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What Can the Pandemic Teach Us About Recruiting?

Series introduction: In this four-part Q&A series, Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) Lisa Calick speaks with experts from Wiss to learn about the challenges that clients face due to the changes in work arrangements and culture as a result of the pandemic.

A Q&A with Wiss’s Practice Leader for Recruiting, Kevin Kurtz

As a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), I spend my days giving human resources advice to Wiss clients, helping them with everything from benefits inquiries to staying in compliance with employment laws. My job is to help clients strengthen their operational processes to allow them to focus on their core strategic support.

I am interviewing experts from Wiss about the challenges clients face due to the pandemic and the new work-from-home paradigm. Here is a conversation I had with Wiss’s Practice Leader for Recruiting Kevin Kurtz, in which we discussed how recruiting and hiring processes have changed since the start of the pandemic and what lessons companies can learn for recruiting in the future.

My key takeaway from this interview is that many companies are learning that they can function fairly well remotely, and that’s critical, as candidates are valuing flexibility and the ability to be remote as a key consideration when evaluating a new job opportunity.

What do you see as the biggest problems companies are facing with recruiting in today’s remote world?

I think right now what we’re seeing is that there’s a level of apprehension from candidates in terms of going into the office: When will I have to go into the office? What protocols are in place?

So, it’s not a question of finding the right talent as much as ensuring that candidates are not only comfortable with the current arrangement but also, the plan post-pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, candidates were hesitant to ask about flexible arrangements or work-from-home capabilities. Now that becomes an integral part of the discussion in an interview process. And so it’s imperative for the client to be able to clearly communicate their plan. What does it look like for the next four months? And what will it look like going forward?

That’s the one big challenge facing clients who are hiring candidates. Candidates are more apprehensive and hesitant to move to a new position in this environment.  In some instances, candidates are not able to see where they will be working during the interview process as 100% of the interviews are being conducted through Zoom or Teams.  That creates a certain level of anxiety.

To what degree do companies need to commit to a long-term employment strategy? Some of our clients have workforces that have to be on the ground, but for some more senior-level positions or operational positions that can work remotely, should companies be prepared to commit to a continued flexible arrangement?

The smart ones are. What companies are realizing right now is they have to embrace the ability for candidates to have that remote arrangement or at least the capability to be flexible going forward. Because those companies that are more rigid and stringent with their work-from-home policy or their remote policy are going to have major challenges with attracting and retaining talent.

I can tell you from my own perspective: I’ve sourced a number of senior-level positions that are 100% remote for the rest of this year, and 2021 is a TBD, with the possibility of some type of a hybrid arrangement.

When you find candidates for clients’ openings, are they asking you those questions about the ability to continue some remote work?

Next to compensation, that’s probably the most-asked question anytime we talk to a candidate about an opportunity.

There’s an added layer of complexity now in our role sourcing candidates and screening candidates because we want to understand what the candidate’s expectations are in terms of flexibility. What’s their willingness to go into the office? On the flip side, when we have that conversation with the client, we need to understand what their plan is so we can communicate that back to the candidate.

Coming out of the pandemic, what would you say is going to change the face of the whole recruitment process moving forward?

I think there’s a lot coming out of this. Right now, how are companies hiring candidates? They’re hiring through Zoom or Teams meetings. The exception is when the candidate actually goes in for an interview. People have realized you can actually accelerate the process by using remote interviews.

That was one of the biggest challenges in the past — having a candidate who is working be able to go in for an interview, to take the time off in the middle of the day. So this has been kind of an eye-opening experience for the candidates and clients. At the very least we could screen candidates through Zoom and maybe for the final interview, we bring the candidate on-site. In many cases, candidates do actually want to see where they might be working.

I’d say this process has definitely changed and evolved throughout the pandemic, and I think more and more companies are getting comfortable with this process. This has definitely been one of the biggest shifts I’ve seen in terms of what’s been happening in the market right now.

The other thing that I’ve seen happen is that when clients identify the right candidate — the high caliber candidate — there’s more of a willingness right now to move forward more quickly with an offer and not wait. In the past, clients have always wanted to see 5, 6, 7, or 8 candidates for comparative purposes. That’s a fascinating shift and really good for candidates, since in the past these processes could drag on for weeks, and that impacted candidate engagement.

The process also moves quicker when there are multiple rounds of interviews. That’s the other big frustration point in an interview process: If there are three or four rounds of interviews, the candidate has to go back every time and use PTO. That can take several weeks, whereas now we are able to finish that process in a week.

I think there have been a lot of lessons learned throughout this process, and I see the clients and the candidates adjusting and adapting on the fly.   

For companies that are hiring remote workers, do they go about their recruiting strategy differently?

I would say more often than not, even if they’re open to the role being remote for a period of time, for the most part, they still want somebody geographically close enough to get into the office eventually.

I’ve had exceptions: a couple of clients all of whose jobs are 100% remote. They may have physical space in New York City, but they’re hiring across the US. Their viewpoint is: ‘The roles that we source can be done remotely, and we have the collaborative technology tools for everybody to feel like there’s still the team environment.’

But I would say that’s still more the exception. Even in the pandemic, you have companies that still want geographically accessible workers because they feel that at some point they’re all going to go back to the office, even if it’s on a hybrid schedule.

Anything else companies need to consider as they’re planning ahead? For companies that have put a pause on their hiring because they don’t know where the future is going to be financially, should they be building a talent pool?

This is a unique opportunity for companies to find higher talent caliber in the market. I understand the level of apprehension because we’re still in this unknown period. But my advice to clients has been very simple: If you know at some point that you are going to fill this position because it’s an integral role — say a CFO — you should be talking to candidates now.

It’s a very strategic hiring opportunity to potentially get that candidate who wasn’t even a consideration six or eight months ago. There’s a great opportunity for you to build a pipeline, an inventory of candidates. When the time comes and you are ready to move forward with a position, instead of having to start from scratch, you’ve already talked to three or four people who you believe would be the right candidate. The smart companies have the foresight to say, ‘If I know I’m going to hire for this position and the right person falls on my lap, I’m willing to take that intelligent risk at this point.’

There are some game-changers in the way that companies have to think about things moving forward.

That’s the biggest takeaway, I think, for companies that have been rigid or inflexible in terms of work-from-home. I think too many companies have gone under the assumption that their business doesn’t lend itself favorably to that. The interesting thing is, I think a lot of companies learned that they can actually function rather well remotely.

That’s not to say you do it 100% remote, but all candidates are looking to see that there is some level of flexibility available to them. That’s what they desire. That provides them with a level of comfort and that is essential for a candidate to consider a new opportunity. That’s probably the biggest lesson learned.

How can our Recruiting Practice help your business? Reach out to a Wiss expert for more information.

Hiring, Kevin Kurtz, Lisa Calick, recruiting, remote work, work from home

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