Straight Talk with the Headhunter – Recruitment Trends in Challenging Economic Times

By Shaun Carpenter

“The War for Talent”… an expression heard everywhere from the boardroom to the lunchroom for the past three years. The recession has caused a cease-fire in the war and new hiring trends are arising to face the economic realities. A few trends you’ll most likely see for the second half of 2009 and beyond include:

  1. Baby Boomers will continue to boom.

    With so many cracked nest-eggs, people will be happy to postpone retirement for a couple of years and stay onboard. Employers were freaking out a few years ago when they started forecasting how much knowledge was going to be walking out the door but it looks like this “silver tsunami” has subsided for now.

  2. The bottom line will be the top priority.

    A recent article in the Economist states, “Prepare for the year of the Finance Director!” The author claims that there will be a shift in the balance of power in the boardroom as HR and marketing areas lose a bit of their luster and the emphasis will be on economic value added, improving efficiencies, and trimming costs. Additionally, by 2011 publicly-traded organizations will need to have adopted the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and recent studies have shown that private companies plan to follow suit.

  3. Setting the bar high.

    The quality of hire will be more important than ever. If you place an employment ad right now, there’s no doubt you’ll have three times the applicants you had last year, but, as always, many of the best candidates are those who have their heads down and are happy where they are… not necessarily the ones who are between jobs. Companies are not looking to just fill a position but to uncover the “game changer”, who will have the chops to help the organization evolve and thrive in these tough times. Executives need to possess all the technical abilities, educational credentials and designations along with strong leadership, coaching and mentoring ability, and often times with operational experience outside of their functional area of expertise.

  4. Utilizing existing employees to the max.

    There is no doubt that cuts are being made but the difficult decision for organizations is not whether to cut, but how to do so in a way that strengthens competitive position in the medium term rather than seriously damaging it. A good analogy is cutting some fat without damaging the muscle.Employers understand the exorbitant cost of replacing key performers in an organization and to ensure they’re not faced with unbudgeted costs, lost productivity and despondent departments who lose their leaders to greener pastures, companies are doing more than ever to retain the stars.

    You’ll see more flexible work arrangements being utilized like second Fridays off, telecommuting, and allowing key people to upgrade their education (to be “professionally fit” for when business picks up). You’ll see even more perks and strong counter-offers should a top performer suggest that s/he is leaving.

  5. Employee referral programs will be revitalized.

    Remember technology companies were renowned for providing cash rewards to employees who recommended friends/contacts who were hired. These tools are not only cost effective but they also provide an automatic internal reference. Social networking tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and others will turbo power referral programs. Just look at what they did for Obama in the election.

  6. Going Green.

    There is a huge movement towards greening which has only just begun. Whether the environmental approach is purely a company’s attempt to try to differentiate to stay ahead or genuine new business practices that will help save the planet, there will be new corporate positions being added that are focused on sustainability.

Let’s face it, the upcoming prospects for all job hunters is murky as there are fewer opportunities for candidates and much more competition. HR leaders will need to continue to adapt to remain or become strategic contributors at the executive table. Initiatives will need to be created to address the trends above and many others as we plod through this unprecedented recession.

If you would like a headhunter’s perspective on a topic, feel free to email Shaun Carpenter at

Shaun Carpenter is Associate Partner with Pinton Forrest & Madden Executive Search. He has worked in the executive search business for 12 years and is well respected in the industry for his aptitude in candidate development and client relations. His thorough, insightful approach gives clients confidence that their needs are being met in a professional, timely manner. Shaun also has past experience as Manager, Human Resources with a leading Canadian health insurance provider where he was responsible for recruitment, retention, coaching, performance management, and employee/labour relations. He received a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Calgary, which included studies abroad at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. Shaun is also currently an active member of BC HRMA’s Coastal Vancouver Advisory Council.
Shaun Carpenter


Recruit & Retain


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