The recession’s silver lining: Great employment candidates

By Linda Segall 


Every dark cloud has a silver lining—at least, that’s what the adage says. The recession is certainly a dark cloud hangingdarkcloud over every small business owner’s head. It’s silver lining? An abundance of well qualified job applicants.

“This recession is different from others,” says Candace Moody, vice president of

Candace Moody

Candace Moody

communications at Worksource Development, an organization chartered by the State of Florida to provide workforce training and re-employment services for the six-county region of Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns. “There is a lot of talent in the market—talent that many companies, especially small businesses, probably could not have tapped into a few years ago,” she says. “It’s one of the few upsides of the recession.”

In the past, some employers, fearful they would be hiring a minimal performer or a troublemaker, would not consider unemployed applicants. Not today, however. Moody says being unemployed during the recession does not usually have anything to do with performance. “Excellent people with good companies and good work records—high performers—are out of work,” she observes. Many of those candidates are baby boomers. And many of them want a change.” They no longer want to work for big corporations.

“Many baby boomers are saying, ‘Three layoffs are enough. I have no interest in going back and being part of a number in a giant corporation,’” says Moody, adding, “These people are in a different phase in their careers. They want to be close to the ownership and make decisions and start new ventures. So, this could be a great opportunity for small business owners to snap up some amazing talent you didn’t know you could have, and create real loyalty, so that when the economy recovers, your new hires are not tempted to leave you just for a bunch of money. You have the opportunity to get them hooked on your business.”

Despite the abundance of good employees, however, you still need to hire carefully, advises Clint Drawdy, president of

Clint Drawdy

Clint Drawdy

Medical Methods, a Jacksonville-based healthcare recruiting company. “You can do yourself a disservice by picking an employee who is not an “A” player,” he says. Careful screening is important.

Hiring good employees in a recession is actually no different from hiring at any other time. It’s essentially a five step process:

1. Know what you need;

2. Ask the right questions

3. Check references;

4. Pay right; and

5. Help new employees transition.

1. Know what you need. The first step in any hiring process is knowing what you need. “Write a job description,” advises Drawdy. Know what competencies, skills, and experience you are looking for.” A written job description helps focus, so you won’t become mesmerized by available candidates.

Job descriptions are definitely important, agrees Moody. But they are not the sole measurement of your needs. You should also look at the stage of development the job is in. “Every job has a lifetime arc,” says Moody, explaining that jobs have a start-up phase, a maintenance phase, and a transitioning phase. Before you can match a candidate to a job, she says, you have to know what stage your job is in, because putting a start-up person in a maintenance job is setting a person up for failure.

2. Ask the right questions. Obviously, you’ll want to know about skills and experience, but remember that a candidate’s experience may not match exactly, especially if the candidate comes from a big company.

“One of the perceptions about employees from a large company is that they are all specialists, that they have only done one piece of the job. In a small company, of course, everyone is a generalist,” observes Moody. “Structure your interview process to ask questions not only about what they’ve done, but about what they want and under what conditions they work best.”

Along those lines, Drawdy suggests asking “top-grading” questions, such as “What were you hired to do in your last job?”, “What accomplishments were you most proud of?”, and “What were your low points?” These questions will give you good hints about the candidate’s fit into your business and into the specific job you have available.

Drawdy also advises “TORCing” your top candidates. “TORC stands for Threat of Reference Check,” he says. “Ask, ‘What is your boss’s name? What was it like working with him or her? What will he or she say were your biggest strengths and areas of improvement? And what is your boss’s telephone number, since I am going to call?” A candidate’s answers to these questions give you a good indication of his or her openness and honesty, qualities that are necessary for success on any job.

3. Check references. In addition to verifying information the candidates give you, talk to references to find out how adaptable the individual is. “If you know your environment is very different from the candidate’s past culture,” says Drawdy, “you must dig deep in the interview and even deeper with references on situations in which they had to be adaptable and open to change. If you get feedback they were structured, process-oriented, or rigid, then be very hesitant to hire them.”

Drawdy’s advice is especially pertinent if you are considering someone from a large company. “The gap is huge between large corporate environments and small companies,” he says, “and you need to look for qualities such as high initiative, history of driving change, resourcefulness, being a self-starter, etc. to make a good fit.”

4. Pay right. Small companies may feel they are at a disadvantage to large companies, because they cannot afford to pay huge salaries, says Moody. “But many baby boomers are negotiable. Most of the boomers I meet are willing to downsize their lives, provided the job is right.”

Although you may not be able to match a previous salary, consider paying for performance, suggests Moody. “Structure something so that if the company is really successful, the employee will get a piece of it. And consider investing in benefits, if you can.”

Among benefits baby boomers especially value (in addition to health insurance), are time off and scheduling flexibility. Small companies have the ability to provide these things.

5. Help new employees transition. Whether a new hire comes from another small company or from a large company, help him or her transition to the nuances and culture of your business. “Set expectations about your work environment, their role, and goals,” says Drawdy. “Then make sure you get them involved with the team through lunches and other activities to help them form relationships quickly.”

Letting new employees know you value their past experience is also important, he says. “Ask them to share their stories from their previous employer, and encourage them to bring new ideas, processes, and training to the company. The truth is, if you hire the right person, the transition will be smooth. If you hire the wrong person, the transition will be rocky and they won’t fit into your environment.”

Candace Moody, vice president of communication for Worksource Development,, can be reached at 904-798-9229. Clint Drawdy, president of Medical Methods,, can be reached at 904-398-4133.

Linda Segall is editor of Jacksonville Advantage. Contact her at


Is everyone working up to par?

Is this the right time for you to hire? Many things go into a hiring decision, including, of course, the amount of work that needs to be done. If you anticipate an upturn in business as the recession eases, it could be an excellent time to beef up your employment ranks by adding to your staff.

But, you may be considering hiring for another reason: to replace employees whose performance is under par.

Letting an employee go should not be done haphazardly, however. The best way to make a determination is to measure performance, advises Clint Drawdy, president of Medical Methods. “We use a company dashboard or scorecard that clearly sets expectations, accountabilities, goals, and ratings. Using such a system clearly displays performance-to-plan, and it removes a lot of drama if an individual is not performing to par because it is very transparent and objective.”

Of course, what a scorecard does not record is attitude. “A critical sign of a poor performer is attitude,” says Drawdy. “If someone’s attitude or buy-in fades, then inevitably their performance will begin to falter. There are also other indicators, such as attendance, punctuality, initiative, etc. that point to poor performance or pending poor performance.”

Drawdy does not recommend firing someone just because you think you can find an “A” player to replace the individual. “‘A’ players are rare in any market; don’t be fooled into thinking differently,” he says.



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