The Biggest Challenges Recruiters Are Wrestling with Right Now

April 2, 2020

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Talent acquisition has always been a demanding discipline, and in the last few years its principal challenges have centered on finding talent quickly and efficiently even as unemployment grew smaller and smaller. But in the wake of coronavirus, recruiting leaders and their teams are grappling with a host of new issues that are morphing and expanding every day.

In the short term, talent acquisition teams are racing to find ways to make what has historically been a very high-touch human process a virtual one. They are figuring out how to effectively work from home, conduct video interviews, make successful offers (to candidates whom the hiring manager may not have met), and remotely onboard new hires.

And just as answers to those concerns bubble up, larger issues surface. In many companies, there has been a decline in hiring while at others the demand for new people has soared. Budgets, goals, and headcount are all getting serious reconsideration. Which leaves recruiting leaders wondering what to do with their teams, who are largely unprepared for a world of work in which they might have time on their hands. 

To get a pulse on what recruiters are focused on, we conducted virtual interviews with numerous talent acquisition leaders and surveyed over 250 talent professionals. 

And we’d love to hear from you. Send us a note about your biggest challenges right now. Or about the innovative approach your team has developed to stay productive, healthy, or sane. Now more than ever, the recruiting community is going to need to share concerns, best practices, and support to navigate the eddies and shoals we currently face. You can shoot us a message at buanders@linkedin.com. We will keep listening and, where appropriate, sharing both questions and emerging answers. 

Here are some of the major issues, short-term and long-term, that you’ve already told us you’re working on:

Short term: Taking care of the business immediately at hand

Due to the impact of the coronavirus, many of your team’s basic tactics and tools have been made somewhat or entirely irrelevant in the past few weeks. Recruiting events and conferences have been canceled. Onsite interviews have been scrubbed. Drug tests and so-called “wet signatures” are nearly impossible at those companies or in those industries that require them. In-person onboarding is a no-go — we can’t gather in groups and we can’t go into the office. The work at hand feels different and poses some overarching challenges:

Getting your team to successfully recruit from home

Many recruiters are now working at home for the first time and are figuring out how to both stay productive and stay connected. To help recruiters stay productive, team leaders can help by providing them with guides and tutorials on best practices. Also make sure your teammates have the appropriate tools to work from home. Some companies are offering cash to employees to help get their WFH setups right. Others have offered to reimburse for reasonable expenses, and asked employees to act like owners. The goal isn’t a specific dollar figure but making sure that your team knows what help is available. 

But helping your recruiters stay connected during the coronavirus crisis may be even more important than keeping them productive (particularly if their requisitions start shrinking). They revel in relationships, which is why they became recruiters. Encourage them to stay in touch with one another as they adjust to the new normal — whatever that is.

A team thread on your chat/IM tool is essential. Embolden them to bring their whole selves to your virtual water cooler. Lily Zheng, a director of Microsoft China, shared on the Microsoft 365 blog how important that kind of support was in the early days of the coronavirus shutdown. “We use our online tools,” Lily wrote, “for more than just work, sharing photos of family and pets and checking in with each other throughout the day.” You can take it even further and bring your family in as an active participant: one company, for example, holds a virtual talent show for employees’ children.

A universal tip for WFH is to take regular breaks to stay sane and recharge your batteries over the course of the day. “One great use of break time,” says Jason Yuan, a senior recruiter at Electronic Arts, “is building community by meeting others on your team with whom you don’t typically interact because of location or client-group alignment.” And remember to maintain separation between your work life and personal life, even if they now occupy the same address.

For more ideas on successful working from home, consider this brief Entrepreneur post, these musings from The New York Times, or this 187-page guide from Zapier.

Replacing in-person interviews with video interviews

In the LinkedIn survey mentioned above, 58% of TA professionals said that a major impact of coronavirus was going to be transforming in-person interviews to virtual ones.

Interviews have long been a central part of the hiring process, and they are often where a decision on the best candidate truly takes shape and where candidates decide if the company really clicks for them. Make sure that your recruiters know what best practices look like and that they have guidelines that detail what’s expected of them. 

