What if rather than downsizing your business, workload has increased and you need to hire people and/or to have your current people develop new skills? What are some key points for finding great recruits and or unlocking the strengths of your current people?

Hiring in a Recession

  • Hiring in a recession market is different. While higher levels of unemployment suggest that finding top people will be easier, this may not necessarily be the case. You may be swamped with applicants, many desperate for any job regardless of whether they are suitable or not. Screening large numbers of candidates can be very time consuming and unless this is done as efficiently as possible, you may risk losing a great candidate.
  • It is important to have a clear understanding about what you are looking for and to use robust and reliable methods and tools (in the context of COVID 19 new business challenges) as early on in the recruitment process as possible, so you know what selection criteria you are filtering against. It will be tempting to define quite specific experience, and technical expertise for your vacant role, with an expectation that you will find an applicant from a similar type of business to your business.  However, this risks you hiring someone that is suited to your business as it was prior to the world of COVID 19, or someone that could struggle to change how they have worked in the past and adapt to new ways of working.   
  • This is the time to think about the skills you may need for your future business, and often these will be the sorts of skills that make for success in any business – these skills are termed ‘transferable skills’. These are skills such as, adaptability, willingness to learn, good interpersonal skills, teamwork, initiative, reliability, conscientiousness and customer focus. The strong argument for considering transferrable skills over technical skills when hiring someone is that technical skills can be taught more readily than personal attitudes can be changed. Although, if you are changing the product your business is making you may need to hire someone who has particular technical skills. 
  • To develop the selection criteria, you need to be clear on your strategic and business plan resource requirements for the business going forward. 
  • If you’d like some help with this, we psychologists have job analysis techniques which are designed to hone-in on the critical current and future requirements.  You could also head to https://www.onetonline.org/find/ and build up a custom job description from the wealth of job information available.

Promoting and Retraining Existing Employees

  • In considering your strategic and business plan resource requirements, you may need to think about redesigning existing roles or changing role focus in your business. For example, under the pressure of COVID 19 one SME is thinking about what roles will help them move their company and business forward and are looking to refocus their traditional tactical sales roles with more emphasis on business development. 
  • During this time, this may also involve considering the suitability of all your current employees. For example, do they already have the type of skills that you may need for future direction and if not, how are you going to retrain them and motivate them to get on board with the new direction?  Employees who understand the ‘what’ and importantly the ‘why’ of required changes will be less resistant to change, less anxious, less likely to patch-protect and more likely to initiate change themselves. Ensuring a culture where people feel an increased sense of psychological safety may also be something you need to consider.  Within a psychologically safe culture people feel included, safe to learn, safe to contribute and safe to challenge the status quo. It is the foundation on which a strong culture is built. 
  • One of the upsides to the current business environment is the increased opportunity to promote internally, which is a great way to reward and retain your existing employees. Even when there might be a need to hire externally it is always good (where possible and practical) to give existing employees the opportunity to interview for the vacant role.  This allows your employees to gain insight on where they need to develop their skillset and knowledge levels, to be considered for this type of position in the vacancies.   And you often don’t know what skillsets are already within your organisation.
  • Research shows that it is generally better to train up an existing loyal and reliable employee who you know has the right attitude and is a strong fit to your company culture. It can be tempting to employ an external applicant with a nice shiny CV but there is risk with this as you often just don’t know how they will fit in with you and your team. Psychometric assessments can help here with both external and internal applicants and could include tools like Personality Questionnaires, Team Types Questionnaires and ability tests. 
  • Promoting within an organisation, provided you make a good selection decision, and then backfilling the role being vacated the person that has accepted the internal promotion is often a sensible strategy. Be careful to promote the internal person(s) based on the new skills required, and not just whether this person was great at their previous job. That said, you should definitely be prepared to develop your internal applicants, should they be successful in securing an internal promotion, into their new role. This again, has a positive spin-off for other employees in that they will see any successful internal candidates are not left to sink or swim, but rather receive the relevant company support to be more successful in their internal promotion.  
  • If you have the budget to invest in your current employees, consider using a strengths questionnaire or other personality /team type assessments, which help people to gain greater insight and understanding into their individual strengths and this in turn, means they will use these strengths more effectively in their roles. In addition, there is very robust, recent research that shows people who are placed in roles that utilise their strengths perform better, are more satisfied and find greater meaning in their work. 

Recruiting Tips

  • It is a great idea, to offer your existing employees an incentive to refer external candidates known to them for any vacant roles (i.e. an employee referral programme). An incentive payment to an internal employee can cost far less than a recruiter’s fee and adds another piece to your retention strategy. We know through research and industry practice that employees don’t tend to refer external duds to their company, as it would reflect badly on them and most employees do care that the business they work for succeeds. In addition, current employees tend to give any prospective employees they are referring, a true description of what your business is like to work for, so these referrals come with realistic expectations.
  • If you have an internal careers site, consider keeping any application forms open for longer periods or permanently open. While this may not resolve your short-term recruitment challenges, it will allow you as a prospective employer to collect pools of potential candidates for future recruitment requirements. This approach may be an effective way for candidates to register interest for future opportunities and advertisements or applications would therefore need to be positioned to reflect this.  This will require having an internal resource to routinely sort applications and enable a ‘keeping candidates warm’ strategy.
  • If you have a tricky to fill role or need to move quickly, then you may want to consider developing a relationship with a respected, seasoned recruiter who specialises in the work function that you are recruiting for, as this can be a quick and efficient way to fill the vacant position. One added advantage of this is that they will complete all of the screening for you, with the good ones also offering and including reliable and valid pre-screening tools as part of the process. 
  • Where there are urgent work resource requirements you may want to consider offering overtime opportunities (for a limited time), to your existing employees, as a means of completing this urgent work. 
  • When organisations are forced to operate with fewer resources either through past downsizing or fast changing business needs, it can highlight whether current and past roles and vacancies are / were required. This is because sometimes employees have been filling in their time with non-value adding tasks. This new, rapidly changing world will likely demand that your leaders and employees prioritise only crucial, essential work tasks.
  • In summary, don’t rush to employ. Consider first whether you can realistically retrain, upskill or promote your existing employees before you consider recruiting external resource. If you do need to recruit from the external COVID 19 candidate market, then definitely consider recruiting from a transferrable skills perspective (i.e. motivational fit & interpersonal characteristics) versus just the technical skills required in the vacant position. In addition, we recommend that you take the time now to identify any new skills and knowledge needed for your future business direction & wherever possible, invest in developing your current employees with these new skills and required knowledge base.  As a final tip, it’s never a good idea to take the best of a bad bunch.