Strategy Column: What Recruiters Should Focus on During the Pandemic

Your life as a recruiter can be chaotic. Juggling multiple job searches, understanding the unique needs of each hiring manager, weighing the criteria outlined in an outdated job description with what the job actually requires, screening applicants, answering questions, reminding hiring managers that it’s not a good idea to stalk a candidate’s Facebook page, negotiating offers…should I keep going? 

You’re also going to staff meetings, dealing with random drop-ins, and arguing about whether The Bachelor should continue (spoiler alert: it shouldn’t). And while all of this might seem overwhelming, you love it and wouldn’t want it any other way.

But now, this life of chaos is on hold for many recruiters. Yes, some industries are seeing massive hiring efforts (grocery stores, logistics companies, distribution centers); however, many organizations have instituted a hiring freeze, or at the very least, a hiring slowdown. U.S. job postings fell by 43% in March alone. As a result, recruiting teams have been furloughed or laid off altogether. In some cases, teams remain intact, having been redeployed to other functions or simply told to “take it slow.”

So what is a recruiter to do to provide value in these times?

I had a chance to talk to some recruiters who are still employed but under a temporary hiring freeze. This is not a statistical sampling, mind you; I was simply curious as to how the current situation has impacted recruiting professionals and how they’ve been adapting to the slowdown. Their stories also got me thinking about some ways that perhaps you can use this time to come back even stronger when hiring picks up. 

Pay Attention to Admin Work…So You Can Ignore It Again Later

All the recruiters referenced that they’re using this time to do some administrative maintenance. “I finally have some time to clean out my inbox. I have never had a clean inbox,” said one recruiter.

Many are updating their documentation, revising posting language, refining job descriptions, and updating anything in the ATS that needs updating. This is important work, but because it isn’t fun, it was likely de-prioritized…until now. And by doing this now, you’ll be able to return to ignoring it with a clean conscience once hiring begins anew.

Don’t Assume Your Talent Pipeline Will Magically Appear…Like a Miracle

Recruiters working with hard-to-fill positions know the value of a strong talent pipeline. It’s a mistake to assume that high unemployment means that the pipeline will magically appear as soon as you need it. The individuals I talked to are still staying in contact with prospects and keeping them up-to-date on hiring timelines. That entails talking to business leaders consistently to get the latest estimates on when hiring will start again and what positions will be prioritized. “I hate not being able to tell candidates when we can get them in for an interview,” said one recruiter who is monitoring a hiring freeze for the next month, “but at least I can give them updates, even when the information doesn’t change much. It’s frustrating, but everyone has appreciated the contact.”

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This is always important, of course.  And obviously, you should always be well-informed and honest when talking to former and future prospects. However, it’s particularly critical now because people will remember how you treat them during these tough times. They’ll talk about their experiences long after the current situation resolves. In short, be remembered for the right reason.

Plan for the Future…Which Is Already Here…And May Be Here for a While

A surge of unemployed people will stress every part of the hiring process, which means how you hired before COVID-19 may not work for how you hire after COVID-19. For instance, social distancing guidelines may still be in place for your workplace for quite some time. Or you may end up recruiting for three different shifts in roles that traditionally worked 9 to 5 to comply with local 50% capacity requirements. 

You’ll have to find ways to adapt. Some recruiters are already doing just that. For example, they are working closely with their IT teams to find better ways to allow for video calls because right now a firewall blocks them. Others are rethinking the interview process entirely to embrace the idea that phone calls are better than video calls. (Hey, at last, an opportunity to test out the blind interviewing they’ve always wanted to implement!)

Overwhelmingly, though, recruiters I spoke with are just trying to get through this. Said one recruiter, “I’m just working from home and trying not to go crazy.” They don’t know what the future holds any more than you or I do. They hope that their companies will start hiring again soon. They hope that they’ll still have a job tomorrow. They are doing what they can to add value and to take care of themselves. And you know what? At that end of the day, that’s the least any of us can do. And it’s the most. 

Mary is a principal 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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