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What Recruiting Teams have Learned 3 Weeks into the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mike Joyner

We’re experiencing the most abrupt change in history for how we work, communicate, and interact with each other. Recruiting teams are rising to the challenge by adapting and inventing new ways to create connections and build trust through laptop screens instead of coffee. It’s been two weeks since we shared the 5 Ways Recruiting Teams are Adjusting to Coronavirus (COVID-19). In that short time, so much has changed.

This week, our Growth by Design Talent team held our second Recruiting Community Roundtable. 40 individuals from over 30 companies attended, representing private and public sectors, scale from <20 to over 40,000 employees, 11 locations across the U.S., and industries ranging from construction and financial services to software and healthcare. Recruiters and leaders working through these challenges are sprinting to keep up with new information and changes.

We organized these roundtables to help teams take a breath, create connections across companies, get quick feedback on pressing questions, and walk away with new ideas to try. We’re sharing what we’ve learned from these conversations to help others as we all work through these uncertain times together. From these surveyed organizations, several themes emerged.

3 Recruiting Insights

1) Hiring Plans — 50% of these companies have not changed their hiring plans

Many companies are reviewing plans week-to-week so this will continue to evolve as companies start to see how business metrics are impacted. Companies in industries like hospitality and retail have been hit the hardest, and these companies have reduced or frozen hiring. Some of these companies have started to trim contractors, reduce salaries, implement extended furloughs, and layoff employees. In contrast, companies in software, media, and healthcare are continuing with their existing plans or accelerating in some cases.

2) Candidate Engagement — outreach response rates are starting to recover and 2 out of 3 companies are seeing a stable volume of applications

It’s still too early for most companies to know the impact to offer acceptance rates. There appears to be less uncertainty for companies with 500–5,000 employees, which could be a sweet spot of being big enough for candidates to feel more confident making a change, stability in operations, data to quickly understand shifts, but also being small enough to quickly iterate on new approaches to close candidates.

The good news is that the number of new applications has been stable for most companies. Companies with <500 employees and private companies have seen neutral or an increase in application activity. There are also positive signs that candidates are starting to respond to outreach messages after a dip. These two things along with the feedback we’ve heard suggest that individuals are still open to talking about new opportunities, especially well-funded start-ups that have more operating stability.

We caught up with our friends at TopFunnel and GEM to get insights into what they’re seeing on their platforms across many companies and thousands of candidate outreach messages. There are early signs that candidates are starting to be more open to starting conversations again.

TopFunnel is a recruiting product that helps with candidate sourcing, outreach, and scheduling.

“We’ve seen COVID-19 impact both candidates and customers. Recruiters are sourcing about 1/3 fewer candidates than usual. We see candidates reply at the same rate, to about 30% of outreach. However, the average candidate is 15% more likely to be interested. Candidates are more open to conversations, while companies have pulled back.” — Justin Palmer, Co-founder and CEO at TopFunnel

Gem is a candidate sourcing and CRM product that enables personalized outreach at scale.

“We saw a dip in messages sent by recruiters last week after seeing normal levels through the first half of March. That temporary dip has recovered this week. Initially, we also saw a dip in response rates, but we’ve started to see that increase this week as well. Individuals are taking longer to reply to messages, but interest seems to be recovering.” — Steve Bartel, Co-founder and CEO at Gem

3) Candidate Decisions — increase in candidates pushing things out in the final stages

While there’s some positive news emerging for candidate outreach and applications, it’s a different reality for decisions further into the process.

  • Final Interviews — 50% of surveyed companies have seen an increase of candidates pushing out final interview dates (a.k.a. ‘onsite’ interviews).
  • Offer Decisions — 40% are seeing more candidates pushing out offer decisions.
  • Start Dates — 2 out of 3 companies are pushing out start dates. Companies are still trying to figure out how to effectively onboard remotely and candidates are hesitant to start with a new team with all the disruption and distractions at home, changing benefits, and other things like relocation.

