Sunday, June 27, 2010

Recruiting When Workers Have Choices

The recession has seen a striking decline in the field of recruiting as the glut of workers has made employers overconfident. With so many workers to choose from, many employers seem to think that recruiting consists mainly of going through a stack of resumes and throwing away 97 percent of them, a tedious task that can be assigned to a secretary or intern. Recruiting companies have largely been reduced to finding workers already employed in a field and promising them higher salaries. These strategies may work now, with the job market hopelessly out of balance, but they are not likely to measure up two years from now when some movement returns to the job market.

I had an occasion to talk with one employer this week, who complained of getting “just” a few dozen applications for two minimum-wage openings that had been posted only for three weeks, and only on the employer’s own web site. If this is a measure of employers’ overconfidence, then they are not ready for what is likely to hit them as the economy recovers.

Workers have more options outside of employment than ever, and the tight job market is forcing many workers to explore their options. When you consider that less than 3 out of 4 workers are fully employed, this will be creating the equivalent of a generation of workers who are not so easy to employ. These are not the subsistence farmers and dropouts of 1969 (though there is some of that going on now too), but skilled workers with real business models. Some will be so successful that they won’t consider working for another company; others, though, will be happy to consider offers, but won’t be as eager as before to jump through hoops for a chance at a job interview. To employers that have always taken a passive or even a hostile approach to recruiting, the latter group is just as inaccessible as the former.

Some of the big-box retailers know what is coming and are already experimenting with ways to automate a small part of their work so they can get by with a smaller or less reliable work force. But many employers, particularly in the hospitality sector, will be staggered by the coming sequence of events, as their best employees go away just as their customers are starting to come back. Any employer, though, still has time to adjust its approach to recruiting and employee relations, taking a more active and more positive approach to workers.