Ready…Set… HOLD! 2012 Talent Acquisition Predictions

(I wrote this  article that just appeared in the First Quarter 2012 issue of ASHER Insights, the quarterly newsletter of the ASHER Talent Alliance. There are other great articles and insights in the newsletter, so please visit the interactive newsletter today.)

I love this time of year. Now that we’re through the year-end buildup, talent acquisition professionals look bright-eyed to industry trends to see the latest and greatest to execute their 2012 plans. Like every other year, there have been predictions and promises about where we’re going, so I’m taking this opportunity to share my predictions. I don’t have a crystal ball, but after 20 years in this industry, watching the patterns and taking the journey, I’ve seen more than a few of my inklings ring true, and some certainly not (I’m not perfect of course!). These are my best guesses. The players in this game of talent acquisition include industry, candidates, and companies – before I delve into the trends in each area, let’s first take a step back to appreciate the lay of the land.

Landscape

I’m sure nobody needs a reminder that the global economy is stagnant and not healthy – the “rebound” has been slow. As a result, hiring decisions are scrutinized harder than ever, and as with previous recession times, 1985, 1992, post 9/11 to recall a few, companies are trying to stay lean, while being hesitant to commit to new roles and hiring additional “regular” headcount. What else is similar…well;

  • Candidate behavior is more cautious.
  • Recruiting trends follow the economy.
  • We aren’t flying boundlessly into new territory.
  • Location of growth is not where you might think.

What I do want to point out as a differentiator is that for the first time in my life, the slow economic rebound has not included much recruiting activity. Usually, within six months of a slaughtered economy, we’ve seen a comeback on the recruiting side of business (although sometimes very slight), which we are not yet seeing and this is on a global scale. The point is, yes we’ve been here before, but this time there is additional complexity. How do we deal with this complexity? It looks like the answer is by staying put.

I see 2012 as a very flat year for hiring, across the board. There will likely be no significant growth in any particular area. Companies are generally still concerned about hiring and adding headcount regardless of the promise of a rebounding economy. Whether you’re an active participant in industry conferences, or have been watching the trending from afar, there are a few areas we’ve seen pushed out repeatedly and are said to revolutionize the business. These ideas may hold true in other industries, or in niche spaces, but that doesn’t mean we will see them in talent acquisition.

The next big thing…or maybe not!

One of the repeated, overly hyped, larger than life trends we heard of often last year and the one I need to stop dead in its tracks is social media. Yes, I said it! I do not believe this is the year social media will become the golden chariot of talent acquisition. The golden chariot is only painted. We heard a lot about social media, mainly LinkedIn, talent communities, Facebook, and Twitter – how they are going to revolutionize how we attract and engage talent, both active and passive in ways we never had. Well, this is true, we are engaging talent in new ways; however social media has not replaced the fundamentals that have kept our profession, professional. There is certainly application for social media tools – but I do not see tools like Facebook and Twitter changing our profession, at least yet – and here is why;

  1. This is going to be a year of rebuilding recruiting foundations (which I’ll expand on this in a little later), not for innovation, which is required of social media tools at this point.
  2. We’ve heard the buzz, a lot of it – but where is the evidence this is a time and cost effective tool? I have not seen anything close to it yet (but I expect to in the next few years).
  3. While LinkedIn usage continues to grow for our function, the recruiting use of Facebook and Twitter has remained in the sphere of information sharing and distribution – across the board hiring of talent directly from Facebook and Twitter sourcing activity is still not producing the same direct results as LinkedIn (but, again, I believe that these two resources will produce more direct results in the future).
  4. Social media in recruiting is only building now, we hear about social recruiting, mobile recruiting, talent communities, cloud communities and the online candidate experience – how many candidates can tell you what these things actually are? In my small sample, hardly any (but they will soon!)
  5. Some companies are putting all their eggs in this one, virtual social media recruiting basket. If my predictions are correct, these companies are going to be a few quarters behind to catch up due to lack of performance with an exclusive focus on social media recruiting.

