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Guest blog: Recruiting in a Downturn—A Changed Focus by Steve Finkel

Recruiting in a Downturn | Guest blog by Steve Finkel

What is the greatest problem you'll encounter in this industry?

It's the fact that consistency of daily effort over the long term is what's needed to get the job done. And further, that this must be combined with an ongoing focus on improving and applying appropriate skills.

Recessions happen. But so do recoveries. This is well worth remembering in our current situation.

Those of us with long tenure in this business can recall similar—though not identical—circumstances. Every country at some point eventually suffers unforeseen hardships. An easy example in the U.S. is the trauma of 9/11 when the stock market was shut down during a massive economic downturn. Did we recover from that? Certainly. As we shall from this.

Here are suggestions that will assist you during difficult times.

Consider an Expanded Market

Most recruiters work a niche market. If you work by type of position without focus on a specific industry, take a look at your clients—not prospects, but actual clients—with whom you've worked over the last year. Geographically, where are they? We may think of ourselves as working a national market, but when you actually analyze where your clients are located, you are likely to find that you work predominantly in certain portions of the country. Expanding outwards is likely to yield results.

If your niche is combined with a specific industry, start asking your candidates where their backgrounds would be best utilized outside of their current industry. What you may find is a related field where your existing database of candidates transfers over. Jumping into a completely different field with no crossover of your candidates or knowledge of the field is a slow process. It is likely to be a mistake. If you jump at the “new hot market,” it will eventually become the “new cold market.”

Do some research and expand into the new field to which your candidates have led you. Identify prospects and start making calls. When the market comes back—and it will—you will be well-positioned, having broadened your prospects and ultimately your client base.

Focus on Selecting the Search

When you do obtain a search, regardless of whether it is from an existing or new client, you will feel a charge of adrenaline. After a series of “hiring freeze” responses, you will be happy to have something to work on. Unfortunately, if you shortcut doing a thorough job of selecting the search, your odds of actually obtaining a fee are remote. At that point, your attitude will decline further. Your goal should not be obtaining a search, but rather to obtain a search with a reasonable expectation of completion.

This is a common mistake in a recession and leads to a waste of time and diminished confidence. There are searches on which you should work; be careful that you choose correctly.

Even the best of us …

My focus is always on improving skill level. But there is a place for managing emotions, as many of us have come to know. Even the best, most-skilled, most emotionally-stable recruiter is prone to mood swings in such downtimes. And, in sales, attitude counts.

What, then, is to be done? A negative attitude will affect production, and poor production solves no problems. What steps should be taken to maintain consistency of effort even during difficult circumstances?

Following are steps which are proven to be effective.

Focus on the Future

If part or all of your concerns are due to a poor market, be of good cheer. Industry or niche slowdowns do occur. But after every downturn, markets will come back stronger, with higher average fees and higher per-desk production. And many of your competitors will be gone. So it will be again.

Clients Are The Way

Our market has been “candidate short” for number of years now. In such a market, we have correctly focused on methods of identifying and recruiting quality candidates. This was appropriate under the circumstances.

But there is a downside. Many experienced recruiters have allowed their skills at identifying new clients to diminish. Many newer people have never learned these skills to begin with. This may include some managers. If so, they may not be able to transfer proper methodologies of developing new clients to their people.

The focus must now change. While recruiters should certainly talk to candidates, the emphasis must be on dramatically increasing calls to prospective clients. What percentage of your conversations is spent with candidates and what percentage with prospects? Keep track of this important information so it can be accurately measured.

If your focus is still on candidates, you are making a mistake!

Prospecting To Start the Day

“Prospecting” is not marketing. Marketing is selling your services, either directly—over the phone—or indirectly, as in placing ads or articles. Prospecting is looking for qualified hiring authorities to whom you can market … and that should be your focus every morning.

Start with a written plan of possible companies whom you can contact. Then spend a solid two hours of uninterrupted time every morning contacting them with the aim of determining whether they are genuine prospects. How many people do they expect to hire in the next year from recruiters as their market comes back? If the number is too small, it is not worth a second call, with the possible exception of marketing a well-selected candidate.

It may take you multiple conversations to get the information you need to make this determination. Nevertheless, once you do so, you will have a number of genuine prospects… and that's where you should focus your time.

Have a “Trigger Point”

It is easy to say “spend two hours every morning prospecting.” But the reality is to get in the habit of moving in the right direction, you must reward yourself for doing so. But wait until a set level of calls is reached to motivate yourself.

I know a good recruiter who does not allow himself a third cup of coffee until he makes 10 phone calls. I know another successful professional who works out of his home and does not allow himself to have breakfast until he has spoken to five people.

This is the kind of forced trigger point which will keep you starting the day right and moving in the proper direction. Find the one that is right for you and have the discipline to adhere to it.. every day.

Do Not Allow Yourself to Believe That You Cannot Reach People

There will be a tendency to think that you will not be able to reach anyone with the economy in a state of diminished activity. You must not allow yourself to believe this. In point of fact, if you keep track of the number of times you reach the hiring authority and messages left that are returned (and you should), you will find the percentages have increased markedly!

In our current economic situation, many hiring authorities find that their workload has dramatically decreased. Depending on your market and location, some may be working at home. If you are optimistic and positive, they will be happy to talk with you about their future plans … This is a good time to reach people who otherwise would be too busy to speak with you at any length. And in fact, you will get a higher percentage of calls answered rather than voicemails. You will also find that your conversations with prospects are twice as beneficial as usual.

Remember it, and keep making the calls.

No Distractions

Especially if you have not been in the habit of working from your home but are now doing so, you will find the tendency is to be easily distracted, including relying on addictive mobile devices. Don't do it. Concentration and continued effort on prospecting is what will accomplish your goals. No last-minute “research” that will keep you off the phone. Don't waste time on pointless and unnecessary uses of the Internet.

