Recessions are good times for navel staring. That’s true of any profession (well, maybe not firefighters – I think they’re generally Zen, considering they’re willing to walk into fire on a regular basis), but especially true of recruiting.  After the dot-comb bubble hootenanny, I remember a lot of us reassessing all the talk we’d been talking about recruiting automation, how RPO’s (recruitment process outsourcing) were going to change everything about the industry, etc.  Then, those that were still standing went back to basics and made enough money to survive.   They kept some of the best pieces that came out of the internet boom (little things like, oh, e-mail [yes, I remember faxing in resumes], tools like ZoomInfo, having a web site candidates could apply through, ERE, an ATS… you get the picture).      But overall, they hit the phones and maintained their relationships with key clients.

And they navel stared.  Here’s the thing: prior to the tightest job market in the history of the universe (that’d be the late 90’s – kids, trust me on this: it was nuts), recruiting wasn’t the most well-known of professions.  To the lay person, it either implied a misfit member of the corporate HR team (if HR even had a specialist for this area), or some random guy/ girl who called them at work at the worst possible time with a totally inappropriate job.   That’s a generalization, of course, and way off from reality, but that was the general perception.

Enter the dragon – err, tight job market.  Suddenly, there were recruiters and recruiting agencies every-freaking-where.  Anybody with a phone & a fax (late to become that new-fangled e-mail thingy) thought they could make big money – and, sadly, for awhile they could.  35-40% fees weren’t unheard of, and firms were offering huge salary jumps just to get talent – the saying became “if they hold a mirror up, and it fogs over, they can get an offer at XYZ company”.

(It’s just weird that those firms didn’t make it…. who would have thought burning through 10 million dollars in 6 months and hiring people who were, well to be kind, “slightly less than qualified” for every opening you have would be a bad business plan?)

Then it all stopped.  A lot of the people who’d jumped into the recruiting industry immediately jumped out, and into the mortgage & real estate industries.  Those that were left were in love with the industry, and had a great deal of professional pride in it.  Which was a great, good thing.   It still is.  Granted when the real estate bubble started tickling the economy a few years back, recruiting took off again, and some hacks made their way in, but nothing like the late 90’s.  I think this was because of a couple of factors: the profession had become, and stayed, visible thanks to the dot-com bubble, and viewed as a viable career path by some great fresh grads; management in these agencies remembered the mistakes of the past, and hired better; recruitment training, technology, thought leadership etc had become much better thanks to the downturn – people had time to think, plan, and share ideas again.  The feeding frenzy of a bubble is a very reactive time – you’re supposed to be on the phone, making your money.

What we have now in the profession is the next step in our evolution.   Corporations are starting to hire successful agency recruiters to work internally,  keeping them separate from HR and more closely aligned with marketing and MarComm – a smart move.  Agencies have become much more strategic – moving into management consulting, focusing on helping sell their clients’ employment brands, advising on salary, etc.  We’re hiring smarter and more creative people – entrepreneurs, rebels, and change agents.  There are tools coming out – next generation job boards like Vitruva and MyPerfectGig will disrupt the way traditional agencies operate, and likely shutter the ones who haven’t already begun to function as strategic client partners.  New thought leaders, like Rob Humphrey at Veer Orange, the gang at Fistful of Talent, Starr-Tincup, etc are emerging, who are thoughtfully, and successfully, challenging the status quo.

It’s an interesting time, in an incredibly interesting profession.

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