Strategy Column: Hiring in a Time of Crisis

You might not want to read this article — because why would you want to read about ways to hire people when a lot of organizations in a lot of industries are facing layoffs?

The reality is, hiring is still happening all around you. Recruiters are still reaching out to prospects, and with unemployment predicted to soar due to the virus, there will be more stress placed on every step of the hiring process. That means adapting both process and approach to meet the changing demands.

But not every organization is ready to do this.

In a past life, I worked at a company that broke every project down into three buckets: mindset, skillset, toolset. This was a helpful framework for us as we thought through scenarios because it deals with every aspect of an issue: people, knowledge, and tools. That’s exactly what talent acquisition must address right now.

Mindset: Let It Go

Mindset is all about framing — how you think about and approach the process, your openness to adaptation, your readiness for change. That last bit about change kind of doesn’t matter right now, because you have no choice. Shelter-in-place orders and social distancing have led to many companies going to mandatory work-from-home arrangements, so face-to-face interviewing in a conference room with a panel of interviewers on one side and a candidate on the other just isn’t possible right now. 

Your organization’s shift in mindset should be multifaceted.

  • Accept that this situation could go on for a while. Hiring managers may be inclined to delay interviews because they just want to wait for it to all blow over before deciding whether to move forward with a requisition. At this point, though, you know it’s not going to be a couple weeks. It’s time to start having real conversations about whether to fill a job and then follow through.
  • You’re going to have to over-communicate. Schedule more meetings with hiring managers. Do more prep conversations and follow up with your candidates. Everyone is a bit on edge right now, and even things that seem obvious may not be because people are scared. Accept that this will cost extra time.
  • Old-school mentality about having to “look a fella in the eye and shake his hand” isn’t going to cut it. Recruiters have been making decisions about candidates via phone screens for years, and hiring managers are OK with it. It’s time for hiring managers to apply the same approach to interviewing.
  • You are going to have to rethink onboarding. It may very well need to be virtual. Get over it and start to put a game plan together. Which things are most important to onboarding? How will you ensure new employees have equipment? How will you make sure they “meet” everyone they need to meet virtually? Let go of how things were and address how they are.
  • See the disruption as an opportunity. Chances are, you’ve been wanting to change parts of your hiring process for some time. Now you have to. Take advantage and start with the necessities first, then move on to nice-to-haves. It’s possible you’ll find a new process that everyone prefers — and then keep it as it becomes the new normal.

Skillset: Do You Really Know What You’re Doing?

In this brave new world of virtual hiring, skillset is going to be a big component of success. Hiring managers and candidates alike are going to need to navigate technology and processes that may be very new to them. 

  • Don’t assume everyone can navigate video calls, or even conference calls. I continue to be shocked at how many people are completely confounded by Skype/Zoom/WebEx/GotoMeeting. And these are people who supposedly work in “tech.” It’s possible that grocery stores and delivery companies are going to need to shift from mass hiring and in-person interviews to a phone/screen-based approach, so you need to think about how you will orient people to the new process. It might be a practice call, it might be a one-page job aid. Whatever it is, make sure your recruiters, hiring managers, and candidates are all comfortable with whichever solution you’re using.
  • Rethink who should be participating in the hiring process. Partner with your hiring managers to do a no-bullshit assessment of the people who will be interviewing candidates. Do they really understand interviewing? Can they evaluate a candidate on her merits? Do they rely too much on a “feeling” to make a decision? 
  • Train people on the new process — a lot. This might be an emergency-response process and it might be temporary, but you are still making decisions about employees for your company. You need to make sure everyone is informed and ready to participate.

Toolset: You Can’t Build a Bridge With a Sponge

Actually, I guess you can technically build a bridge with a sponge if you have enough sponges, but would you want to? I doubt it. It’s the same as trying to force a high-tech hiring process at an organization that doesn’t have the right equipment. It’s just mean, and everyone will get frustrated, and then they’ll probably take it out on you.

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  • You’re not always going to know what tools you need. Sometimes you just need to try something, see what happens, and then adapt. (Shoot! I should have put that up in the mindset section. Let’s pretend I did and move on.) Sometimes the best tool is the right attitude.
  • Use the tools you have in new ways — or the ways they’re supposed to be used. You know that some organizations out there are overly reliant on paper, even though their systems are set up to be paper-free. You know manager self-service is a capability that you just haven’t turned on yet. Time to start using the tools in your toolkit to make the new reality happen.
  • Explore your options. I’ve seen a lot of people asking about I-9 verification for virtual onboarding and worrying they won’t find a solution. The good news is, there are options out there. You just need to look for them. Use Google, use your network, use ERE.net*, use HR Open Source, use any means necessary to learn what is working for others and see if it will work for you. Quick and dirty is fine as long as it works.
  • Not every tool is technology-only. I’ve seen a lot of articles expound on the glories of video interviewing. Yeah, kind of. But it doesn’t work for everybody, and not every company has the budget and know-how to implement such a tool in a short period of time. And there are a lot of different options in the video-interviewing world. You can sign a contract with software like HireVue, which offers asynchronous and live interviewing, pre-set questions, evaluations, etc. And then there’s Zoom, which basically enables you to do an interview on camera. But the quality of your interviews still matters. Don’t underestimate the power of a structured interview process with good, relevant questions; facilitated debriefs of candidates; apple-to-apple comparison of skills to needs. It doesn’t matter how you conduct the interview — it still needs to be a good interview.

Look, most emergency preparedness scenarios don’t get to the level of hiring in the time of a national lockdown. They’re usually more concerned with immediate safety and maybe a work-from-home policy (if you’re lucky). So recruiters and hiring managers are kind of on their own right now. Take a moment. Take a breath. Make a plan. Execute.

Life will go on. And part of it is having a job. 

Let’s make sure that job -seekers find one.


* Editor’s Note: That asterisk you saw above is for good reason. ERE has two groups with TA professionals from whom you can get advice, as well as share your own. Come join the conversation in the ERE Facebook Group and the ERE.net LinkedIn Group. See you there!

Mary is a senior advisor with IA, a boutique consulting firm focused on HR transformation. She is also a talent strategist and business leader with almost 15 years experience in helping organizations achieve their goals. After working on the operations side of start-ups and small companies, Mary landed in HR by way of learning and development, with extensive experience in leadership and organizational development, coaching, key talent planning, talent acquisition, performance management, business partnering, HRIS, process and policy creation, and instructional design.

In addition to her work within companies, Mary authors a leadership development blog called Surviving Leadership to continue the dialogue around the challenges of leadership – both being a leader and being led. 

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