Recruiting in the Age of COVID-19

How the pandemic has affected corporate hiring. Plus, advice for running virtual job interviews
Kristen Sears
candidate search/recruiting concept. Chalk board with different lightbulbs. Magnifying glass hovering over lightbulb representing ideal candidate.

Canada’s economy has taken a major hit from COVID-19. Government-imposed measures to contain the virus and “flatten the curve” caused many businesses to close temporarily or to reduce operations.

While some restrictions are now lifting, coronavirus will have long-lasting impacts on business operations—including hiring. Company talent needs are changing. With remote work expected to continue for some time, the way businesses recruit, hire and manage talent will also shift.  

Smith Business Insight recently spoke with Karen Jackson-Cox, executive director of the Career Advancement Centre at Smith School of Business, about what she’s seeing in graduate recruitment, the changing job market and the move to an all-virtual hiring process.

Has there been a drop in hiring as a result of COVID-19?

Student and graduate recruiting has been pretty stable so far, particularly with larger firms that have more established campus recruiting programs. They have the resources to sustain their talent acquisition strategy through pipelining and hiring top talent. That said, there has been a decline in job postings for immediate, full-time opportunities. And, as government funding has kicked in, we have seen an increase in more short-term, project-based hiring, including internships.

How else has the pandemic affected hiring? 

The impacts of COVID-19 are stretching longer than anyone projected. Employers are no longer focused on the short-term view of working remotely for a few months; they’re challenged with innovating their business right now to ensure their long-term sustainability. Hiring in IT innovation, digital strategy, intelligent automation, data analytics, e-commerce, cybersecurity subscription and streaming services, virtual health-care, operations and project management remain healthy across larger enterprises spanning financial services, tech, food services and retail, CPG (consumer packaged goods), health care and education. We are also seeing consulting jobs in areas like organizational restructuring and digital transformation—anything that is going to create virtual value for companies is where their heads are at right now.

With social distancing, it’s hard to do interviews in person. What should companies take into account with a virtual hiring process?

There are a few things to think about. First, companies need to be strategic about the virtual platform they plan to use based on their short- and longer-term recruiting objectives, volume of hiring and interview formats. If they’re doing a behavioural interview, it may be OK to use something like Skype. But if they are moving to a group case interview, a different mode, such as Zoom or Webex, may be needed for team breakouts. For more end-to-end virtual recruiting needs which involve video interview assessments with AI screening, more sophisticated platforms, like HireVue, will require IT integration, including security and privacy considerations. 

Another issue is engagement and making the candidate comfortable enough in a virtual interview to create a natural exchange, which is needed to get a good assessment of a candidate’s skills. Ahead of the interview, companies must be clear with candidates about what technology mode they are using and what their expectations are for the interview. They should also offer accommodations for candidates who may have challenges with the specific format for interviews. 

Should job candidates be given more leeway during a virtual interview?

To set candidates up for success and ensure a great experience, it’s important that companies communicate expectations for the interview two to three days in advance. This could be in the form of a tip sheet or instructional video outlining the interview format, technological requirements and suggestions around lighting and testing for volume and sound clarity ahead of the interview. As with in-person interviews, accommodations should be offered to candidates who may need alternate modes of interviewing due to disabilities or accessibility barriers. 

With all that said, I think there should be some allowances around technological challenges that can happen during a virtual interview. Not everyone has great internet speed, and things can go wrong with technology for both the interviewer and interviewee. In that case, for employers, it’s more about assessing how the candidate responds to hiccups.

What resources would you recommend for companies that are just now making the switch to virtual recruiting?

At Smith, in the early stages of COVID-19, we created a landing page with resources to support our employer partners with recruiting, onboarding and managing talent virtually. These resources cover everything from virtual recruitment strategy, events, interviews and assessments to onboarding steps, technology setup and remote work policies. There are also tips for supervising remote staff and interns and tracking productivity.

Are we now entering a new age of hiring, where fewer job interviews will be done in person?

Prior to COVID-19, a lot of employers were moving to virtual hiring for at least their first- or second-round interviews, particularly banks, accounting and consulting firms. The change since COVID-19 has really been around final-round interviews moving to virtual. Doing so has created some efficiencies for firms. They’re not travelling as much for recruiting, which is costly both in time and travel expenditures, and it also allows flexibility in scheduling for both interviewers and candidates.

What impact could COVID-19 have on the hiring process long-term?

Virtual recruiting could become a plan A versus a plan B, as it allows companies more efficiencies and allows them to cast a wider net and expand their talent pipelines. Depending on the future of remote work, candidates may have more options to apply to national opportunities and work without geographic constraints, while employers will have the option of looking outside their physical locations to find the best talent. 

If the flexibility, efficiencies and outcomes of virtual recruiting result in a better candidate and corporate experience, it will transform the recruiting landscape nationally and globally beyond COVID-19. 

Smith School of Business

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Kingston, Ontario
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