What will recruitment look like after COVID?

It took a global pandemic for some employers to overcome their biggest fear when it came to their recruiting function: change.

In the wake of COVID, HR professionals have been forced to re-examine their talent acquisition strategies, resources and technology. Many of these changes have raised the bar for the recruitment process and candidate experience. Some HR professionals say there’s no turning back and expect these changes to stick around long after the threat of COVID diminishes.

Adriana Bokel Herde, chief people officer at Pega–a global software company that streamlines customer engagement and operations–says COVID has accelerated all people processes at the organization.

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For instance, before the pandemic, Pega was eager to reduce the cost and time constraints of traditional hiring by pivoting to virtual hiring. However, given what they saw as potential risks associated with hiring candidates without in-person interviews, the company introduced an Employee or Manager Opt-out program: Employees hired virtually can leave the company after 30 or 60 days on the job with two months’ salary if they feel they’re not a good fit. Their boss can also let workers go at 30, 60 or 120 days–giving them the same amount of severance pay–without being penalized for high turnover rates.

However, the number of managers who took advantage of the program was in the single digits. But since COVID, it has doubled.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had this much trust with virtual recruitment as we’ve had in the past,” says Bokel Herde, adding that even the company’s CEO, Alan Trefler, virtually hired a chief sales officer. “[People] think if the CEO can hire someone to lead our sales organization, maybe I can, too. This has been a positive of COVID.”

Bokel Herde says COVID’s footprint is all over recruiting. The recruitment process at Pega, which was 35% paperless pre-COVID, is now 100% paperless. Almost all (98%) of the company’s 900 managers have completed empathy training to better understand the challenges facing job candidates applying for remote or hybrid jobs.

See also: 6 ways we’re getting diversity recruiting all wrong

In the past, Pega Academy, which offers free, online classes to employees, was rarely mentioned to candidates. But last year, recruiters started promoting it early on in the interview process. Since some candidates lived alone and were homebound due to the pandemic, she says, they had more time and desire to complete professional development courses.

Last June, the company selected employees as talent ambassadors to help candidates navigate the interview process and better understand Pega’s culture. HR is also now considering whether to give job candidates interview questions in advance so they can record their answers. She says this will allow hiring managers to compare candidate responses to the same questions.

“If you don’t change, the change will come to you,” Bokel Herde says. “It’s much more fun to be able to drive that change and try to proactively understand your industry as it evolves. You have to be in focus on the employee and candidate experience; otherwise, you will very quickly become obsolete.”

Rise of automation

Technology has been key to helping employers keep up with employee and candidate expectations.

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COVID has accelerated the creation and adoption of recruiting automation tools by at least several years, says Matt Alder, producer and host of The Recruiting Future Podcast and one of HRE’s Top 100 HR Tech Influencers for 2020.

“Recruiting in the post-COVID world is likely to be very different,” he says. “Some of the common themes I’m seeing are more automation and the reinvention of recruiting processes–particularly when it comes to interviews, assessments and candidate experience–as vital tools to sell the employer brand.”

“We are on the cusp of big changes in recruitment marketing.” Matt Adler

Alder says that these new recruiting tools offer greater speed, efficiency, better quality recruiting and an enhanced experience for hiring managers and candidates.

Consider retailers. They now have the ability to automate a shortlist of candidates, which enables a faster recruitment process and more streamlined experience. HR is not only doing more with fewer resources, he says, but also meeting, if not exceeding, job candidate expectations.

“We are on the cusp of big changes in recruitment marketing,” says Alder. “There’s an increased use of data, the rise of programmatic marketing [software that buys digital advertising in a highly targeted way], and software or other tech tools that source candidates.”

As examples, he points to new technology like Metaview, which provides interview intelligence and analytics, and the growth of career site systems, such as Attrax, that bring the science and technology of e-commerce and e-tailing to company career pages. He believes such tools will “fundamentally change the way employers connect with target audiences of talent.”

Be flexible and innovate

COVID has also influenced how recruiters are hired. Many are independent contractors, says Sara Luther, general manager, HR practice, at Lucas Group, a national recruitment firm.

“[Companies] are still hesitant to make permanent decisions [about retaining in-house recruiters],” she says, explaining that they want the ability to flex up or down according to market demands. “So, we often suggest hiring contract recruiters who can be easily pulled off assignments if things slow down and brought back on [as needed].”

Luther explains that the more creative organizations are with the recruitment process, the more progressive they will appear to job candidates.

Many HR professionals now conduct live tours of their office or facility via FaceTime to give job candidates a taste of their physical environment and company’s culture, she adds. Others produce interactive podcasts, similar to live radio shows, for employee training or onboarding. That same level of creativity can extend to areas like benefits that can be touted during the recruitment process. For instance, some employers are loaning company laptops to employees’ children to help them complete their schoolwork, or allowing them to use the organization’s helpdesk for free.

Related: How employers are recruiting in the age of the CARES Act

For many years, Luther says, her company has hosted an annual, four-day, on-site employee conference where workers brainstormed ideas, re-energized and addressed important business issues or challenges. Last year, instead of canceling the meeting, Lucas Group hired consulting firms to develop an online platform that converted the meeting into an engaging, two-day, virtual conference. The company even hired a professional trivia host.

She says COVID has demanded a new way of thinking, and HR leaders need to demonstrate to job candidates the lengths they’ve gone to pivot for their employees.

“These are all things that attract talent during the interview process,” says Luther, explaining that job seekers prefer employers that are flexible and creative. “That’s the sizzle.”

She says one common question candidates are asking is, “What has changed at your organization during COVID?”

“You have to be able to sell that now,” Luther says. “That’s critical. The best way to sell it is to speak to what you’ve done. Otherwise, it’s all theory.”

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Carol Patton
Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at [email protected].