The idea of hiring when the economy is in flux may sound — to some people, at least — counterintuitive. As others tighten their belts and job insecurity spreads, should you really be growing your workforce?

Under “normal” circumstances, the mere mention of an economic recession can be enough to send some employers into risk aversion mode. Add an unprecedented global health crisis, and it’s understandable why many employers might want to scale back or even freeze hiring altogether. 

But history teaches that, in periods of economic uncertainty, the most successful, forward-thinking companies actually find opportunities, such as Hewlett-Packard after World War II and Microsoft in the 1970s. As the pandemic continues to change today’s world of work, hiring professionals have more opportunity than ever before to broaden their talent pools. 

As you plan your hires for the upcoming year, here are some tips to help make the most of this unique time and capture top talent:

1. Focus on the opportunity for innovation

Adding the right talent to your workforce can help build an innovative workplace culture.

With an abundance of available talent, an economic downturn can be a prime opportunity for your business to double down on its long-term goals. By growing your workforce, you’re signaling confidence to both employees and job seekers that your business will be there for the long haul.

This commitment to forging ahead helps set your business apart from the competition, giving you a major advantage in attracting top-tier talent. And adding the right talent to your workforce can help build and support an innovative workplace culture. Apple is a prime example, successfully releasing the first iPod and iPhone models amid economic downturns following the 9/11 attacks and Great Recession, respectively. 

“Despite the downturn, Apple moved aggressively to hire developer and engineering talent,” explains José Cong, a former lead of recruiting at Apple. “We weren’t sure how long the economy would be in a downward spiral, and we realized there were some companies that weren’t in a position to invest in talent, which created an unstable environment for their employees. So, it was a lot easier to recruit great talent at that moment, which helped us stay ahead of the rest of the industry.”

2. Search outside the usual geographic boundaries

By considering remote applicants, you can truly hire the best of the best.

Whereas previous downturns may have forced businesses to scale back or halt hiring altogether, the evolution of virtual technology simply changed the way many businesses work. Following the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, whether or not companies were prepared, remote work quickly became a reality in the U.S. — and this sudden shift to a new work culture marks a major difference between today’s economic uncertainty and the past. 

Instead of resisting change, your business can seize this moment as a new opportunity for recruiting talent. Not only has your candidate pool expanded but, by removing geographic limitations on job searches and considering remote applicants, you can truly hire the best of the best — not just the best of who’s located nearby. 

Add to that the ability to conduct safe, virtual interviews from anywhere, and this process becomes easier than ever. Of course, full-time remote work comes with its own set of drawbacks, many of which we are still learning about, but added flexibility combined with your unique business needs may make that adaptation worthwhile.

3. Consider candidates looking for a career change

While there may be an influx of applicants who are out of work, your candidate pool isn’t limited to these job seekers — there are also plenty of gainfully employed workers who may be considering a career change

Some of these candidates may seem unconventional, as many applicants are casting a wider net or looking to transition into a new field. Focusing on work experience alone may make them look less qualified on paper; however, transferable skills are valuable and often make up for any gaps in experience, explains Eric Salzman, manager of business recruiting and talent acquisition (TA) at Indeed. 

A candidate who has “seven out of 10” required skills for a job but “a track record of learning,” Salzman says, may actually be the best fit for a role; at the least, they’re a good contact to keep in your network. The bottom line: “You don’t want to not contact somebody if you’re just a little unsure,” Salzman adds. “If ... they might have the potential, send them a note.” 

4. Think about long-term versus immediate payoffs

Shift the hiring focus away from immediate costs and toward ultimate gains.

If the idea of hiring during a recession still feels hard to justify, let history offer some reassurance: In the Harvard Business Review’s survey of 3,000 executives on their responses to the 2008 global financial crisis, the majority cite “the selective hiring of high-performing employees from competitors as one of the three most effective responses.” 

The same goes for Hewlett-Packard’s hiring approach after WWII. The company’s “willingness to invest in talent no matter the external economic climate” by hiring top engineers from shuttered U.S. military labs became what Hewlett-Packard has called the biggest contributor to its success.

Think of this approach as a long-term investment: Though bringing on new hires when business is slow may come with upfront costs, once things pick up, your firm will be well-positioned. While other companies are still readjusting, yours will be ready right out of the gate to capitalize on the new economic climate. Reframing hiring with this mentality can help shift the focus away from immediate costs and toward ultimate gains. 

Seize the opportunity to broaden your talent pool

Economic conditions certainly look a bit different in the wake of COVID-19, and the future of work may continue to evolve in ways we can’t yet anticipate. But this downturn presents a unique opportunity to broaden your talent pool, while the benefits of hiring during a recession remain universal: grab top talent now and set your company up for long-term success.