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An economic downturn is a notably difficult time for job security for recruiters. Open positions can become scarce to the point where the search for talent may halt. Hiring freezes inherently restrict recruiters and talent acquisition leaders from being able to fulfill their usual duties.
“Recruiters need growing businesses to fulfill their function. To deal with this, we need to understand what the reality is. That can give us the right foundation to strategize around staying in the game,” says Recruiting Brainfood’s Curator, Hung Lee, in a past episode of Hired’s Talk Talent to Me podcast.
Leaning on Hung’s insights, let’s dive into how recruiters can protect their own careers during tough times.4 ways to strengthen job security and how recruiters can distinguish themselves during an economic downturn
Expert: Recruiting Brainfood Curator, Hung Lee
Hung recommends recruiters start by taking the time to expand their skill set. He says, “Upskilling is definitely something recruiters need to do. It is a great time to upskill yourself in areas you could improve… Look at the skills you may have neglected due to operational overload now that you have some capacity.”
There are a number of free resources “teaching you how to source candidates, do employer branding, copywriting, analytics, and more.”
While upskilling is critical, Hung says “it would be very wrong to spend 100% of your time doing that because however skilled you may be, you also need to get busy positioning yourself to get opportunities when they emerge. I recommend recruiters think about: Am I in the right market for the near, mid, and long term future?”
Following a crisis or recession, “a lot of these industries will certainly come back in a very different form which is often smaller in terms of absolute manpower. That has a knock-on effect for recruiters so think about what industries are going to grow and where the new demand will emerge. Recruiters have to be agile and able to port into growing industries — not hang on to ones that will probably die.”
“I advise recruiters to apply what they do to themselves. We often apply skills externally and never internally for our own needs — but recruiters need to do that.”
“If I’m prospecting as a third-party recruiter for a client base or market to trade in, I would be very sensitive to which markets will grow compared to those likely to shrink. Essentially, recruiters need to apply exactly the same methods and mentality to the job search.”
“I think it would be wrong to look for available recruiter jobs and only that. The right thing to do is look at industry sectors you anticipate to grow. Get yourself positioned in those places, build networks there, build contacts, and do the research.”
“Find yourself on fertile ground. You don’t need to be the best recruiter in the world. If you’re swimming against the tide, you have to be an amazing swimmer. If you’re swimming with the tide you could use a float device and make it to the other side.”
“Recruiters have native skills directly applicable to jobseeking. You know how to source, retrieve information, research, do a cold open, document, and promote. All of those things need to come together.”
“We rarely have our own dog food but in this case, we have to chow down. Think: How would I do this if I was recruiting for a customer or market mapping for a prospect? Engaging in the job search is a very interesting demonstration of the skills, processes, and mindsets you can apply from the job of recruiting.”
While traditional routes of applying for a job through a post are legitimate, Hung urges recruiters to pursue less conventional methods too.
“As a hiring manager I would be more impressed with an explanation involving deep research from analytics, tracking of funding, or some information gathering a recruiter would typically do. With that, you provide evidence of how you would do the job. This mentality will not only help you generate opportunities, but convert them as a result of the techniques you employed to find it.”
Source for companies with the same precision you source for candidates.
“In other words, when we default to jobseeking, we forget the recruiter, or the crude animal in us. We shouldn’t just default to what’s available. Maybe 10% of your time should be applying for jobs and 90% should be doing investigative work to source hidden opportunities and find other ways to connect with the hiring manager.”
“Remember the market flipped on us. This is now a candidate-rich market for recruiters. If I was recruiting for a recruiter and I put a job out, I’ll be flooded with candidates. Therefore, as I get more applications, I spend less time on them. In turn, every application has to be closer and closer to the ideal person I’ve imagined.”
Hung encourages recruiters to be thoughtful in starting a conversation and demonstrating existing recruiting skills.
“Simple mathematics means your chances of being that person will generally be slim. You should go and apply but it shouldn’t be the dominant activity for you as a jobseeker. Instead, do what you have been doing as a recruiter. Treat your job search as the process of gathering information about the best options out there, then figuring out a way to engage with them.”
“If you do this in the right way, you may catch the opportunity before it becomes public and you might even short-circuit the entire process. Let’s not forget in a candidate-rich market, generally, an employer does not want to advertise the job because it brings a massive applicant flow problem. Ideally, someone wanders in and solves my problem — be that person. Recruiters have the skills to do it. They just have to switch to their usual mentality and put it in a new context.”
Fortune recently called out tech layoffs hitting HR teams especially hard. Experts warn that companies viewing talent-focused roles as far from profit-earning for the organization may be dangerous in the long run. When the economy bounces back, companies that cut recruitment or DEI risk will need to reassemble and may struggle to keep up with competitors after losing this foundational aspect.
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