To say that business leaders have had to scramble over the past few months, is an understatement. Virtually overnight, the COVID19 pandemic forced leaders to change business models and staffing levels in order to survive. The changes were so abrupt and extreme that employers had little, if any, time to plan. They simply had to act.
HR professionals, in particular, were the ones charged with acting. Among other initiatives, HR had to manage sudden increases or reductions in the workforce, interpret and implement new, murky employment legislation, and coordinate transitions to remote-work models with little guidance. Through it all, HR has fought through the uncertainty and rapid change to blaze a path forward. Now, as the U.S. economy sets to reopen, HR will be asked to enter a more familiar fight–the clichéd and seemingly ever-present war for talent.
A New Kind of War for Talent
There’s a shared hope across our nation that things will return to “normal” over the next six months; however, the effects of the pandemic will likely reach far into the future. And should that be the case, employers will have to keep their guard up as they seek to hire over the next year. A headlong rush into re-hiring, using the same tactics and processes that were effective before the pandemic will not necessarily work this time around. A new kind of war will require a new kind of strategy.
Developing a new talent strategy does not require that employers start from scratch. An existing strategy can be updated to address the current conditions of the job market and to incorporate the tactics and processes developed at the onset of the pandemic. This is not to say that this will be a quick or easy process, but it’s not necessarily a reinvention of the wheel either.
Job Market Conditions
Recruiters and hiring managers will face wildly different hiring conditions compared to early 2020. Over 36 million people are currently unemployed in the United States. Many are experiencing unemployment for the first time. So whereas in early 2020, HR was facing a dearth of qualified candidates, many of whom had multiple employment options, now that dynamic has flipped. Employers emerging from months-long restrictions on business will find talent that is both widely available and hungry for employment.
Although this new job market may sound like a boon for hiring organizations, there is a real danger if employers rush into hiring decisions. Hiring too quickly may result in an organization that is over-staffed, or staffed by too many “bad fit” employees. Either outcome will create a drag on efficiency and cut into profits, especially if the wider economic recovery is long-delayed or erratic.
Hire for the Right Fit, at the Right Time
A smarter approach would be to take advantage of the flush job market by adjusting hiring tactics and placing an emphasis on hiring for the right fit. Many organizations will have the chance–maybe for the first time–at hiring transformational talent over the next six months. However, if employers disregard how well this talent will fit within their organization, they may find themselves forced into an expensive re-hiring process at a time where expensive anything could sink the ship.
Similarly, too much of a good thing can be a problem too. With all the great talent available in the job marketing, it could be tempting to hire more than necessary on a bet that economic conditions will improve sooner than later. However, for a business to survive an economic recession, staff-levels should be optimized in anticipation of little to moderate growth.
If this sounds like a tricky balancing act, it is. Employers need to accurately assess and forecast labor needs, design a hiring process to generate “best-fit” candidates, all while ensuring that the hiring experience engages candidates enough to protect them from competitors. This is no small task.
Make It Personal (and efficient…and effective)
Effectiveness in hiring is when employers achieve the desired outcome of hiring qualified, best-fit candidates. But in order to ensure best-fit, employers cannot simply vet an employee based on application and interview questions. The process must be personal and seek to develop a relationship with the candidate even before an offer is extended. Done this way, your hiring process succeeds in being effective for both adding new talent and promoting a positive employer brand.
Hiring efficiency is when employers achieve desired outcomes through a hiring process that minimizes the waste of time and resources. An employer benefits from efficiency because the sooner qualified candidates are hired and onboarded, the sooner they can contribute to an organization’s bottom line. Candidates benefit from efficiency, too, as they will not have to endure prolonged uncertainty or unemployment–in a time of uncertainty and unemployment.
In looking to keep candidates engaged, employers will want to balance hiring efficiency with hiring effectiveness. The hiring process should not be geared so much toward efficiency that it cuts into effectiveness. Similarly, too fine a focus on finding the best-fit candidate will slow the process and hurt efficiency.
Make big gains in efficiency and effectiveness with a few key tactics, such as:
- Energizing job postings. These should be exciting and concise. Include compelling information in the first paragraph of your job descriptions, and leave the dry stuff for later–or remove it all together. Now is not the time to talk about your founding. You want excited jobseekers clicking the “apply now” button.
- Optimize job applications. These should be helpful for identifying “best-fit” candidates. Take a long look at your application questions and eliminate the unnecessary or redundant ones. Consider how the questions will generate qualified candidates who fit your organization and will stay for the long-term. Include a few knock-out questions that will screen out unqualified or “bad-fit” applicants.
- Streamline communications. These, like the two examples above, should be characterized by brevity and utility. Consider using text messaging as a faster channel for candidate communications that bypasses “phone tag.” Utilize software that makes it easy for candidates to schedule interviews based on a hiring manager’s real-time availability.
- Personalize the Process. In all messaging, the focus should be on the candidate. Sure, talk about how the organization can benefit the candidates. But don’t lose sight of how the organization can benefit from the candidates–this side is often communicated too late in the process. Ensure that candidates feel uniquely appreciated early and often, so that they maintain excitement throughout the hiring process.
Improve on Your Changes
Finally, as stated at the outset, the pandemic forced employers across the world to make sudden, big changes. Although making these changes was stressful and the outcomes mixed, most employers were likely given the benefit of the doubt. Job seekers and new hires anticipated bumpy hiring and onboarding processes because the whole world was tossed upside down.
However, a big part of getting “back to normal” involves a readjustment of expectations. Job seekers will soon expect employers to offer a paperless hiring process, remote interviews, and perhaps even options for remote work. They will expect a seamless transition from the hiring process to the onboarding process, with clear communication and quality engagement along the way. And importantly, they will expect few, if any, mistakes.
Yes, COVID-19 required HR professionals to “just get it done” amid the chaos. But very soon, organizations will be judged by new standards. Stop-gap solutions will no longer be sufficient, and HR will need to take the time to improve on changes made out of urgent necessity. In short, employers must take advantage of a job market ripe with talent by seeking to raise the bar and preparing to hire strategically in a new normal.