Recruiters Share Their Top Priorities for 2021

January 13, 2021

Photo of 2021 spelled out in balloons

Between sudden hiring slowdowns and ramp-ups, the meteoric rise of remote work, and a heightened emphasis on diversity, the world of talent acquisition underwent some major changes in 2020 that are still creating ripples today. 

To find out exactly how the role of the recruiter has evolved, John Vlastelica and his team at Recruiting Toolbox recently posed a question to their networks: “What are your priorities for 2021 and how do those compare to 2020?” The responses indicate that while many of the trends that defined the previous year have carried over into 2021, companies are no longer in reactive mode and are instead putting long-term strategies in place.

Here are a few core priorities that emerged from the discussion:

1. Move diversity, inclusion, and belonging efforts forward

Diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIBs) continues to be a focus area for recruiters, with companies recognizing the importance of backing up their commitments with meaningful action. For some, this means removing barriers to entry (like arbitrary educational requirements) that could unintentionally exclude underrepresented groups and hold diversity efforts back.

“As well as we've done historically on diversity recruiting and inclusion, we're doubling down on our efforts there,” says Peter Brooks, vice president of talent acquisition at Northrop Grumman, “including a focus on multiple pathways (e.g., skills v. pedigree) in the recruitment process.”

Other recruiting teams are reevaluating their organizations’ relationships with the underrepresented communities they want to hire from. Eric Schmidt, manager of talent sourcing strategies teams (technology, strategies & employment brand) at Nestlé Purina North America, notes that one of his priorities is “strengthening our advocacy and alliances with diverse people, women, individuals with a disability, military veterans, and youth who will drive the future of manufacturing.” 

Eric also aims to elevate the company’s employee value proposition to ensure it resonates with a diverse audience. “[We will do this] through, in particular, the powerful influence of our current employees' voices,” he says, “showcasing the diversity and inclusivity of our culture.” 

2. Develop sustainable, insights-driven remote and hybrid workforce models 

With many people having done work from home (WFH) for almost a full year, most talent professionals have overcome the initial hurdles presented by a virtual hiring process. Now, they’re focused on more strategic WFH initiatives, paving the way for their companies to adopt sustainable all-remote or hybrid workforce models in the future. For example, Manjuri Sinha, global head of talent acquisition (technology) at OLX Group, says her team is rethinking leadership hiring in light of this new world of work.

“[We] need to assess leaders,” she says, “who can lead, motivate, and engage remote teams.”

Manjuri’s team is also prioritizing “talent market insights-driven decision making, especially with the ability to hire remote.” To accomplish this, they’ve tapped into LinkedIn Talent Insights as well as publicly available information. With geographical barriers eliminated, companies can use data like this to identify underleveraged talent pools, informing where they should search for remote employees. 

“[This year] will be all about market analytics,” adds Britton Bloch, executive director of talent acquisition delivery at USAA, “meeting candidates where and when they need us.”

3. Use data to drive continuous improvement across the talent acquisition function

In recent years, data analysis has become an increasingly important skill for recruiting professionals, with the number listing it on their LinkedIn profile more than doubling between 2015 and 2019. 

Shannon Levesque, VP of talent acquisition and workforce planning at Boston Children’s Hospital, shares that her team plans to make better use of its data this year, using it to drive improvement in multiple areas.

“[This year] will be focused on making every interaction count,” she says. “We have big plans for more intentional, deliberate, metrics-driven action plans for diversity, for pipeline sourcing (in context with our workforce plan), and better understanding of our opportunities for stellar performance in the eyes of our candidates and our hiring managers.” 

4. Adjust employer branding material to reflect the new reality

Throughout 2020, the employer branding content that grabbed candidates’ attention tended to be characterized by empathetic and authentic story-telling, rather than boastings of flashy perks. Moving forward, Jon Jenks-Bauer, director of recruiting at BECU, is prioritizing telling the right story and making adjustments as needed. 

“[We’re] reviewing our employment brand given the shift in the competitive talent landscape,” he says. “What needs to change? How do we tell our story differently?” 

For Jon, this is about more than just retelling the same narrative in different words. He recognizes that his industry is experiencing fundamental shifts that will shape the type of jobs the company hires for, so the same old messaging to candidates won’t work. 

