Recruiting Enablement Blog



Managing Change through Uncertainty

Jeanette Leeds Maister June 19, 2020

The impact of coronavirus has demanded the management of constant change. Recruiting leaders have had to quickly adapt and find new ways to engage their remote teams, shifting hiring strategies for today's uncertain times. 

Recently I moderated a virtual roundtable with talent acquisition leaders to understand how COVID-19 has transformed recruiting for their businesses and how quickly they have had to adapt to these changing times. The leaders who participated were Imad Khoury with CohnReznick (one of the largest accounting, tax and business advisory firms in the United States), Tori Goyette with Hack.Diversity (an internship-to-employment pipeline program of the New England Venture Capital Association), and Xavier Hurd, an experienced large enterprise talent acquisition leader, most recently with Wyman Gordon (a worldwide supplier to the aerospace and industrial gas turbine markets).

Facing up to life under shutdown

For Imad, the shutdown came just as he was beginning a “roadshow” tour of CohnReznick's 18 US-based offices to walk through his talent acquisition strategy & plans for the new fiscal year. “Suddenly we found ourselves in a position where we had to, as a team, pivot and be agile enough to address the business needs. We have had to quickly adapt and are still strong as a talent acquisition team and business partner” he said.

At Hack.Diversity, a similar pivot was required to help intern candidates not feel deterred from applying against all the doom and gloom in the news. “We have had to scale up our offerings to avoid candidates feeling like the slowdown is a reason for them not to seek opportunities. Our program is designed to provide Black and Latin Software Engineers, IT professionals, and Data Analysts with training, coaching, and mentoring -- positioning both employer and employee for long-term success. Now, more than ever, it is important to keep our communication consistent and keep morale high,” Tori explained.

Ensuring team success through uncertainty

Quarantine conditions have meant that talent acquisition teams are now working remotely and engagement has become critical -- both within teams and also with the broader business and stakeholders.

At Wyman Gordon, changes are shared internally (divisionally) and externally (other PCC divisions) to manage all expectations. “Quarantine conditions ensure we rely on our standardized processes and workflows so that all communications -- internal and external -- are clear. Our systems allow all our manufacturing plant sites to communicate their recruiting needs accurately and allow us to provide them support aligned with their needs. Its a move from just recruiting to strategic Talent Acquisition aligned to business needs,” said Xavier.

Being authentic and positive has been essential to communications during this time. HR must commit time to demonstrate organizational culture and a helping hand to employees and candidates at every stage.

Tori added: “Now is the time for employers to commit to long-term candidate and employee relationships. At Hack.Diversity,we lost 20 roles from roughly 6 partner companies as a result of the covid19 economic slowdown. Our strategy was to fully recognize the scenario and use the time to get people powered up and running. We were deliberate in not sugar-coating things, so candidates  are aware of the reality. Our candidates are grateful for this”

Internal teams have been busy planning messaging to help staff with the changes. At CohnReznick, Imad holds regular virtual meetings to keep morale high, including Workout Wednesdays, happy hours, and internal client check-ins. Recently he started weekly  Group Reflections meetings, in response to the George Floyd protest movement.

“It has been important to ensure a good work-life balance in my team. We have allotted time for virtual meets on work related topics as well as casual events. As a manager, I have had to be flexible and let colleagues balance work and home life to meet the demands of the business, and the onus is on us to ensure that it is a positive experience. Working virtually can be as and sometimes more productive than the office. Transparency is vital at all times though,” said Imad.

Tori also championed transparency: “That transparency also applies to candidates, especially where there could be financial implications for people with low-incomes. You need to find the balance between being reassuring while being realistic. Typically under-represented talent, for example, are often used to or even sadly expecting things won't work out, but we work with them to make sure they see the value in their persistence.” 

Supporting the business in precarious situations

Business pressures also need to be taken into consideration. Uncertain times drive changing behaviors and talent acquisition must adapt to new goals. For Imad, this meant conceding that team changes were necessary. “Of course, we wanted to reinforce potential negative impacts of furloughing team members on our pipeline, but the harsh reality is that businesses need to weigh up all potential cost efficiencies they can secure. In our business, accountants are deemed essential workers, so nothing can stop. However, our recruiting team is down in numbers and will have to work twice as hard to ensure our workforce pipeline is sufficient until we are able to revive and rebuild momentum to the levels of before the virus.”

