What Recruiting Lessons Have You Learned During COVID-19?

May 2020

We are all aware that COVID-19 has sent waves through our economy and has influenced professional organizations to approach work differently from what we are accustomed to. At this point, it’s stating the obvious to say that the way we work seems to have drastically changed overnight as a result of this unforeseen pandemic. Human Resources and recruiting professionals have adjusted many processes to accommodate physical distancing, many of which can be ongoing efficiencies. K&A Recruiting has also altered the way we hire, including how we approach the candidate experience. We’d like to share our learnings.

Labor Market Active during COVID-19

The first question we often receive is “how has the labor market changed?” The question stems from a fear that potential job applicants are not going to apply during a time of uncertainty and fear. We are here to tell you that has not been our experience. We have found that job seekers who were actively looking before the pandemic may be using this time as an opportunity to find rare job openings for which they are strong candidates. The reality is that if employees are unhappy in their current work environment, the pandemic has not changed their dissatisfaction and there are many potential passive job seekers who are just not sure if there are opportunities for them.

K&A is taking advantage of this time to actively source passive seekers and we are finding that there is just as much interest as there was before the pandemic.

In some ways, a crisis can create opportunity. For example, for some people the current crisis has led to unemployment or impending unemployment, creating an opportunity for recruiters to find candidates who would under other circumstances not consider leaving their current employer.

Following are 6 Pro Tips for agencies to consider when recruiting during COVID-19.

Pro Tip #1: Understanding the “Hiring Freeze”

There is a potential influx of recently furloughed or unemployed talent looking for jobs, increasing the labor pool in some sectors. For those still hiring, it is an opportunity to find new talent who you may not have considered during the labor shortage. Using sound sourcing and candidate vetting strategies, you may be able to find a great match for your agency and the candidate.

We don’t want to ignore the fact that agencies that are not able to hire have had to put some  or all hiring and onboarding processes on hold. As a result, there can be fear and uncertainty for employees who are not sure if they will be facing layoff soon and job seekers who are uncertain about the hiring process. Even with phased reopening, many economic impacts will continue. The best medicine for helping employees and job seekers cope with the fear of uncertainty is to be open, honest, and transparent about the agency’s budget and approach. It may even seem contradictory as there continues to be some limited hiring for critical positions. It is helpful to highlight why some positions can be filled while others will be on hold as some employees and job seekers may not have a deep understanding of budget sources and the impacts of the economy on different revenue streams.

Pro Tip #2: Improve Processes and Develop Agency Employment Brand

Another pro tip is to redirect your agency’s focus onto processes and seek to use this time as an opportunity to improve your internal processes and methods. Although you may not be extending offers, you can still leverage this opportunity to build an existing pipeline. Taking the time to develop an employment marketing brand, if you do not have one or the one you do have could use a facelift, is a smart strategy and use of the additional time some of your staff may have with a slower recruitment pace. You don’t have to hire expensive marketers to create a successful logo and branding strategy. Leveraging existing staff, many of whom have hidden talents, could be a great strategy to afford your team a chance to use their creativity and help prepare your agency for when hiring increases. We can easily predict that when hiring increases, we could see another labor shortage. Using this time to prepare is wise.

Pro Tip #3: Communicate with Your Future Employees

As you work on building a pipeline of hungry potential candidates through strong marketing and branding efforts, it is important to keep the candidates warm. Ongoing communication with candidates can help with reputation and can keep them engaged; and when it’s time to move forward, will reduce the time-to-hire. So, as always, even in times of uncertainty, communication is key. Candidates who experience a warm communicative recruitment experience are more likely to maintain their interest and are more likely to feel welcomed into the organization. The recruitment experience is the first touch point with your future new employees.

It shows caring and empathy to explain to candidates where exactly your organization stands during the COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure to “keep them warm” by providing frequent check-ins, connecting on LinkedIn, or sharing organizational updates. This will maintain open communication and their interest in future possibilities once COVID-19 effects subside. Once the hiring freeze lifts, you may have enough interested talent to efficiently revitalize the organization’s recruitment process.

