4 Ways to Recruit Amid Historic High Unemployment

File this in the “you never know what can happen” category.


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Until March, America’s economy was booming, unemployment was at a 50-year low, and company hiring managers were lamenting about the lack of talent available to fill their open positions. All told, U.S. employers added jobs for a record 113 straight months, helping payrolls grow by 22 million.

But the weeks that followed were surprising even to economists. Unemployment claims surged by the millions in the week ending March 21, with more on the way.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is wreaking havoc on our nation’s economy, which puts hiring leaders in an interesting predicament: Should they abandon hiring plans and wait out the storm or proceed, albeit with caution?

Many companies are in a “hiring frost.” Positions are not frozen. Instead, hiring leaders are prioritizing and filling essential positions. These include roles in sales, business development, philanthropy, and marketing that are mission critical and help drive company revenue. Left unfilled, jobs can cost companies much-needed revenue. For example, open technology jobs in the United States can add up to a value of $20.1 billion, according to projections by Glassdoor.

The COVID-19 crisis may be new, but the way hiring leaders handle similar crisis situations is not. The events following 9/11 and the 2008 Great Recession are proof of that. Such times taught companies that with systems and processes in place, they can keep moving their businesses forward.

HR leaders can play a pivotal role in this work by updating (or, if needed, developing) systems and processes and filling the talent pipeline to assume essential roles.

But how and where do you start recruiting talent as an internal hiring manager, and what is the best approach for checking in with clients as an external recruiter?

Understand the State of the Business

Whether you recruit for your company or external clients, it is important to understand how the health crisis is affecting business. One of our clients in the financial industry recently told us, “I am keeping my foot on the pedal, letting up a bit on the accelerator, but my customers are slowing down.”

Knowing the sentiment of company department heads and client hiring leaders will help guide how you proceed in filling open positions.

Speak with Empathy

It’s important to check in with department heads and hiring leaders. In doing so—and at the risk of stating the obvious—it is important to be empathetic. These are unusual times, and emotions undeniably are running high. But this is a pause, a bump in the road. As recruitment experts, many of us have been on the front lines of a crisis before, and we know there are better days ahead.

Listen to your customers, and by all means, offer to help.

Offer an Extra Hand

The rise in unemployment claims undoubtedly has created a strong talent pool, at least compared with the worker shortage that was a pain point for hiring managers a few months ago.

For companies posting job opportunities, that is good news. The flip side is that weeding through the high volume of résumés to find the diamonds can be time-consuming, particularly for hiring leaders already stretched to the limit.

In such cases, external recruitment partners can enhance companies’ current outreach strategies by unearthing interested and qualified candidates.

Shortly after 9/11, our company teamed up with the American Red Cross to find candidates who

could make an immediate impact in positions ranging from blood banking and biomedical services to pharmaceuticals, quality assurance, and safety.

With just 3 days’ notice, we worked in tandem with the organization’s hiring leaders to identify, assess, and contact more than 6,000 potential candidates. We maintained internal records and applicant tracking logs, coordinated interviews, extended job offers, negotiated salaries, and assimilated employees into their new roles.

All told, we made 100 offers and hired 88 people in a span of 5 months.

Look for the Opportunity

Every crisis presents an opportunity. For hiring leaders, that opportunity is to connect employers with candidates who are a match for open positions.

As HR professionals, our job is to help corporate leaders and clients stay the course, knowing there are brighter days ahead.

Kathleen Duffy is president and CEO of Duffy Group, Inc., which sources and recruits candidates in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Europe, and Asia.

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