Talent Acquisition WILL Thrive (After a Lot of Pain and Change)

First, I want to say I hope you’re doing as well as can be expected right now. I know we’ve all had some dark moments and heightened anxiety at work and in life. It is hard.

I am having those moments too, and as a Talent Acquisition professional for 34 years (I run a Talent Acquisition management consulting firm that also offers TA organization optimization and training), I want to share some thoughts with you as I have reflected on what has happened in the last few months and what I think will happen in the future.

The (Really) Negative Outlook Right Now.

When I look at the current situation as objectively as possible, marry that with my conversations and daily work with Talent Acquisition professionals, as well as digesting the data and news, I have to say, IT IS A BLOODBATH for TA. I wish I could be more positive, but it’s not possible right now.

Internal Talent Acquisition teams are being slashed. A small number of TA teams are working very hard to fill essential jobs (especially in Pharma, Med Device, Consumer Goods, Grocery, etc.). But for the rest of the organizations, if your TA team hasn’t been affected yet, know that it will probably be. These are facts: there are not a lot of jobs to fill right now, this is not the time for companies to double down on their Talent Acquisition investments to keep the team busy, nor is this “V-shaped” recovery some are touting coming any time soon.

We need to get really clear about where things stand today for our profession. Understand that it’s bad and very different from the financial crisis of 2008. While every company makes tough tradeoffs throughout the year, in the circumstances we are in now, it would be foolhardy to believe that many companies will not take this opportunity to slash and burn to “right-size” their organizations. This means cutting out all unnecessary functions for today’s world to minimize cost and slowly rebuild later. While Talent Acquisition takes pride in building organizations, we must be realistic that in times when companies are rapidly downsizing, Talent Acquisition becomes expendable very quickly. Yes, I said it, we have become expendable in a very short period.

I want to be honest – I have something to gain from companies keeping their Talent Acquisition teams. However, I realize that smart businesses are not investing while their company is bleeding. I see other vendors, recruitment agencies, tech firms, consulting, and employer branding services approaching their clients trying to come up with a narrative that now is ‘our time’ and investing in bad times is the way to go. I am here to say it is not our time.  This is not a time that we can “pivot” and make COVID and the economic impacts of it just go away. That is bullshit – these are the most catastrophic time we have seen in our lifetime. There is no way to spin it and leading with self-interest now is not only giving false hope to Talent Acquisition professionals, but also setting up vendor teams for ongoing failure. Few organizations are going to invest now – this is the time to hang on if you’ve landed and leverage the capital you’ve earned by investing in your strong previous relationships.

Prepare for the Now.

If you are one of few left standing in your Talent Acquisition function, there are things you can do in the short term as you prepare for the future. Talent Acquisition is a melting iceberg right now. While we will eventually come out of this deep pile we are in now, we know there will be a lot more jobs that are lost and there will be a lot of jobs that will never come back. 

The talent pipeline you’ve built and all the warm candidates may melt away.  It’s possible that you have not been as diligent with candidates as you’d usually be, both because you’re not sure what to say, or so many of the roles you were recruiting for were put on hold or the requisitions were suddenly closed. Many have simply closed off the recruiting tap and moved into a ‘wait and see’ mode.

With this backdrop, it is not all doom and gloom, so let me be clear: The Talent Acquisition profession and function, will prevail and be ever stronger, and more successful in the future. It will be even more respected and valued in the future. Recruiters will continue to be the force building the talent that fuels every company. We have that ability and it’s what many of us love about the job. But it will look very different and many of us are not prepared for the new world coming.

If we’re keeping it real with each other, many of us have behaved really badly. As the premier relationship builder in a company, it’s shameful how some in our industry are treating each other. Great Talent Acquisition professionals are masters at managing and cultivating relationships, and in what was a hot candidate market, I saw a de-investment in industry relationships. Many all but ghosted vendors, services, other professionals you’ve worked with before when things were going well. Then Talent Acquisition department slashing began. Knowing we are experts in relationships, it has not escaped my notice that there has been a  deluge of industry associates who have contacted me after ZERO communication from them in years—who are contacting me through email, phone, and LinkedIn… now everyone wants to be my friend since they need something (like a job).

Those who know me and the many great professionals who reach out regularly to check-in, and maintain relationships, know that I am thrilled to help our profession, and I love to connect people in Talent Acquisition to great opportunities. I don’t blame those who are now re-surfacing after years, now in a panic about their livelihood, however, it is all about the relationship and it does not leave a good impression when people do this. Do desperate times call for bad behavior? Perhaps they lower our usual sense of pride, but with national unemployment going from 2.5% to 20% unemployment in just weeks after the start of the pandemic (it’s gone down now, but still!), the ghosts of past relationships have a lot of competition. While this bad behavior reflects poorly on all of us as professionals, it is likely that the candidate experience these individuals created was likely not much different. If you don’t think candidates will remember being treated badly, I dare you to continue as you were during this pandemic.

