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Can you recruit a superstar from a competitor when your company is struggling?

7.27.2009

 

Your state can't pass its budget, your 401K looks like a ski jump minus the lift at the end, and your favorite contestant on So You Think You Can Dance just got the boot. Sure, the Dow has reached an eight month high, but it's not exactly time to bust out the champagne... you figure that news is as good as learning that you only need a massive cavity filled as opposed to yet another root canal.

And then it gets worse... your company goes to press with the news of a reduction in force amidst less than stellar quarterly revenues. Now you have to worry about your own job, the jobs of your colleagues, and the health of the business. On top of that, you still have one critical position to hire for and you are worried how this news will affect candidates' enthusiasm for the opportunity. Sure, there are a lot of people out of work who would happily throw their hat in the ring, regardless of the news (including, and sometimes it seems especially, those not even remotely qualified), but you have your eye on someone from a competitor who is currently excelling. How do you convince a top flight candidate who has been with his or her company for years and has an outstanding track record that it's a good idea to make the leap into choppy waters?

Someone who is interested in a career-making move.

True, many candidates will have an initial gut reaction that now is not the time to consider making a change. As uncertainty about the economy and the world grows, our appetite for risk and change shrink significantly. We've all heard the "last in, first out" mantra, and it's one that can sing a person to sleep (or, more likely, keep them awake into the wee hours) as they are considering a move. And what if they see the current shakiness of the company as a sign of bigger problems to come?

How do you, the hiring executive, woo a top notch candidate who is not actively looking?

The truth is that you might lose out on candidates who would otherwise be more open to considering a move. However, the right candidate for the position in today's uncertain economic times will be attracted to the opportunity to lead change and make an impact during a challenging time.

Consider Susan, a marketing executive in the consumer products industry. She was a highly regarded Vice President with an industry leader who, with five years of measurable success with her employer, was not likely to be wearing a target on her back should job cuts come around the corner. However, when she was courted by a midsize competitor going through cutbacks, organizational restructure, cost cutting, and downsizing, she wasn't turned off. Quite the opposite. "The opportunity to walk into a situation where I could really make my mark and bring an organization forward several huge steps instead of one or two small ones... that was too good to resist."

Another upside to making the move in a down market? If the company is publicly traded, your candidate will get a real bargain on those stock options or RSUs.

Candidates like Susan are the right person at the right time, and you might be saving yourself some time if those who just don't have the risk tolerance self select out of the running. Every search will have its challenges, and this one is
yours. You might not be able to fix the nation's healthcare problem or ultimately decide who America's Favorite Dancer is, but you can find the upside to recruiting for key positions in a tough climate.

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