Technology is an essential aide to making recruiting easier for businesses. Making a recruiting needs case in the manufacturing industry can be tough but is necessary, Xavier stressed: “It’s critical that every decision made be backed with meaningful statistics. In my organization, it is up to Talent Acquisition to demonstrate that we understand business expectations -- in terms of qualifications and timeliness of delivery, and so on -- . and can prove our input to these decisions with analytics. Without evidence, the value of recruiting is muddled.”

Adapting to virtual recruiting

One of the biggest changes to recruiting has been the rapid switch to a 100% virtual model. This has required changes to both candidate and employer mindsets.

For Tori, new guidelines needed to quickly put together. “A week after the virus prevented most face-to-face contact, we set about updating our preparation material to include trainings on what it might be like to do virtual interviews, instead of face to face, and asked partners to deliver a session that focused on this too. The biggest takeaway I’ve noticed is how going virtual has really humanized things and has equalized the experience as candidates and interview teams are learning a new way of operating.

“While a virtual interview experience helped candidates feel more comfortable in some ways, there will always be the challenge of making the process equitable and considerate. Many underserved candidates have unreliable internet, limited technology, and shared spaces. Companies who supported candidates through these individual situations served as model partners that our candidates wanted to work for."

At CohnReznick, the organization has adopted video interviewing technology after years of asking. “Video has been controversial in my organization for years, with face-to-face considered the norm. Now, we have no choice but to adopt it and adapt to it -- with campus processes including a one-way video submission lasting 3-5 minutes and experienced hiring including a live 30-minute face to face interview. What’s been great is we have made this consistent across the board, and it’s going tremendously with both candidates and hiring managers.

“We’re also doing virtual career fairs using a schools-based platform which is very effective. Everyone is willing to engage digitally because it's the norm at the moment. There is work to get done to get over preconceptions and biases in this process though. We had to remind our hiring managers to judge candidates based on the quality of their answers and not on the quality of the video itself because not everyone has access to strong internet bandwidth or a private space to tape their video!” says Imad

Not everyone can go virtual however and face pressures to make their interviewing process as safe as possible for candidates.

Xavier explained how the manufacturing industry has had to adapt when possible, from physical interviewing to be safe and compliant, to using technology (Skype) more in interviewing. “We've had to figure out what positions can be Skype interviews versus onsite interviews”.

“We see real efficiencies of scale through our technology (Oleeo) to screen applicants based on skill sets. The recruiting tools and systems can do large parts of the recruiting task, and align desired skills more to the needs of our organization via competency based hiring. My team benefits from more competency based strategic mindsets as they work virtually and source for candidates.  Our technology and mindset helps us connect with highly skilled professionals before competitors and are not left behind.”

Advice for the new normal

I ended my discussion by asking the leaders for a single piece of advice for recruiters to remember in these precarious times. Imad was keen to emphasize the need to “pivot quickly, be agile and always one step ahead of the disruptors.”

Tori offered some candidate advice: “Don't take yourself out of the game and decide a job is not for you without someone else telling you that. Ignore the blanket news statements and look at success stories -- for instance we placed  6 candidates with companies previously not associated with us -- so be persistent and open to processes taking longer than you expect rather than shut down and stop altogether.”

Xavier called on the industry to take charge: “Talent Acquisition leaders should take ownership of finding innovative solutions because nothing will be the same as it was before. Put effort in understanding what the challenges are coming, and find a solution for the future of talent acquisition. Do not leave it to the business to try to figure out.”

A huge thank you to Imad, Tori, and Xavier for sharing their stories. It was great to hear the different challenges and opportunities they are addressing in this unprecedented environment - and I know everyone who attended got so much out of the session. The full recording is embedded below if you’d like to check it out. I hope you can join us at one of our next webinars. Keep an eye on for more information.


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