COVID-19 is driving TA leaders to rethink recruitment strategies.
By Marta Chmielowicz
Just last year, talent shortages and unprecedented competition in the labor market were hot topics in the recruitment space. At the time, there were more than 7 million open requisitions across the U.S. and the national unemployment rate hovered at a low 3.5 percent. But the coronavirus pandemic flipped the job market upside down, driving widespread furloughs, hiring pauses, business closures, economic uncertainty, and an unemployment rate of 11 percent.
Faced with this new reality, hiring teams across industries are working to ramp up business operations once more while adapting to an ever-evolving set of challenges. “From a talent acquisition perspective, COVID-19 is requiring us to rethink how we can engage our talent pipeline in a virtual environment, in both the short and long term, and how we can use digital tools to our advantage in order to build the strongest and most diverse possible talent pipeline,” says Rod Adams, talent acquisition leader for PwC.
Pipelines will be increasingly important as organizations continue to see market conditions change quickly. According to Greg Karr, executive vice president at Sevenstep, economic volatility will not be consistent across industries—and talent leaders will need to be hyperaware of new developments that affect them specifically. For example, the grocery industry hit its hiring peak at the start of the pandemic, followed by a cooling off period. On the other hand, biotech had slow initial growth followed by an explosion in volume as the urgency to produce a vaccine emerged.
“As we move through the rest of 2020, we can expect to see more peaks and valleys as new information becomes available and government and companies respond to new developments,” he explains.
Joey Owens-Barham, director of talent and culture at FormAssembly, says the online form builder has seen an uptick in its hiring needs throughout the entire year. “We have five openings currently posted, with more brewing as we speak,” he explains. “We look forward to growing our teams, still in alignment with our fully dispersed, work-from-home model, across many time zones and regions.”
Talent acquisition professionals and HR leaders need to prepare themselves to stay ahead of changing developments and adopt virtual, data-driven ways of working that deliver a high-quality hire and a positive candidate experience.
The Pressure is On
Talent acquisition teams have faced significant pressures since the onset of the coronavirus lockdown, including having important hiring initiatives suddenly put on hold. In the coming months, TA leaders will likely face abrupt change once again as hiring volume increases.
“COVID-19 has undoubtedly impacted all aspects of business, but organizations’ recruitment teams have especially been hit hard by this global crisis,” says Steve Parker, head of product and technology at QuantumWork, an Allegis Group company. “As a result, these now leaner, smaller teams are completely overwhelmed and will likely face impossible circumstances when hiring practices fully resume.”
The pressures of smaller recruitment teams will be compounded by a huge increase in the number of applicants as government-mandated supplements to unemployment benefits fizzle out.
“There will inevitably be more candidates to screen over the coming months, but more applications don’t necessarily mean more people who are qualified for the roles to which they apply,” says Craig Sweeney, senior vice president of global strategic talent solutions at WilsonHCG. “Therefore, screening processes need to be optimized so they’re as efficient as possible. Moving forward, finding candidates with the right skills will become more time-consuming as there will be more resumes to screen.”
FormAssembly’s Owens-Barham agrees that the company’s talent pool is set to swell, increasing screening times substantially. “With some of our positions, it’s less about sourcing and more about screening,” he says. “Unfortunately, other companies in the cloud SaaS industry have been negatively hit by the pandemic, and there is a really stellar candidate pool out there for customer support agents and sales executives that are looking for new organizations to join. I really wish we had the ability to talk to them all, but we have to make really tough decisions in who we talk to in order to manage the time we have for interviews.”
Recruiters and TA executives will need to work harder to parse out the best candidates from the rest, reevaluating their desired profiles and skill sets for the new requirements of the role. For example, Sweeney says that hiring teams seeking candidates for sales roles will need to consider how the switch to digital will change the skills and attributes new sales professionals will need to succeed.
HR leaders will need to keep an open mind, watching for potential and transferable skills as well as direct experience. According to Lever’s 2020 State of Recruiting Report, 60 percent of recruiters agree that they will need to hire workers with skills that weren’t needed before.
Parker recommends that hiring managers consider candidates not only for roles that they showed interest in, but also other positions that may be relevant across the organization. “Recruiting teams need intelligent systems to help them see those opportunities for candidates to maximize efficiency,” he adds.
To do this effectively in a high-volume environment, organizations should prioritize building candidate pipelines—and that often requires a strong branding and content delivery strategy.
In fact, Lever’s research indicates that even for the 14 percent of companies that chose to halt hiring entirely during the pandemic, recruiting efforts continued; more than half (52 percent) were hiring with a delayed start date while 47 percent were still reviewing resumes. This indicates that organizations are putting in effort to have a pipeline of candidates ready once hiring resumes.
“Depending on the organization, now is a great time to begin building candidate pipelines because there is a lot of talent looking for work,” explains Chip Holmes, interim president at PeopleScout. “Many of those workers may not have been looking for a new position or open to a conversation just a few months ago. Your employer brand is more important than ever. You should ensure that all of your employer branding and recruitment marketing materials reflect the reality of what it is like to work at your organization right now.”
