by Dan Bolen, Dan Bolen & Associates

We have just faced the toughest recession of our modern times. In my 40-plus years of executive search for the rotating equipment and valve industry, I have seen no less than six recessions, and this is by far the worst. The recession, coupled with crises in housing, banking and finance, a nation at war and high unemployment, have affected most companies' bottom line profit, development of new products and frozen desire for expansion.

However, all recessions, including this one, are temporary. Now is the best time to hire top talent to increase profits and make your company "lean and mean." Here are several steps you can and should take to hire top talent in today's economy.

1. Evaluate Current Employees

Evaluate each of your employees in writing. Rate their performance on a scale of one to five (one being the top performer). Evaluate their work qualities, attitude and willingness to go the extra mile in their role. Evaluate and downsize bottom performers regardless of their length of time with the company or your emotional attachment to them. Eliminate highly paid, middle staff positions that are unnecessary and non-productive.

2. Determine Critical Needs

Examine your department's critical needs and hire one or two top performers in each area. For example, let's say you have five regional sales managers and you downsized two. Hire back one top performer, or if necessary two, but only from the top 25 percent of your competitor's sales staff. Repeat the process for manufacturing, engineering and general management areas.

3. Post Job Openings on Your Website

Posting job openings using job order boards will produce hundreds of resumes.  Most candidates will only remotely qualify for your job opening. Many will not be your top performers, but are the bottom candidates other companies have downsized. It will also cost you and your staff an extraordinary amount of time to screen through these resumes. Post job openings on your website only.

4. Consider Using a Recruiting Firm

If you are capable of hiring the top 25 percent talent on your own, cost savings can be effective. If not, select the top recruiting firm in your industry with credentials, longevity and success in recruiting the top 25 percent in engineering, sales, manufacturing and general management. This firm should perform an extensive search to identify the top competitive talent, and have experience and resources to do a complete search. The best talent may not be in its database; but if it is an expert in your industry, it will have the resources and knowhow to find the top performers.

5. Trust a Specialized Search Firm

If you are using a search firm who specializes in your industry, trust they know how to do their job. Many of the candidates represented by a search firm have a track record in industry, and the search firm has followed their successes for many years. When they recruit a candidate for a specific position, they do an in-depth interview based on the company's specific criteria. Many times they will have gone through 50 to 60 or more candidates to select the top three to five performers. The prepared resume may not address all the critical factors necessary for the position, but the recruiter should provide additional pertinent information that will. Use an evaluation meeting to discuss issues involved. If your recruiter recommends you interview a candidate, treat him as an expert. We personally have had many cases where the employer did not want to interview a candidate; however, when we convinced them that the candidate should be interviewed, he was the one they hired.

6. Do Not Procrastinate

Time is of the essence in hiring top performers, so do not hesitate or procrastinate. Have a specific hiring procedure and timeframe and stick to it. Top performers are not commonly available and will not stay on the market long. Streamline your hiring procedures and processes. Normally only two or three key people need to be involved in hiring.

Do not start the interview process until you are ready to hire. If your need is four to six months down the road, wait until 30 days out. Be prepared to conduct a telephone interview first, if necessary, and bring in top talent for a personal interview as soon as possible. Personal interviews within two weeks of a telephone interview are the most effective.

7. Find the Best Talent

Our recession has produced a positive situation when it comes to hiring top talent. Because many companies have been forced to downsize, consolidate or eliminate middle management positions, even some of the best talent has become available or are attracted to making major changes in their careers. In specific markets, such as engineering, talent that has been difficult to find in the past and unreasonable in their expectations is now available. Their money expectations are more realistic, and they are more willing to relocate. However, top talent is not available too long. Many have more than one offer they are considering. The need to move quickly is paramount.

8. Evaluate a Candidate's Bonuses and Incentives

In evaluating candidates for hire, hone in on their bonuses and incentives. Find out specifically what was paid in 2009. A potential bonus of 25 percent does not mean it was actually received. It has been our experience that almost all bonuses have not been paid out at their potential and many candidates have not received a bonus at all. If necessary, ask for verification from a W-2 form.