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In a Jobless Recovery, Where Do Recruiters Find Work?

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In a twist of ironic fate, they have to match themselves with employers.

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When the company that's always hiring begins firing, it's time to worry. When you're the one in charge of hiring and find you're also the one being fired, it's time to panic.

That's how it went down for many recruiters at the start of 2009, when Google (GOOG) announced plans to reduce the overall size of its recruiting organization by approximately 100 positions.

And the Internet behemoth wasn't the only one: Microsoft (MSFT) laid off an estimated 250 internal recruiters last winter -- a move that came after the previous fall season in which the company began trimming its contract workforce, including all contract recruiters. (Sadly, for recruiters that work as contractors, there's rarely any layoff announcement -- just a contract that ends and won't be renewed. This also means that those who find themselves out of work can't collect unemployment.)

It's not just the internal recruiters of a company or contract workers that can end up struggling to hold on to their careers. Hundreds of recruiting and staffing agencies -- those businesses that aim to match hiring employers with willing and able employees -- have had to let people go or close their doors in 2009. Two of the largest executive search firms, Korn/Ferry (KFY) and Heidrick & Struggles (HSII), were among those that downsized significantly this year.

In an ironic twist of fate, all of this has left droves of qualified recruiters to match only themselves with new employers.

So who's looking at the resumes of recruiters?

As the New York Times reported earlier in 2009, for the last 11 years, one group of recruiters in Silicon Valley, California, has held a luncheon on the first Friday of all but two months of the year -- their most recent meeting is scheduled for today, December 4. Unemployed recruiters go in the hopes of hearing about job openings for themselves, but often find nothing more than out-of-work colleagues or "helpful" hints on how to adapt their skills to other industries.

In fact, a search of the term "recruiters" in Job Trends on Indeed.com produces a graph showing the percentage of industry jobs the site finds after searching thousands of job sites. It may not be a chart with precision accuracy, but it's evident that recruiter offerings are meager.



There are distinct and interchangeable variables that make ascertaining the general welfare of recruiters -- or getting exact counts of those out of work -- slightly tricky. For one, staffing agencies span all industries -- finance, medicine, retail, advertising, IT, health care, and administrative, to name a few -- so the amount of recruiters actively working in a given area is linked to how well that industry is doing.

Furthermore, because recruiters and agencies hire temporary, contract, seasonal, full-time, and/or part-time workers for clients with different needs, the data is affected by the time of year, the type of recruiter or agency, and the status of the economy.

But the myriad interviews conducted monthly at the Silicon Valley luncheon suggest the recession slammed the recruiting industry hard -- in California and across the country.

Employment agencies – as TempStar Staffing in Pennsylvania points outs -- are often measures of just how bleak (or hopeful) the job situation is at any given time:

For the job market as a whole, employment agencies are the classic canary in a coal mine: That is, the temp market exhibits signs that can show economists what's going to happen in the long term. In the dot-com bust of the early 2000s, the temp industry saw a drastic increase in requests for new workers -- followed by a quick and brutal downturn.

The translation: Employment agencies…did well as the economy began to falter, and firms were reluctant to bring on new permanent hires. Timidity ruled the market, and temps thrived. But after the bulk of the recession hit hard, the need for temps decreased, as many firms didn't even have the budgets for weekly temp services. In the current market, things look a bit grim...


Case in point:

  • Robert Half (RHI) reported third-quarter net income of $9.5 million on revenue of $725.9 million compared with net income of $65.8 million on revenue of $1.2 billion for the same period a year ago.

  • TrueBlue (TBI) reported third-quarter net income of $8.2 million compared with net income of $16.3 million a year ago.

  • Kelly Services (KELYA) reported a third-quarter loss of $28 million, compared with a loss of $14.5 million for the same period a year ago. Revenue totaled $1 billion, down 25%.


The one thing many recruiting-industry experts seem to agree on is this: The end of the recession -- when it arrives -- won't likely be a panacea for the recruitment industry, but it will provide opportunities to those recruiters and staffing agencies that can adapt.

Many innovative and creative agencies, for example, have taken advantage of the unique conditions the current economy has provided and decided to expand their business by improving the quality of their services and by entering new markets -- something individual recruiters are advised to take a cue from when considering their skills.

In a research report for Morningstar, for example, Vishnu Lekraj said "The potency of its job placement business has…allowed Manpower (MAN) to branch out into all aspects of human resources management and position itself as a strategic partner for a host of global and local firms."

Kevin Wheeler, president and founder of Global Learning Resources, Inc, says that companies and industries are changing, with many now looking for sustainable rather than rapid growth.

"To achieve this," he explains, "many more workers will be contractors, consultants, or work as temporaries or part-time." In addition, Wheeler predicts "the average age of the workforce is going to get older as Baby Boomers stay longer and fewer young people seek regular corporate jobs."

And for those recruiters who simply can't find employment right now, experts encourage making it their number-one job to acclimatize to the new environment: learn more about productivity, the labor market, and the new state of the economy.

(See also: Betting on the Temps and Six Ways We're Stifling the Unemployed.)


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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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