SPECIAL SECTION/BUSINESS GUIDE: Finding the Perfect Match

December 1, 2009
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Nola Pearce, senior recruiter/account executive with ETS Tech-Ops, sheds some light on the unemployment situation and offers advice to help manufacturers find the right candidates.



Millions of people have lost their jobs in the last year, and the high unemployment rate has led to some interesting dynamics in the recruiting landscape. I recently asked Nola Pearce, senior recruiter/account executive with ETS Tech-Ops, to shed some light on the situation and offer advice to help manufacturers find the right candidates.

What impact does the current high unemployment rate have on a company’s recruiting options?
Right now, what people perceive to be massive downsizing, layoffs and restructuring across a variety of industries and functions has resulted in a unique opportunity for certain organizations to top-grade their staffs in anticipation of gaining market share. I have found that this is especially important in the organizations with products that have significantly long product development cycles. These companies may have scaled back 10% on their workforce, but they’re going to top-grade their staff this year and into next year to make sure that the development cycle is being taken care of and ensure success three and five years down the road.

The unemployment rate is obviously higher than it’s been since our grandparents were around. But when you start dividing it down by either professional segment or by education, you start to realize that for the people who recruiters commonly work with-people with bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees-the unemployment rate is actually significantly lower. For example, right now the overall rate is around 10%, but if you look at the managerial/professional segment, which is one-third of the American workforce, it’s 5.4%. Even though that is higher than it’s been for years (a year ago it was about 2%), it’s important to take a step back and ask, “Are companies going to be scaling back on the top 10 or 20% of their workforce, or are they going to make assessments of where it makes the most sense to scale back?”

Traditionally, recruiters say they don’t look for unemployed people. Obviously, there have been some significant exceptions to the rule this year. Facts are facts, and there are a lot of very impressive unemployed people out there now. If a company has completely gone out of business, then that top 10% performer is going to be on the street. But if an industry or company is still strong and scaling back up, that’s a company that I want to identify and help build the team they need to make sure they can achieve that product development cycle three and five years down the road.

How has the Internet impacted the recruiting process?
The biggest impact is that it’s changed the business focus for recruiters. Up until 10 or 15 years ago, if your business was in Boise, Idaho, and you wanted a recruiter, you’d call a recruiter in Boise. At that time, the business was characterized by a geographic location. With the onset of the Internet, recruiting is commonly characterized by specific professional niches across a wide geographic area. My office is in Roanoke, Va., and I recruit nationwide. I also have business partners, through the MRI network, who are international. I’ve recruited in China and Europe, for example. Though this was possible in the past, via faxes and phone, the Internet has made it much easier.

Instead of all of the job boards and resume blasting, what the Internet has really done is to provide recruiters with a source of additional information to identify clients who need assistance, as well as what we call passive candidates. A passive candidate is an individual who comes to work every day, does their job and their head is in the game. They’re one of the top 10-20% performers in their company, and they’re not looking to change jobs. Those are the people I like to speak with, to really get an idea of what they do, what they’d like to do, and, if they could advance their career, see if they could gain additional satisfaction while providing a positive impact within another company. We now have information sources like professional memberships, company websites and blogs. If a company has just landed a big order or a big project, and you’re recruiting in that niche, you have ready access to that information.

What role can/should social media play in a company’s applicant search?
There are certain social networking sites that have exploded, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace. They’ve definitely become additional tools to gather data and build upon the professional networking process. This has also resulted in the fact that every person, day in and day out, has thousands and thousands of messages that are just coming at them-from social networks, e-mails, phone calls and all of that. In reality, if a person is trying to identify where they want to go in their career, social networking can actually be a little confusing if they don’t know how to utilize it. One of the things we do is help utilize those tools to assure that we’re guiding the person through the process in the most effective way.

