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How to Manage Unpredictable Hiring Trends

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Since the onset of COVID-19, hiring needs have become unpredictable. Seasonal hiring and long-term company plans are no longer things recruiters can take for granted. 

As a result, talent professionals are facing challenges when it comes to planning and preparing for even the near future. 

In this blog, we outline how hiring has changed as a result of COVID-19 and how to address these challenges.

Three ways hiring has changed

1. Hiring freezes and frenzies are commonplace

When the virus first hit, entire industries like entertainment and travel ground to a halt. Meanwhile, other industries like healthcare experienced an intense demand for talent.

Last year, Amazon announced they needed to hire 100,000 more workers to keep up with the demand generated by COVID-19.

Supermarkets, aged care centres and health-based not-for-profit organisations (NFPs) all had similar experiences. 

This pattern of hiring freezes versus frenzies has not faded away. The Delta variant is challenging countries around the world, even those who had previously had the virus under control. 

We aren’t going back to ‘normal’ any time soon. Long-term company plans and seasonal hiring are no longer certainties recruiters can rely on. 

For example, we know the holiday period is an important time of year for the retail and hospitality sectors.

If an outbreak causes a sudden lockdown during this season, then employment needs will change.

Retailers may need more warehouse staff than front-of-house workers. Restaurants might need more delivery drivers than wait staff. Both sectors may need fewer workers.

This change in the hiring landscape has grown the gig economy but also led to a lot of uncertainty in the industry. 

Recruiters need to be ready to address both freeze and frenzy scenarios with little warning. 

2. Organisations are pivoting

The onset of the pandemic saw some companies falter and others thrive. Companies are still experiencing this up and down scenario.

Our landscape will likely keep changing for years to come. 

As a result of this uncertainty, companies are focusing on business resiliency and future-proofing. According to McKinsey, COVID-19 rapidly increased digitisation and innovation.

In a very short time frame, companies instituted a level of change that usually takes years. And it's still happening.

This constant change keeps recruiters on their toes. Companies restructuring, becoming remote-first and changing their product offering all impact recruiters. 

Recruiters will need to hire for new skill sets and fill talent gaps with short notice. 

For instance, a restructure means new talent might be needed in unforeseen areas. Remote-first work means new employees will need more assertive communication and management skills. New products and services mean new skill sets need to be introduced. All this will fall into the lap of the recruiter. 

3. Candidate attitudes are changing

COVID-19 has changed candidates priorities. What was once important a year ago, or even a few months ago, may no longer matter to a candidate. This represents a big challenge for recruiters as they need to understand new candidate priorities. 

Hiring for an executive role in a big city once held a sense of certainty. Recruiters had a firm grasp on who their ideal candidate was and what would entice them. But times have changed.

Research shows 74% of professionals expect remote work to become standard. 97% don't want to return to the office full-time.

That executive who wanted to live in a city penthouse with a corner office? They've had a change of heart.

Recruiters need to account for changing desires and values.

For instance, candidates may not have cared as much about corporate responsibility before the pandemic, but now it’s top of mind. Others want to know they are joining an organisation with solid plans for the future.

All these changes mean closing in on top talent is less predictable.

Recruiters will need to do more digging to discover what candidates currently desire.

How can recruiters respond to unpredictable hiring trends?

Remaining flexible is at the heart of what recruiters need to do to prepare for a future of unpredictable hiring needs.

In fact, there is some comfort in this idea of flexibility as it provides a sense of certainty. It’s certain we must expect the unexpected and prepare for all scenarios.

Here are some ideas on how you can remain agile and prepare for the unexpected. 

1. Focus on creating talent pools

A talent pool is a database of potential candidates.

If you get a directive to hire hundreds of new staff, the importance of talent pooling will become very clear. 

Imagine how much easier it would be to start this process by first dipping into a pool of qualified talent?

Qualified is the keyword here. For talent pools to come in handy, they need to be in good condition. If you hire high numbers of aged-care support staff, you'll need qualified people ready to work in your talent pool.

Take the time to invest in systems that simplify talent pooling and give you as much data as possible. Many recruiters will need to create multiple talent pools.

Make life easier by choosing systems that will automate all unnecessary admin. This will make it simpler to keep your talent pools up-to-date.

