Brace Yourself — The Mass Applies Are Coming

As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. When it comes to talent acquisition in the wake of COVID-19, this adage couldn’t be more accurate. 

Although the job market has changed significantly, the overarching challenges experienced by recruiters and HR professionals have remained relatively stagnant. If anything, COVID-19 has intensified many of the same, age-old employer pain points — namely, the ongoing struggle to find qualified talent.

And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. 

Massive Unemployment = Massive Applications

According to iHire’s 2020 State of Online Recruiting Report (conducted in May and June), 77% of employers cited troubles with finding qualified, relevant talent as their top challenge when recruiting through a job board, website, or talent community. 2019’s survey yielded similar results, with 74% of employers’ chief online recruiting concerns centered around applicant quality.

Now that 16.3 million unemployed Americans are returning to the job market, HR pros have their work cut out for them. As if finding qualified talent wasn’t hard enough pre-COVID, organizations are bracing for an applicant overload. iHire’s survey found that 16% of employers expect “mass applies” and an “influx of applicants due to rising unemployment rates” to have the biggest impact on their ability to recruit through online platforms in the coming year.  

This increase in applications is problematic for a few reasons. First, many job-seekers, especially during these uncertain times, are desperately trying to find work. In fact, 40% of unemployed survey respondents said they were laid off due to COVID-19. Therefore, blasting resumes (the “spray and pray” method) to any remotely pertinent job opportunity is tempting. For employers, an ATS can weed out most of the irrelevant applications; however, not every company uses an ATS, leaving HR professionals with a mountain of resumes to review.

Applicant Crossovers

Complicating the matter is the fact that a portion of recently unemployed job-seekers had been working in industries that may never fully recover from the fallout of COVID. This is leading candidates to seek out new industries and explore different career paths. 

For example, someone who previously worked as a restaurant server may be looking for opportunities to use customer service skills elsewhere, such as in a remote call center. Or, a former sales manager at a travel agency may be trying to get their foot in the door as an insurance agent. As a result, we’re going to see more applicants who don’t quite meet the job qualifications but have a promising set of transferable skills. But unless these job-seekers create a hyper-relevant resume and customize their application, they won’t make it far into your recruiting funnel. 

Along with the forthcoming application flood, hiring managers are navigating a different world of recruiting and work in general. Video interviewing, virtual onboarding, and following health and safety protocols are just a few of the changes that the pandemic has brought. Before COVID, I frequently heard how busy employers were — even writing a detailed job description was often a low priority in the grand scheme of hiring in a tight labor market. But now, time is even more precious, and mass applies will only complicate the recruiting process.

What Can You Do?

Now the question is, how can employers effectively hire the right candidates and overcome their talent shortage woes amidst a sea of applicants? Here are a few pieces of advice to set you on the right track: 

  • Lean on your pipeline. Instead of starting from scratch and putting out a job ad that casts too wide of a net, go back to your talent pipeline. Tap previous applicants, former employees, referrals, and your network at large to identify potential candidates to fill your open roles quickly. 
  • Go niche. If candidate quality is your concern, try a niche recruiting platform or website (e.g., industry-specific, local/regional, diversity, professional association, or school alumni job boards). See what other platforms are out there — they might be able to connect you with untapped talent pools and provide candidates you otherwise never would have found.
  • Revisit your must-haves. Since it’s becoming more common for job-seekers to switch industries, loosening up your requirements can attract additional talent that you may have overlooked. Remember that candidates have transferable skills and can often be trained for a role. This may sound counterproductive, but if you’re specific where it matters most (for instance, you’re not going to hire an unlicensed nurse practitioner), you can at least get someone in the door and bring them up to speed for a role’s specific duties. But, when hiring for a position with non-negotiable requirements, be sure to include additional pre-screening questions in your application to help narrow down your talent pool. 

No one can accurately predict what the job market will look like in the next few weeks, months, or even one year from now. Putting a plan in place for how you will handle application overload will lead to fewer headaches (and healthier hiring) down the road. 

Steve Flook is president and CEO of iHire, a career-oriented platform that brings candidates and employers together in 56 industry-focused communities. As a technologist focused on software systems and information architecture, Steve has been at the forefront of the HR and recruitment technology space for nearly a decade.

Prior to his role as CEO, Steve served as a change agent with many operational roles at iHire, including president, VP of product development, and director of engineering. He previously spent 11 years at 270net Technologies, serving as CTO and providing technology consulting services in both the public and private sector.

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