The headlines these days are enough to make both companies and job seekers more than a little anxious. As of May, unemployment in the U.S. reached 14.7%—that’s higher than the Great Recession, the peak of which reached 10%. The International Labour Organization estimates that the coronavirus crisis will wipe out 195 million jobs worldwide.
It’s impossible to downplay the seriousness of the situation or the toll of economic damage. It falls upon leaders to do their best to take a step back and find the silver linings where possible.
With an unprecedented number of people looking for new opportunities, from recent graduates to seasoned professionals, now is a great time to focus on making smart hires. In fact, as reported by The Muse, companies across industries are already advertising new job openings: from Facebook and Squarespace to Deutsch Bank and Unilever. For its part, online juggernaut Amazon will spend $350 million to increase pay globally and also will hire 100,000 new employees in the U.S.
Though the road ahead may be rocky, now is not the time to implement a blanket hiring freeze. As management guru Jim Collins once said: “If there’s a storm on the mountain, more important than the plan are the people you have with you.”
Here’s why prioritizing people is critical during this uncertain time period.
Talent is especially critical now
In the early 2000s, Argentina experienced an economic collapse. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz recalls how despite devastating losses, bank leaders wanted to improve retention plans for their top executives.
Why did they make this seemingly foolhardy decision? It is because during turbulent times, they realized it was increasingly important to retain their most talented employees.
The same goes for recruiting new talent. Though it may feel imprudent, long-sighted leaders recognize that during a recession, it’s crucial to build the strongest team possible.
As Henry Goldbeck of Recruiter.com told Glassdoor, “Recruiting may be even more important in a dire economy where companies need any and every competitive edge they can get to weather the storm and best position themselves for success after it.”
What’s more, research has shown that making strategic investments during recessions ultimately pays off.
Harvard professors analyzed 4,700 companies during the last three recessions and found that 9% emerged in much better positions than they entered because of their “progressive” focus, such as zoning in on long-term rather than short-term hiring strategies.
Talent is everywhere
If you’ve been on LinkedIn lately, then you’ve probably noticed that many people with impressive résumés are being laid off in droves, from companies like Uber, Airbnb, TripAdvisor, and Virgin Atlantic.
As Harvard Business Review points out, because of the sudden swell of the talent pool, periods of economic hardship have historically been moments for unparalleled hiring opportunities. After World War II, for example, companies across the country were struggling. Hewlett-Packard was among them. But when experienced engineers left positions at closing military labs, HP founders took advantage of the abundant supply of skilled professionals.
“Years later, when asked about the biggest contributor to HP’s success over the years,” HBR notes, “they routinely cited their willingness to invest in talent no matter the external economic climate.”
How to snap up talent
If you’re thinking about capitalizing on the surge in job seekers, here are some tips for navigating the hiring process.
Despite the importance of building strong teams and great cultures, a surprising number of companies take an ad hoc approach to hiring. Instead, leaders should be strategic about hiring and regularly take inventory of their human resources.
As ConveyIQ Blog advises, “Since recessions can ultimately impact your bottom line, having a clear sense of your needs and filling your crucial roles can help you streamline your budget without sacrificing essential hires.”
Though some startup experts will encourage you to hire and fire fast, I’d advocate for the slower, more strategic route, especially when your hiring resources are more limited.
Review your “Rolodex”
Sometimes the best opportunities are right under our noses, waiting for an auspicious moment for us to notice them.
If you’ve crossed paths with someone in your professional history, such as a previous collaborator or potential candidate for a role, chances are there’s a good reason you came together—you liked their skills, experience, or vision.
That’s why Harvard Business Review recommends asking your company’s leaders to make a list of the individuals whom they would have liked to hire in the past five years. This can include everyone from clients and partners to an interviewee who ultimately did not come on board. Afterward, reach out to them and check in on where they are now. Their career situation might look vastly different today.
Create a hiring committee
For a long time, I handled my company JotForm’s every interview and hiring decision myself. As a bootstrapper, I wore all the hats, and I knew how I wanted to fill each role.
Hiring remains one of my top priorities, but as we’ve grown to more than 140 employees, I’ve learned to delegate. I’ve witnessed firsthand the benefits of relying on your team’s intuition. Employees appreciate the responsibility of such an essential task and consistently rise to the occasion.
Setting up a small group or committee to navigate the hiring process is a great way to empower employees to find the best new hires possible. If resources permit, you can even create separate committees for different business groups or target sectors. Amazon, for example, has a hiring task force specifically dedicated to the military sector.
Prioritizing hiring can make the difference between a great and an exceptional team. Moreover, it can boost the morale of your current employees during these stressful, uncertain times.
As COVID-19 continues to impact the world’s economy, it might take some time before business bounces back. Take to heart that we’ve been through recessions before, and with strategic leadership, your company can hopefully come out even stronger on the other side.
Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.