The Top Recruiting Moments of 2020

December 14, 2020

Workers pack the first VOCSN critical care ventilators for shipping Thursday, April 16, 2020, from the General Motors manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Indiana. GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to produce the ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

2020. It’s the year whose very numbers suggest perfect vision. But no one saw this coming. Pandemic. Global protests against systemic racism. A cratering economy. An acrimonious U.S. presidential election. (OK, maybe we saw that coming.)

The year was particularly tumultuous for recruiters, many of whom lost their jobs as their companies paused hiring or even laid off workers. But it was also historic and, at times, exhilarating as recruiters pivoted to remote hiring and internal mobility, a more intense focus on diversity and inclusion, and the need to find the workers for hospitals, disaster relief organizations, and even ventilator manufacturers (pictured above is a box with some of the first ventilators assembled at GM's plant in Kokomo, Indiana).

Few will be sad to say goodbye to 2020 but before we do, let’s take a quick look back at the most memorable recruiting trends, moments, and developments:

1. Businesses embrace the move to remote work

 Almost overnight, countless millions of employees around the world began working from home early in the year. And they hardly missed a beat. With impressive agility, this home-based workforce tapped into personal technology and improved digital connectivity to keep the global economy going. Soon, a parade of companies — including Siemens, Twitter, Nationwide, Hitachi, and the State Bank of India — announced that many if not all of their employees would be allowed to work from home indefinitely. 

WFH is not without its challenges — for talent acquisition professionals, remote work brings videoconferencing interviews, online recruiting events, and virtual onboarding. To address these challenges and more, a number of companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and GitLab, created positions for heads of remote work. The workplace will never look the same. (Tee up the kids and the golden doodle running through your Zoom meeting.)

2. Companies step up their focus on diversity, inclusion, and equity

In the wake of sustained police violence against Black people and worldwide protests against systemic racism, corporate America took a hard look at itself and didn’t like everything it saw. Most companies issued a statement of solidarity, and many made public commitments to change. NASCAR banned Confederate flags from its events and the NFL’s Washington team dropped the use of Redskins as a mascot. Collectively, companies pledged over US$1 billion in money and other resources to fight racism and support Black Americans as well as other members of underrepresented groups. 

A number of companies, including Apple, Coca-Cola, and Estée Lauder, committed to spending more with Black-owned businesses. Most significantly, perhaps, many organizations were very specific about how much they will diversify their workforces. For example, Microsoft pledged to double the number of Black “people managers, senior individual contributors, and senior leaders in the United States by 2025”; Facebook promised to double its number of Black and Latino employees by 2023 and to increase its number of Black leaders by 30% over the next five years; and PepsiCo said it will increase the number of Black managers by 30% by 2025 and add a minimum of 100 Black employees to its executive ranks. Recruiters, of course, will be absolutely critical to any of these ambitions becoming reality.

3. Recruiters mobilized the talent needed to fight COVID-19

With lives at stake, recruiters did themselves proud finding frontline healthcare workers at a scale and pace never seen before. Jacey Terrette of, Daniela Lotito of Atlas Search, and hundreds of other staffing agency recruiters found ways to quickly get thousands of doctors, nurses, and other frontline healthcare workers to the states and hospitals where they were needed most. Other recruiters helped their companies deftly change the focus of their products or services to help fight the pandemic. At General Motors, for example, a small team of recruiters shifted gears to find production workers to build desperately needed ventilators. Finally, hundreds of recruiters whose regular work had been put on hold turned their skills to finding healthcare workers for hospitals and volunteer workers for nonprofit disaster relief agencies. For example, 150 recruiters from LinkedIn helped organizations source and screen urgently needed workers for both paid and volunteer positions. It was a tough year, but  recruiters always delivered.

