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Employers Get Creative with Hiring During Coronavirus Pandemic

Hiring accelerates for some, slows for others around the world

A large building with a lot of people walking in front of it.

​The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked innovations in recruiting, hiring and onboarding, from drive-up I-9 verifications to matching furloughed workers with open positions at like companies.    

A panel of HR leaders shared their lessons learned from working in this new reality, as well as other talent acquisition strategies being explored for the remainder of 2020, at the Society for Human Resource Management's first virtual Talent conference.

The panel was moderated on April 20 by Tony Lee, SHRM's vice president of editorial.

Impact on Workforce Planning

Eoin Byrne, the chief human resource officer for grocery store chain Lidl's U.S. operations, said that store safety is HR's top concern right now, followed by responding to the increased demand for filling front-line positions so the stores can meet the public's need during the crisis.

Lidl, based in Arlington, Va., is hiring over 1,000 temporary workers at its U.S. stores. It has shifted recruiters who had been working on more strategic projects at the corporate level to focus on staffing stores.

Jeff Luttrell, SHRM-SCP, senior director of talent acquisition for global outsourcing firm Alorica in Irvine, Calif., is also feeling the urgency of the moment. Alorica employs about 100,000 people in call centers around the world and has seen demand for its services skyrocket.  

Luttrell has close to 300 recruiters on staff, and they've been hard at work hiring thousands of people to support the 24/7 demand. Another mammoth challenge for HR has been moving tens of thousands of call-center employees from their day-to-day worksites to their homes to work remotely.

"We've moved about half of the workforce to virtual work so far," he said. "We're moving about 2,000 people a day."

Paula Harvey, SHRM-SCP, vice president of HR and safety at manufacturer Schulte Building Systems outside Houston, is dealing with a slightly different scenario as a critical manufacturer, and she feels fortunate not to have been shut down completely during the coronavirus outbreak. She said Schulte is not actively looking to hire but is looking at "talent shopping" for people who may be furloughed or laid off, in order to fill future roles when the economy picks back up.

Harvey is also using the time to re-evaluate the organization's job descriptions, reassess the workforce to make sure the right people are in the right jobs and check to see that high-potentials are on track to progress into future leadership roles. "This would normally be the start of our busy time for recruiting and hiring," she said. "Instead, we're holding steady, and getting prepared for the summer."

SHRM Resource Spotlight
Coronavirus and COVID-19

Mostly Everything Virtual

Organizations across the board have had to transition to a virtual recruiting and hiring process for most roles.

Lidl has adapted to a quickened pace for recruiting and onboarding new hires, Byrne said. "If you apply at a Lidl store either in-person or online on a Wednesday evening, you will be able to start on Monday morning," he said. Part of that speed has been achieved by conducting interviews over video-conferencing platforms, but the company also had to cut out certain steps from the hiring process. "We had to break away from some of our standards to make this happen," he said, such as dropping the requirement that each candidate is interviewed by two people and allowing new hires to start before their background check is processed.

"Part of our culture is being agile and adaptive, and COVID-19 circumstances have made sure we are living up to that," he said. Recruiters and hiring managers trained to use a competency-based interview model have been asked to modify their practices for a completely virtual experience.

"Can we guarantee that an understanding of good customer service can be translated through a virtual interview?" Byrne asked. "I'm not 100 percent sure about that, but you can get a sense of it if you're asking good situational judgment questions and focused on competencies. Virtual interviews are not as good as in-person. It's OK for leaders to say that virtual recruiting and hiring is tough. We're making the best of it, but it's really challenging."   

The recruiters at Alorica also had to shift to an all-virtual recruiting and hiring process. Luttrell said his team is using a variety of online communication and collaboration tools to pull it off. They've also created videos of recruiters providing step-by-step instructions on how candidates move through the application process and adjusted the paperwork process to include electronic signatures. Recruiters have been texting more with candidates and using chatbots to serve job seekers, applicants and candidates has grown.  

Luttrell and his team have also gotten better at holding virtual job fairs. "It's been a lot of trial and error," he said. "We had to deploy technology quickly, because [the pandemic] happened so fast. We made some mistakes in the beginning. We learned that Microsoft Teams is not so good for virtual events, Zoom is better. This will probably change recruiting at our organization."

He said that virtual candidate experience is going to be a focus going forward.     

Curbside Service

Virtual conference attendees were very interested in Alorica's ad hoc drive-through functions. Luttrell said that the company is completing I-9 forms, handing out laptops and performing mobile drug testing at certain locations. "We set up a kiosk curbside," he said. "The new hire drives up and shows their IDs, and our team enters the information using an electronic I-9 system. We schedule these for five-minute increments and process about 50-60 I-9s in half a day."

Alorica is running background checks but allowing people to start the job while checks are pending. Courthouse closures have slowed the screens. "Flexibility is the key," he said.

Employer Partnerships

Byrne said that Lidl is collaborating with about 12 other employers to prioritize hiring each other's furloughed and laid-off workers. "We're partnering with employers like Hilton," he said. "It's simple. We send our requisitions to them, and they offer information about our open roles in their furlough process. If their employee has an interest in one of our opportunities, they apply for it on our careers page and their application is tracked in our ATS for prioritized hiring. It's been good for us because we've been able to find skilled people who work in similar customer-serving industries."

Consider Contract Employees

If committing to new full-time employees without the ability to meet them in person is unnerving for your company's hiring managers, consider retaining experienced freelancers instead, said panelist Cindy Songne, chief people officer at Calgary-based Communo. "For executive positions, start the candidate as a contractor until travel is allowed for in-person interviewing," she advised. "In these cases, negotiate the contractual agreement and the employment agreement at the same time, which allows the candidate to check you out also."

Telling Your Story

Byrne said that even more important than optimizing the virtual hiring experience has been getting the word out that employees will be cared for in this precarious time. Potential hires in hotspots like New York City need to feel secure that Lidl is looking after its workforce. "We provide health care to all our employees and offer COVID-19-related health care to temporary employees," he said. "We've limited the number of customers in our stores, provided PPE for all employees, massively invested in daily cleaning, and relaxed our attendance policy so that if you feel uncomfortable [coming in], you can stay home and keep your job. If you are quarantined or ill, you will receive sick pay from us."


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