Keep Recruiting, Despite COVID-19

Last updated April 20, 2021

Here’s what we’ve learned about recruitment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back in April 2020, we wrote an article called, “If you stopped recruiting because you froze hiring, you may have some catching up to do.” We provided four steps to help corporate recruiters get their hiring programs back on track after the initial shock of the pandemic caused many to freeze hiring. Now, one year later, we’re taking a look at what we’ve learned since then, and how applicable that advice was and continues to be as we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s interesting that one year later, Ontario, Canada, has again declared a state of emergency and a stay-at-home order is in effect. This puts us squarely in the same position that we were in back in April 2020. The difference now is that we’ve been through it before and we know what to expect, right?

Well, not quite. This year, like last year, we are headed into the unknown, but in a different way. Even with the Ontario ‘Emergency Brake’ fully engaged as a result of more dangerous virus variants taking hold, the Canadian vaccination program is beginning to hit its stride and we are very likely to have better days ahead – maybe sooner than we think.

With that in mind, companies are going to need to think about how a transition to relaxed COVID restrictions affects their hiring plans, their candidate experience, and their employer brand overall. Surprisingly, the 4-step plan we presented a year ago is still applicable as we head into this new environment.

Four steps to get your recruitment program ready for hiring as COVID-19 restrictions begin to relax.

Step 1: Start recruiting now, because it’ll take longer than you think

Remember, recruiting takes time. Many organizations recruit reactively. They put energy into recruitment only when they intend to hire for a vacant job, and they are the most likely to stop recruitment when they stop hiring. We tend to be overly optimistic about how long it takes to fill a job with the right person, so we often start too late.

If you are looking to change or accelerate your hiring objectives as we move out of COVID restrictions, then plan ahead and start now.

Consider the timeline. If you are starting from scratch, you will need to define the role, write a job posting, and prepare to launch your recruitment efforts. This is actually a modest amount of work, but when you have to reach consensus on the details with the rest of your busy team, the process can easily take 1 or 2 weeks. 

Now let’s consider the best-case-scenario: after a single week of advertising the job, you identify three promising applicants. On average, an applicant for a technical role will be evaluated through a phone screen, a technical assessment, at least one set of interviews with the hiring team, and a set of reference checks. This is a 3-4 week cycle if everything runs smoothly.

Success! You’ve found the right person. Although it can vary a lot, we’ve found it most often takes about 3-5 days to get an offer pre-negotiated, prepared, and into the hands of a candidate. Then you give them a few days to discuss with their family and decide, taking into account an accommodation for their notice period. Even though 2 weeks’ notice is the standard, many professionals will want to give 3 or even 4 weeks’ notice in these challenging times.

When you add it all up, you can see that even the best case scenario for a complete hiring cycle of 8 to 12 weeks is very common. We tend to be overly optimistic, because we think of the hiring cycle beginning when we start seeing applicants and ending when the right person accepts an offer. In reality, you need to start your recruitment now for the people you want to have on your team 2-3 months from now.

Step 2: Keep your best candidates warm through personal contact

Last year as the pandemic was taking hold, the concern was keeping candidates warm through a hiring freeze. This year, even if your hiring is in full swing, we continue to see a scarcity of qualified candidates for many positions. To be fair, the COVID job market is not really like anything anyone has seen since the birth of modern capitalism. Now the problem is trying to keep candidates engaged in your process long enough to get them to the finalist stage.

Nonetheless, the solution is the same: thoughtful communication, empathy and transparency.

This is the time to strengthen those relationships through honest and authentic personal contact. Regular contact with a small pool of great candidates not only keeps them interested and engaged in your company, but also gives them better insight into your culture and purpose. If they’re the right fit, this will further commit them to sticking with the hiring process.

Encourage your hiring managers to schedule personal weekly phone or video calls with finalist candidates. These conversations need to go beyond a simple update on the hiring timeline. Use detail and stories to bring the person into what is going on right now on your team – both the wins and the challenges. Also take the time to find out how they’re doing, both personally and professionally, and what small things you could do to help.

Last year, we thought hiring would slow down and we’d have more time to decide on candidates. It happened, but it was very short-lived. Through most of last year and continuing in 2021, we have continued to experience a candidate’s market in many industries, including knowledge-based startups and scaleups. That said, providing a great candidate experience is more important than ever.

Step 3: Go deeper with your “Why Work Here?” message

Last year, many teams went remote almost instantly, while their careers pages continued to talk about Friday lunches and on-site fitness classes. Since then, many have adapted their message and their imagery to acknowledge the reality of work during the COVID pandemic.

For those that didn’t, take some time to visit your own career page. Now that your team has changed the way they work, will this message still attract the right people to want to work with you?

If your “Why Work Here?” message is built around a beautiful office with free food and regular team-building events, it’s time to go deeper. You need to explore the elements that truly connect your team and that give them fulfillment in their work.

It’s not as hard as you think. Start by picking a few people on your team and simply ask them:

  • What do they love about their job and the company?
  • What about their work makes them most proud?
  • How do they feel they’ve grown both personally and professionally?

You will discover new insights about what is truly motivating them: a sense of purpose, opportunities to learn and grow, the challenge of solving hard problems, or the chance to have a lasting impact and change lives. Pull on threads, find common stories, and eventually you will get closer to the core of why people are attracted to and committed to your purpose.

If you did make changes to your employer brand message, it’s time to think about the future. As COVID restrictions lift, you will need to think about how your overall work experience will change. If you’ve gone deeper with your employer value proposition (EVP), then it’s even more important that you acknowledge the changes you are likely to experience over the next 6 to 12 months, and adapt your message.

Are you planning a full or partial return to the office? Have you implemented more relaxed work schedules? Has your team adopted agile principles to work more effectively in uncertain times? Taking a look to the future will help you adjust your message to attract the people you’ll need as things change again.

Step 4: Engage your Tribe to find more people like them

Last year we advised that a freeze on hiring would likely stifle your employee referral program. Now as COVID fatigue has settled in, putting some energy behind employee referrals may actually help with overall employee engagement as well.

Referrals are gold, and communication with your team is the key to getting them flowing. However, many companies develop an employee referral program and then let it languish deep in their employee handbook.

Instead, build an entire communications platform around your referral program. Encourage your employees to participate through regular updates from your recruiting team. Where are you experiencing hiring success? Where are you struggling? How can employees help to spread the word about your company and find more great people like them?

Done properly, you’ll find the benefits will go beyond candidate sourcing. You’ll find a new tool to connect existing employees with your EVP and drive further engagement as a result.

Let’s do this…again!

It’s been a year since we wrote the, “If you stopped recruiting…” article, and to a large degree we are right back where we started. The difference is that we’re likely facing a much brighter future and perhaps a much more predictable one as well.

In Ontario, at least, we’re going to have a few more weeks of lockdown – hopefully the last. Don’t get stuck in it. Look to the future now and talk to your team about what work life is going to be like as we pass through 2021, and then on into next year. Think about how a transition to relaxed COVID restrictions will affect your hiring plans and then get started. Better days will be here sooner than you think.

Check out another great resource on how to meet your recruitment goals for 2021 ⬇️

Meet Your 2021 Hiring Goals

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