For some businesses, COVID-19 has caused a complete recruitment freeze, for many - essential service providers in particular - it has resulted in fast, high-volume hiring.
For others, it has meant that a handful of vacancies have driven an unusually high number of applicants.
So, how do you hire during a pandemic and what lessons can we take from COVID-19 hiring practices? We put some burning questions to our own Global Talent Acquisition Lead, Amy Cotterill, to find out.
Talent Acquisition Manager Shares Hiring Realities During a Pandemic
What has been your experience of hiring during COVID-19?
Recruitment definitely slowed down at Xref in terms of the number of roles we were actively hiring for but it’s picking back up again, which is great to see.
I’ve experienced a high volume of candidates applying to some roles and I think that’s been reflective of the industries that have seen a higher number of redundancies. I’ve also seen a shift in the level of interest for roles that wouldn’t typically attract so many applicants. For example, we had 200 applicants for a mid-level, fixed-term contract role which we wouldn’t see in “normal” circumstances.
I’ve found that candidates are more open to talking from a networking perspective, maybe because it’s easier from their homes and they have more time on their hands. However, understandably, they are also hesitant to leave a permanent position at this time as there is still so much uncertainty in the market.
How have you adapted your screening approach to identify the right people?
As I mentioned, we have witnessed a high volume of applicants for some roles. Because of that, it’s been more important than ever for me to really understand the requirements of the role by digging into more granular details with the hiring managers.
Then, during my initial conversations with candidates on the phone, it’s been about understanding their motivations for applying. It’s my job to make sure we bring the best people into the business, not just to fulfil immediate requirements but to help us grow and represent our brand along the way. So I need to be sure they really want to join us.
It has been lovely to experience the honesty shared by applicants. There’s been a level of mutual respect and I have come across very few that I felt were trying to pull the wool over my eyes. It’s such a tough time for jobseekers but they also recognise that they need to take a role that’s right for them, not just jump in at the first opportunity, regardless of their current situation.
What tips would you offer businesses facing similar challenges?
Make sure you get a thorough brief (maybe more than usual) in terms of the role requirements and what the team would benefit from culturally. With so many skilled people on the market (for certain roles) you can focus on making sure you’re hiring someone who will be a fantastic addition to the team culture.
It also helps to have a reliable and efficient ATS, to ensure you are communicating with every candidate who hasn’t been successful in securing an interview in a timely and respectful manner - regardless of how many there are!
It’s always so important to communicate with every candidate that applies, but this has become even more critical in recent months given the pressures candidates may be feeling to secure a role.
What have you noticed about the level of qualifications, expertise or experience in the applications you’ve received?
Applications have increased. We have been recruiting for our tech team and we have seen a number of highly-qualified candidates apply. However, they don’t all necessarily have experience in the specific tech stack we need. So there are more highly-skilled technical candidates, but this doesn’t necessarily translate to the expertise we’re looking for.
For other roles, we have seen a lot of candidates who may be vastly overqualified and at more of an operational and strategic management level, who have applied for an exec level roles. In these cases, we have had to consider carefully whether they would be attracted to this opportunity under normal circumstances.
When you haven’t been hiring, how have you been using your time during COVID-19?
I’ve been able to focus on some more admin-based tasks which usually I never get time to work on. I’ve also helped to support a project for our sales team, which has been a great opportunity to add value and work closely with some colleagues I wouldn’t normally get the chance to work with and learn from.
A piece of internal employee engagement I’ve also had some fun with is an interview series called “Through the Keyhole”. I’ve been having five-minute chats with different colleagues a few times a week over zoom and asking questions to get to know them on a more personal level. I’ve then been sharing these via our internal communications channel to give everyone something to enjoy.
This has been great for employee engagement and some light-hearted fun to get to know each other outside of the office. So far we’ve had a piano recital, been introduced to lots of pets and discovered some quirky hobbies and funny childhood stories!
What have learned during the pandemic that you plan to implement for future hiring?
There are a few things that have always been important but have become especially apparent during the last couple of months and will definitely still apply once we come out the other side of COVID-19:
1. Onboarding is key to demonstrating culture - even when you cannot be with a new hire on their first day, you can still use internal communication tools and courier services to ensure they feel welcome and part of the team from day one.
2. Upfront preparation will streamline recruitment - while really understanding a role is always important before embarking on hiring, it has become even more critical during COVD-19, to make the screening process manageable and ensure there are no hiring delays.
3. There’s nothing that can’t be done online - while our hiring journey hasn’t changed hugely, the way we do it has. Reshaping the process to be tech-driven has been non-negotiable but it’s been important to also ensure that everyone is as comfortable and prepared as possible to use it, to avoid any unnecessary hiccups.
4. Great hires can be made remotely - Xref is proud to have a number of remote workers already on the books but, while they have been hired into remote positions through choice, COVID-19 has seen us hiring remote employees who may otherwise prefer to be in the office. It has demonstrated that even when remote working might not be for everyone, you can still find and hire great people.
5. Candidate empathy is critical - finding a new job at any time is stressful but never more so than during a pandemic when the competition and stakes are so high. We have to be empathetic and show candidates that we recognise what they’re going through. Feedback is key to making sure every candidate feels valued and ensuing they are left with the best impression of the brand.