Businesses hiring again – in a new way

By Laura Raines, for the AJC

Hiring — that’s the practice of employing a person for a wage or fee, in case you haven’t heard the term lately — is making a comeback.

“Clients who have been on hiatus for more than a year have started calling us in the last month,” said Randy Hain, managing partner of Bell Oaks Executive Search, a 40-year-old Atlanta search firm. “The most common thing we hear is, ‘We cut way too many people, and now we need some back.’ ”

Randy Hains – managing partner of Bell Oaks Executive Search, an Atlanta search firm – said companies are adding more consultants to the payroll. Photo by Leita Cowart, for the AJC.

Randy Hains – managing partner of Bell Oaks Executive Search, an Atlanta search firm – said companies are adding more consultants to the payroll. Photo by Leita Cowart, for the AJC.

Sustainable manufacturing, wireless, software and innovative technology are a few industries that are adding workers. Many companies are upgrading new sales teams.

As you might suspect, post-economic-disaster hiring is not business as usual. There are new trends in the marketplace. Savvy job seekers will take note and adjust their tactics accordingly.

“Hiring is more mission-critical than ever,” Hain said. “The list of expectations we’re given for candidates has expanded. Before companies might ask for someone with industry experience, good management skills and an MBA; now they want to see a very specific skill set. They want all of the above and someone who turned around profits or launched new products successfully.

“Applicants have to get really good at telling their story. In 30 seconds they should be able to say what they’ve done, why they were successful and what they’re looking for.”

Broad generalists aren’t needed right now, and the days of digging into an executive position and getting fat are over, said Brian Cork, founder of brian cork Human Capital, an Atlanta-based provider of recruiting, executive search and other services.

“We’re seeing a new type of position emerging in corporate America. It’s the project-oriented executive,” Cork said.

He’s seeing America start to follow European and Asian trends to bring in new talent for short stints to meet specific goals.

“About 40 percent of the hiring in those countries is for two-year contracts, and that’s starting to happen here. The shelf life for executives is going to be about 30 months,” he said. “Companies are looking for the best, fastest and brightest talent, and there’s a direct correlation between what needs to be done and having the right skills to do it.”

Companies are adding more consultants to the payrolls, Hain said.

“It allows them to hire the expertise they need without adding to their full-time head count, paying benefits or having to invest in career development,” he added. “I recently worked with a multibillion-dollar company where 80 percent of its IT work force was on contract. That’s a trend we aren’t going to see diminish soon, and it’s an opportunity for older, displaced workers to find a way back into the job market.”

Companies may hire someone for a two-year project and convert them to full-time later.

“In 1997, companies were battling each other for the best talent, and employees had the edge. Now employers have the advantage, but as the economy picks up, we could be facing another labor shortage in five years,” Hain said.

For now, recruiters are seeing companies adjust salaries and titles down with many new hires.

“The trend is to keep salaries low, and the offers we’re seeing are very conservative,” Hain said.

“Pay scales are settling back to the more reasonable levels of 1997,” Cork said. “The expectations have never been higher in what new hires are asked to do, but we’re also seeing huge cash bonuses attached to performance. If someone in a decision-making role is meeting or exceeding expectations in terms of the company’s bottom line, they will benefit monetarily.”

“Applicants need to be comfortable handling compensation questions,” Hain said.

Avoid naming a number when asked about minimum salary requirements.

“Say you’ll consider a fair offer and then stress the value you can add to the company,” he said.

Mergers and bankruptcies have decreased the number of top-level spots, so “we’re seeing former CEOs take vice president of sales positions and vice presidents take director roles,” Hain said.

“As harsh as it sounds, the laws of natural selection are at play in the job market. If you have unique skills and know how to market them, there will be a high demand for your talents,” Cork said.

2 comments Add your comment

Jim Conway

October 11th, 2009
12:51 pm

We (wife & I) are frustrated. We can create jobs and hire six new employees for about $75,000. We have done so three time, before. Need cooperation from retail landlords (of empty “big box” space.)

Dave Pritchard

October 12th, 2009
6:03 am

Thanks Randy, Great article and very accurate.

Over the past two months in attending conference events with HR Exec’s & Talent Managers at both the local and national levels the message was clear, hiring is on the up swing again.