In my opinion, the economic recovery may be very slow. This means, that significant shifts in Talent Acquisition are coming that will likely be more long term. So, when I talk about things prevailing and the potential for the future, we have to expect that there will be a lot of change coming. Change always creates opportunities and as people connectors, Talent Acquisition, while on a melting iceberg now, has the chance to get creative and innovate once again. You have to be ready to think differently though – there will be no RPO model to save you, no opportunity for you to temporarily change careers until ‘things pick up’, and don’t be surprised if an HR Business Partner takes your job as part of theirs.  

What TA Can Do Now to Thrive in the Future.

While I certainly don’t have clairvoyance on my resume, I can see shifts happening quickly in some areas that may be helpful to your small remaining team get future ready. 

Influencing. There are exponentially fewer roles in the market right now, but the ones that are open are critical hires. That means if you are going after a passive candidate, you must have the influencing skills to convince them to move to your company during a pandemic. Not many people can do this well, but it is a skill of the future. You need to get hard core in your ability to influence people inside and outside of your company, or you will not be valuable.

Consulting. Operational (“process/procedure” only) Recruiters will not have a job in the future. Sad, but true. With the slashing of so many internal and external recruiting roles, there is a real opportunity to seize the moment in post-COVID economy. Convincing hiring managers to take a chance on a candidate because they have the skills of the future, painting the picture of a career path if a candidate comfortable in a current role to come join you and doing this from outside of the company are critical. Search firms and agencies will participate in our post-blood bath economy because so few internal recruiters take a consultative approach to placing high value talent.

Personal and Talent Branding. Managing your personal and company brand by respectfully engaging with candidates (including focusing on the personal communication through live telephone interaction – not just emails). This becomes an important branding exercise – now is not the time to be ghosting anyone.

Grassroots efforts. While your own brand matters, the company’s is equally important in these times. Flashy budgets for Employer Branding programs are now gone, as are on-site interviews and glitzy advertising about your workplace. While many of these functions were brought in-house in recent years, anticipate them being cut. Creating the experience and feel of the culture for candidates will have to become much more grassroots and be driven by authentic engagement – less carefully produced professional content, and more employee-generated content being most successful.

Quilting. We know many teams have been decimated internally. That means you have patches that still need to be covered, so it is important to think about your ‘resource quilt’ and the patches you will need on it – short term and beyond. Embracing and truly partnering with third party search firms and other recruiting service providers can keep your organization effective and scale it as needed.

Acceleration of Technology. The rush to automate, implement AI (artificial intelligence), and sourcing has slowed. I believe that overall, the outlook for continued automation is good. However, the investments in this technology, which have gained significantly in the past few years… will slow. You will not see a lot of newly implemented chatbots on career pages, plug in tools for your ATS, and the bells and whistles you were excited about six months ago. The technology you can expect to see now are ones that replace people in sourcing and interviewing capacities.  

Make no mistake about the role of AI and video interview to streamline the process. Yes, it will save time, but it may exponentially harm your candidate experience if done wrong. The skills I mentioned above around influencing and consulting cannot be replaced by technology, nor is a video interview going to convince someone to quit their role and move across the country. AI may help to the manage volume in the future. You know what I mean, that firehose of resumes you are getting now. In a bad economic collapse, there is so much more talent on the market and technology can help you manage flow of candidates, but do not be fooled in thinking that it can enhance their experience – please understand this.  

As with all things Talent Acquisition, it is all about relationships and never more so than in our current reality. If you want to stick around in this industry, you must be good at managing relationships and experience. Your value comes through your ability to influence candidates and hiring managers – period. Your peers may likely be let go, your technology roadmap will be paused, and your vendors will not be paid to supplement the losses on your team. On top of that, people remember how they are treated in bad times far more than in good times.

We have a long haul to recovery after this pandemic is under control once again. Don’t let your approach to relationships stop you from getting to a valued position, having access to top talent, or building the best organization you can.  Memories of bad experience tend to have a long tail – take the time you have now to invest in relationships.

Keep your eyes open. This is a rocky time that will likely continue longer than any of can anticipate. That said, with the right mindset, focus on relationships, and realistic expectations, Talent Acquisition will re-emerge as an organization building machine and one we’re all proud to be part of. Talent Acquisition will thrive.

Jeremy M. Eskenazi, SPHR, CMC

Jeremy Eskenazi, is the Managing Principal of Riviera Advisors, Inc.

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