I know several excellent recruiters who do not allow themselves to open their emails until two hours of prospecting has been done every morning. This is an excellent idea, and you should discipline yourself — and it takes discipline– to do so as well.

You Must Over-Plan 

A negative attitude leads to fewer calls. Fewer calls leads to less production and a more negative attitude. It is a circle that has sunk many a recruiter.

The only answer is to keep “hitting the numbers.” That begins with a thoroughly filled-out Daily Planner.

Under the stress of a difficult market, the tendency is to dither — get an extra cup of coffee, a “short” conversation with family or friends, a look at the news or wasting time on the Internet. Before you know it, half the day is gone. A Daily Planner completed the night before is the answer.

For Poor Planners

If you're a poor planner, here's a suggestion.

Set an alarm for half an hour before you expect to finish your working day in order to fully devote yourself to this. If you're not a planner, you'll subconsciously try to avoid doing so by involvement in other things, and then rush off claiming you'll “do it in the morning.” You won't, or at least not well. Set the alarm. When it goes off … start to plan!

In a surprisingly short amount of time, you'll train yourself to “beat the clock.” As the time approaches, you'll find yourself turning off the alarm .. and starting to plan.

Positive Results from Negative Expectations

It is frequently thought that a good attitude is imperative to making a good call. In new people, this is certainly true. However, this is not the case with an experienced recruiter.

A good recruiter has developed reflexes and habit patterns over many years. Moreover, his pride will force him to do a good job when he is on the phone. The problem with an experienced person is getting on the phone to begin with!

The concept of Positive Results from Negative Expectations will assist greatly in solving this problem.

Basically, this involves agreeing with your expectations of poor results. Go ahead and tell yourself that it will be an unproductive day. Have all the negative attitude you wish … and then make the calls anyway.

Only a well filled-out Daily Planner will allow you to do this. But the reality is that by the 10th or 12th call, you'll not only be getting results; you'll find yourself being professionally excellent on the phone. And that will improve your day enormously. You will actually get Positive Results … from Negative Expectations!

Quantify Activity

What is the #1 enemy of production when under stress? Less activity. What is the trap leading to less activity? The fact that it sneaks up on you. Fewer and fewer calls with more and more “recovery time” between calls leads to poor results…leading to more stress. Now there's a downward spiral for you!

What's the answer? Measurement! If you can't measure it, you can't improve it!

This applies to working a desk while dealing with emotional or economic difficulties. Keeping track of and analyzing your “numbers” is critical to success in our industry. However, when results decline, the tendency is simply to make fewer calls. This cannot be allowed to happen. Without a daily quantitative summary of the number of calls made, there in simply no objective way of maintaining call volume.

So what sort of summary is needed? First of all, simply keeping track of the number of calls you make, is inadequate. What counts is genuine business conversations.

How many Substantive Business Conversations (SBCs) are required? Strive for 30 per day. Short 1-minute calls or messages do not count. And the focus should be on presentations to new prospective clients.

It may be necessary to plan and make 60 or more calls per day to get in your 30 substantive conversations. But on an accumulative basis—when combined with improving skills—those 30 will yield the results needed to excel.

Keep track of your Substantive Business Conversations by means of “hash marks.” But don't quit doing this when business picks up. Otherwise, your activity will imperceptibly spiral down. After all, if you can't measure it…you can't improve it!

Forward Movement

There is one additional critical element to improve your attitude and production. 

Get better! Improve your selling skills! The same thing over and over, the same ideas, the same techniques, will lead to no improvement. It generates no hope. And sitting around just waiting the market to improve isn't exactly conducive to better results.

Here's a suggestion. My brand-new book Unlimited Clients! Perfect Prospecting for Today's Recruiter in download or hard copy contains 24 chapters of innovative advanced-level material specifically directed towards obtaining new clients. How long since you've learned something genuinely new? This material will get any recruiter, no matter how experienced, on a faster learning and production curve.

You'll “hit the ground running” every morning! Improvement, learning, forward movement give you a great sense of drive, confidence and productivity! This attitude and this new material are is exactly what you need to obtain additional prospects in our current market.

Concentration on your professional progress is not only profitable; it is the best motivator you can find. Get better! Get renewed!

So Where Are We?

So where are we, in terms of keeping your attitude and billings “up” in downtimes?

First of all, realize that a temporary slump or a poor market make it unreasonable to be cheerful at all times. But this does not have to result in an ineffective work pace. While you may not sparkle with joy throughout the day, you can still remain productive.

Plan. Plan at the end of the day. Even if you don't want to, take one step at a time. Just do your planning before the day ends. Set your alarm to remind you. Don't worry about production. Just plan.

The next morning, hit the phones early, and don't worry about your attitude. Don't even worry about results. Just make the calls!

Along the way, gain some knowledge. Learn. This is an ideal moment to do so. When your market comes back, you won't have time to improve. You'll be too busy with business.

So use this time. Focus! Prospect every morning. Get substantive books for our industry. Read a single chapter every day. By learning, you will improve attitude, skills, and income.

Nothing lasts forever. This too shall pass—faster than you think. And when it does you'll be well-positioned to take full advantage of the long-term romping stomping roaring future that most certainly lies ahead for our industry … and for you!

Steve Finkel

Steve Finkel is an acclaimed international author, speaker, and trainer, and one of the best-known names in the recruiting and search industry. His books and training programs have been distributed worldwide and continue to provide new and experienced recruiters alike with innovative, knowledgeable strategies for increasing billing and placements. His newest book, Unlimited Clients! Perfect Prospecting for Today’s Recruiter, is available for purchase or download on his website,

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