Troubled Waters: Recruiting After Layoffs

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 1.39.07 PMLayoffs are troubling in any company. Much like a boulder thrown into water, it causes ripples in every faction of the business. A layoff, inevitably, triggers many of our deepest, scariest, psychological responses. For those who are left behind, it comes with resonating guilt and hesitation – fear that someday in the near future, they won’t be so lucky. For those who are laid off, many times – it comes as a surprise and leaves them scared and feeling helpless. The mutual question amongst everyone: What happens next?

Inevitably, this layoff becomes a mark on our timeline. It’s like the concept of B.C. and A.D. in biblical texts. In human resources and recruiting, suddenly you have a P.L. – as in, post layoff. Your team (or what’s left of it) and everyone else in the company and community being to mark time by the people who were there before and after.

We’ve seen this time and again in companies that rely on large local businesses for their livelihood, particularly the large automotive manufacturing plants. In these cases, it’s not only trying for the company, but the community as well.

We’re not innovating or saying anything remarkable when we note it’s a trying time for any company – to let people go – but for no department is it more difficult than human resources. The job is challenging even in the best of times. Identifying the right folks for the role and then convincing them to choose your company over all of the others clamoring for talent is no small feat, even when your company’s on the upswing.

To state the standard hurdles would be enough to write our own buzzword bingo board. To apply those same challenges – from employer branding to recruitment marketing – in the context of a layoff extenuates already difficult circumstances far beyond the average recruiters definition of these buzzwords. It pushes recruiting teams towards challenges that might feel like the task has become nearly impossible.

But repeat after me: It’s not the end. Layoffs are never a good thing, but they do allow businesses — and people — to take a step back, refocus, and move forward with more determination and grit than ever. And if you can navigate through it all, you’ll emerge that much stronger.

I Am A Rock: Life In A Post-Layoff Recruiting Team

Layoffs are an incredibly unfortunate reality for many people. In fact, one fifth of the US population experienced a layoff in the last five years. But frequency doesn’t change facts, feelings or your role as a recruiter. You still need to be out there building pipelines. Hiring managers don’t care about your feelings; the requisitions still need to be filled. They still need talent to execute the projects that will hopefully save you from yet another round of layoffs, making a deeper and more detrimental mark on your hiring efforts.

At this critical junction, it’s absolutely vital that recruiting leaders actively find ways to help their teams bunk the funk of the layoff and make hires in their Post Layoff world. It’s no simple task – uniting, organizing and strategically coaching a recruiting team – even in the best of circumstances.

At this point, if you can unite your team, get organized, and act strategically, then you have a great shot at successfully bringing in the outstanding candidates needed to help get your company back on the right track.

Before you start engaging with candidates again, it’s absolutely essential that your team aligns on a few basic things: why layoffs occurred, what your company’s vision for the future is and how new hires fit into that. Answer the critical questions to formulate a consistent message and communication plan for your team. Then, it’s time to call in the big dogs. Chances are leadership and communications teams are already discussing all of this, so make sure to sit down with them to talk things through and come up with an all-encompassing messaging plan.

Not sure what this should entail? Here’s an example of the philosophy behind a great communication plan after laying off sales people:

Make sure your plan includes some sort of rationale, such as the need to shift emphasis towards building a better product, or cutting costs to ensure long-term viability. Then map it back to your ultimate goal, whether that’s delighting consumers with the best product on the market or building a world-changing company that can innovate for decades to come. Finally, think about what kind of candidates you need — software engineers, executives, marketers, and more — to make that vision a reality.

The Sound Of Silence: Addressing The Elephant

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 1.44.03 PMA communication plan is only as good as it’s delivery. After nailing down the specifics of your plan, it’s time to put it into action — and that means keeping candidates in the loop with what’s going on. It may be tempting to sidestep negative company news, but this is one situation that needs to be addressed very directly. Let’s face it. Most of today’s candidates do their homework before showing up for an interview, and if you don’t proactively acknowledge and explain what’s going on – you’re waving a major red flag.

On a positive note, an open and honest discussion about your company’s recent actions can leave a lasting and positive impression. Using your messaging plan as a guide, lay out the key points to candidates. Make sure to explain why they don’t need to worry about losing their job should they accept the position.

Suffice it to say, this can be a pretty delicate conversation, so feel free to be a little more selective about who gets to directly interact with candidates at this time. After a round of layoffs, rebuilding trust in your employment brand is key — so even if it takes a little longer than usual, ensuring clear and consistent external communication is well worth it.

Unfortunately, a solid messaging plan and open communication alone aren’t always enough to tip the scales in your favor. Once you’ve publicly reduced your workforce, you often have to up the ante on your offers. It’s well-established that compensation is the number one factor job seekers consider when weighing new opportunities, but when your company is making cuts, that’s not always realistic. If that’s the case, though, don’t over compensate on cash either. There are plenty of other ways to make your offers more appealing, based on the candidate.

Consider their motivations whether that be a clear path for growth, the ability to work on cutting-edge projects, mentorship programs or the flexibility to work from home. These non-monetary perks can be just as motivating to a job seeker who’s currently commuting more than an hour a day or has been in the same job for the last five years. Don’t assume that your layoffs make you the black sheep.  There’s a lot of room to attract candidates without breaking the bank.

About The Author

Rachel_Bitte headshotRachel Bitte is Chief People Officer at Jobvite, a.k.a., head honcho of finding and keeping the geniuses who work there. As Jobvite’s CPO, Rachel brings with her a wealth of HR experience—particularly in the tech industry—with a focus on change leadership and talent management. In her free time, she is all about anything outdoors that burns calories, including road riding, mountain biking, snowboarding, and backpacking. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or find her on Twitter.

Rachel Bitte


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