It seems counterintuitive. How can you recruit if you have no open positions? What if you are in an industry or organization that is experiencing layoffs, furloughs, or a hiring freeze? The truth is a downturn can be an ideal time to time to assess and enhance your organization’s hiring efforts. After all, finding top talent is not a finite task, but rather an ongoing effort that requires time, energy and effort, even during a downturn.

I have been in recruiting and human resources since the mid-90’s, and have been through a few significant slumps, including the dotcom bubble bursting, post-9/11, and the financial crisis of the late 2000’s.  While I was working in the investment industry during those specific events, I now work with nonprofit and mission-driven organizations, and the same principles hold true.

Here are ten actions you can take to ensure your organization is well positioned for the “new normal”:  

  1. Build a pipeline. When hiring is moving fast and furiously, it can be quite a challenge to find the time to look around and figure who at your competitors and other organizations you would LOVE to hire. Now is the time to do that. Who are the stars that you should proactively reach out to the next time a role is open? Leverage LinkedIn, checking in with those you know and connecting with those you do not. Think of amazing speakers and attendees you have met at conferences and/or industry-related events, or those who write articles/white papers that have impressed you. Engage with former employees who were top performers. They may be open to a return for the right opportunity
  2. Create diverse candidate pools. It is easy to post in the same places, but those same places will likely produce the same candidates. There are tons of organizations specific to people of color and women, those who are differently abled, LGBTQ, veterans, etc. In addition, there are job boards that are focused on diversity within certain areas of expertise, such as fundraising, IT, or marketing. Find the ones that work for the jobs your organization hires for so that you have that list at the ready when a job opens.
  3. Consider niche job boards. Just a few short months ago, it was a candidate’s market. Job postings may have only produced a handful of candidates. That has changed – big time – and while at first you will feel like you have your choice of candidates, you may realize that in this “new normal” you are spending an inordinate amount of time sifting through resumes and fielding endless calls from candidates, which will significantly extend your time to fill metrics. Rather than using the big, broad job boards, focus on the ones specific to your industry and the role, use LinkedIn to proactively reach out to candidates, and tap into your network.
  4. Revisit former finalists. I am going to let you in on a little secret: at the end of each search, I make a list of the top candidates. I did this when I was recruiting in-house, and I do it now that I am an external search consultant. While we all hope that the person hired will stay in the role forever, things change. People get promoted, move, decide that it is not the right role for them, or perhaps your organization expands and decides that they need more people in that same role. Why reinvent the wheel when you already know great candidates? If you loved the finalists in your search, keep them in mind and reach back out if you are hiring for that role or a similar one in the future.
  5. Reconnect with the ones that got away. Whether the candidate you made an offer to opted to accept a role elsewhere or received a counteroffer from their existing employer, it is never easy to lose out on your dream candidate. Stay in touch. You never know when the time will be right for them to make a move to your organization, and anyone that makes it that far in the search most likely got to know your hiring team and the organization and at the very least could be a great source of candidate referrals.
  6. Train your interviewers. When hiring moves at lightning speed, it is easy to let training go by the wayside. It should always be a priority, as you want to ensure that all interviewers are trained to avoid potentially unlawful and discriminatory interview questions, as well as how to avoid unconscious bias. Training also helps interviewers understand how to use the interview times wisely, how to create a positive experience for the candidate, and how to assess each candidate’s strengths and opportunities.
  7. Look at your careers/jobs page. Okay, I get it. There may not be a job posted right now, so it may seem like a pointless exercise. However, eventually candidates will look at the page. Be sure that the message of your careers page is on brand, explains how candidates should apply, shares information on things that will appeal to potential candidates such as training and advancement opportunities, what benefits you offer, what onboarding looks like, and what differentiates your organization as an employer. If you have no current openings, invite those interested in applying to submit a resume for future opportunities. This can help build out your pipeline for the future. Be sure to ask recent hires for their feedback – they are a wealth of information since they only recently were looking at the page and now have the benefit of some time within your organization.
  8. Streamline your process. Have you ever started the hiring process and find that you are adding more and more steps and interviewers as you go? That may cost you top candidates, as they will feel that the process is not organized, excessively long, and confusing. Take the time now to look at how many interview rounds there will be, how many interviewers are needed, and who is involved in each step, making sure that each interviewer is essential and not just a “nice to have”. At the start of each search, recommit to those steps and be transparent with candidates about the recruiting process during your first interview.
  9. Upgrade job descriptions. In the heat of the moment, it is easy to glance at your existing job descriptions in a rush to post. Look at the duties and responsibilities. Jobs evolve with time, technology, and changes to your organizational structure; make sure that the job description is relevant to the current role. In addition, take the particularly important step of reviewing job descriptions to ensure that you are not using biased language, as this could be discouraging diverse candidates from applying.
  10. Succession planning. If succession planning is something your organization does, or if you need to get started, now is the time to pay attention to it. When there is an economic crisis due to an extraordinary event, such as COVID-19, it is called a Black Swan. Black Swans often cause people to assess their life and work, and whether this is what they genuinely want to do. It happened to me – as the recession of the late 2000’s started to improve, I realized that I wanted to do something different and left the investment industry to work in the nonprofit sector. Others I know opted to retire, start their own business, stay home with children, or go back to school full-time. Having a succession plan in place will ensure continuity of leadership and productivity.

While the above tips are focused on your employees, many can also be applied to your board positions!

Remember, this too shall pass. If you do a thorough assessment of your talent acquisition efforts and take the steps to enhance it now, your organization will be in a much better position when hiring picks up again.

A woman-owned company based in Boston, Pillar Search & HR Consulting provides executive search and human resources consulting expertise to nonprofit and mission-driven organizations, working with senior leaders and boards of directors to hire and develop the very best talent across all functional areas of the organization. For more information, please contact Cindy Joyce at [email protected].