Hiring Challenges and Opportunities During the Pandemic

Across industries, towns and cities, Canadian businesses, like their counterparts across the globe, have had to cope with profound changes due to COVID-19.

From implementing work from home (WFH) policies and bringing in social distancing measures to coping with staff sickness, travel bans and quarantines, businesses of all sizes have been forced to adapt to survive. Sadly, some have closed their doors.

Many have had to furlough or lay off staff to stay afloat while others (e.g. edtech, delivery firms, healthcare, etc.) have faced an unprecedented surge in demand.

For most of those who have been able to bring in new talent, the process of hiring and onboarding has been transformed completely, bringing both challenges and opportunities.

We had a great opportunity to get on the phone with decision-makers who have experienced these changes first hand and ask them about their experiences. We found a lot of similarities across interviews and have summarised the key challenges and opportunities below.

The major challenges 

Contrary to what some sources have claimed, the organizations we spoke to found that video interviewing was a poor substitute for meeting candidates face-to-face.

Some experienced disruption due to technology issues, largely from poor internet connections and background issues. Interviewees would sometimes find creative ways to obscure themselves (e.g. by sitting in front of bright sunlight).

Even when there were no technical hitches, interviewers often found they were less able to pick up on subtle cues from body language and facial expressions. Without this added context, the risk of taking on a bad hire was increased. The lack of face-to-face contact also seemed to embolden candidates to the point that they would overstate their suitability for the role they were applying for. Again, this increased the risk of taking on someone unsuitable.

From the companies’ side, they felt less able to get across their workplace culture via a video connection. With some new employees not able to meet up physically with colleagues for several months, team bonding often took much longer than before the pandemic. With workplace culture recognized as an important factor in job satisfaction, employee retention and performance, this could have repercussions further down the line.

Many of the businesses we interviewed also experienced ongoing problems with onboarding and training new recruits. This increases the risk of dangerous or costly mistakes and the potential need to retrain employees in the future.

Some important wins

Despite the challenges, several organizations reported positive outcomes following the upheaval. Some that had previously employed a locally based workforce have realized that WFH actually works for them. They can now look forward to recruiting from a wider talent pool which is very exciting for their future growth prospects.

Other companies have managed to save money on recruitment as they haven’t needed to book physical space for interviews.

One decision-maker we spoke to even found the communication issues with video interviews had an unexpected upside: she could soften the delivery of critical feedback by acknowledging the difficulties posed by the technology.

Questions going forward

As Canada works hard to accelerate and secure its supply of COVID vaccines, businesses will hope that the country will turn a corner soon. But when Canada does eventually emerge from the pandemic, will things go back to how they were?

Few of the business leaders we spoke to expected to return to business as usual. Some are simply wondering what will happen next while others are actively planning for the new normal. For example, with 60% of workers confident that they can perform just as well remotely as they can in the office, companies are going to have to think hard about whether they can realistically provide this option (1).

To summarise, even a blow as widespread and destructive as the COVID pandemic has provided both challenges and opportunities for the business leaders we interviewed. While there were problems with virtual hiring and onboarding candidates, there was also the potential to reduce the cost per hire. By switching to a largely remote workforce, some businesses were able to cast their net wider for quality employees. There is still a great deal of uncertainty though and many questions won’t be fully answered until Canada has fully emerged from the pandemic.



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