Opinion: How to hire a lot of people in a hurry

My company has an enviable dilemma -- we must double the size of our staff this year to meet a dramatic increase in our workload.

When the national economy totally recovers and IT growth isn't restricted to the government sector, companies building Wi-Fi networks or doing CRM implementations may find themselves in my shoes. Trust me, it's a good problem to have, but if it's poorly managed, it can be disastrous for your company.

There are many lessons that business should learn from the dot-com collapse. One of them is how to manage the growth of a labor force to scale with the growth of incoming revenue.

Fortunately, we weren't blindsided by our hiring frenzy.

Full Steam Ahead for the Navy Intranet

WamNet Government Services, two years after teaming with Electronic Data Systems, the contract lead, to design and build the groundbreaking Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) project, is shifting into high gear after steady but very manageable growth. Congress recently authorized the Navy to increase the size of the private intranet from 60,000 seats to a whopping 310,000 seats, greatly intensifying WamNet's workload and necessitating a surge in hiring.

The new work, designing base-area networks from Hawaii to Florida, requires WamNet to add 500 people during 2003.

Suddenly, we're not going to be a boutique operation anymore, and that carries with it additional business considerations.

How to Get Big, Fast

No company can wave a magic wand and add 500 employees without taking into account a number of factors. How will you pay their salaries? What kind of benefits package do you need to attract a decent workforce? How will they be oriented into your company culture? Where will they sit, and what will they do once they start earning paychecks? These are just a few of the questions you should be able to answer before staffing up.

Here are a few important steps to manage your workforce growth:

Create a hiring project: You shouldn't take lightly the need for a carefully thought-out strategy behind hiring a large workforce all at once. Our effort is far from ad hoc. We've hired a recruiting project manager to carefully manage the effort. He has quantifiable daily, weekly and monthly objectives and responsibilities, including how many people he must hire each week and how often he must touch base with his team of recruiters.

Hire seasoned recruiters: Obviously, our recruiting project manager can't interview thousands of applicants in half a dozen cities all by himself. He manages a team of nine recruiters, who are receiving between 20 and 100 resumes per ad posting. Typically, an ad promotes only one job, and there are about 170 job openings at a given time. Let the recruiters do the heavy lifting to find the best candidates.

Target the job pool: We benefit from a constant stream of retiring military members and the wave of patriotism that has swept over the country since the Sept. 11 attacks. If you need engineers with security clearances or engineers who are clearable, target the military service's transition offices, place ads in the major newspapers located near large military bases and advertise in vertical trade publications like Army Times, where you are likely to attract the right kind of applicant. But don't forget the mass media, as well as posting ads to your own Web site.

Get referrals: The best spokesmen for your company are often your own employees. Tap into their networks of friends and peers by offering them cash incentives for finding quality candidates your company eventually hires. You'd be surprised how motivated someone will become if you are willing to offer him $1,000 to $2,000 as a finder's fee for the right applicant. You'll not only get the candidate you want, but you'll also foster loyalty among your existing workers.

Factor in Murphy's law: Just because it's an employer's market today (few jobs, many candidates), doesn't mean that best-laid plans can't go awry. In our case, WamNet requires its 500 new employees to either have security clearances or be clearable. Occasionally, that process can prolong or hinder the application period. You should allow for additional time to fill large numbers of positions due to the vagaries of the job market, like the need for some applicants to relocate, get security clearances or leave their current positions.

Carefully managing the growth of a large labor force to scale with the growth of your business is critical to the success of any company. It's an imperative for fast-tracked recruiting.

Mike Barbee is president and general manager of Herndon, Va.-based WamNet Government Services Inc., which develops, deploys and manages secure enterprise networks that enable digital content distribution and hosting for federal agencies. He can be reached at mbarbee@wamnet.com.

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