Recruitment in a VUCA world: How to turn short-term wave-breaking measures into a long-term surfing strategy

After the lull caused by Covid, the need for recruiters to fill staffing gaps is at an all-time high, according to a LinkedIn study. This brings to mind my grandmother’s perfectly plausible philosophy: many hands make light work. So far – so good. But what will happen if the acute staff shortages cannot be overcome? Wait for the next wave and back to square one? We spoke to Michael Eger from Mercer | Promerit about recruitment in a VUCA environment, the supposed attraction of the short-term solution and the strategic potential behind it.

There will always be peaks in demand and permanent vacancies.

The hiring freezes that we saw during the pandemic will hopefully remain an exception. But whether it’s due to seasonal demand, excessively high turnover or hard-to-fill profiles that are nevertheless business-critical: recruitment challenges will always exist. Currently, however, a “vacancy wave” has piled up at many companies, caused by a reluctancy to recruit in 2020 and a corresponding turnaround this year. “The classic solution to this has been the permanent or temporary strengthening of the company’s own talent acquisition department, for example, through interim recruiters, headhunters or temporary staff”, Michael Eger, Partner at Mercer | Promerit, knows from his everyday consultancy work. “If you are prepared to put enough money into it, then it can definitely work. But the fluctuations continue. If companies are not flexible enough, the team is somehow always too large or too small – and the next wave is bound to come….”


💡 What is VUCA?

VUCA is an acronym for Volatility –Uncertainty – Complexity – Ambiguity.

The expression originated from American military jargon and was coined in response to the changed threats after the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.

Today, VUCA is also a business synonym for the challenges of our modern world. VUCA is frequently used in connection with digitisation. Incidentally, corporate strategists also use VUCA as an acronym for: Vision – Understanding – Clarity – Agility.

Source: Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon (translated from German)

Talent sourcing often fizzles out

Studies show that few companies are now able to cover their recruitment needs without talent sourcing. In the IT industry, in particular, it is difficult to successfully fill vacancies without having extensively courted the candidate beforehand. Where this is possible, a quarter of all vacancies are now filled via talent sourcing channels. Looking at the overall job market, about two in ten candidates now change jobs, even though they were not actually looking for one – simply because of the company’s proactive efforts.


“Talent sourcing opens up candidate target groups that are not accessible via classic ‘post & pray’ measures – most companies have reached this point”, say Michael Eger, assessing this as the status quo. Especially during the wave, many candidates are often contacted who are not currently wanting to change jobs. In tight markets, potential candidates often receive a lot of offers. Here it is not uncommon for only a small percentage of those approached to actually enter into further discussions, even with efficient talent sourcing. “But it is not always due to disinterest or an overload of offers. Often, contact is not taken up because of the timing. Sometimes candidates are waiting for the next round of promotions, other times for events in the family (change of school for the children, a partner’s change of job etc.). With a large number of uncoordinated approaches, there is also an increased risk of recruiters from the same company contacting candidates multiple times – or even recruiters themselves losing track of things and contacting candidates more than once”, says Michael Eger.


From VUCA wave-breakers to smooth surfers and networkers

If you want to ensure long-term relationship building and that contacts are not lost due to bad timing or an uncoordinated approach, you cannot do without a candidate relationship management (CRM) system.

A CRM system not only enables automatic mailings and the management of large target groups (often with thousands of contacts), it is also indispensable for one-to-one talent sourcing activities. The CRM system is a central database for candidate contacts from a wide variety of sources – including talent sourcing, other short-term high volume recruitment activities, events, “silver medallist’s” from previous application rounds and alumni.

“The most important thing to understand is that it is not about building a dead talent pool”, Michael Eger stresses. “Think like a headhunter whose most important asset is an excellently maintained database that has been established over many years. Even if the time if not right, candidates don’t get lost. Headhunters know exactly which candidates they can approach about a vacancy - not just because they have the necessary qualifications, but because they are ideally also looking for a career move within the next five years, or have to move home for family reasons, or are even currently in the probationary period and possibly unhappy with their new employer. Such relationship management is worth its weight in gold and headhunters are renumerated accordingly for it.” From a company perspective, it doesn’t make sense to leave network building to external service providers, especially in respect of target groups that the company is regularly looking for.


The business case: headhunter costs vs. CRM

What first appears as a lot of effort pays off sooner than you expect. Because CRM helps to cope with the next VUCA wave more quickly by using internal resources – without incurring external costs. Because the true value of a CRM system becomes apparent where companies can access a well maintained network or pipeline in the event of new wave, rather than having to start again from scratch. Two things are needed for this to happen: a good strategy and efficient technology. “A successful recruitment strategy requires knowing your target groups and doing away with the scattergun approach. Talent pools should not be set up indiscriminately, but rather deliberately in critical target groups that you can assume will be in demand again during the next wave,” is Michael Eger’s summary. “Candidate relationship management supports you in managing these target groups efficiently and developing a community through regular dialogue. This is also an advantage, for example, if companies once again find themselves in the recruitment doldrums. With CRM, they can also keep in touch with candidates even when they are not recruiting. GDPR-compliant campaign tools, including automation and personalization, also make the scattergun approach redundant and – with the right concept – make it possible to build ties with candidates. In this way, you make provision for critical target groups, avoid the need for excessive action later on - as well as unnecessary external costs - and reduce your time to hire. And not just for the next wave.”


Talentry free infographic inbound vs. outbound recruiting


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