Top Talent in Tough Times

Turn the sluggish economy to your advantage. Five tactics to help you identify and recruit talent of a calibre that will be much harder to land once the job market fully recovers

Written by Derek Gagne

The slump we’ve just begun to crawl out of has left many highly talented people looking for work — or, if they still have jobs, anxious to jump ship before they, too, are laid off.

But how do you find these top-notch job candidates? And how do you distinguish them from people whose former employers were glad to be rid of them? Here are five tactics to help you identify and recruit talent of a calibre that will be much harder to land once the job market fully recovers.

Make some noise with social media
With limited budgets for recruitment advertising, leveraging social-networking websites is the best way to find top talent. Using tools such as LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or blogs, you can build relationships with candidates and draw jobseekers into your orbit.

For example, if you don’t have a corporate blog or Twitter page, create at least one of them today. To build relationships with jobseekers, post engaging articles on your blog that will set you apart from other employers and allow candidates a window into your company’s culture. Add RSS feeds to your blog so people can sign up for instant updates whenever you post new content. If you have a Twitter account, post a tweet to let your followers know that there’s new content on your website.

Looking for a more personal way to network with top talent? Have your company host or sponsor an industry event through a local association, which will give you face time with potential hires.

Target the still-employed-but-nervous
As well as people who have been laid off, you should target those who have survived the layoffs but are open to changing employers. Although these people still have jobs, their loyalty to their employer has likely diminished due to their fear that they might be included in the next round of layoffs.

You can get on the radar of people in this category by using free job postings on sites such as Craigslist. Make sure your postings reassure these jobseekers that (unlike their current employer) your firm is growing. You can do so by including in your job ads specific references to, say, your firm’s recent revenue growth, new financing that your company has raised or its expansion into new markets.

Separate the so-so from the stars
With more jobseekers on the market, now more than ever is the time to fine-tune your hiring process to weed out the mediocre. You need to do three key things right to achieve this:

First, write job descriptions that clearly identify your needs, then in job interviews ask questions that probe into the details of the candidate’s substantial accomplishments. For example, “Tell me about the most complex project you have been involved in and what your role was.” Second, don’t take the resumé and interview as gospel; instead, check references thoroughly and ask questions to confirm the answers you got in the interview. Finally, be aware of company culture. If a senior manager you’re considering has been laid off by a large employer, will he adapt well to an SME? Employees whose experience is limited to working for large corporations likely had more staff, resources and budget to get the job done, so make sure they know what they’re in for working for an SME.

Stay away from OPD
Steer clear of OPD — Other People’s Deadwood. Some employers took advantage of the recession to get rid of people they should have dumped long ago. Interviews and reference checks may not catch the deadwood unless you know what to look for. One red flag is a resumé showing that someone spent a prolonged period in the same job before being laid off, which could mean the candidate’s career progress had stalled. Another red flag is if the former employer provides references that are more neutral than positive. In interviews, don’t hesitate to ask a question such as, “My experience tells me that employers will do all they can to hold onto top talent, oftentimes creating new positions for people rather than lay them off. Why were you laid off rather than some of your co-workers?”

Beware of the boomerang hire
Avoid stumbling into a situation in which you hire a top talent who used to work for one of your competitors, only to have her former employer hire back their former star once business picks up again. If you were to allow this to happen, not only would you lose the time and money you had spent recruiting the star, but she’d take knowledge of your business back to your rival.

To prevent this, make sure you ask probing interview questions to uncover how keen the star actually is to stick around at your firm. And ask the blunt question, “If your current employer were to call you back, how would you react?”

You can also try to protect some of your intellectual capital with non-disclosure or non-compete agreements. While such agreements are often hard to enforce, discussing them in the interview process and asking candidates if they’re willing to sign them should help weed out those who are just waiting for the chance to boomerang back to their former employer.

Derek Gagné is president of Vancouver-based talent management consultancy Derekgagne.com. He has been helping organizations with their recruitment and retention strategies for more than 15 years. His areas of expertise include workforce planning, recruitment, retention, leadership development, organization development and customer service.

More columns by Derek Gagné

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com