Fear, Loathing and Poaching the Best Talent in a Down Economy…

Jessica Lee Candidate Pool, Culture, Jessica Lee, Recruiting

I have been feeling like a bit of a vulture – I’ll admit it. As soon as I heard about the fall of AIG, Bear Sterns, Freddie, Fannie and the others, my initial thoughts were not of concern. I simply saw opportunity. I imagined massive layoffs (read new talent on the market) and if not that, employees of those organizations likely, and understandably, would be freaked out and ready to jump ship… perhaps over to mine. It was like music to my ears.

Not the warmest response, I know. But here in DC, I’ve got Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in my backyardVulture  … and I’ve started to see a greater number of resumes from current F & F peeps applying directly to my firm, not to mention the referrals I’m receiving. And I’m pretty sure that recruiting and HR pros elsewhere are hearing and seeing the same from would-be candidates at WaMu, AIG, Bear Sterns, Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers.

The possible exodus at each of those organizations isn’t something completely foreign – we saw the same at other giants like MCI and Enron during their tumbles, albeit under different circumstances. And imagine being an HR pro in one of those companies – I mean, talk about retention challenges! What’s more, recruiting efforts at those companies have to be completely dysfunctional right now. Imagine you have an opening one day, a hiring freeze the next, you’re owned by a new company tomorrow or the government is swooping in to now regulate your organization… Selling that environment to a candidate? Good luck.

The challenges of being an HR pro under those circumstances, and managing against all of that, are simply immense. And no one is immune as some of our fellow HR and recruiting pros at those organizations, or perhaps those who do business with them, are affected too. (Check out what our William Uranga is doing for affected HR/recruiting pros: a repository of top notch talent management.) So this vulture mentality, I have begun to recognize, probably isn’t the most appropriate response because that would only make me the equivalent of an ambulance chaser, right?

As I’ve had time to digest some of this crisis, I’ve realized that relationships and community, and doing everything in that vein, is probably the best response. For those who reach out to me, I’m happy to help. But I’m not going to go in like a vulture and try to steal their talent. Instead, I’ll focus on using my relationships and leveraging our community to help in whatever ways I can. Dr. John Sullivan may disagree and say start raiding Wall Street… but me? I’m going a different route.

HR pros out there who are lucky to dodge the downswing – like Mass Mutual, highlighted in Workforce’s recruiting newsletter – we also have the opportunity to absorb some of the loss. Maybe the match of all this new talent to your company isn’t exact on face value, but you can consider the transferable skills of those exiting the financial services sector and then educate your hiring managers of such. It may seem like apples to oranges at first, but when recruiting for value sand motivation, it might just work. And we can probably do the same with individuals exiting the automobile industry, that is if worse comes to worse. And as far as not being a vulture and raiding talent? Rather than directly tapping into these falling giants, MassMutual is reaching out old-school style through online ads and direct e-mail campaigns. I think it’s kinda refreshing, wouldn’t you say?