How you can create value from your talent acquisition teams during economic uncertainty

November 9, 2022

It’s 2020. A global pandemic has taken over, and companies are panicking at the thought of having to adjust. Hiring freezes and layoffs are frequent across all industries and departments, but especially in HR. 

Fast forward to 2021, and as COVID-19 settles, an economic explosion takes place. A record-breaking amount of money from private markets is invested into the economy – more than the last two decades combined. Open positions are abundant on LinkedIn as scaling companies struggle to fill roles they cut in 2020. The amount of job postings for HR (specifically recruiters) surpasses pre-pandemic levels, with a shocking 6.8x more postings in the summer of 2021 than the previous year

Finally, we arrive in 2022. This year, companies are beginning to realize they might have been a bit too ambitious, and they just aren’t able to perform to the expectations of shareholders. History repeats itself as again, we’re seeing mass layoffs with recruiting and HR teams often being the most affected. It seems like a repeat of two years ago – and I can’t help but ask myself, “Haven’t we learned from the past?”.

The extreme volatility that we’re seeing in the HR industry can be avoided. Economic uncertainty shouldn’t lead to a complete uprooting of your HR department, and namely, your talent acquisition (TA) teams. It’s a matter of rearranging, restructuring, and reprioritizing the people and resources available.  

So, let’s talk about it: how we can learn from past mistakes and create value from our TA teams during periods of economic uncertainty. 

What can your TA team do?

If your company is at a stage where you’re conducting a hiring freeze and are even considering layoffs, your TA team is probably one of the most vulnerable. The logic that most companies have is that TA roles aren’t necessary when there aren’t any roles to hire for – but instead of thinking about the work they can’t do, try asking yourself: what does the company need, where do we lack resources, and what work is available? There are several options you can examine before resorting to cutting back the team. 

Build out your own HR team structure

The first alternative is to take a good look at your HR department and company as a whole, and consider what strategic projects need focus. When recruiting and TA slow down, look at it as a chance to focus on other parts of HR that can sometimes be neglected. 

I’ll use Humi as an example; we have a People and Talent department in lieu of a traditional HR department and it’s organized into four disciplines: talent acquisition, employee experience, people operations, and information technology.

If your company’s HR department isn’t as robust as ours, that’s alright – but this is the perfect opportunity to build out those other functional areas. Think about the needs of your company as well as the people on your TA teams to find a good fit. 

For example, if your company is lacking in equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives, members of your TA team can move into an employee experience role to focus on creating an EDI framework, or EDI roadmap. If your performance management processes are outdated, you could leverage the TA team to initiate a deep-dive into what’s not working, and what they can  fix. 

Internal lateral movement

Another alternative for your TA team is internal lateral movement. Many people think “movement” in a company means a promotion. But lateral movement doesn’t include a level change – rather, it focuses on an employee gaining new skills and experiences in a role that has around the same pay and amount of responsibility as their last one. It usually includes moving to another department and working with different people in the company.

An example of internal lateral movement could be someone from the TA team in the HR department moving into a customer support role. This can be a good fit as there are certain transferable skills (e.g. effective communication, problem solving, empathy) between HR and customer support that will allow members of your TA team to succeed. Or, you might move someone from TA to sales; your recruiters know how to ‘sell’ the company to talent in interviews, so with a little bit of training, they can learn to sell your product or services to clients. 

Development

Lastly, think about investing in your TA team’s learning and development. People are eager to learn and this could be the perfect time for your team to self-assess, recognize gaps in their skills, and design a plan to improve. When the hiring freeze ends, you’ll have a team that’s recharged and ready to kick things back into high gear. 

Other ways you can reprioritize 

When I think of how I would refocus my TA team during a hiring freeze, I turn to my to-do list; the list of things I’d like to tackle that’s overlooked because we don’t have the time and/or resources for it. In a slow hiring environment, reprioritizing these things is top of mind. 

Workforce planning

Analyzing, forecasting, and planning for workforce demand, and assessing gaps in the company to ensure we have the right people in place when things pick back up.

Succession planning

Identifying critical leadership roles in the company and developing plans for individuals to assume these roles.

Hiring manager training

Creating training programs for hiring managers to ensure best practices are used across the company.

Hiring process improvements

Taking a look at the company’s current hiring process and optimizing it for efficiency, candidate experience, and EDI.

Employer branding strategy

Revisiting past interviews to see how candidates think of the company, and using this information to evaluate and adjust culture and values.

Building talent pipelines (outbound and sourcing)

Strengthening relationships with top talent for when hiring picks back up again.

Career website optimization 

Updating the careers page to ensure it accurately reflects the current company and enhances user experience.

Analyzing talent data

Analyzing data, such as time-to-hire, for insight into optimizing the candidate experience and hiring funnels.

EDI support 

Strengthening EDI initiatives with a focus on hiring. 

Co-op or early talent programming

Developing programs that employ students and/or recent graduates.

Internal talent bootcamps (i.e. for lateral movements)

Creating training programs for other employees to move from one department to another.

Internal application processes

Optimizing the process of current employees applying to available positions within the company.

Support for internal career mapping/development

Building plans that support employees in career development.

Final thoughts 

Hiring slowdowns and freezes are always difficult to navigate with a TA team. But the ways you can refocus and rearrange this team are endless. If there’s any lesson we can take away from the pandemic, it’s that simply cutting these roles isn’t an effective solution. When things pick back up, we’ll have to put twice the effort into recruiting than it would take to create a plan for reprioritizing. 

Your hiring slowdown or freeze will inevitably end, and when that time comes, you’ll have a TA team that’s refreshed and ready to go. The bottom line is: your people are willing and eager to do good work – it’s just a matter of giving them the opportunity to contribute in other areas. 

Current open roles 

For those of you that have recently been laid off and are looking for work in Canada, here is a list of talent acquisition roles that are currently open on LinkedIn:

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Hey there 👋 my name is Andrea Bartlett.

I’m the Director of HR at Humi, and I’m obsessed with all things people and human resources. Throughout my time working in a range of industries, I’ve learned that one thing is clear: the world of work is changing and HR professionals are leading the charge. 

I believe that businesses should know their people as well as they know their product. But people are complex, and the solutions aren’t always easy. That’s how Think with Humi will help. 

Written by me, this newsletter is designed to give you insight into the relevant and raw people challenges, and give you the tools to enable you to continuously to shape the future of work. 

Written by a people leader, for people leaders.