How to Handle Hiring When Everyone Else Is Cutting Staff

Use Social Networks as Filter, Include Current Employees in Process

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Some agencies are actually hiring in this recession, which raises complications of its own: how to wade through the throng of highly qualified applicants, and how to navigate the tricky business of bringing on people to service a newly won account after you've let others go on one that's been lost.

Even for those lucky enough to be hiring, it can be a delicate matter. Take for example, DraftFCB Chicago, which has significantly expanded its relationship with MillerCoors of late, and therefore kept its recruiting efforts at full force during the first quarter.

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"We're being very critical about which positions we're filling, how we're filling them," said Maureen Murray, senior VP-director of recruiting. "If there are people internally who have the right skill sets and there's an opportunity to promote from within, we want to give the first opportunity to internal people."

After that, she said, Draft starts looking outside. The agency generally hires about 250 people each year and reviews about 14,000 r�sum�s. While first-quarter hiring is roughly on pace, she said, r�sum� volume has at least doubled. Robin Rosen, director of human resources, said "canned letters" have dropped off dramatically, to about 10% of the total.

Applicants have also been clever in making contact. "The subject lines have been very creative and thoughtful," Ms. Rosen said.

"E-mails are short, to the point and more creative. Times seem to have challenged people to be more creative in their entire sales approach."

Long process
As a result, Ms. Murray said, the agency is taking more time with its hires, meeting with more applicants and being extra cautious about making the right decision. "Getting through the initial screening and initial interview will just naturally take longer than it has in the past," she said, adding that even "very qualified candidates" shouldn't get discouraged. A process that would normally take three to four weeks, for instance, may now take six.

Draft is in the unusual and enviable position of hiring new people when employees from another department haven't just been laid off or terminated because of a lost account. Those situations require additional dexterity in calming current employees, said Brad Karsh, president of Job Bound. "It's like how soon do you want to start dating after you break up with someone?" he said, advising a one-month "mourning period" and then being very transparent about the reasons for each new addition to the staff.

Draft found another way to include its employees: a referral-driven job fair. "They felt like we valued their opinion in that we were looking to them to provide us leads, and I think they appreciated it," Ms. Murray said. "Obviously, all of us have friends out there that have been affected by layoffs, and I think it was meaningful to them to reach out to friends the industry and say, 'Let me get your r�sum� in the right hands.'" The agency is also giving bonuses for employee referrals that generate hires.

Draft reinforces the need for new blood with existing employees by underscoring the need for normalcy. "We're not looking to burn them out," Ms. Rosen said. "It's all about creativity. We need them to be fresh and have a solid work-life balance."

A number of agencies hiring this year have noted the utility of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. "I definitely don't have as many headhunter fees," said Rob Boswell, president of Moroch, a Dallas-based advertising agency that's been picking up a flurry of McDonald's regional cooperative accounts. He added that the company has always leaned heavily on employee referrals.

Better net
But social networking has definitely gained import. Digital agency Organic uses Twitter as a primary job-posting strategy. Euro RSCG, Chicago, has also been hiring this year, particularly in the digital area. "We've found the social-networking sites are supplying a really good pool of applicants for us to choose from in addition to more traditional ways of sourcing," said Teresa Mogush, the agency's director of talent development.

What's more, Craig Badynee, director-recruiting at DraftFCB, Chicago, said his Twitter leads are better fits than those from online job boards. "You might get 300 responses, but there might be a third who are qualified," he said. "On Twitter, lately every single person who has written me has had the qualifications." Mr. Badynee, who focuses on creative recruitment, ascribes his success to Twitter's smaller, more-personal environment.

And whether or not the social-networking success of late can be attributed to the sea of qualified job seekers, recruiters maintain that the communities will continue to play a big role in hiring. "It really gives you the full r�sum� -- who they're associating with, how they represent themselves," Ms. Murray said. "It's so much more than you get on paper when you are posting so much rich content."

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