The first inkling that something was amiss happened when candidates in the construction industry suddenly became wary of new job opportunities. They were worried about a softening in housing starts and instability in new construction. Many didn’t want to leave their current jobs for a new position with the associated unknowns, even if the role sounded intriguing and included a bump in pay. This was the first time candidates expressed concern in what had been a roaring talent market. Then the bottom fell out of our financial system, banks dumped loads of toxic mortgages, the Dow Jones Index fell 7% in one day and the bull market turned into a grouchy bear just waking up from a long hibernation. It was fall of 2008.
Fast forward 10 years or so, and we find ourselves again in uncertain times. The first months of the year have seen the Dow on a roller coaster, the business outlook uncertain and the world in the grip of a pandemic the likes of which we have never seen. How should businesses be approaching this difficult situation when they still need to keep running and hiring employees? There are lessons to be learned from 2008 and shared by those that are hiring right now in these times of crisis.
As business leaders and owners, we can’t take an extended vacation while the market sorts itself out. Recruiting and hiring are still going on around us, and certain industries such as online retail, delivery and grocery are experiencing hiring surges. There are strategies that we can employ to address hiring needs due to growth or to maintain business continuity. While this isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, below are four suggestions to consider as you are looking to bring on new team members and keep your business moving forward.
1. Address the situation
As our daily lives and routines have been turned upside down, anxiety has become a very real experience. Business leaders need to understand and address this uncertainty with both current and future employees. This starts with addressing it yourself and modeling adaptability and acceptance of this new normal.
As you engage with potential employees, don’t shy away from discussing the uncertainty many are feeling when it comes to a potential job change. These concerns are not only valid, they can come back to bite you if candidates drop out later in the hiring process. Be prepared to explore how a candidate can determine if the culture is a fit without actually coming on-site, what the working arrangements will be as the crisis continues and what the work will look like in this new landscape.
With shelter-in-place mandates and social distancing becoming the norm, be prepared to share how you are adjusting your business processes as well as ensuring worker safety. While this may feel awkward or unusual, these topics should be added to your initial interview conversations.
2. Adapt your processes
Businesses have had to become more creative and resourceful to keep the wheels moving. Leaders need to recognize that processes will move more slowly and may not be perfect as many adjust to working at home. Be understanding that things may take longer than normal and practice patience and flexibility.
This also applies to hiring, interviewing and onboarding processes. Candidates are often judged on their presentation and professionalism. This is more difficult when interviews are now often done from home with kids, pets and other assorted distractions. Leaders need to take this into consideration and not judge candidates too harshly should interviews be interrupted or conducted from less than ideal settings.
Onboarding new employees has adapted to the remote work model. Many companies are preparing for online orientation programs and provisioning employees at home with the needed equipment. New employees may find it more challenging to assimilate to a new company remotely. Consider increasing your efforts to connect with new employees to ensure they are engaged and able to become productive quickly.
3. Leverage technology solutions
Necessity is the mother of invention, according to Plato. These unprecedented times have driven many companies to embrace a variety of technologies that most experts believe will forever change the way we work. These include a host of technology solutions to hire differently and often better.
Video communication tools have become commonplace. If you aren’t using an online communication platform like Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype, you should be. Video interviewing is now a standard part of the hiring process for many companies located in states that are in lockdown. Candidates should sharpen their video interviewing skills, and hiring managers need to get comfortable with this format. Consider hosting mock video interviews to let your hiring managers practice and ensure their technology and interviewing methods are up to date.
If your organization has yet to implement an applicant tracking system, now is the time. There are several free solutions that small businesses can implement that are easy and quite feature-rich given the cost. Checkout iKrut or SmartStart as examples. An applicant tracking system is essential for communication and feedback, especially with a distributed or remote workforce.
Online assessments are also interesting options. These online tests or questionnaires can help determine proficiency in various skills (e.g., technical, clinical and other subject matter expertise), as well as work style evaluations to help determine culture fit, which are particularly helpful when candidates are limited in their in-person and on-site interactions.
4. Be optimistic and (ethically) opportunistic
During these difficult times, it is tempting to give in to negativity and wait for the next piece of bad news. Sometimes the leader-in-chief also has to be the encourager-in-chief. This is not cockeyed optimism. There is historical data that reminds us that the market has always rebounded and there are business advantages to be had when it does. What seemed like a dire situation in 2008 led to a long period of economic growth once the Great Recession ended.
When it comes to hiring, there are ethical business opportunities to capitalize on. With a larger pool of potential workers, companies can recruit and hire employees with key skills and talents that they might not otherwise be able to attract. Industries that have not always been considered the most glamorous can showcase their stability and attract a higher quality worker that might have not been previously interested.
As we navigate the uncharted territory of a global pandemic, there will be times that require a pause on hiring and, unfortunately, times that require a cut to the workforce. But there will also be times that require attracting and onboarding new employees. Companies that are able to adapt their processes and engage great talent will go on to survive today and thrive in the future.
Kate Kjeell is president of TalentWell, a recruiting firm that specializes in helping small and midsized businesses thrive by finding and hiring the right people. The firm’s approach can be described in three words: find, fit, flourish. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.