Resilient Recruiters

When companies stop hiring, recruiters can still contribute and learn new skills.

By Stephenie Overman Dec 1, 2009
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December CoverWhere staffing levels have been reduced or frozen, some companies have been "recycling" recruiters by sending them to help colleagues in other departments. It gives recruiters an opportunity to learn new skills, continue contributing to their companies—and avoid being laid off.

After Southwest Airlines froze its headcount in January, it "had an excess of recruiters who didn’t have work to do," says Greg Muccio, a team leader in the People Department. But Southwest prides itself on its no-layoff policy, so recruiters didn’t have to fear for their jobs.

Muccio oversees a redeployment program called "Loan Your LUV"—a play on the company’s "FunLUVing Attitude" slogan. Recruiters have welcomed the opportunity to help in other areas and gain knowledge and skills, Muccio says. "It’s a human-nature thing—most people don’t want to sit around."

The Loan Your LUV program is similar to one Muccio created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, before the U.S. Transportation Security Administration was created, when airlines were accountable for customer screening."We had our folks working shifts" screening passengers, he says. Recruiters "were trained on how to pat down people and do a bag search."

This time, some recruiters have received software training, and one person was trained in the grievances tracking procedure. Others have taken on administrative tasks so experienced employees in other departments can handle more-specialized work.

The company also has used recruiters for projects such as bulk mailings, thereby avoiding the costs of temporary workers. Since January, about 80 recruiters have taken assignments that would have required temporary workers, Muccio says. "We’re almost to half a million dollars of savings without laying off anybody. We saved $127,000 in July alone."

Another benefit: Southwest’s recruiters are more devoted to the company than temporary workers could be, according to Muccio. He says recruiters are faster and more efficient because of "their passion and care for the company."

And the training and experience they receive in other departments increases recruiters’ knowledge bases, says Muccio. "They’re building relationships and getting a better understanding of what that department needs. It’s a huge win."

Some recruiters already have returned to their regular jobs, he adds, after first giving notice where they were working temporarily. And in a couple of instances, recruiters have received job offers. "If somebody uncovers a new passion, we’re happy for them," Muccio says.

Personality Assessment

When recruiters are getting temporary assignments, a question arises: What type of position best suits a recruiter’s personality? Consultant Susan Stockton, GPHR, and corporate HR executive Judy Pilotte, who have worked together in the past, offered strongly contrasting answers.

"A real, true recruiter is a salesperson," says Stockton, president of Corporate Growth Consultants in Dallas. "They can move into the sales department and do well."

Pilotte’s initial reaction: "Sales? I don’t think so. There’s a special breed that does sales." Pilotte is the director of benefits and services for MetroPCS Wireless in Richardson, Texas.

Stockton says the two conferred and ultimately agreed that it depends on where an individual is on the recruiting ladder.

"I have had the opportunity to work with recruiters that are 100 percent dedicated to the recruiting, sourcing, staffing role. These are the salespeople that live to close the deal," Stockton says.

Pilotte, on the other hand, is more of an HR generalist with a compensation background.

"We both agree that the true senior recruiter is a sales type, whereas the HR generalist with some responsibility for recruiting is not," Stockton says, adding that senior-level recruiters are all about finding the right candidate and closing the deal. "We’ve had recruiters who would come into my office and jump up and down and sing, ‘I got him, I got him!’ It comes back to what’s their basic personality."

Junior-level staffers who do sourcing and assessment may be suited to other temporary assignments. If a department needs research, these individuals "are good at ferreting out information," Pilotte says.

Good recruiters are "supposed to know all jobs," Pilotte notes, meaning they can assist the organizational development department with succession planning. "Who better knows what these people do, whether they are ready for the next level?" she asks.

That kind of knowledge is also useful in the compensation arena, she says. Working temporarily in compensation will broaden a recruiter’s skills. Plus, an individual may like it and want to continue. "Maybe the compensation expert will leave and [the recruiter] will have better skills and can move in. You can make better money in compensation" than in junior-level recruiting, she says.

