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Tips for Employers Hiring in the Pandemic

UPDATE! I recently spoke about this with Marc Bautis on the Agent of Wealth podcast. You can listen to the episode here.

My favorite coffee shop reopened this week, for to-go coffee and pastries only, but I took it as a promising sign. As the economy gets going again, it will hopefully lead to job creation. Both the return of furloughed employees to work as well as new hires, especially for companies that pivoted their service offering or delivery format, and now need to bring on new skill sets. 

What can employers expect in the current labor market? We went from a bullish economy and talent shortage to 30 million jobless claims in 6 weeks. Unemployment currently hovers around 15%, up from an all-time low of 3.5%. More competition for fewer jobs should favor employers, right? Yes… but continuing uncertainty about the future could dampen enthusiasm to change jobs. 

Here are 7 things to expect when hiring in the pandemic, or dare I say, post-pandemic era:

We can’t assume there’s an abundance of talent.

While it’s true some industries have been badly damaged by the pandemic, others have not. Much of our recruiting business comes from pharmaceutical advertising. We were in a long drawn-out talent shortage before this, so few employers are prepared to lay off anyone with healthcare marketing expertise. In fact, among my big network agency clients, they are training and transferring employees from impacted industries into their healthcare practices. 

One of the reasons we’re seeing furloughs and pay cuts instead of layoffs right now is because we’re coming from such a tight talent market. Employers remember how difficult it was to acquire talent before, so they’re not ready to part with those hard-won employees just yet. (In fact, I wonder what will happen when furloughed employees accept jobs elsewhere, then their employers want them back.)

Jobseekers aren’t likely to settle for less pay. 

Anyone gainfully employed isn’t going to agree to a pay cut. This is especially true of younger workers with access to more jobs. Anyone that graduated after 2010 hasn’t lived through a crisis like the 2008 recession or dotcom bust or 9/11, so they don’t fully appreciate how the economy has changed overnight or the recession that’s ahead us.

Even seasoned candidates that know better will have a hard time shifting their mindset. We’re coming from a 10-year bull market, where jobseekers could command top dollar and choose between multiple offers. Keep counteroffer scenarios in mind too, since employers will want to retain talent. Lowballing an offer won’t put you in a strong position to negotiate.  

Last, greed is particularly repulsive right now. Huge companies are making donations, offering grants and unconditional refunds. Charity, kindness and humanity matter more than ever, so avoid hiring decisions that feel predatory. 

On the flip side, candidates could be more open to non-traditional roles.

If hiring budgets are tight, you should leverage flexible work scenarios like contract, part-time, and job sharing positions. Candidates were looking for this kind of flexibility before the pandemic and it’s become even more important now. Workers that suddenly lost childcare, need to spend time homeschooling or care for a sick family member will appreciate creative schedules that acknowledge this new normal. 

Companies that embraced this before have always had an advantage. We’ve now proven to ourselves that we have the means to let employees work from home. And since they’ve discovered the joy of throwing a load of laundry in midday, they may not want to return to the office full-time. The winners will be the companies that continue to offer flexibility rather than return to business as usual.

As a result, it’s important to figure out your work from home policy once restrictions are relaxed. Hires that started remotely must know what to expect. There’s bound to be backlash if you promise several WFH days per week, then change your mind and require employees to travel to an office. If you’ve decided to consider candidates in other locations where talent is more affordable or plentiful, will employees resent Jack in Alaska once everyone returns to the office?

Be open to unconventional profiles.

Here they come. The pandemic has made it necessary for some workers in damaged industries to redeploy their skills. Give them a chance. They could offer a fresh perspective and enthusiasm for learning. That said, they should have a convincing narrative as to how they intend to repurpose their skills to meet your company’s needs. I’ve never gone wrong with the question “Why do you want to work for us?

Be prepared for questions about job security. 

Jobseekers are risk-averse right now, which means it’s going to be harder to get them to leave a job where they’ve established a reputation. Even after things hit the fan in mid-March, I continued to extend job offers. Guess what? Nearly all were declined because candidates got cold feet. Promises of salary increases and greater access to growth opportunities were overpowered by the pervasive fear of being the “last hired, first fired.”

It’s important to have your stability story together. What data points about growth, business pipeline or strong performance history can you use to woo candidates? Employers like the global public relations firm Edelman garnered tremendous respect by announcing that they would not lay off any of their 6,000 employees as a result of the pandemic. This made them an enviable company among jobseekers. Bank of America did the same thing, hired 2,000 new employees in March, and increased its minimum hourly wage to $20. With so much uncertainty, job security and a commitment to taking care of employees matters. 

Update your hiring process.

Virtual interviews and remote onboarding demand that we retool conventional hiring practices. Think about how you’ll represent your company culture if candidates aren’t able to visit the office. If you’ve made a recruiting video before, or been diligent about filling your social pages with tales of workplace fun, now is the time to bring those out. Stories about great work happening in new ways or supporting employees in crisis signal that you’re resourceful and caring even in the worst of times. 

Promote company culture wherever you advertise career opportunities. Company culture is different from benefits and other perks. Employees want a vibrant and collaborative work environment, flush with growth opportunities. Those things present a more meaningful picture than Best Place to Work awards.

I’ve extended offers to candidates that have never met their colleagues or seen the office in-person, and this is likely to continue in the short term. How can you upgrade your hiring process to give candidates the confidence to accept an offer? In the absence of gut feel, candidates will seek other data points. Putting them on the phone with leadership, peer-level team members or others that are cheerleaders for the company can help overcome hesitation.

Candidates will also be looking for proof of innovation. Remote work will be part of our reality going forward and jobseekers want to know there’s infrastructure in place to support it. Infrastructure and the promise that they’ll have visibility and access to mentors and leaders. That’s another story to get straight before you start interviewing.

Be truthful about your hiring timeline.

If dollars are tight and the revenue forecast is unclear, you may not have the wherewithal to hire right away. Still, you want to be prepared and maybe that means building a pipeline via exploratory conversations. That’s fine, so long as you’re transparent about your decision timeline and variables. Again, candidates are risk-averse right now. If hiring them is contingent on bringing in new business, say so. You wouldn’t ask for a makeover at the cosmetics counter without the intention of buying anything. That’s just not cool and will work against you when you are ready to hire.

Jen Selverian is the Founder & President of Nadexa Group, a recruiting firm that has been connecting companies with top digital and social marketing talent for 10 years. She consults with clients to elevate their hiring process and candidate experience, and is the host of Small Business Speaks, a podcast about the people and ideas behind local businesses.

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