe a specific situation in which you took a stand regarding a tough ethical dilemma at work even though there was a personal cost.")
Develop a realistic picture of the constraints of your working environment and prepare questions to help candidates describe when they have successfully performed under these constraints.
("When have you successfully executed a project within a tight time-frame and with a limited budget? What project management tools and methodologies did you use to ensure success?")
To get a balanced picture of a candidate's skills, develop some questions to give candidates an opportunity to describe when they have not handled situations effectively.
("Tell me about a time when you became so overwhelmed that you were unable to deal effectively with a change at work that you did not support.")
Make training available for all inexperienced managers and for experienced managers who have made poor hiring decisions.
Ensure that all managers involved in the hiring process are thoroughly familiar with the legislation that has a bearing on hiring and selection. This will help you avoid negative publicity and time-consuming human rights complaints.
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