“We've learned a lot of valuable lessons through all of this that will likely drive longer-term shifts,” he says. “I'll be curious to see across the consumer banking sector how much customer traffic will return to using branch locations vs. maintaining the current shift to web/mobile/phone/chat-based services and support. If the latter is a longer-term trend, it would change a lot about how the consumer banking model operates today.”

5. Strengthen relationships between recruiters and hiring managers

Candidate experience was top of mind for many in 2020, with some companies unsure how to make a memorable impression in an online-only environment. For 2021, Tony Cornett, SVP of global talent acquisition at The Trade Desk, says one of his priorities is creating a better experience for the hiring team — empowering recruiters to become strategic advisors and giving hiring managers the tools they need to succeed. 

“[Talent acquisition] spends so much time on the candidate experience (very important) but what about the recruiter experience [and] hiring manager experience?” he asks. “[We’re] investing to sharpen the saw and give our partners meaningful development.”

“It doesn’t always get an explicit focus, or if it does, it’s just the ‘hiring manager as customer’ focus,” John Vlastelica adds, “where recruiting takes on the people-pleaser role, accommodating requests but not defining expectations, engaging, leading, building accountability, enabling.”

6. Break down barriers to hiring — both internally and externally 

Internal mobility gained momentum in 2020, with many companies moving talent around to fill gaps created by hiring pauses. Unfortunately, few had strong processes in place to support this strategy, resulting in unwanted hiccups and setbacks.

To avoid this problem in 2021 and put solid foundations in place for the future, Justin Huschka, talent acquisition leader (experienced and early career hiring) at Koch Industries, says his team is starting the year with a “two-day sprint” focused on removing barriers in the company’s internal and external hiring processes. 

“The vision of removing barriers is based on our CEO’s view on what an employee at our company truly needs to be successful,” he explains. 

According to Justin, the three things a person needs to thrive at Koch Industries are a contribution mindset, alignment with the company’s guiding principles, and talents or skills that are valuable to the business — rather than specific credentials or years of experience. As such, one step the company is considering to help eliminate a common obstacle to internal mobility is to remove education requirements from all internal job postings.

“[Not] having a degree should not be a barrier to someone getting a job internally when they have already proven themselves at a company,” Justin says. 

The team is investing in education to help recruiters and leaders adopt this new way of thinking. Technology will also play a role in breaking down barriers and creating more equitable pathways to jobs.

“We will continue to invest in technology that will enable us to not only remove barriers, but also enable our recruiters to be business partners,” Justin says. “They have to not only have the tools/data necessary to be a business partner, but also the time.”

7. Improve the remote onboarding process and reduce turnover

The rapid shift to remote work last year left many teams scrambling to create a virtual onboarding program at a moment’s notice. Now that the dust has started to settle, Meaghan Kirk, talent acquisition manager at C.H. Robinson, says her team is prioritizing improving onboarding, since working from home exposed some gaps.

While onboarding might not fall under every recruiting team’s umbrella, Meaghan says her team took up the mantle to drive better outcomes for everyone involved.

“For us, it was a strategic move,” she says. “Our hiring demand is back to what it was pre-pandemic. We see this as an opportunity to improve the candidate and hiring manager experience (hopefully reducing turnover in the early days).”

8. Optimize efficiency as hiring picks back up

Every recruiting team has a to-do list of strategic initiatives they’d like to tackle if they had the time. But sometimes, you’ve just got to focus on the basics. 

Lesley Erickson, director of regional talent at Bethany Christian Services, says her team crossed a lot of items off its to-do list last year when hiring was slow, from updating the organization’s career page to creating a phone screen template library for hiring managers. But now that hiring has picked up again, the team’s priority is simple: filling open roles as efficiently as possible.

“Our team will hire the numbers for both years all in 2021,” Lesley explains. “We accomplished a lot of past goals last spring and summer when we all had more time, so this year we are going to focus on efficiencies and doing the basics really well. No need to pile on more goals this year when we just need to hire, hire, hire.”

Final thoughts

If there’s one major lesson to be learned from the world of talent in 2020, it’s that adaptability is an essential skill for hiring professionals today. The strategies that teams are driving right now might take a backseat a month or even a week from now, so talent professionals must be ready to pivot at a moment’s notice. 

That said, it’s important not to lose focus just because the future is uncertain. Identify the strategies that are core priorities no matter what — like diversity and inclusion — and be prepared to pause and reprioritize other initiatives as business needs evolve.

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