Pro Tip #4: Preserve the Pipeline

The question most merit-based agencies will ask, is how do we keep a pipeline? Many agencies have placed recruitments on-hold after applicants have already submitted their application. Continue to send informative notices to those who you have determined to meet minimum qualifications. Provide information about other recruitments that may still be active if the applicants meet minimum qualifications. If it is feasible, call the candidates and talk to them over the phone about what is going on and what to expect. During this time of physical distancing, a more human touch will go a long way to maintain your candidates’ interest.

Using this time to find strong candidates for future openings is also a good strategy. Many potential job seekers can be found online through social media. Making a connection and building a network of future applicants will likely lead to better success when we face another labor shortage

Pro Tip #5: Embrace The Virtual Interview

Some companies might have already been conducting phone screens before the pandemic hit. This recent push into virtual technologies is generally new for many public agencies. The adjustment at first may be intimidating or overwhelming, particularly if purchasing new webcams or other equipment poses a challenge. However, our crystal ball tells us that virtual interviewing is not going away regardless of how the world evolves through the pandemic and the investment will serve agencies well going forward. In other words, virtual interviewing may have become a necessity during a temporary crisis, but it is not a temporary strategy that should fall to the wayside after the crisis is over.

Virtual interviewing existed and was successfully used before the pandemic and can create efficient ways to identify strong candidates, weed out those who do not meet qualifications, and progress through the recruitment without incurring travel costs. It is also attractive for your Subject Matter Expert (SME) raters to be able to participate in a virtual process without leaving their own work environment, whether that is at home right now or back in the office. SME raters who can’t make it to an in-person interview process may find the virtual process more accessible and enable them to participate.  This opens the door to including SME raters who live and work far from your agency, but who have the expertise you are looking for to help assess the candidates.

Another benefit of virtual interviews is not having to identify scarce conference room availability for multi-panel interview processes. How many times has your agency had to conduct an interview process for high level positions and you have to find separate rooms as “holding” spaces for candidates who you don’t want to run into each other in the hallways? Or, how many times have you run a recruitment when a candidate’s supervisor is also competing? It is very difficult to ensure confidentiality when other candidates and staff can see who is competing in the process. It is also very awkward for candidates to have these types of encounters as they are preparing to walk into a stressful interview process. It is much more practical to maintain confidentiality during virtual than in person processes, much less logistically challenging, and can often simply be kinder to your candidates. Candidates appreciate the assurance of a truly confidential process.

How we communicate in virtual interviews is essential and will continue to be going forward.

Pro Tip #6: Lights, Camera, Action! Conducting Effective Virtual Interviews

To conduct an effective virtual interview, simple steps can be taken to ensure a predictable and high-quality process. There are many video call services on the market now, and adopting and mastering a video call service will allow for a seamless process. Becoming an expert in these applications so that you can work out any kinks before the interview begins will make the process smoother and it will be easier to troubleshoot any technical issues during an interview if interviewers and HR staff are familiar and comfortable with the technology. As a recruiter or hiring manager, you want to be clear on exactly how the interview process will go and what candidates should expect going forward.

Many of the technologies are programmed with virtual waiting rooms. Inviting candidates to join the interview a few minutes ahead of their interview time will ensure that they are ready to go at their designated time and will give them a chance to become oriented to the virtual tools prior to their interview. It is helpful to have an expert staff member available to the candidates in case they run into challenges and need help.

Coach your panel members to continue to maintain a professional demeanor during virtual interviews, and eliminate smart phone or competing screen distractions, just as you would in person.

These few pointers can set the tone for the interview and provide a positive candidate experience.

Leverage this Opportunity

The unexpected push into virtual and remote work has been an awakening for some organizations, and others have found themselves well prepared to make the transition. While the pandemic is temporary, the demand for remote and flexible work-life balance opportunities is not. Each organization has an opportunity to adopt more efficient recruitment strategies that fit their unique needs. Take this opportunity to leverage what you’ve already learned and the learnings we have shared to progress the hiring process and culture of your agency. There will be an expectation of more virtual interviews and work opportunities post-pandemic as we have all become accustomed to the changes. Don’t throw away what you have established, instead determine how to continue to leverage the investment, experience, and learnings to manifest an employment brand that is attractive to job seekers who want to be part of a modern, cutting-edge public agency.

Interested in a free consultation with a recruiter? Contact us.

Koff & Associates