2. Keep up with company objectives

Ideally, recruiting and HR will always know what’s around the corner for a business. In reality, this does not always happen. For recruitment agencies, it’s even more likely you won’t know what’s in the works until you get a call with a request.

In-house recruiters should have a seat at the table when big decisions are being made. If that’s not possible, they should know as much as possible, as soon as they can. But, even the flattest and most transparent companies are changing at light speed.

The best thing to do is stay as up-to-date as possible and keep an eye on the industry as a whole.  If you're an agency, call long-term clients simply to check-in. This will help you plan for the future. 

Take note of all the different scenarios that could occur and prepare for them.

For example, if you think scaling up could be on the horizon, prepare for it! This will ensure you’re always ready to act when needed.

3. Improve recruitment processes

It’s become essential to make recruiting processes more efficient. At the best of times, slow processes result in bad candidate experiences and top talent loss. In times of intense business need, a clunky process could have worse side effects.

The switch to remote work also saw recruitment processes become remote. But remote recruiting does not mean processes are necessarily streamlined and efficient.

Now that we have a grasp on what our realities are likely to be, it’s time to look at our systems and transform them.

For example, if your resumes are still stored all over the place, it's time to install an applicant tracking system (ATS). If you’re conducting reference checks by phone or email, consider online solutions.

By investing in your technology stack, you will be more prepared to hire quickly and efficiently. You will also find it easier to meet compliance requirements.

4. Cater to candidate needs

Providing a great candidate experience should be front of mind for recruiters. A positive experience makes candidates 38% more likely to accept your job offer.

Understanding candidate needs goes a long way in delivering an outstanding recruitment experience. It also increases your chances of finding the right fit for your role.

Keep your ear to the ground. Remain curious and ask new questions to candidates you interact with. Record any trends you notice and discuss them with your team. Now is the time to be super observant.

While we can’t predict the future, we do have some understanding of current candidate needs. 

According to Seek, candidates are currently looking for:

  • Better work-life balance
  • More mental health support from employers
  • Higher levels of meaning and purpose
  • Support for ongoing learning

As our landscape changes, this list might be in a different order or have additions and omissions. Keep an eye on changing candidate attitudes and reshape your hiring accordingly.

5. Create contingency plans

With all the changes brought about by COVID-19, it’s a good idea to have different action plans ready.

Think of different recruitment challenges and make plans to address these scenarios.

Take hiring frenzies and freezes, for example.

If you’ve already faced a hiring frenzy or freeze, assess the process you used. What went right? What went wrong? Ask for feedback from teams you work with directly and use this data to create better plans for the future.

If you work in an industry where seasonal hiring is the norm you can adapt these plans to address a frenzy or freeze. If seasonal-style hiring is new to you, look to industries where it’s commonplace and see what you can learn.

As part of this planning, you may design a system where you can activate and deactivate talent as needed. You could do this by engaging in relationships with outsources and freelancers. Another idea is to hire casual staff who have the capacity to increase their hours.

No contingency plan will be perfect and you will likely have to tweak it as you go. But having plans in place will make it much easier to act when the situation calls for it.

6. Accept the unknown and never stop learning

While we can make educated guesses, the truth is, we don’t know what’s around the corner. Hiring during a pandemic was far from most of our minds in 2019.  To meet this uncertainty, all we can do is remain flexible and prepared to act. 

There will be bumps in the road. It’s crucial we acknowledge these bumps, learn from them and keep going. By nature, recruiters are resilient beings. While the industry faces challenges, we know teams worldwide will find ways to manage them. 

In conclusion 

COVID-19 has made hiring unpredictable. Recruiters in all sectors must now prepare for hiring frenzies and freezes, pivoting organisations and changing candidate attitudes.

In order to meet these challenges, recruiters must remain flexible.

Recruiters can do this by:

  • Creating talent pools
  • Keeping up with company objectives
  • Improving the recruitment process
  • Catering to candidate needs
  • Creating contingency plans
  • Accepting the unknown

All in all, the hiring landscape is not totally uncertain. We are certain things will change. Thanks to technology and the experiences the industry has already had with COVID-19, adapting to these changes is a little easier to do. 

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