Interviewing Through the Downsized/Furloughed Carnage of Candidates…5 Tips:

The tables have suddenly turned. What was once a candidate-starved recruiting environment with a 3.4% U.S. unemployment rate just a few months ago before the Covid-19 global pandemic has suddenly exploded into a candidate-overflow situation with 15-20%+ unemployment…numbers not seen since the Great Depression era. Over the past 9 weeks, more than 38 million Americans have filed jobless claims. And yes, the media industry is being affected. Unfortunately, I am receiving numerous inquiries from downsized/furloughed media industry professionals who have recently lost their jobs and now need assistance with their career search.

Let me preface this article with a disclaimer: As most of us know, recruiting is not an exact science. Although we truly wish it was. However, there are several indicators which should, as a hiring manager, assist you in sifting through more candidates than you are perhaps used to having in your queue. I contend that having too many candidates can be equally as challenging as having too few.

Corporations typically downsize staff during unforeseen and/or poor economic conditions for several reasons. Including:

  1. Seniority. Last in, first out. Bad timing and bad luck.
  2. Across-the-board cuts. Entire departments, certain layers of management or job functions may be eliminated.
  3. Performance-based. If someone is not meeting expectations, goodbye.
  4. Compensation. Nobody likes to say this, but yes…Higher paid employees are sometimes targeted.
  5. Duplicity of services following a merger/acquisition.

Unfortunately (or, fortunately…as everything happens for a reason), I have been downsized twice during my 30+ year career. One was seniority driven, where I was the last in/first out within a department early in my career and the other occurred following an acquisition. And yes, it stings a bit. Most of the time, cuts are made due to simple business decisions. Other times, companies use this as an opportunity to part ways with unwanted poor performers. As a hiring manager when interviewing, how can you tell the difference? Here are some simple tips:

  1. Ask the candidate to tell their “story” while describing their work history. In their own words. And, listen for subtle clues. Are they building their career with upward moves in title/responsibility/compensation/etc. or are they taking a broken up and down (or just downward) track? Listen to how the candidate describes the company and previous management.
  2. Follow-up after the candidate describes their work history. If the candidate does not list the month along with the year for start/end dates on their resume, ask. There could be nearly a year gap in employment. Ask for specific reasons for leaving each position. If a candidate states it was a “mutual parting of the ways”…beware. They were terminated. Look for gaps of employment and ask for explanation. Multiple terminations, gaps of employment, and/or numerous times being downsized are obvious red flags.
  3. Ask the candidate to describe the corporation’s most recent downsizing. Was it seniority based? Was a level of management eliminated? Was an entire department eliminated? Look for subtle clues here as to how they answer.
  4. Utilize a behavioral-based interview method. Remember, past success or failure typically predicts future success or failure. As much as you can, stay away from hypothetical/cookie-cutter type interview questions and ask questions geared to extract real world experience answers. It is easy for a candidate to simply say they are the best salesperson in the world. It is quite another for them to intelligently express specifics as to what they did to be successful and the impact this had on the organization. You are not looking for “woulda/coulda/shoulda” type answers. You are digging for specifics. What was the story? What specific action did they take? And, what was the result? Utilizing this interview style against the technical and behavioral competencies of your job opening will help you differentiate between the top performers and the poor candidates.
  5. Ask the candidate to provide previous supervisory references. Yes, you want to speak with their former manager(s) and ask them direct questions. Typically, if the manager of a high-performer is forced to let someone go they will still speak well on their behalf…even off the record if it violates company policy.

About the Author:

Ty Carver has over 30 years of recruiting, HR management, sales, and leadership experience…including the last 10 specific to the broadcast media industry. He is the Founder/CEO of Carver Talent, a local broadcast media management recruiting firm. As the former Director of Recruiting for Raycom Media, he has deep industry relationships. Have a media corporate executive or television station management recruiting need? Contact for more information.