The Washington Post

With sequester in effect, recruiters notice varied impact on hiring strategies

More than two weeks after broad federal spending cuts took effect, local recruiting professionals are starting to see signs of uneasiness in the labor market, with firms tweaking their hiring strategies and some workers exploring backup employment plans.

Local employers are acclimating to this new reality in different ways, recruiters say.

Peter T. Metzger, vice chairman at the Washington office of global job placement firm CTPartners, said three of his clients have received letters from government agencies saying that sequestration was forcing them to make a 15 percent reduction to a contract. Still, Metzger said, these agencies were expecting the same level of service.

As a result, his clients are looking for prodigious multi-taskers.

“They want a super-person who can do all these things in a constrained environment,” he said.

For some employers, the cuts have injected urgency into the talent-­search process, said Susan Strayer LaMotte, founder of workforce consulting firm Exaqueo.

“You’ve got certain hiring managers that are saying, ‘We need to hire this person now,’ ” LaMotte said, in case budget dollars become even more constrained as the sequester drags on.

For employers that are already unable to hire, LaMotte is recommending that they not let personnel leads go cold just because they cannot act on them right away.

“I’m also encouraging leaders to make individual calls and connect individually with really high-level candidates, so they feel really special during this time,” she said. “Then when sequestration is over, those individuals are going to be more loyal to those organizations that paid more attention to them.”

Shift in workers’ mind-sets

It’s not just employers that are adopting a different posture now that sequestration has begun: Some employees appear to be girding for furloughs or job cuts by exploring other employment opportunities.

Paul Villella said his Reston-based staffing firm, HireStrategy, has seen a modest increase in recent weeks in government workers looking for new positions.

The Labor Department has not released any reports on how the region’s job market is faring since the sequester began. The most recent data showed that the region’s unemployment rate hovered at 5.3 percent in December, with the strongest job growth seen in the education and health services sector.

“The idea is that it’s going to be a slow and slightly painful shift in the market,” Villella said.

Kathleen Smith, chief marketing officer for ClearedJobs.Net, said she, too, has noticed a shift in employee mind-sets since the onset of sequestration.

When her firm held a job fair this month near Fort Meade for professionals with security clearances, it drew an unusually large pool of attendees. Smith said recruiters noticed that many of the participants didn’t seem to be actively looking for a position but appeared to be laying groundwork in case their current work situation went sour.

The prevailing attitude, Smith said, seemed to be, “Hey, I better be proactive in this rather than wait for the message” that I’ve been laid off.

Still, other recruiters say they have seen little evidence of sequestration’s effect.

Rob Buller, chief executive of the Buller Group, a firm that specializes in recruiting for jobs that require security clearances, said he has not seen a reduced interest in filling positions. Many of his clients are looking for staffers to work on multiyear government contracts that have already been funded, so the sequester has not dampened the need for such workers.

The uncertainty over the future of federal spending also creates some inertia for the recruiters, which depend on clients’ steady hiring to sustain their businesses.

HireStrategy, for example, does about 20 percent of its business in the government sector. Villella said his firm has acknowledged that it may have to alter its client base as government contractors deal with the fallout of the cuts.

“We have a lot of commercial clients that are still very productive for us, and we expect will remain so. . . . But we’ve got to find more clients to replace some of the federal contractors that we were working with,” he said.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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