During the lean times, Becky Strickland, SPHR, senior HR manager for Time Warner Cable in Colorado Springs, Colo., has redeployed recruiters to projects that were "pushed to the side" following a merger several years ago. One project was updating job descriptions for nearly 7,000 employees in her region. "Recruiters understand the essential functions of each job," she points out.

Strickland also finds that "sometimes people have hidden talents or interests" worth encouraging.

The Career Spa Approach

External recruiting firms may not have other departments to send recruiters to during a downturn, but that hasn’t stopped Tom Darrow, founder and principal of Talent Connections LLC in Roswell, Ga., from finding creative ways to hold onto valuable employees.

Darrow has taken two approaches. First, he has reduced the hours of a couple of employees and helped them find temporary part-time work elsewhere. "The goal for us and for the employees is to come back to full time as soon as we’re able," says Darrow, president-elect of the Society for Human Resource Management Georgia State Council.

Second, Darrow espouses this philosophy: When business is slow, build other service offerings so you have revenue now and down the road. In March, Talent Connections launched Career Spa, an outplacement career transition service staffed by the firm’s recruitment personnel.

"The people we used to build the curriculum used to be the recruiters," Darrow says. "They know what will get the attention of hiring managers. They know how to network" and help outplacement clients.

Career Spa has been a rallying point, according to Darrow. "We’ve served a lot of people, and we feel we’ve been helping a lot of people," he says. In addition, recruiters have built more connections and gained more expertise.

Recruiters should see work in other areas as a way of retooling themselves, of learning a new technology or skill and investing in their own future, Darrow insists. "The only things that are stable are your skills set, your network and your reputation. If those three things are good, you will be in demand."

Beverly Kaye, co-author of Love ’Em or Lose ’Em: Getting Good People to Stay (Berrett-Koehler, 2008), agrees that recruiters need to take advantage of temporary assignments: "The smart recruiter is going to say, ‘My company could have chosen to lay me off for the duration of the recession. I had better take advantage of all these opportunities. I’m priming my own pump. This may open career paths.’ "

HR professionals "can use all the extra hands and hearts" they can get to make it through this recession, Kaye says, urging HR leaders and recruiters to ask what information recruiters may have that can be used in areas such as retention and organizational development.

Kaye advises recruiters to be the "retention engagement champions" of newer hires. She notes that bringing talent in is hard work, so it’s worth the effort to make sure they stay. "Be their ombudsman. Seek them out," she says. Find out which areas the company excels at and which ones need work.

Managers should be conducting such interviews with newer employees regularly, but they seldom have time, reflects Kaye, founder and chief executive officer of Career Systems International, a consulting firm in Scranton, Pa. These interviews "re-recruit" newer employees, improve morale and often uncover information. "Go back and talk to everyone you hired in the last five years and find out if the match was a good one and if it could be made better," she advises.

Kaye recommends that when recruiters receive short-term assignments, they also receive titles and job parameters. "These assignments give recruiters great items to put on their resumes and to test out new waters—almost like a rotational assignment," she says.

Working a rotational assignment will give recruiters credibility with hiring managers in the future, Kaye continues. "A lot of hiring managers see recruiters as a step away from the real business," as people who simply take orders and fill orders. "If recruiters take time to know the business, they’ll be seen as strategic business partners."

Step Up and Volunteer

Rather than waiting to accept assignments, recruiters can interview directors and managers of different departments to find out what their needs are. Strickland advises recruiters to step up and volunteer, and to proactively explain what they can do for the company.

Kaye agrees that it pays for recruiters to take the initiative, to ask who needs an extra hand.

And when recruiters return to home base, they should share their experiences, Kaye says, by describing what they learned and what they think the organization needs to learn. That information will be valuable when the recession ends, she notes, because "recruiters are going to be overwhelmed."

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The author is editor of Staffing Management magazine, author of Next-Generation Wellness at Work (Praeger, 2009) and a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.

Web Extras

SHRM article: A Recruiter Gives Outplacement Services a Shot (HR Magazine)

SHRM article: Putting HR in Rotation (HR Magazine)

SHRM HR Q&As: How do I implement an effective job rotation program in my company?

SHRM sample policy: Job Rotation

SHRM video: Jeremy Eskenazi says recruiting, once considered an entry-level HR function, now offers significant career advancement opportunities

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