4. Sophie Symonds struck a nerve

After losing her job because of the pandemic, recruiter Sophie Symonds landed final interviews with two different companies. She worked hard preparing and delivering presentations and then, in each case, received an impersonal email saying the company had gone in a different direction. In a four-paragraph post on LinkedIn, Sophie made a simple but urgent plea: Recruiters, give candidates some feedback. More than 220,000 readers reacted to her post and nearly 10,000 left a comment. And Sophie did hear back from yet another company after interviews — Springboard offered her a position as a senior recruiter.

5. A hiring spree like no other

Amazon was not only the place to find food, clothing, and everything else you needed delivered to your home, it was also the place to find a job. The company added more than 427,000 employees in the first 10 months of the year. “Starting in July,” reported The New York Times, “the company brought on about 350,000 employees, or 2,800 a day. Most have been warehouse workers, but Amazon also hired software engineers and hardware specialists.” And more than a few, one presumes, were recruiters.  

6. Unprecedented cross-industry talent exchanges

Some of the most innovative, inspiring, and just plain mind-blowing talent management happened early in the pandemic as a number of industries (airlines, hospitality, brick-and-mortar retail, etc.) came to a grinding halt while others (delivery, healthcare, etc.) faced explosive demands. Recruiters worked across industries to help get their furloughed and laid-off employees to companies that urgently needed new workers. For example, Jeff Lackey, the head of recruiting at CVS Health, had to find the 50,000 new people his company needed to meet the demand created by COVID-19. So, Jeff reached out to his counterparts at Gap, Hilton, Delta, and other companies where business was ebbing, according to the Wall Street Journal. The grocery chain Kroger brought on workers from food-service and hospitality organizations such as Sysco Corp., Marriott International, and Sodexo. The model for these unprecedented exchanges of talent may well have been Hema, a retail grocery chain in China known for its fast delivery of fresh foods. It struggled to keep up with soaring demand before partnering with more than 40 companies across different sectors to bring on 3,000 new employees who weren’t needed at that moment.

7. Women workers slammed by COVID-19 

The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone but it has been particularly hard on women in the workforce. An analysis by the National Women’s Law Center of the September U.S. jobs reports found that while 216,000 men had left the workforce in August, 865,000 women — four times the number of men — had been squeezed out. And the annual Women in the Workplace study published by Lean In and McKinsey found that one in four women they surveyed was considering tapping the brakes on their career (reducing hours, taking leave, moving to part-time roles, etc.) or coming  to a complete stop. “There’s no historic parallel for what’s happening here for women,” says Nicole Mason, the CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. What’s going on? “[L]ayoffs and furloughs only explain part of the picture,” says Time. “Many women are leaving the workforce not because their jobs have vanished but because their support systems have.” As schools and child care centers remained shuttered, more and more women were choosing to drop out of the workforce. Gender-balanced teams drive greater success, so both companies and the broader economy will take a hit in the short term at least.

8. A landmark ruling bans workplace discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community

In one of the most important and most surprising decisions of the term, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 6-3, that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay and transgender workers. The decision, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, says: “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.” The Washington Post called it a “watershed ruling,” while The New York Times editorial board hailed it as “an emphatic win for civil rights, equal justice, and common sense.” 

9. Matching bandwidth with need

For many companies, internal mobility went from a nice-to-have to an absolute must-have as they switched up their products or services overnight to reflect COVID-driven changes in the marketplace. For example, Brooks Brothers turned from tailoring men’s suits and business clothing to producing surgical masks and gowns, while perfume maker LVHM added hand sanitizer to its product mix. “[L]eaders have an unprecedented opportunity,” Harvard Business Review says, “to reimagine [jobs] by rearranging work and having employees take on different responsibilities to better respond to the evolving needs of their organizations, customers, and employees.” The forced marriage of economic volatility with hiring  pauses has allowed many organizations to begin planning on how to take internal mobility from an emergency measure to an integrated part of their everyday business operation.

*Photo from GM Corporate Newsroom

To receive blog posts like this one straight in your inbox, subscribe to the blog newsletter.