HBR's Seven Steps for Recruiting in a Recession

Last Updated Apr 23, 2009 10:20 AM EDT

One of the benefits of recession for employers is the increase in "A" list job applicants. But most companies do such a poor job of recruiting that they can't take advantage of what the market is handing them.

So the May issue of Harvard Business Review offers The Definitive Guide to Recruiting in Good Times and Bad, written by Harvard Business School professors Nitin Nohria and Boris Groysberg, with Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a senior adviser at the global executive search firm Egon Zehnder International.

The article marches us down the hiring process from initial identification of business needs to closing the deal. Here are the seven steps, and a takeaway or two from the article.

  1. Anticipate the need for new hires. Sample question: What must our leadership pipeline contain today to ensure that we find and develop tomorrow's leaders?
  2. Specify the job. In addition to creating a job description, the firm needs to identify resources it will devote to support the position, such as special technology or staff.
  3. Develop a pool of candidates. "Consider 'inside-outsiders' (internal candidates not bound by corporate tradition and ideology) and 'outside-insiders' (former employees, customers, suppliers, advisers, or anyone who's worked closely with a trusted insider)," according to the authors.
  4. Assess the candidates. Engage candidates in a discussion on how they have handled real-life situations that mirror ongoing issues in your own company. "Probe for exact actions candidates took and the reasoning they followed."
  5. Close the deal. It's not all about money and benefits. Use the offer negotiation process to highlight opportunities and challenges that come with the position, and how those are different from what competitors offer.
  6. Integrate the newcomer. "Assign each newcomer a mentor -- an established star in your organization. Mentors should provide ongoing support, not just an initial 'buddy' fix to help newcomers feel at home."
  7. Review the effectiveness of the hiring process. If despite your great system you've hired a dud, act within the first year to right that wrong. Then figure out where your process sprung a leak and patch it.
Long-Term View
One other great point from the article. When you hire stars in a recession, also plan on how to retain them once the economic picture improves and competition for their services heats up. Be prepared with long-term incentives, career challenges and other carrots you can offer at hiring time.

Do you have a systematic approach to finding and retaining talent? Share some of your success stories or examples of when your hiring train ran off the tracks.

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.