5 Emerging Recruiting Strategies

1) People first, lead with empathy

Parents are suddenly faced with the reality of kids at home running around in the same space they need to interview or negotiate an offer. Candidates in dense urban areas may be sharing a small space with multiple roommates that need to coordinate meeting times. Recruiting teams are responding by:

  • Being as transparent with candidates as possible to let them know the current situation and how the process will work remotely.
  • Acknowledging the difficult timing and respecting the candidate’s preferences.
  • Creating more space for informal conversations to build deeper connections with the team they’d be joining. This typically happens in the moments between interviews, at lunch, or over coffee. Recreating these opportunities over video is important to keep in mind.

2) Incorporate a high touch candidate concierge

While it’s operationally more difficult to pull it off, teams are being clear on universal ground rules, adopting coordination Slack channels, and leaving time for someone on the team to do virtual ‘walk-in’ and ‘wrap-up’ meetings with candidates.

  • Establish the ground rules — your team should establish common ground rules with interviewers like using the same video conferencing link so candidates don’t have to hop around and never leaving candidates on their own, which is even more important on a video interview.
  • Ease the nerves with virtual walk-ins — if you’ve ever been to a new city and tried to figure out public transportation on your own, it always feels a little strange unless you have a local walk you through what you need to know. You can use these virtual walk-in meetings to help with these emotions by getting candidates settled in and feeling confident about what to expect during their interviews. This gives candidates time to shake off some nerves by talking to someone beforehand, make sure their technology is working as expected, and provide contact info in case something goes wrong.
  • Create smooth transitions between interviewers — you can minimize bumpy transitions by setting up Slack channels for each interview team to help manage hand-offs between interviewers.
  • Leave on a positive note with a virtual wrap-up — these wrap-up meetings are a great way to get quick feedback on their experience, capture any open questions, and close the experience with positive momentum.

3) Thoroughly prepare candidates and interviewers with clear communication

Virtual meetings put more pressure on simple, clear, and useful communication to make sure everyone involved knows what to expect. Here are things teams are doing:

  • Sending candidates and interviewers detailed prep notes, FAQs, and tips for video interviews to review ahead of time.
  • Emailing interviewers with their focus areas to avoid assessing for the same things or asking repetitive questions.
  • Providing interviewer guides with tips on conducting effective CodePair technical interviews and how to troubleshoot issues that might come up.
  • Sharing videos with tours of company spaces and employees to give candidates a better feel for your company’s vibe and culture. Bonus points if these are personalized to the team, role, or candidate.
  • Providing information about what your company is doing in response to COVID-19 — products and services being offered to users/customers, changes to policies or benefits to support employees, or contributions to the community like masks, ventilators, or non-profit donations.

4) Split-up the length of final interviews

A long day of interviewing in the same room was tough already, and moving that same schedule to staring at a bright screen for 4+ hours straight can be excruciating. Breaking the interview up into multiple segments can help candidates show up at their best and improve feedback. A benefit of this approach would be the ability to tailor (even cancel) subsequent interviews based on the feedback of the first few.

5) Conduct daily stand-up meetings with your team

Information is changing quickly and teams are now fully distributed. Candidates will only have a great experience and the recruiting process will only run smoothly if the team is aligned and energized. Recruiting teams are setting up daily stand-up meetings to connect with each other, stay aligned on the current state of things, and prioritize where to focus. We shared some ideas for how to lead through these uncertain times in our Recruiting Leadership Guide.

We’ve been inspired by the willingness for the community to stay connected, and share ideas that are helping all teams rise together. We will continue to hold these roundtables for as long as they’re useful. Based on feedback from those that have attended, we’re planning to bring people together every other week. If you’d like to be a part of future Recruiting Community Roundtables, you can reach us at

Growth by Design Talent helps early & mid-stage high growth companies design talent strategies to help them scale quickly and thoughtfully.

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