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How Staffing Firms Can Stay Busy Amid Slowdowns

September 29, 2020 Venkat Biroje

We are more than six months out from initial COVID-19 shutdowns with some indications that the market is on an upswing, but staffing starts are down about 20% from this time last year meaning many staffing firms are still just treading water. This is a far cry from the “war for talent” that took such precedence prior, with recruiters racing to secure the top candidates for highly specialized roles. While we’re all hoping for a speedy return to normal, it doesn’t have to be total doom and gloom. This slowdown is the perfect opportunity for staffing firms to beef up their efforts in terms of relationship building and improving processes. Because if not now, when?

Improve Processes via Retraining

“A lot of our clients have taken the slowdown this year as an opportunity to undertake training courses, learn something new and optimize their processes,” says Casey Godfrey, Vice President of 247Headhunting. “In some cases, firms are even retraining staff on things like their Applicant Tracking Systems so that they can be used more efficiently going forward.”

Usually a good ATS will have a lot of built-in, customizable features, but some of this deeper functionality is rarely mastered by users, which can really limit efficiency.

For example, most ATS’ have out-of-the-box workflows that allow recruiters to quickly send documents to prospective candidates and receive e-signature verification, helping to improve recruiting pipelines and the overall candidate experience. Pre-COVID, it was perfectly understandable that a recruiter might not take full advantage of these more automated features, preferring to rely on more personal (and manual) processes like emails, printers, scanners, and more emails. But with a mass transition to remote work, these previously neglected features became mission-critical overnight, and they’re likely to become par for the course going forward if staffing companies want to fortify their processes and beat out their competitors.

Your retraining focus doesn’t need to be focused explicitly around your ATS either. Retrain your team on any tools or technologies they use in their day-to-day, but might not be using to their fullest capacity, whether it’s Microsoft Excel, Gmail, or even social media apps.

Get To Really Know Your Candidates

In the constant battle for top-tier talent, it can be difficult as a recruiter to build and maintain real relationships with all your candidates and prospects. With widespread slowdowns in hiring, every organization is in a similar position and it’s the actions we take during this time that will set us apart once we return to some semblance of normalcy.

Use this time to build and maintain real relationships with your network of prospects – whether they are actively looking for a new role or are gainfully employed. Be a valued person in their professional life, someone they know will go to bat for them to find that next great role so they want to turn to you before any of the other recruiters filling their inboxes daily.

Take extra care to truly assess what they are looking for, and try to go deeper than the standard: “What do you want out of an employer? What’s your dream job? What benefits do you need?” You obviously want to get this information, but you also need find out what makes them tick. Become a true friend to them. Find out what their ideal work/life balance looks like – where they want to end up in their career and in their life. Learn the name of their partner, their kids, their pets, where they love to go out to eat, what they are passionate about (even if you’ve got to save this all in your notes app). Overall, demonstrate that they are more than a potential placement for you to put in a role and move on, but rather someone they can turn to for support.

When hiring returns to normal, you will have a better sense of what these folks are looking for, as well as a wider understanding of the needs of job seekers in these industries.

Rekindle Old Relationships

With staffing placements down year-over-year, forward-looking staffing organizations need to establish themselves a true value-add during tumultuous times. There are several ways firms can do this, whether that’s helping companies reorient staffing priorities around specific projects, or simply empathizing with them over more general market struggles. This doesn’t have to be limited to current clients either – in fact, it shouldn’t be!

While COVID-19 severed many a business relationship as a strict cost-saving measure, markets are starting to bounce back and some of those partnerships have been renewed.

“We’ve seen several staffing firms maintain a line of communication with clients they’ve lost whether as a result of COVID or otherwise,” says Godfrey. “In some cases, they’ve been successful in winning the client back.”  Use this opportunity to check in with everyone, you never know what business may come from it. At worst, you’ll walk away with a better understanding on the state of different industries and how they are weathering the storm.

The role of recruiters may have changed in recent months, but fundamentally the job is the same and there’s still several things we in the staffing business can do to stay engaged. This isn’t just busy work to keep us occupied till the war for talent ramps back up. Improving our processes while also strengthening our relationships across the board is key to positioning ourselves for success going into next year.