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Hiring in the Covid Era: 5 Factors That Can Make or Break Your Search

Posted: 8/25/2021

Click here to read on Triad Business Journal.

By Ty West

Salaries are rising. Candidates are weighing multiple offers. Companies are losing candidates even after they've accepted an offer. All of those things are happening against the backdrop of a pandemic that is limiting workforce participation.

Candidates are in the driver's seat in this hiring environment, and experts don't expect that to change in the near future.

"I think a lot of companies think pretty soon the volume of candidates is going to exceed the opportunity and they're going to be in charge again, but it's not happening," said Charlie Saffro, president and founder of CS Recruiting.

It's a tough time to fill a job opening, but recruiters say there are some common factors that separate winners and losers in the intense battle for talent.

One of the overarching themes of advice from recruiters is that many companies are finding themselves busy and stressed, which is taking their eyes off the hiring process and causing them to miss out on candidates and continue in a spiral of being too busy to hire.

Companies need to act fast in this climate, but Saffro said many don't have their existing staffs on the same page about the positions they are hiring for, which causes delays in the process.

"That's one area where companies are messing up. They're desperate and they're like, 'OK, we just need resumes to interview people,'" she said. "But there's no alignment."

As companies seek that alignment and organize their searches, here are five factors that can make or break the hiring process in the Covid-19 era:

1. What's your talent pool?

One mistake companies are making is going back to the same old wells in search of talent. That might include using the same job boards they used before the pandemic or asking for potential candidates in the same circles.

"They have a philosophy and a mentality that's worked before and it doesn't work anymore," Saffro said.

Recruiters say employers can't afford to be so reactive in this climate. Instead, they should be aggressive in sourcing candidates, including from places they haven't considered before.

Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation, a nonprofit devoted to workforce challenges, said one silver lining of the labor market is that it's leading more employers to explore talent pools they've previously ignored.

That includes people over 65 and those with past felony convictions. Earlier this year, for example, some of the country's largest employers formed the Second Chance Business Coalition to advance the practice of hiring those who had been incarcerated.

If more companies broaden their pools, Oates said it could be huge for individuals with disabilities — a demographic where the unemployment rate still hovers around 85%.

"This could be a real opportunity for local business owners to explore [that community] and see who is there," she said.

2. Your sense of urgency

Recruiters say one of the biggest mistakes companies are making is dragging out the hiring process the way they would have two years ago.

In this labor market, that strategy is destined to fail. 

Kristin Lockhart, vice president of recruiting at payroll, benefits and advisory firm Adams Keegan, said many candidates are fielding multiple offers and won't wait around for a four-week process with multiple interviews.

Companies that want to put candidates through several interviews should create a streamlined and time-constrained process.

Recruiters say companies should also be prepared to get offers out quickly once they decide on a candidate. Time spent without an offer on the table is time a candidate could be receiving another offer or a counteroffer.

3. What you're offering

Speaking of counteroffers, experts say they are on the rise — and are significantly larger than they were before the pandemic.

 Companies are aware of the tight job market and are willing to pay a premium to retain top talent.

Experts say employers who try to nickel and dime their candidates — or existing employees — are making a costly miscalculation. But, in this job market, pay is only part of the equation.

Recruiters say candidates are increasingly looking for career development opportunities rather than basing decisions on salary alone.

Many individuals reassessed their circumstances during the pandemic and decided they wanted to pursue a new career arc.

For that reason, experts say companies that are thriving in this labor market are tailoring job descriptions by including specific details about career progression and mentoring opportunities.

Jim Tam, vice president of business development for career development firm Keystone Partners, said companies need to put into words how working for them can help a candidate advance their career.

"They're making it so that you don't think of the company as a place where you need to clock in and out, but it's part of your lifestyle and also supports your values as a person," Tam said.

4. Your approach to flexibility

Regardless of industry, it's a tough time to be hiring.

But if you're a company still clinging to a prepandemic workplace model without work-from-home flexibility in an industry where hybrid models are feasible or common, it's even more difficult.

Recruiters say flexibility has quickly shifted from a perk to an expectation.

Lucy Lorenzo, founding partner of Ascension Search Partners, estimated 80% to 90% of candidates are looking for a position that offers some flexibility.

"If clients aren't offering it, they'll say, 'OK. I'll wait,'" Lorenzo said.

Research has shown many employees are willing to trade salary or perks for increased flexibility. But surveys have also shown there's a disconnect between employers and workers on the amount of flexibility they expect.

5. Your salesmanship

Experts say the tables have turned in the employer-candidate dynamic.

With supply and demand still misaligned — and likely to be for the foreseeable future — experts say companies need to do more to sell themselves to candidates than they have in the past.

That includes selling company culture and the unique experience the employer can provide both in the job listing and throughout the interview process.

Those things were important before, but are extremely important now, recruiters say.

Selling the job opportunity also includes regular contact and check-ins with candidates up to and even after an offer has been accepted. 

Lorenzo said employers should start onboarding the moment an offer is accepted.

"You need to be wooing that candidate, engaging them, even from the day of the offer right up until they've start – even after they start," Lorenzo said. "You have to make sure that you're giving them the warm and fuzzies. Take them out for lunch. Call them. Just make sure you're keeping close to them."

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