It may seem as though I have a social media grudge, which is not true. I have used these tools as a part of a strategy, but it is not (perhaps yet) the end all and be all. Between December 17, 2010 and February 1, 2011, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) conducted a study of 532 randomly selected HR professionals. It showed that only 44% of their companies were using social media in a HR capacity – not fully dedicated to recruiting activity. Interestingly, of all the companies represented, 19% reported starting to use social media within the last year. To me, this says that lot of programs are in their infancy and in a year with so much uncertainty and the need for every decision and every hire to matter that much more, it’s not the time to get flashy. In 2012, I expect there to be greater investment in the use of LinkedIn, and perhaps a wait and see investment in the use of Facebook and Twitter in most recruiting departments and teams.

Along with LinkedIn, the use of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as a strategy will overshadow the once popular job boards. Use of these boards may decline, even those connected to a social media site. While people are on social media sites, networking on LinkedIn and sharing information on Twitter and Facebook, what else is influencing them right now?

What’s up with candidates?

While we see organizations remaining cautious, it’s important to look at what candidates may be doing as well. The impact of the economic situation has not produced as nimble and mobile workforce as we once had, especially in the US. Where an individual may have bought or sold their home and moved for career mobility, this year you can expect to see people staying put as the housing market continues to suffer. People do not want to get into a scenario where they are stuck with a home in one city, and have to move to another.

This adds an additional challenge for organizations looking for specific talent. Not only are housing decisions affecting job change decisions, but an anxiety over change in an uncertain time has made attracting in-place professionals tough. Persuading a professional to quit their job and come to work in a new organization, especially in more senior roles is increasingly challenging.

Entry-level talent however, while also may be less mobile, is more willing to accept a temp-to-regular employment status that organizations are moving towards offering. This is positive in starting a new role, and minimizes risk to the company, making hiring more plausible. As a caveat, I will mention that all parties involved need to be aware of the legal requirements in this arrangement.

Talent Acquisition in the new Frontier

So, we’ve talked about 2012 from a candidate perspective, let’s take it in-house now. Talent acquisition has seen several pendulum shifts from inside and outside the organization, and whether you like it or not, RPO will continue to grow. What I see as a trend and as good news is that some of the recruiting function will move back into the organization.

We’re going from absolutes, back to moderation and I’m liking the end of extremes. The kind of moderate climate changes I’m talking about includes;

The use of (Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) and external firms.

  • I see these continuing to grow in the “project staffing” area, often for specialized projects or time sensitive initiatives. This is good news in that RPO will still exist in the form its most valuable as.
  • If this happens portions of the process will be brought back in-house – where the expertise of knowing the business and the foundational element of relationship building will show its considerable value add. The perception of cost saving through “complete RPO” (the wholesale outsourcing of all of an organizations recruiting function) will decline as things are brought in-house.
  • Firms will continue to use third party executive search firms for critical roles, especially the boutique and specialty firms. The use of large global search firms may decrease as a backlash of fees, blocked companies, etc. has been perceived.
  •  The use of contingent workforces (temp and contract) will continue to rise.

The new in-house look

  • We’re seeing a trend in charge-backs to the business for HR and recruiting services. This will help organizations think more about the actual costs to hire their teams and the resourcing that goes into making the right hires.
  • Temp-to-regular hiring as I mentioned will increase, especially for entry level roles and other labor.
  • Growth in corporate recruiting career opportunities will stall or even continue to decline in 2012. In smaller organizations, the HR Generalist may continue to assist in recruiting and staffing rather than hiring dedicated recruiters back (that may have been laid off in the past three years).
  • In larger companies, more non-HR/Recruiting leaders will assume the leadership role in HR/Recruiting.
  • Workforce Planning will become an increasingly reliable and normalized tool to guide strategic hiring.

With more talent acquisition moving back in-house, this lull in the industry for 2012 yields good news for building a strong internal team. With my prediction of a very flat hiring year, foundational recruiting activities have time to re-develop and move away from the hype of the proverbial big shiny ball of social media. These tools sometimes cloud our vision while we wait for the other shoe to drop, and it may one day drop, but for now we’re getting back to the basics.

We’ve seen a lot of great ideas and suggestions for our industry this year, both at conferences and through the media, but I stand strong in my prediction that we will not see anything really new or innovative going this distance this year. While we’ve seen more positive years, given the climate we are currently facing, I think the neutrality will do us all some good. Whether you approach it from the industry, candidates, or organizations, the tepid looks will continue to be with us – at least for now. There have been significant ups and downs over the last 5-6 years and it’s time to work within the space we have to optimize. This is where talent acquisition will leave the greatest mark on a lackluster year.

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