Ask a recruiter: Recruiting during the COVID-19 outbreak


The pace of recruitment will change over the next few months, and so will the way in which it’s conducted. Experts share their advice for making it work.

Say you had a key staff member hand in their resignation a few weeks ago – back when Coronavirus content was mainly centered around #toiletpapergate and overseas cases. You put up a job ad and you were flooded with applications, but now, just a few weeks later, everything has changed.

The country’s economy is shaky, businesses are closing their doors, and a huge portion of the workforce is working from home. It can feel like the walls are caving in on you. So, what do you do?

It’s hard to offer specific advice during times where facts are changing at a rapid pace, but there are emerging trends we can already see.

HRM spoke with five recruitment experts about trying to hire when things are business as unusual.

Certain industries will flourish

The news that Qantas and Jetstar have temporarily stood down two-thirds of their workforce shook us last week, but astute observers saw something like it coming. The airline and tourism industries are feeling the pinch harder than most. 

But there are other industries where demand is far outweighing supply, and recruitment efforts are skyrocketing.

For example, Woolworths has offered to redeploy some of the 20,000 Qantas and Jetstar employees in a bid to cater to the panic buying tendencies of a worried Australia. Amazon is reported to be recruiting for 100,000 workers to cater to a spike in online shopping. There is also increased demand in the healthcare industry and investments in IT specialists across many industries.

“Things will change. We’ll see a reduction in some jobs and people will be working differently,” says Lisa Gazis, managing director at Mahlab, a Sydney-based executive recruitment firm. “But it’s still early days. People are just now working to make sure they’re properly resourced for remote work.”

Her colleague, Nick Robertson, a senior consultant, says they don’t expect to see a shortfall (the firm specialises in legal recruitment). “In the aftermath of the Hayne Royal Commission and in a time where the economy, small businesses and households are under more stress, the financial institutions are going to be judged by the public by the manner in which they treat consumers and businesses going forward. They’re going to be hyper vigilant in making sure they’re compliant with all their obligations. That creates demand in our market.”

Both say this is an opportunity for Australia to rethink how we hire and work. 

“Having worked internationally myself, my impression is that Australia is a little behind the times in terms of how we interview people,” says Robertson. 

“From an employer perspective, we’re very focussed on having those face-to-face meetings. I’m not downplaying the importance of that, because it is an important aspect of the hiring process, but globally – particularly in Asia and the US – a lot of hiring is already done remotely. It’s a case of Australian businesses catching up with how things are done in the rest of the world.”

Jessica Christmas, director at Eagle Street Legal Recruitment, says when she’s able to tune out all of the COVID-19 white noise, the message she’s getting is that there has never been a more important time to make sure you have the best possible talent on your team.

“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and the smart firms have always come out the other end. They listen to the market and to their clients and they respond appropriately.”

How to interview people virtually

So what does good live video recruiting look like?

Firstly, it’s important to readjust candidates’ expectations, says Alex Hattingh, chief people officer at Employment Hero.

“It’s super important we set the expectations upfront with the candidate by telling them the recruitment process will be longer.”

(Read our article on how to onboard staff virtually to hear more from Alex).

Hattingh has a few tips for recruiting in a virtual world. One is to be more candid than you might normally be. Virtual recruiting can be clumsy and awkward. Someone’s laptop might be sitting at an unflattering angle. The internet connection could lag and distractions can emerge from off screen on both ends. 

To combat this, she suggests setting aside some time at the beginning to iron out any wrinkles. And this isn’t just the normal ice-breaking time you carve out, that needs to happen on top of this. She suggests treating it like a housekeeping notice.

“It’s about hiring managers taking the time to ask, ‘Can you hear me? Can you see me? I’d like to make sure we have good eye contact. I understand you might be more nervous because this is over video, I want to assure you this is all new to me too.’ 

“Or, ‘You’re actually sitting a little too far away from the camera, would you mind sitting closer so we can have a better conversation’. Or, ‘The quality isn’t that great, perhaps your internet is down.’ You just have to be really upfront. Because if there is a lag or you can’t have good eye contact, you’re never going to be able to make a good assessment.”

This pre-interview time also acts as a buffer for the candidate to catch their breath. When they’re meeting you face-to-face, they have a commute to calm their nerves and consider their responses. In a virtual meeting, none of this space exists. They’re just sitting in their lounge room or home office and then, all of a sudden, a stranger is asking a series of probing questions through their computer screen.

Also having a backup plan (like each other’s mobile numbers) in case someone’s technology fails is a really good idea.

Changing times, changed questions

Hattingh says now more than ever it’s important to be frank about the environment candidates are joining. In times like this, you can’t afford to invest in new people only to have them jump ship during the middle of a global crisis.

