How to Recruit When Hiring Is on Hold

Staying in touch with candidates during these uncertain times is critical

By Lin Grensing-Pophal April 9, 2020
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​Employers have suddenly gone from frantically trying to find scarce talent to pumping the brakes on hiring.

According to recent research from global risk management and advisory firm Willis Towers Watson, 42 percent of surveyed organizations have frozen or reduced hiring, and another 28 percent are considering doing so.

"My sense is that most employers are pushing the pause button on hiring for now," said Brett Schneider, a labor and employment attorney in the Boca Raton, Fla., office of Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman. "Most employers are focusing on doing what they can to maintain their current employees."

But even as employers' focus turns inward, many potential new hires who have applied for, been interviewed for, or even been offered a position are now finding themselves in limbo.

What steps should HR and hiring managers take to avoid losing out on top talent or damaging their employer brand?

Joseph Puglise, senior director of executive search and recruiting at JMJ Phillip, a global executive search firm, said that employers' needs vary and so do their decisions about hiring processes during the coronavirus crisis. "We're seeing a mixed bag around how companies respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have many clients that are pushing the interview process forward for critical openings, with slight modifications," he said. In contrast, many employers are temporarily freezing all hiring.

Some employers are interviewing using videoconferencing to avoid delays, particularly for critical positions and top-tier candidates. "Offers are also being extended and accepted but with the understanding that start dates will be entirely dependent on when it's again safe for employees to report to the office," Puglise said. Some employers, he added, are even training remotely to help expedite the onboarding process.

Lisa Fleury, head of talent acquisition at Voya Financial, said her team moved into action quickly to coordinate and reschedule all interviews as soon as COVID-19 was beginning to spread. The company also took other immediate steps:

  • It developed a best-practice guide on virtual interviews for managers and candidates.
  • It coordinated with hiring managers and new hires to conduct a drive-through pickup of equipment and information.
  • It immediately began virtual onboarding.
  • It developed and incorporated training guidelines on how to use Skype for candidates placed into the virtual scheduling process.

Voya hasn't put hiring on hold, but it has slowed down to review and prioritize critical hiring needs, Fleury said. The company is moving ahead with those in critical roles and potentially delaying start dates for new hires in noncritical roles.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Recruiting Internally and Externally]

Stay in Touch

It's critical during these uncertain times to stay in touch with candidates at every stage of the hiring process.

"Companies need to first let the public know they are still open, still hiring and moving forward," said Chris Vennitti, mid-Atlantic president with Addison Group, a national staffing agency based in Chicago. "The available candidate pool will gravitate toward those firms active in outreach."

The communication with candidates will vary based on where they are in the hiring process, said Kaitlyn Holbein, founder and principal consultant with The Employer Brand Shop. "For candidates at later stages in the hiring process, and ones who had previously received an offer from you, a personal touch is required," she said. This, she added, should be a direct phone call from the recruiting team and hiring manager.

But even candidates farther up the pipeline need attention. "You don't want to turn them off by providing the dreaded 'black hole' candidate experience," Holbein said. She recommended:

  • Building strong initial communication explaining the hiring situation at your company.
  • Creating an e-mail marketing strategy to share relevant content with applicants on an ongoing basis.
  • Encouraging candidates to follow your careers social channels to continue to build employer brand loyalty and interest.

Doing these things, she said, will help employers regroup quickly and efficiently when hiring once again becomes a business priority.

"People want to feel connected and supported during uncertainty, and I think everyone is craving communication right now," said Jaclyn Menendez, a senior consultant at PSI Services, an assessment provider in Glendale, Calif. Organizations really can't overcommunicate at this point, she added.

"The values and culture of an organization really shine through during a time of crisis," Menendez said. Applicants will certainly take note of this when it comes time to accept an offer.

Keeping ongoing hiring efforts fresh and the company name in front of potential candidates are also important. Vennitti advises companies to review and refresh their job openings. "New postings will get the most traction, and ones posted even a month ago will be viewed as potentially not relevant anymore," he cautioned.

Avoid Liability

Menendez said a determination of employer risk when withdrawing a job offer is likely to depend on a number of factors that include these considerations:

  • Is your state an at-will employment state?
  • Was a contract signed?
  • Was a probationary period built in?
  • Was the job offer rescinded, or was it simply delayed?

Schneider said that "it is possible that an applicant who accepted employment could make a claim that they relied on the employer's offer and have been damaged by the rescission or delay. Where employment is at will, that argument would likely fail because the applicant could not have had any reasonable expectation of continued employment, even if hired."

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.

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