How does headcount planning benefit organizations?
With greater insight into the goals for the organization, HR can
more clearly identify which candidates have the right skills to
impact these team- or company-wide goals. This proactive approach
also provides HR with time to ask the hiring manager questions that
may help source stronger
candidates, such as, “what will this hire be working on?” or
“what specific skills are needed for this role?”
Headcount demand planning also allows recruiters to spend more time
identifying these strong candidates. With ample lead time on
upcoming roles, recruiters can start building closer relationships
with strong candidates — something that is typically not possible
otherwise. This allows for more opportunistic hiring at a later
date: If a recruiter begins to build a relationship with the ideal
candidate for a forecasted role prior to the job ad being posted,
the recruiter can take immediate action, speeding up the hiring
Finally, hiring managers who take part in demand planning also enjoy
the flexibility to respond to changes in the job market. If demand is
rising for a specific role that has already been forecasted, and
quality candidates are becoming scarce, the hiring manager may have
a conversation with staffing about taking action to prioritize this
opening in the recruiter’s queue.
How HR professionals can successfully plan for future hires
At large and growing companies like Google, we’re constantly hiring
to meet new demand and support our business strategy, but we are
also in “growth mode”: We’re continually expanding into new areas
and need to regularly grow our workforce to meet these needs.
Smaller organizations, or those not actively growing, will still find
headcount demand planning useful, however. Even if you are a
recruiter for a small business making just a few hires a year,
having conversations about future demand will give you a much better
idea of the staffing needs that you will be asked to support.
Understand the business strategy
To successfully plan for future hiring demand, you need a strong
understanding of your organization’s business strategy. In my
experience, I’ve found that this is a crucial stage in the planning
process, as it allows you to understand both when and how future
hires will support the growth and goals of your organization.
To learn more about your company’s business strategy, start by
asking these questions:
What are our major investments for the next 1-2 years? These
may be financial investments, including new products that the
company is developing or major updates to current products. Or they
may be personnel investments, such as teams in need of expansion or
additional training programs.
Are we expanding our footprint? This includes the opening of
new offices and the expansion of existing ones, both of which
require additional staff to be hired.
Where is the organization growing the most or at the fastest
rate? Such as specific teams or skill areas, like development,
engineering, or marketing.
How is the industry changing? For example, are advances in
technology increasing the importance of new skill sets such as
machine learning or 3D printing?
This information can be acquired by speaking with company
leadership, or it can often be found in earnings reports, press
releases, blog posts, or internal news sources. By gathering the
answers to these questions, you will start to grasp areas of future
demand, and the types of resources required to meet it.
Speak with hiring managers about their needs
After gathering company-specific information, I recommend speaking
directly to hiring managers about the needs of their particular
team. This is another opportunity to get useful information about
future vacancies within the organization, and often allows staffing
teams to better prepare for brand-new roles or, occasionally,
changes in the company’s direction.
Start by asking hiring managers these questions:
How will this team support the business strategy? A development team may
currently support one product, but soon begin work on a new one.
Understanding each team’s role in meeting future goals allows
recruiters to better grasp which roles or skills may be currently
What types of roles will be needed? Do hiring managers anticipate
any brand-new roles, or will they just be adding roles similar to
those already present on their team?
How soon will these vacancies take shape? To avoid overhiring,
staffing teams must fill vacancies at the right time — not before a
new employee is truly needed.
Integrate forecasting data to your HR system
Most organizations utilize at least one system that tracks the
number of current and future employees at their organization. These
may be a human resources information system (HRIS), an applicant
tracking system (ATS), a spreadsheet, or a combination of tools.
Once the staffing team has acquired details on forecasted hires,
this data should be added to their chosen system. When documenting
this information, be sure to include all of the details from your
conversations with leadership and hiring managers, including:
The roles that are needed: Including job titles, teams, ballpark
salary, and responsibilities.
How these employees will support the organization’s goals: Are
they being hired for a specific product launch? Or due to forecasted
growth within a specific team?
When these hires should be made: This should be as close to a set
date as possible, so that staffing teams may use their knowledge
of your organization’s time to hire to inform the time that
the job ad is posted, that interviews take place, and so on.
To avoid any dysfunction in planning for future hires, all headcount
demand data should be stored in the same place. This provides a
single “north star” headcount for all roles, whether they are
planned to be filled immediately or forecasted for the future.
Dealing with uncertainty
I’ve often heard business leaders say that their industry is
changing too fast to engage in rigorous headcount planning. They
argue that they need the flexibility to change plans and redirect
headcount to take advantage of changing market conditions or make
These are real concerns in fast-moving industries or early-stage
companies. Yet even in these situations, HR teams can avoid being
caught off guard when conditions change. By working with business
leaders to understand the sources of uncertainty, HR leaders can
incorporate scenario planning into their existing headcount demand
planning, and be ready to hit the ground running when the unexpected
Maintain excess staffing capacity proportional to the level of uncertainty
Every time leadership creates a new job opening, staffing requires
time to write a job description, prepare interview guides, and build
out the candidate pipeline. Unexpectedly closing or changing the
requirements of open roles taxes the productivity of the staffing
As a result, businesses expecting conditions to change rapidly
should reserve excess staffing capacity proportional to the level of
uncertainty. The organization could set aside a portion of recruiter
time to respond rapidly to ad-hoc requests, or set aside excess
budget to engage an external agency when hiring demand unexpectedly
Set clear rules for opportunistic hiring
Occasionally, recruiters may come across a stellar candidate with no
corresponding job opening. In other cases, you may have two
exceptional finalists for a single job opening. Rather than make a
seemingly impossible choice, a hiring manager may like to extend an
offer to both qualified candidates, even if there is no established
budget for their hire.
In these scenarios, establishing clear guidelines on when the
company should make opportunistic hires not captured in the demand
plan can help maintain fairness in the hiring process, limit
overhiring, and prevent the loss of critical talent.