“Setting hiring managers up with consistent questions around values is important. And be really upfront with employees about the environment they’re about to enter. For example, saying ‘We’re a start-up. We work in a really fast-paced environment and there are times where there is some ambiguity’. Then ask for examples of where they’ve dealt with ambiguity in the past.”

David Landau, director at accounting recruitment firm Richard Lloyd, seconds this.

“If you’re hiring someone who will join your business without a face-to-face induction, you’re going to need someone who can pick things up quickly. Focus on competency based questions around someone’s learning ability, i.e. ‘What was the hardest task you had to learn in your current role and how did you go about doing it? That gives a very good insight into someone’s initiative. This is incredibly important, especially if this thing drags on for months,” he says.

He also suggests recruiters ask candidates about their current or former employer’s response to coronavirus and how they think it has impacted the culture. That’s a good way to assess the level of support the candidate expects before they even begin.

Create creative solutions

It can be hard to assess for cultural fit via a computer screen, especially when you are used to looking for nuances in face-to-face interactions. Landau says his organisation came up with a solution that happens to dovetail nicely with recruitment efforts moving online.

They created a 15-second video app that allows candidates to “bottle their personality”.

“It’s designed for the candidate to be able to say, ‘This is who I am. These are my interests and hobbies outside of work’. We present that [to clients] along with their CV to bring a bit more life to the process,” says Landau.

Landau says it’s a great way to get a glimpse into the candidate’s personality, humour, and communication and presentation skills.

“We had one candidate who said, ‘Outside of work, I’m all about family’ then moved the camera to show his mum standing next to him. Someone else just pointed their camera at their dog. They might say something like, “I’m an accountant, but outside of work I like rock climbing, badminton and I’m a chauffeur for my two kids for the majority of my weekend.

“Our conversion rate of candidates who are willing to do it is currently sitting at 65 per cent. It’s not a deal breaker or a decision-making tool. It’s just an extra ingredient to bring someone to life.”

Consequences of leaving gaps

Organisations have to get strategic about which gaps they fill and which they leave vacant during a pandemic. It makes sense to hold onto pennies, times are tough, but there can be long-term impacts to not hiring for crucial roles.

Landau said when he recruited during the Global Financial Crisis, some companies managed workforce planning well, others did not.

“There were less people doing more. Doing that in an uncertain environment is not great for team culture. What makes a difference is strong leadership. Even if there are gaps in a team, people are more willing to work for a good leader; they’ll step up and take on additional work in the understanding that we all need to get through this together.”

Let’s quickly reiterate ‘strong leadership’, because that’s the make or break factor here. As HRM has previously reported, Gartner research shows that while staff are likely to stay with a business during a crisis, if they’re not treated right (having their efforts acknowledged and their wellbeing accounted for) they’ll be running for the hills the second the economy recovers.

This is where HR can really step up by supporting leaders to take a people-lens to every decision they make to ensure business longevity. As HRM previously covered in our article on HR’s role in a recession, HR becomes a lot more influential in times of crisis.

In that article, professor of industrial relations and human resources in the Smurfit School of Business at University College Dublin Bill Roche spoke about his research of the Irish recession. He said: “Suddenly HR skills and expertise – for example, how to implement a three-day working week, how to lawfully introduce a layoff programme, etc – became critical to the survival of businesses.”

All in this together

But a question many might be asking is, what happens if a new hire tests positive for COVID-19? 

Gazis says it’s just the same if a new recruit called and said they have the flu and needed to move their start date, or if they had to move interstate.

“Delays to start dates aren’t unusual. It’s more about the employer [feeling comfort] in knowing they have someone in place. Also, there are candidates out there with one, two, three month notice periods. The other day, we saw someone with a six month notice period,” says Gazis.

“We work with people who are looking for quite senior, strategic roles. So a company that needs that specific skill set won’t just walk away. They’ll wait for the right person.”

These are hard times. It’s okay not to know what to do. The HR community is tight-knit and filled with knowledgeable people with years of experience. Share any of your best tips for virtual recruiting below. And reach out if you’d like a specific topic to be covered in HRM.

As Robertson says, “We’re all finding our way in the dark. That goes for everyone in society at the moment. But there’s a lot of noise out there, so we should be focussing on what we can control, rather than what we can’t.”


Watch AHRI’s video for tips around managing COVID-19 in your workplace.


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Business as unusual: How to recruit effectively during COVID-19  - Recruitment Marketing

[…] So, what can you do? Kate Neilson reporting for HRM spoke with five recruitment experts about how to hire when things are “business as unusual”. […]

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What HR skills will be most in-demand in the future? - The ESI Group

[…] future state of the business needs to be in and what is needed to get there.” Recruiting prowess Recruitment is one of those HR functions that can really slow the profession down. From clunky processes, slow […]

More on HRM

Ask a recruiter: Recruiting during the COVID-19 outbreak


The pace of recruitment will change over the next few months, and so will the way in which it’s conducted. Experts share their advice for making it work.

