At Work

Coronavirus hiring: How recruiters are selecting and interviewing job candidates during the pandemic

Key Points
  • 84% of recruiters are in the process of adapting their hiring processes to facilitate remote exchanges.
  • Of these, 58% are now using social media networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and even Instagram to connect with potential hires.
  • A growing army of recruiters are also turning to videoconferencing to screen and interview candidates, as well as AI and text messaging to connect with candidates.
A man wearing a face mask walks past a sign "Now Hiring" in front of a store amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 14, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia.
Olivier Douliery | AFP | Getty Images

With a record 36.5 million Americans now unemployed and roughly 16% of the country's workforce currently sidelined in the wake of coronavirus-related concerns, finding full-time work remains elusive for many. But even as financial markets remain volatile and 95% of the population remains under stay-at-home orders, companies in many fields such as technology, telecom and health care continue to engage in mass hiring.

To meet explosive growth in demand across these sectors due to the virus, corporate recruiters are increasingly turning to new technologies to court and engage prospective hires in an age of remote work and social distancing. Modern-day job seekers looking to find open positions, ace interviews and stand out to potential employers would do well to adapt to their strategies.

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"Today's recruiting environment has never been more challenging," notes Aman Brar, CEO of talent recruitment platform Jobvite. "As a result, recruiters are leveraging a variety of methods and tactics to connect with prospective candidates. The current climate has forced many companies to step up their use of new technologies. While many of the platforms being used to facilitate [hiring] have been available for years, use of them has increased tremendously in recent weeks."

Recruiting reimagined through crisis

According to research by Jobvite, 84% of recruiters are currently adapting their hiring processes to facilitate remote exchanges. Of them, 58% are now using social media networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, and even Instagram to connect with potential hires, while nearly half are increasing the number of postings that they make on these services to advertise open positions.

A growing army of recruiters are likewise turning to videoconferencing solutions to screen and interview candidates as well, with as many as 8 in 10 now making it a key part of the hiring process. Digital communications tools such as artificially intelligent job outreach programs and text messaging are also increasingly being implemented as a means of connecting with candidates, even as 55% of recruiters are also falling back on phone calls to source potential hires. In addition, more and more firms are looking to leverage analytics tools (which can scan resumes and data that you've input to automatically surface key insights and information at a glance) with each passing day as well.

"This crisis has led us to reimagine recruiting," admits Michael Wright, Global Head of Talent Acquisition for media investment company GroupM, who says the firm has been moving towards digital recruitment processes for years. "We immediately adapted our [artificial intelligence]-driven video interview tools to be more empathetic and more contextually aware than they were pre-COVID. We've also set up what we're calling 'video handshakes,' which are more focused on discovering what people can be and become, rather than what they do and have done [previously in their career.]"

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As a result of these shifts, job seekers shouldn't just expect video interviews to be a de facto standard and the hiring process to take much longer lately, says Abby Kohut, president of recruitment firm AbsolutelyAbby.com. They should also expect to interact with AI-driven tools (i.e. chatbots, or software programs smart enough to pass for human), which can screen candidates, ask interview questions, and answer questions that they may have on the fly more frequently.

Talent acquisition platforms, which automate the applications process by scanning applicants' resumes for specific skills and experience, and smart texting tools (capable of conducting recruitment outreach and facilitating communications throughout the hiring process) are also on the rise.

The new norm 

These shifts in hiring practices may continue to resonate with recruiters long after Covid-19's impact begins to trail off as well. New data from Aptitude Research Partners shows that the amount of companies who have invested or plan to invest in chatbot solutions has jumped by over 500% in the last year alone, and 80% of users are happy with the technology. Likewise, more than 9 in 10 organizations who've turned to text-based recruiting methods have chosen to stick with them, with nearly two-thirds of workers preferring this type of communication to an email or phone call, according to the 2019 Job Seeker Nation Report.

"Many companies with partial or no remote work policies are now having to grapple with the shift to working from home, which means that the way companies recruit and hire has been forced to evolve," suggests Darren Murph, Head of Remote for software development platform GitLab. "Companies that are still able to hire in the current economic climate are looking to virtual tactics to grow their teams."

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Utilizing traditional job-seeking strategies — i.e. creating simply-formatted resumes so a computer can easily read them and peppering popular search-term keywords throughout these documents — when applying for positions can still serve prospective hires well, says Marc Mencher, founder of GameRecruiter.com.

Likewise, numerous firms still continue to conduct personalized interviews and screenings, at which it pays to exercise traditional communications and leadership skills. "Although there are benefits to using AI, there are so many attributes such as critical thinking, collaboration and problem-solving that are also super important to us that we'd rather take our time getting to know candidates," admits Rebecca Bowsher, head of people at health-food provider Huel.

But ultimately, as Mencher reminds, numerous changes continue to impact the hiring process as a result of growing high-tech adoption, necessitating that job seekers make some fundamental changes to their tactical approach. "Nowadays it's more important than ever to stand out on video, and communicate your value proposition at a glance."

According to recruiters, potential hires looking to land a position would do well to keep the following hints and tips in mind.

Get creative with tech

"Be memorable," advises Huel's Bowsher. "In addition to ensuring that your application is relevant and writing a cover letter explaining why you'd be a good fit for a role, make sure your application is creative." For instance, you might use colorful visuals and charts to present your career experience in the form of an infographic; ask a graphic designer to make your resume look like a potential employer's product packaging or submit a catchy audio recording or video snippet.

"I recently received an email message with the subject line "quarantine and chill" including book and movie recommendations as well as a call-to-action to help the application find a job – it was very clever," chuckles GroupM's Wright.

