Hiring Predictions in the Time of Coronavirus

How are NYC agencies responding to the coronavirus? What’s going on with hiring? How long will this last?

I’m neither an economist or epidemiologist, but this is what I’m seeing as a recruiter.

Late last week, agencies moved from in-person to virtual interviews, but there have been no indications yet that hiring will fall off. In fact, we had one offer accepted Friday and extended another (which is a strong day for our small operation!). We are coming from a 50-year historic low for the unemployment rate, 3.6%. Our clients, digital and PR agencies, many in the healthcare sector, can’t hire fast enough to meet their talent needs. At this moment, we are working on 20+ searches. Competition remains strong, with top candidates receiving multiple offers and counter-offers.

That said, there must be a correction coming. It would be naive not to anticipate that. Here are two challenges that exist:

#1 The losses businesses are sustaining will have a trickle-down effect. We have seen hiring freezes and layoffs begin in travel and other sectors. Money is tighter, consumer confidence is fragile, and that’s bound to ultimately impact ad budgets. Whether this will be a blip or something more sinister will depend how long the COVID winter lasts. “Prepare for a faster recovery than you expect. Only six weeks after the initial outbreak, China appears to be in the early stages of recovery,” suggests a March 10 Harvard Business Review article. 

Our financial advisor agreed that frequently when we see a sharp decline in the markets, it’s followed by a quicker rebound. He advised against trying to “time the market,” e.g. dumping stocks in anticipation of them going lower and buying later when markets improve. In the same vein, a historically tight talent market + faster recovery means that agencies are wise not to pause recruiting efforts.

#2 The question is whether companies and candidates can metabolize the uncertainty. Will offers get approved as readily as before? Will jobseekers start new jobs when the future is unclear? Can we pull this off remotely, e.g. both sides agree to move forward based on virtual interviews and remote onboarding? This is what we said we wanted: Flexible work arrangements and more WFH. Our clients with multiple office locations already embrace this and have the infrastructure to support it. The opportunity to innovate is often foisted upon us. 

Recruiters are already reporting that it’s easier to engage with candidates and schedule interviews now that work meetings and travel have slowed. But interviewing and hiring are different things. I am concerned that companies will hesitate on extending offers and we’ll lose candidates in the pause. As a result, it’s prudent for hiring managers and jobseekers to ask if timelines have changed. It helps us all plan better and be respectful of everyone’s time and priorities. 

In the spirit of information sharing, I’m in daily conversations with our clients and other recruiters in the industry. I’m trying to make sense of conflicting and sensational news stories. I want, first and foremost, everyone to be safe and tend to their health and family needs. As things unfold in the upcoming weeks, I’ll let you know what I’m hearing and hope you’ll do the same.

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