Techsploration: Recruiting and Its Tech Aren’t Ready for Mass (Re)Hiring 

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Sep 15, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

Don’t call it a comeback. 

The immortal words of LL Cool J are resonating through nervous recruiting departments across the country as they conservatively make rehiring plans — particularly since unemployment has clawed its way back to below 10%, the first time since the pandemic started. 

Many recruiters have spent time rehiring, or more appropriately, they’ve simply returned furloughed employees back to work. The country has regained approximately half of the jobs it’s lost. but if August is any indicator, things will not be easier. In fact, the increases of jobs have slowed, and with financial support stemming from the COVID-19 crisis coming to an end for many businesses, economists are predicting an even slower gain in September. 

That obviously hasn’t stopped some businesses. LinkedIn’s running list of who is hiring has a number of non-surprising entrants: McDonald’s hiring a quarter-million, FedEx and UPS staffing up, retailers anticipating holiday shopping are planning ahead. Even gig economy entrants like Instacart are hiring-ish. Can you really call it hiring if it’s for contract positions with extremely unreliable week-to-week scheduling, though?

There are also some more surprising entrants: Northrop Grumman, Accenture, ByteDance, and Lockheed Martin are all hiring more than 5,000 people. 

With unemployment higher than average, you’d assume this would be easy. But recruiters and the technology they depend on isn’t ready for this new hiring environment. 

Volume Hiring Ups the Difficulty Level

Companies in volume-hiring industries like retail, fast-food, distribution, security, and, even to a certain extent, healthcare have always faced challenges. 

But in an environment with so much competition and a decreasing number of candidates willing to be essential workers, no amount of kiosks, mobile-friendly applications, or text-applies is quick enough.

A number of retailers I’ve visited over the past few weeks have been advertising open interviewing days. These signs, clearly designed by managers with a basic word processor (distorted logos and all), beg people to show up for interviews. No mention of a resume. No texting or website app. 

One assistant manager told me that she would make conditional offers to people on the spot, and then enter their information into their recruiting system to process the background check, drug test, and other pre-employment requirements. 

For many of the companies with the most open positions, their recruiting system becomes a backend processor for an increasingly competitive sector. While this approach is hardly scalable, there isn’t a better way, at least today. Technology solutions simply can’t match the speed of a crude sign and an open interview invitation. 

Skilled Hiring Becomes a Volume Play

For consulting, tech, and contracting companies, there’s an entirely different issue. Their entire talent technology ecosystem was designed for hiring specialists on an individual basis. With either location-based resources, shared-service centers, or a supporting hybrid staffing/RPO model, this worked well under normal circumstances. 

In these unique times, the number of requisitions a recruiter must manage increases while the software doesn’t play well with hundreds of duplicate roles. 

An HR leader I spoke to earlier this month at a large consulting firm said they were overwhelmed. They weren’t getting traction on their recruitment efforts; yet they had more positions open at once with fewer resources managing them. 

Instead of turning to technology, this particular organization was relying on outsourced staffing resources (who may, themselves, have issues scaling with client demand). 

Careful Planning, Hastily Disposed Of

In both instances, you have companies that have created hiring systems that worked through a steady employment environment. These decisions made sense, and even if their planning forecasted a 2020 slowdown, it didn’t look like this. 

What new recruiting technology is going to come out of the pandemic? How much of it will be relevant if we ever get back to normal? 

If I were looking, I’d be using this time not just to focus on new technology but think about how more flexible software can help your company deal with more volatility and uncertainty. That’s a vague marching order, but it’s unfortunately the only one that will make an organization better able to deal with our weird, weird future. 

Click here for more Techsploration columns.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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