What should companies do to ensure they reach the right applicant pool?
Identify requirements. You need to know what you’re looking for. Similar to starting any product development project, you need to know your marketing requirements and your product specifications. It’s the same process, except we’re dealing with human beings. You need to be absolutely certain about the skills and competencies that you’re looking for. Typically, for example, if a manager needs a product development engineer, they’re going to pull out the job description from three years ago that they used to hire Bill Smith. Once they step through it, if they step through it, they’ll notice that Bill Smith really doesn’t do that anymore. He goes above and beyond that. These job descriptions, like everything, morph, change and become outdated. The hiring manager really needs to pay attention to exactly what they want and where they want that person to go once they get into the organization.

One of the quotes that we always use is from Henry Ford, who, when someone asked about the first car he’d built, said, “If I had asked my customer what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” One of the things that’s helpful is to speak with someone who knows what everybody else has been doing in the industry in the last few years. It gives them the ability to step back and look at the big picture and say, “Maybe we need a person who utilizes this type of tool or that type of tool or has used this deposition process or this type of material or element.”

The second thing is to anticipate candidate expectations. You’re not purchasing a component or an assembly-human beings are the most important element of your business, and each of these human beings is going to have wants, needs and expectations. Anticipate what those are going to be. What do you anticipate the compensation is going to be for this role? If you are asking a person to pick up their family and move from St. Louis, Mo., to Rochester, Minn., for example, what are the things they’re going to need to be taken care of? Make sure that your company is available to support them through that. Once again, we’re dealing with human beings, and you have identified a human being with the background, skills and experience to take you to your next successful product rollout two years down the road.

Companies can also utilize referral programs. Key successful employees in your organization are involved in industry associations and leading manufacturing groups. They know what the company down the street is doing, and they know who the biggest hitters are. Reenergizing a referral program makes your employees feel wanted and needed while helping you bring in key performers.

Another option is to maintain relationships with recruiters in your niche. One of the advantages that brings is we can identify potential professionals who would be a benefit to a company before the company knows they need them. Those professionals are very much passive candidates. If I know a company is breaking into the solar industry or coatings for medical devices, for example, I might be able to identify a person who may be willing to have a conversation with the company’s CTO. It gives me the opportunity to call him and say, “You know, I had a conversation with Joe D and I really think you guys could benefit from getting to know each other.” This strong relationship with a recruiter provides the opportunity to continually identify key professionals who would fit in your organization.

Co-op programs provide an excellent source of entry-level employees. Partner with key educational institutions known for high-quality students.

If you are looking for a principle-level engineer, sure, post it and see what happens. I do think where you’re going to find your key people is through professional networks, though. The passive candidate, the one whose head is in the game, they’re not going to be checking Career Builder. They’re working late because they have a presentation in front of their CEO.

Right now, what we have in our country is 80 million Baby-Boomers who are nearing retirement. They’re being replaced by 40 million Gen-Xers. Either way, with the economy up, down or sideways, we are approaching a critical shortage of talent, especially in the high-tech industry. If you’re looking for an A-level player to move into your organization, where you’re going to get your leverage is making sure that you have a tight professional network at all times, no matter if you have current needs or not. Because when you do have that need, that type of professional network can make or break your organization when you need that key person right away.

What missteps should companies avoid during the recruiting process?
Get the timing right. If you start recruiting too early and leave your candidate hanging before you can actually write an offer, you don’t leave a positive view of the organization in the candidate’s mind. If you start actively recruiting and getting them through the interview, and then it takes a month or two for the offer to be written, if he’s the right candidate, he’s no longer available.

If you start too late, you’re going to limit your pool of candidates to people who are currently unemployed. Say, for example, I’m talking to a hiring manager who needs a person on board within four weeks. I step them through a hiring timeline. If that person is currently employed, they’re going to need to give two weeks notice. Give me a week to do the recruiting and I can come up with two or three key candidates. That gives you a week to do a telephone interview, fly them in for an in-person interview, do your personality profile and reference checks, extend an offer to them, and have them accept. It’s just not practical. You really need to step through that process to understand what it takes to bring a person on board.

For more information on the recruiting process, contact ETS Tech-Ops at (540) 491-9108, e-mail npearce@etstech-ops.com or visit the website at www.etstech-ops.com.

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