BEWARE of the Unemployed

The Avoidable Hiring Mistake

There are talented people who get released from their jobs, but it is not the norm. Listen carefully to what I am NOT saying! It is possible that a talented person could be laid off as part of a RIF just for not getting along well with their manager, whether a part of an M&A or corporate downsizing. We’ve all seen corporate politics play out badly when someone is in the “wrong alliance.” But let’s be honest about this subject, it is the rare exception to the rule in a Talent Driven Economy like ours. Generally, companies use these opportunities to “reboot” the company and purge itself of the most mediocre talent from the roles, knowing that as the company rebounds, they can replace those “riffed” positions with better performers. It’s one of those issues people don’t like to acknowledge “on the record,” but it is still true.

Sometimes companies see these “lay-offs” as great opportunities to acquire a new star from a major competitor. I hate to break it to you but, BUYER BEWARE! Most likely they didn’t release their best and brightest or even their “middle of the bell-curve” employees. Be smart and work with a search consultant who is committed to your success and will accurately vet the candidates to assess what they were really like in their most recent role. It’s not easy, but it’s critical to your success as a manager that you understand how they performed and how they got along within their company. Don’t be fooled into hiring another company’s expendable employee. Furthermore, beware of an unemployed candidate’s innate ability to sell themselves out of a pure survival instinct.

When your competitor downsizes, don’t rush to hire someone who was obviously expendable without doing thorough due diligence. If you fail to properly vet them, you may end up wishing you too had a Reduction in Force that you could exploit to rid yourself of the problem.


8 thoughts on “BEWARE of the Unemployed

  1. “There are talented people who get released from their jobs, but it is not the norm.”

    “Sometimes companies see these “lay-offs” as great opportunities to acquire a new star from a major competitor. I hate to break it to you but, BUYER BEWARE! Most likely they didn’t release their best and brightest or even their “middle of the bell-curve” employees.”

    Big statements. Prove these quotes with some real industry data versus your opinion. Once you dig into real research you might write a follow up post.

    • Tom, Thanks for your comment. These are observations from 25 years in business. Don’t miss the point that this post is intended to cause hiring authorities to vet before they jump into a new hire. It is tempting to capitalize on the availability of a competitor. I am pointing out that there is also risk. This is fairly obvious but seems to be taboo. I could easily argue the point that some great people lose their jobs due to politics and no valid reason but that wasn’t the point of the blog today. Do you disagree with my premise?

  2. I think that not fitting a particular company culture and whether someone has been in the right role for them could mean that one organisation’s also ran is a star for someone else. I think the point of using a good search consultant still holds, but don’t dismiss everyone who falls out of another organisation as you may be missing someone who is right for yours.

  3. Janet, Good point! We don’t have to look far to see a person kicked aside by one company going on to become a superstar in the next company. (i.e. Steve Jobs, Lee Iacoca) But if we consider that there is a “bell curve” of “Top,” Middle, and Bottom Performers in every organization, the principle still holds up pretty well. The whole point is that companies should engage a talented and trustworthy Search Professional to vet all candidates on their behalf rather than think that just because someone worked at Apple, they “Must be Awesome.” Not everyone at Apple is awesome.

  4. Sounds like you’ve never been laid-off! Respectively, I don’t think you know what you’re talking about…I’ve been in HR for over 20 years and have managed my share of layoffs. Yes, when a company does a major layoff, it is an opportunity to terminate bottom performers, but shame on the company who waits until a structured layoff to fire people who don’t perform! Remember, you also have to pay these bottom performers severance which could be pretty expensive.

    The reality is that structured layoffs are more opportunities to terminate whole departments, business entities, etc. This is where we’re able to obtain scale in a major RIF, so whether you’re a top performer or not, it really doesn’t matter. In addition, layoffs that are done on a smaller scale become opportunities to also let go of employees who could be high performers, but just may not get along with their superiors, etc. The research does show that at the VP and above levels, an executive is likely to be “laid off” at least three times in their careers, and it isn’t about their poor performance.

    To your point about ensuring companies choose search consultants wisely – I also have a differing opinion. I have found too many times that search consultants get inaccurate information about candidates through their own informal networks. So, if a search consultant has a client who may have worked with “John”, they tend to use his/her feedback which be work against the candidate.

    • Thanks for your comment. I was laid off in 2000 after the best year of my career to date, so I appreciate what you are saying about talented people being on the wrong end of downsizings at times. In my case it was after a major acquisition and was part of wave of layoffs. While it was heavily political, they used the RIF as an easy excuse. Actually, I don’t disagree with any of your remarks. I think that you show the complexity of corporations. Things are never so clear cut that we can address all the variables in any given situation. I did my best to point out a single element of the picture. Thank you again for your thoughtful remarks.

  5. Thanks for sharing, Drue. Your article’s title was very provocative and I couldn’t agree with you more! With unemployment at its highest rate during my recruiting career, there is no question that the number of “C” and “B” players has dramatically increased while the “A” players have remained relatively constant.

    This makes finding top talent even more difficult than ever, something that most hiring managers don’t understand and they don’t think they need a recruiter . . . when the opposite is indeed true.

    I’ve recently completed a webinar on the the subject and you can click here if you would like to listen to it. Sorry for the long url but I couldn’t make a hyperlink on your blog:;jsessionid=p1JZTyPDS2TkppJy81T0sYcc3sM6xqGGhDN9LQypCRf6TfKt0GFp!-422327436?theAction=poprecord&

    Thanks for the confirmation!

  6. An interesting debate and one that will inflame opinion in many camps. The simple answer is that there is truth in the original statement, and an equal amount of truth in all of the responses. Let’s not forget however, that today’s career casualty may well be tomorrow’s executive recruitment professional. I don’t suppose many of us would suggest that to be a bad thing!

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