Encourage your recruiters to be as empathetic as possible. An internal LinkedIn guide for video interviewing suggests: “Be mindful that your candidate may not be familiar with [our videoconferencing platform] and may be late or flustered — be patient and put them at ease.” Let your candidates have a chance to show their best

A move to video interviews will not only help your company continue to fill essential roles, it can serve as a test of the long-term viability of remote interviewing for your company.

Chris Hoyt, the president of CareerXroads, says this is an opportunity for some companies “that haven’t been able to embrace video interviewing” to “leap-frog technology hurdles.” Now they’ll actually be able to do a pilot, he says, and establish some metrics around how video interviews work relative to onsite assessments. 

Filling the holes left by postponed or cancelled recruiting events 

Talent acquisition teams have had to cancel a slew of events that are key to the recruiting process — career fairs, meetups with diversity organizations, campus visits, conference participation.

“Between March and April,” says Margaret Luo Evans, chief of staff for LinkedIn’s global talent acquisition team, “LinkedIn had 40-plus events happening, whether they’re recruiting events we were hosting or events we were attending like South by Southwest or NSBE (the National Society of Black Engineers) Convention.”

Companies have started to develop workarounds (which in some cases can be funded by the unspent travel and conference budgets). Many have embraced video interviews (see above) or live video events using tools like LinkedIn Live.

The global accounting firm KPMG is using both approaches. “We have a virtual tool that we use for one person presenting to a group of people,” says Sean Treccia, the firm’s director of campus recruiting. “Some recruiters are choosing that, while others are opting to schedule individual follow-ups. It has created a lot more work for our recruiting team. You would think that if we cancel an event, it would make our job easier. But the reality is that now we are trying to schedule 75 individual follow-ups. It has taken a lot more time and effort.”

Getting hiring managers to make offers to candidates they haven’t met and getting candidates to accept them

More than half (54%) of the talent acquisition professionals in LinkedIn’s recent survey believe that their companies will make fewer offers. And many hiring managers, particularly in APAC (the Asia-Pacific region), are expressing reservations about pulling the trigger on a candidate without ever having met them.

But even if your company continues to keep pace with its offers, candidates may be reluctant to accept them. For starters, candidates may be uncertain about whether offers will be honored. Other candidates may be wondering about whether relocation is a rash act at the moment. “Potentially, people won’t be willing to move,” Margaret says, “because they’re thinking, ‘The world is in chaos right now. Does it really make sense for me to take a new job?’”

And even if candidates are willing to make the leap and come on board, the needed background check to make an offer final may have its own hiccups. Some companies that require drug tests aren’t sure how to conduct them virtually and have either delayed offers or asked new hires to sign affidavits saying they are drug-free. Other firms require a signature in ink on some of their documentation and have found that requirement to be a snag. 

Effectively onboarding a new hire from home

Onboarding is an exciting event for a new hire and a critical one for your company — successful integration into the team boosts productivity and retention. Stymied by shelter-in-place orders, some companies have temporarily given up on onboarding while others have reduced it to online documents or canned videos.

A few companies, however, turned to remote onboarding years ago. For example, Dell has put all its onboarding materials into digital format and has a Day 1 Success Team that supports new hires via chat/IM, phone calls, and email. Stack Overflow gives entering engineers a mentor who takes them through a six-week onboarding process. For ideas on how to create a virtual onboarding program, explore this six-step outline.

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Related: 7 Steps to Creating a Virtual Onboarding Program

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Other companies are following those leads and converting their onboarding programs into virtual experiences. For example, LinkedIn took its existing one-day onboarding program and transformed it into a one-week virtual event that uses videoconferencing software, videos, live speakers and facilitators, a new-hire company page, and a digital scavenger hunt. 

Long term: strategic challenges for the road ahead

While the immediate logistical challenges need to be tackled first, recruiting leaders are also thinking past this transitional period — asking questions about how their teams will manage things throughout the duration of the coronavirus crisis and beyond it. 

Maintaining a positive candidate experience amid all this change and uncertainty 

Managing your candidate experience might not seem like a top priority at a time when many companies are starting to slow or freeze hiring altogether. But how you treat candidates now still impacts your talent brand in the long run — and may make it harder to attract candidates when you’re ready to start hiring again. 

