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How to Hire in a Bad Economy: 5 Tips

You'd think it would be easier to hire in a bad economy, but it's not. Here's why, and what to do about it.

Putting the right people in the right roles can make the difference between a mediocre company and an outstanding one. In my experience, many managers place too little emphasis on recruiting. Ironically, this is especially true in a difficult economy, when top talent is most needed. Managers too often assume that all-stars will find their company as exciting as they do. In a time of high unemployment, they figure awesome job candidates will be lining up outside their doors.

Let’s kill this myth now.  Recruiting top -talent in a down economy is difficult and comes with its own set of unique challenges.

How do I know?  Our firm decided that recruiting was so critical to the success of our portfolio companies that we built our own internal recruiting capability. On a daily basis, our team is conducting tailored searches for numerous positions within our portfolio companies. Over the last five years, we have filled well over 200 board, CEO, and senior management positions.

Here’s the problem with landing top talent in a rocky economy: 

  • Top talent, almost by definition, are typically employed even when the economy is lousy;
  • Highly skilled professionals are more hesitant to take the risk involved with jumping to a new company with a management team and board they don’t know;
  • Job candidates who own property often can’t sell their homes in a poor economy, and are therefore unwilling or unable to move for a new position.

So during difficult economic conditions, how do you land terrific talent?  Here are five tips:

(1)   Hone your company’s sale pitch.  Go into the interview with the mindset that you need this candidate, and thoughtfully explain why he or she should invest their career with you.

(2)   Recognize that hiring is a time intensive process that involves both evaluating and selling at all times. You may need to meet a lot of candidates to find that perfect fit, and then you’ll have to spend more time getting the candidate excited about your opportunity.

(3)   Think very carefully about the interview process, and about who the candidate should meet at your company.  It is important to prep each interviewer and help them understand where the candidate is in the process and what is expected in the meeting.  Always start by having the candidate meet the management team. Don’t get direct reports involved until later on, when everyone is feeling good about the fit.

(4)   Understand what motivates the candidate you’re pursuing. Candidates are motivated by a mix of incentives: salary, bonus potential, benefits, equity, title, and level of responsibility, for starters. You need to understand what motivates your candidate before you decide what your offer will be.

(5)   Last, check lots of references.  The best strategy is to find blind references--people who are not on the candidate’s list, and can give you an unbiased view. By this time, you will have put a lot of work into this search, and you want to make sure you don’t have to do all this work over again because you picked the wrong person.  Your extra due diligence will also show the candidate that you take the position, and your company, seriously.

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Last updated: Apr 12, 2012

BRYCE YOUNGREN | Columnist | Partner, Polaris Venture Partners

Bryce Youngren joined Polaris in 2002. Bryce focuses on growth equity investments and buyout opportunities in technology, business services and healthcare. Follow him on twitter at @bryce20.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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