2020 was easily one of the most unpredictable and challenging periods of my twenty year accounting and finance recruiting career. Demand for our recruiting services peaked in the first quarter only to plummet once the COVID pandemic, and the subsequent lockdowns, started in March. Within weeks, all of our clients put their hiring plans on hold. Recruiting activity finally began to recover late summer and has slowly improved since then. While I am bullish that DC metro area economy and job market will continue to recover in 2021, it’s clear that COVID will have a significant impact for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has not only drastically altered our day to day lives, but it has presented a myriad of recruitment challenges to businesses of all sizes, across all industries. In order to effectively land top talent in the current environment, it’s imperative that you understand how the pandemic is affecting your target candidate pool and adjust your approach accordingly. Below are three of my top tips to achieve recruiting success during the COVID pandemic.

Commit to a post-pandemic work model

The pandemic has collectively reminded us how important it is to be adaptable in order to thrive in business. Virtually overnight, we have seen an unprecedented transition to remote work. Recruiting and onboarding has also moved to the virtual environment. Like it or not, remote is here to stay and many of today’s candidates demand it. The question is, what will your work model be once the pandemic is over? One of our clients, a Vice President of Finance at a large government contractor, capitalized on the increased demand for virtual work when recruiting for his team late 2020. He committed early to transition post-pandemic from a 100% in-office structure to a hybrid model. This decision differentiated his opportunity from many local companies still unsure of their future work arrangements and it also increased his geographic recruiting footprint to the entire DC metro area. He was no longer constrained to candidates willing to commute to their physical office location every day. As a result, I placed two top notch performers that wouldn’t have been an option unless they were offered hybrid work.

Emphasize flexibility and job security

In a typical bull job market, the number one reason why top performers change jobs is to accelerate their career and financial growth. In the current economy, one ravaged by a global health crisis and a recession, many candidates are prioritizing flexible work environments and job security. This has been especially true for top candidates with significant responsibilities outside of work, such as young children. Many of them have been reluctant to change jobs during the pandemic or have decided to ride it out at their current employer. Most have expressed concern that by changing jobs they will lose the earned flexibility and stability they need to balance work with their increased personal demands. One way to overcome this unique obstacle is is to highlight your flexible and supportive work cultures during the recruiting and interview process. Ensuring to potential candidates that joining your company won’t compound their stress will go a long way to put their minds at ease during the COVID pandemic.

Up your game to land star candidates

An additional group that we have found particularly difficult to recruit during the pandemic are star candidates. These are cream of the crop performers who rank in the top 5-10% of their peer class. Similar to candidates with young children, many star candidates have been reticent to change jobs, albeit for different reasons. Many see no reason to leave the comfort of their current role unless another employer can offer significantly better career growth and compensation. In fact, some top candidates have gone so far as to increase their demands to potential employers! This trend runs counter to a typical ‘employer’s market’ recession and is a direct result of how the pandemic has inordinately increased everyone’s focus on stress management.

Another of our clients, the head of financial reporting at publicly traded company, struggled for several months last year to land a star candidate. She was looking to add a leader to her team but wasn’t in a position to train a new manager. She initially focused recruitment efforts towards candidates willing to take a lateral change in title and responsibility. It became apparent after multiple declined offers that their offering wasn’t compelling enough to land a star candidate during the pandemic. Her solution was to upgrade the opening to Senior Manager but to continue recruiting manager level candidates. This change made the opportunity more appealing to their target audience while also limiting the risk of making a bad hire. I ended up finding them a proven leader with a progressive career track ready and eager to step into a Senior Manager level role.

By Jay Gennaro, Principal, Avanti Group

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