Nearly 46% of hiring professionals said the outbreak has negatively affected the candidate experience at their company, according to our recent survey. 

No matter how your hiring plans are changing, you probably still have candidates in the pipeline who entered the hiring funnel weeks or months ago. Whether you’re putting things on ice, crafting a totally remote candidate experience, or continuing business as usual, it’s critical to keep candidates updated in such a rapidly changing situation. Proactively reach out and let them know what to expect. 

Conveying your company culture to candidates without any in-person meetings 

Your company culture will be tested over the next few months. For many organizations, that culture comes out most in person, through office interactions, hallway chats, and team-building events. Maintaining a strong culture with a totally remote workforce will look different, but it’s no less important — especially if you’re trying to hire. 

An onsite interview and tour is an easy way to immerse your candidate into your company culture. With that option off the table for many companies, talent leaders are looking for new ways to communicate the values and overall vibe of their organization. 

Storytelling has been a key skill for talent acquisition leaders and recruiters, but an all-remote candidate journey makes it even more important. Just as you ask behavioral questions to get real-life examples of how candidates work, telling stories about how your company has handled different situations can help your candidate imagine themselves as part of the team there. 

Now may also be a good time to refresh or re-create any assets highlighting your company culture — whether that’s a massive slide deck or a funny video. For example, when LinkedIn recruiting coordinators confirm an upcoming interview, they’ll embed a video highlighting #LinkedInLife or link to a page where candidates can learn more about what it’s like to work here. 

Thinking about workforce planning for the months ahead 

The coronavirus crisis is extremely dynamic and difficult to predict, which naturally makes it hard to sketch out what your hiring needs will look like months down the road. 

In our recent survey, 62% of talent professionals said the outbreak had negatively impacted their company’s ability to hire according to plan. That may be because plans themselves have changed or are still uncertain. 

Many companies have also discussed or implemented temporary hiring freezes. Roughly half (54%) of talent professionals surveyed expected a decrease in job requisitions. 

Looking further into the future, talent acquisition leaders are also considering how a large-scale economic recession would impact their company and its long-term hiring capabilities. While some businesses are more obviously impacted by coronavirus restrictions (e.g., the travel industry), even companies that conduct their business totally remotely could be hurt by the global economy operating at half-speed. 

But even as many industries slow, a few are seeing a surge in hiring: Amazon, Walmart, grocery stores, pharmacies, and food delivery companies have all recently announced plans to hire tens of thousands of employees over the coming weeks.

Whether your business is booming or grinding to a halt, maintaining a strong employee experience during this time isn’t just an HR concern: how you treat your workers now will impact your employer brand long after the pandemic passes. 

The companies prioritizing employee experience today will be in the best position to attract candidates when it’s time to hire en masse again. It will also make it easier to retain your most valuable employees in times of unrest and uncertainty. 

What to do if recruiters have extra bandwidth

If your company is experiencing or expecting a hiring freeze, you’ll soon have to face another challenge: what’s the best use of recruiters’ time when there’s no recruiting to be done? 

While running through standard training and compliance requirements courses are one option, many talent organizations are also taking this time to upskill recruiters: skills like data analysis, storytelling, and especially adaptability will be invaluable for recruiters this decade. 

Other teams, like the one at LinkedIn, are lending their skills to healthcare organizations, helping them source desperately needed talent. We’ve also heard from leaders who are taking this time to step back and dive deep into diversity and inclusion, building pipelines and identifying opportunities to create a more diverse workforce in the future. 

Final thoughts 

Brendan Browne, the global head of recruiting at LinkedIn, says: “We’ve asked our interviewers to be even more compassionate and thoughtful if there are kids around or noise in the background.”

Brendan’s advice can be applied to most questions confronting recruiters these days — be more compassionate and be more thoughtful. In a time of social distancing, put effort into staying closely connected with candidates and colleagues.

As you work to find alignment in today’s swirling stars, consider the long-term value of making empathy your North Star.

This post was co-authored by Gregory Lewis

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