Say you had a key staff member hand in their resignation a few weeks ago – back when Coronavirus content was mainly centered around #toiletpapergate and overseas cases. You put up a job ad and you were flooded with applications, but now, just a few weeks later, everything has changed.

The country’s economy is shaky, businesses are closing their doors, and a huge portion of the workforce is working from home. It can feel like the walls are caving in on you. So, what do you do?

It’s hard to offer specific advice during times where facts are changing at a rapid pace, but there are emerging trends we can already see.

HRM spoke with five recruitment experts about trying to hire when things are business as unusual.

Certain industries will flourish

The news that Qantas and Jetstar have temporarily stood down two-thirds of their workforce shook us last week, but astute observers saw something like it coming. The airline and tourism industries are feeling the pinch harder than most. 

But there are other industries where demand is far outweighing supply, and recruitment efforts are skyrocketing.

For example, Woolworths has offered to redeploy some of the 20,000 Qantas and Jetstar employees in a bid to cater to the panic buying tendencies of a worried Australia. Amazon is reported to be recruiting for 100,000 workers to cater to a spike in online shopping. There is also increased demand in the healthcare industry and investments in IT specialists across many industries.

“Things will change. We’ll see a reduction in some jobs and people will be working differently,” says Lisa Gazis, managing director at Mahlab, a Sydney-based executive recruitment firm. “But it’s still early days. People are just now working to make sure they’re properly resourced for remote work.”

Her colleague, Nick Robertson, a senior consultant, says they don’t expect to see a shortfall (the firm specialises in legal recruitment). “In the aftermath of the Hayne Royal Commission and in a time where the economy, small businesses and households are under more stress, the financial institutions are going to be judged by the public by the manner in which they treat consumers and businesses going forward. They’re going to be hyper vigilant in making sure they’re compliant with all their obligations. That creates demand in our market.”

Both say this is an opportunity for Australia to rethink how we hire and work. 

“Having worked internationally myself, my impression is that Australia is a little behind the times in terms of how we interview people,” says Robertson. 

“From an employer perspective, we’re very focussed on having those face-to-face meetings. I’m not downplaying the importance of that, because it is an important aspect of the hiring process, but globally – particularly in Asia and the US – a lot of hiring is already done remotely. It’s a case of Australian businesses catching up with how things are done in the rest of the world.”

Jessica Christmas, director at Eagle Street Legal Recruitment, says when she’s able to tune out all of the COVID-19 white noise, the message she’s getting is that there has never been a more important time to make sure you have the best possible talent on your team.

“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and the smart firms have always come out the other end. They listen to the market and to their clients and they respond appropriately.”

How to interview people virtually

So what does good live video recruiting look like?

Firstly, it’s important to readjust candidates’ expectations, says Alex Hattingh, chief people officer at Employment Hero.

“It’s super important we set the expectations upfront with the candidate by telling them the recruitment process will be longer.”

(Read our article on how to onboard staff virtually to hear more from Alex).

Hattingh has a few tips for recruiting in a virtual world. One is to be more candid than you might normally be. Virtual recruiting can be clumsy and awkward. Someone’s laptop might be sitting at an unflattering angle. The internet connection could lag and distractions can emerge from off screen on both ends. 

To combat this, she suggests setting aside some time at the beginning to iron out any wrinkles. And this isn’t just the normal ice-breaking time you carve out, that needs to happen on top of this. She suggests treating it like a housekeeping notice.

“It’s about hiring managers taking the time to ask, ‘Can you hear me? Can you see me? I’d like to make sure we have good eye contact. I understand you might be more nervous because this is over video, I want to assure you this is all new to me too.’ 

“Or, ‘You’re actually sitting a little too far away from the camera, would you mind sitting closer so we can have a better conversation’. Or, ‘The quality isn’t that great, perhaps your internet is down.’ You just have to be really upfront. Because if there is a lag or you can’t have good eye contact, you’re never going to be able to make a good assessment.”

This pre-interview time also acts as a buffer for the candidate to catch their breath. When they’re meeting you face-to-face, they have a commute to calm their nerves and consider their responses. In a virtual meeting, none of this space exists. They’re just sitting in their lounge room or home office and then, all of a sudden, a stranger is asking a series of probing questions through their computer screen.

Also having a backup plan (like each other’s mobile numbers) in case someone’s technology fails is a really good idea.

Changing times, changed questions

Hattingh says now more than ever it’s important to be frank about the environment candidates are joining. In times like this, you can’t afford to invest in new people only to have them jump ship during the middle of a global crisis.