Job seekers have always been critical of organizations’ recruitment marketing and online presence when choosing an employer, but in such an uncertain climate, they are more observant than ever.
They are also more fearful about changing roles—so the consequences of a poor communication strategy and candidate experience can be dire. “Candidates are more cautious about moving roles during the pandemic given the global economic uncertainty,” says Lenka Burnett, client services director for recruitment process outsourcing at Korn Ferry. “Companies are seeing offer rejection rates increase as candidates think carefully about giving up job security to move to a new company.”
Organizations can also improve the hiring experience by sharing communications about how they are securing the health and safety of their workforce. With the coronavirus still in full swing in many parts of the country, Parker says that candidates are holding employers accountable for a strong COVID-19 return-to-work strategy and proper workplace safety.
“You must be honest with potential candidates about what you’re doing as a business in terms of recruitment,” says Sweeney. “Messaging and content should be genuine and address a range of potential concerns and questions. For example, boomers will want to know if an organization is financially strong before applying for a role, while millennials will want to see how a company partnered with the community during tough times and what support it offered.”
In a world gone remote, technology is key to streamlining the virtual hiring process and improving outcomes while maintaining a personal touch.
“Having a robust ATS in place for your candidates is essential. This would be impossible to navigate via inbox recruiting alone,” says Owens-Barham. “Make sure you are able to engage your candidates, keep them connected to your organization and the recruiting process, and ensure that everyone you talk to has a wonderful experience meeting with your team, regardless of the outcome of the recruitment.”
Organizations have also embraced opportunities like virtual job fairs, video interviews, and virtual office tours to create connections with candidates while avoiding physical contact.
“A virtual hiring solution can be very safe while still being highly effective,” says Holmes. “It doesn’t require contact, but it also gives you that chance to connect with potential new employees and provide them a personalized experience. The right technology can give recruiters more time to spend with applicants. Technology can engage one applicant with multiple interviewers and enable live two-way video engagement. The entire virtual hiring process can be fully branded to elevate your employer brand and the connection you have with applicants.”
For a virtual hiring solution to truly drive a positive candidate experience, Holmes says it should include three components:
- a mobile-friendly application process that leverages text or video capabilities and takes no more than four to eight minutes to complete;
- self-scheduling via text or an online web experience; and
- a virtual offer and post-offer process, such as a welcome video that lets new hires know what to expect on their first day.
But it doesn’t end there—a plethora of technologies on the market can improve the recruiter experience while making hiring more efficient. AI-enabled technologies, for example, can automate routine tasks and free recruiters up to spend more time on strategic decisions that add value to the business.
For example, Burnett says that recruitment bots give candidates the opportunity to ask questions 24/7, ensuring they remain engaged and processed in a timely manner. These bots can handle a wide variety of tasks, including conducting high-level screenings and connecting job seekers with relevant open positions.
But Sweeney warns that hiring managers should be careful to maintain a human touch. “While automation is great for applications at scale, niche skills are still being hired through proactive channels,” he says.” Recruitment needs to be a high-touch process and should work in tandem with automation. Automating the repetitive processes, such as screening and booking interviews, ensures there’s enough time further along the candidate journey for quality face-to-face time, whether that’s in-person or via video call.”
Turning to Data
By leveraging virtual hiring and talent management platforms, organizations can arm themselves with valuable data and analytics that they can use to better guide their talent strategy and future outreach tactics.
“As candidate applications increase, we use data to track application rates to identify areas where tools such as automatic screening and process automation can assist,” says Burnett. “If your recruitment budget is cut, data can be used to show the ROI on sourcing channels to help direct sourcing spend more effectively. We use candidate survey data to track and report satisfaction with the recruitment process and flag areas for improvement. Are you concerned about offers being rejected? Use data to track offer acceptance rates to show where attention needs to be focused. You can also run a full diagnostic on all parts of the recruiting process to understand where any delays in process are occurring.”
How can HR leaders ensure that they are using their data effectively? Paul Harty, chief solutions officer at Sevenstep, recommends three best practices:
- HR leaders need to ensure they have a clear understanding of the C-suite’s long-term talent goals. From there, data can be used to create transparency and accountability around key focus areas.
- Do not segment talent data—connect data from all sources, including CRM, ATS, RMP, and HRIS platforms, into a holistic picture to better understand where hires come from, what their skill sets are, and how they may perform within the organization. This can help leaders identify ideal profiles for future hires.
- Use data to identify bottlenecks or delays in the talent acquisition process, and leverage automation or other technologies to correct them.
Committing to using data well will have benefits that extend far beyond talent acquisition. “Predictive analytics can be used to measure and forecast what talent will be needed, whether this talent should be developed internally or recruited from the outside, and when and where that talent will need to be applied based on the demands of the business,” says Sweeney. “And this is more important than ever from an internal mobility point of view, as many organizations are still filling roles but are looking for internal candidates rather than external applicants.”