"We look for people who are comfortable with taking initiative [and who display] great self-awareness and expert communication skills," agrees GitLab's Murph. "I recently uploaded a video outlining the scope and expectations for a recent role I hired for. Many candidates recorded videos of their own to respond and reply, linking to their YouTube page in a cover letter."

Embrace the art of video interviews

In addition to dressing and comporting yourself professionally when conducting interviews, as well as utilizing a clean, simple background with minimal distractions, take time to prepare and practice fielding sample questions you expect to be queried about. What's more, you'll also want to ensure that popular software programs such as Zoom, Houseparty, and Google Hangouts are preinstalled and working on your devices properly prior to interview sessions, and test that your videocamera and microphone are functioning as anticipated.

Similarly, if you have a fear of public speaking, ask friends and family to put you through test runs, and ask sample questions so that you can get comfortable with being put on the spot. "Being afraid of being on camera is old news," cautions AbsolutelyAbby.com's Kohut. "You have to get over your fears and do it."

Communication skills are more important than ever, she and others note, as is learning to quickly and succinctly summarize your thoughts. To maximize your talents here, practice answering questions with 20- to 30-second quick-hit responses, using three or four sentences maximum to get your thoughts across. When speaking, be sure to look at the camera, and maintain (virtual) eye contact with your interviewer as well. Similarly, you can't let the occasional photobomb freak you out.

"Employers understand that many workers are getting used to operating from home," laughs Jobvite's Brar. "Candidates should be up-front about if kids or barking dogs may cause temporary interruptions." You can even turn these disruptions into positives, he says, as unexpected happenings offer a chance for prospective job candidates to explain how they're able to work effectively around distractions.

Become a wizard at text messaging

"Candidates need to be ready for interviews to occur via this medium," notes Brar. "When this happens, you'll want to focus on providing well thought-out and succinct responses, and be clear and direct about what really drives you, rather than just reiterate what's on your resume.

Likewise, he says, it's also important to keep additional files – i.e. certifications, writing samples, and reference letters – ready to share via text if a recruiter requests them. In addition, you'll also want to take time to check and recheck spelling, grammar, and punctuation (keeping an especial eye out for auto-correct-generated errors) before sending messages. Furthermore, as much conversational nuance and emotion can be lost in the translation to digital, be sure to read over and double-check responses to ensure they sound upbeat and energic.

Most of all, don't be afraid to be yourself. "The use of text-based recruiting also offers the opportunity to showcase your personality by using emojis, Bitmojis, pictures, and GIFs where relevant," says Brar. But before doing so, he cautions, also take time to think about how doing so may be perceived, and be certain that playful approaches such as this align with the company's brand and culture.

Do your homework

In addition to researching positions that would be a good fit for you on company websites and career portals such as Monster, Indeed and Glassdoor, it pays to familiarize yourself with the philosophies that prospective employers' embrace and champion.

"Remote work forces companies to hire for values fit, not culture fit [since you're working largely independently and not in-office among colleagues]," explains GitLab's Murph. Accordingly, he says, you should research firms to ensure that the attributes you prize – e.g. self-reliance, empathy, a focus on customer service over cost-efficiency, etc. — align with potential employers' values.

Similarly, when you do find a prospective employer and position that you'd like to apply for, it's important to position yourself to quickly relay how specific skills and experience you possess best align with companies' specific needs. The more concrete information and real-world examples you provide, the more successful you'll be.

In addition, when you submit a resume, it should include targeted keywords — specific phrases denoting in-demand job titles and descriptions, professional experience, and technical terms — that artificially-intelligent analytics programs are seeking. Many times you can find clues as to which keywords to insert (e.g. "network administrator" vs. "IT expert") contained in the job description itself. Note that many computer programs also start at the top of documents and read left to right — ergo, the sooner you include these keywords up-front, the more successful you'll be.

Don't be afraid to ask for help

A robust network of contacts can help you more readily find open positions, including those that haven't yet been posted, experts say. The more you make others aware you're on the hunt, and more you make a point to stay on recruiters' radars, the more you'll stand to put yourself in opportunity's path, and more successful you'll ultimately be.

"Utilize your LinkedIn profile," suggests Murph. "Take time to update job descriptions, reach out to coworkers for recommendations, and enable your profile to let recruiters know that you are open to job opportunities."

"You have to be willing to ask your network for help more than ever, even if it's uncomfortable at first," agrees Kohut. "You can ask strangers to do virtual informational interviews [about what their job entails]. You can volunteer to help others, which helps you meet more people and pay things forward. You can even go on YouTube and post a video resume."

Likewise, she says, it doesn't hurt to be deliberate about who you reach out to. "One tip I'm giving job seekers is to look out for companies that are hiring recruiters right now, which means they are growing and probably have jobs available."

In the end though, the specific high-tech tools and tactics that you turn to matter less than simply making a point to constantly put yourself out there, and be more persistent and proactive when it comes to professional outreach, experts say.

"Ask yourself: How do you bring your very best self into your digital profile, and how do you leverage your network in the current context?," says GroupM's Wright. "Abandon any anxiety you have about reaching out to people… you might be surprised at how much empathy [you'll find.]

"Job skills will always be table stakes," he reminds. "The difference between awesome and average is character – integrity, authenticity, and leadership." Finding ways to consistently exhibit these talents will be crucial to your job search.

After all, while the technical mechanics associated with communicating these attributes digitally vs. physically may differ, it bears reminding. With a little ingenuity and elbow grease, it's not hard to vault yourself to the top of recruiters' inboxes, and give them ample reasons to keep your number (and email address) on speed dial.