“Setting hiring managers up with consistent questions around values is important. And be really upfront with employees about the environment they’re about to enter. For example, saying ‘We’re a start-up. We work in a really fast-paced environment and there are times where there is some ambiguity’. Then ask for examples of where they’ve dealt with ambiguity in the past.”

David Landau, director at accounting recruitment firm Richard Lloyd, seconds this.

“If you’re hiring someone who will join your business without a face-to-face induction, you’re going to need someone who can pick things up quickly. Focus on competency based questions around someone’s learning ability, i.e. ‘What was the hardest task you had to learn in your current role and how did you go about doing it? That gives a very good insight into someone’s initiative. This is incredibly important, especially if this thing drags on for months,” he says.

He also suggests recruiters ask candidates about their current or former employer’s response to coronavirus and how they think it has impacted the culture. That’s a good way to assess the level of support the candidate expects before they even begin.

Create creative solutions

It can be hard to assess for cultural fit via a computer screen, especially when you are used to looking for nuances in face-to-face interactions. Landau says his organisation came up with a solution that happens to dovetail nicely with recruitment efforts moving online.

They created a 15-second video app that allows candidates to “bottle their personality”.

“It’s designed for the candidate to be able to say, ‘This is who I am. These are my interests and hobbies outside of work’. We present that [to clients] along with their CV to bring a bit more life to the process,” says Landau.

Landau says it’s a great way to get a glimpse into the candidate’s personality, humour, and communication and presentation skills.

“We had one candidate who said, ‘Outside of work, I’m all about family’ then moved the camera to show his mum standing next to him. Someone else just pointed their camera at their dog. They might say something like, “I’m an accountant, but outside of work I like rock climbing, badminton and I’m a chauffeur for my two kids for the majority of my weekend.

“Our conversion rate of candidates who are willing to do it is currently sitting at 65 per cent. It’s not a deal breaker or a decision-making tool. It’s just an extra ingredient to bring someone to life.”

Consequences of leaving gaps

Organisations have to get strategic about which gaps they fill and which they leave vacant during a pandemic. It makes sense to hold onto pennies, times are tough, but there can be long-term impacts to not hiring for crucial roles.

Landau said when he recruited during the Global Financial Crisis, some companies managed workforce planning well, others did not.

“There were less people doing more. Doing that in an uncertain environment is not great for team culture. What makes a difference is strong leadership. Even if there are gaps in a team, people are more willing to work for a good leader; they’ll step up and take on additional work in the understanding that we all need to get through this together.”

Let’s quickly reiterate ‘strong leadership’, because that’s the make or break factor here. As HRM has previously reported, Gartner research shows that while staff are likely to stay with a business during a crisis, if they’re not treated right (having their efforts acknowledged and their wellbeing accounted for) they’ll be running for the hills the second the economy recovers.

This is where HR can really step up by supporting leaders to take a people-lens to every decision they make to ensure business longevity. As HRM previously covered in our article on HR’s role in a recession, HR becomes a lot more influential in times of crisis.

In that article, professor of industrial relations and human resources in the Smurfit School of Business at University College Dublin Bill Roche spoke about his research of the Irish recession. He said: “Suddenly HR skills and expertise – for example, how to implement a three-day working week, how to lawfully introduce a layoff programme, etc – became critical to the survival of businesses.”

All in this together

But a question many might be asking is, what happens if a new hire tests positive for COVID-19? 

Gazis says it’s just the same if a new recruit called and said they have the flu and needed to move their start date, or if they had to move interstate.

“Delays to start dates aren’t unusual. It’s more about the employer [feeling comfort] in knowing they have someone in place. Also, there are candidates out there with one, two, three month notice periods. The other day, we saw someone with a six month notice period,” says Gazis.

“We work with people who are looking for quite senior, strategic roles. So a company that needs that specific skill set won’t just walk away. They’ll wait for the right person.”

These are hard times. It’s okay not to know what to do. The HR community is tight-knit and filled with knowledgeable people with years of experience. Share any of your best tips for virtual recruiting below. And reach out if you’d like a specific topic to be covered in HRM.

As Robertson says, “We’re all finding our way in the dark. That goes for everyone in society at the moment. But there’s a lot of noise out there, so we should be focussing on what we can control, rather than what we can’t.”


Watch AHRI’s video for tips around managing COVID-19 in your workplace.


2
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
trackback
Business as unusual: How to recruit effectively during COVID-19  - Recruitment Marketing

[…] So, what can you do? Kate Neilson reporting for HRM spoke with five recruitment experts about how to hire when things are “business as unusual”. […]

trackback
What HR skills will be most in-demand in the future? - The ESI Group

[…] future state of the business needs to be in and what is needed to get there.” Recruiting prowess Recruitment is one of those HR functions that can really slow the profession down. From clunky processes, slow […]

More on HRM