The most obvious recruitment responses to a downturn may not be those that will help a firm most

The middle of a recession may seem an odd time to talk about recruitment. But stay with me. All businesses have cycles – periods of sustained growth followed by downturns and periods of quiet. Obviously, recruitment plans will closely follow these cycles. But it is how you deal with these cycles that sets you apart from other employers. And a carefully considered recruitment strategy is integral to surviving the hardships of a downturn. Here are my five tips on what you should do…

Don't put the handbrake on recruitment

While a blanket hiring freeze is often the first response of many a business that sees difficult times ahead, it is frequently ill conceived. Recessions create liquidity in the talent market, with strong, technically proficient and experienced staff becoming available. Previously unavailable top-tier candidates are now there for the picking - and frequently with more affordable salary expectations. Recessions offer employers a respite from the battle for the most talented employees, a chronic problem that has beleaguered the construction industry over the past decade.

Strategise and communicate

Recruitment strategies should be not just about the short-term survival but about how your company wants to position itself when the tides change. Recruitment managers should liaise more closely with sales managers and be aware of industry trends in order to estimate when the economic downturn might end. If the forecast is that it will be short-lived, prepare the business case for keeping staff numbers intact so as to be ready for the coming upturn. If the preseent economic situation is quashed sooner than expected, premature layoffs could be disastrous for your company.

Prepare to be inundated

More people out of work means more applications for any vacancy. While this sounds like you will have an extensive pool of candidates to choose from, that's only the case if you can physically manage to review all the applications that come in. You can handle the deluge of applicants by using a recruitment partner or outsourced HR function. This will also allow you to retain focus on your own main job.

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With unemployment rising, employers must expect to be inundated with applications for every vacancy

Review your recruitment partners

Whoever you use to assist in your recruitment efforts, you should assess how safe your contract is with them. Ensure any existing contracts can be fulfilled and consider lining up an alternative supplier in case the firm you are using goes out of business. This is particularly important if the firm you are using is one that supplies temporary staff, which tend to be more cash-flow critical.

Focus priorities and revise recruiting targets

A different economic situation means a changed focus for those involved in recruiting, and it's important that those signing off recruitment budgets are aware of this. Make sure you put all your efforts into recruiting for positions that generate the highest return on investment.