NACE Journal, August 2020
The most dominant trend in talent acquisition has been the deployment of new technologies as the latest and greatest answer to the age-old challenge of finding, recruiting, and retaining the right talent. This trend toward a virtual technology world in the talent space has been inexorable, and the current pandemic has only accelerated the rate of that change. Hiring organizations are relying on technology to spend less time in resume review, expand their reach to potential talent pools, become more effective in assessing and selecting potential candidates, fill open positions faster, identify the best internal candidates, increase new-hire diversity, and reduce the overall spend—all while improving the candidate experience and the quality of hire in order to future-proof their hiring. Technology may even provide the best answer for smaller or less-known organizations to effectively level the playing field for talent with their larger and better-known competitors.
To accomplish this, hiring organizations are focusing on the potential of remote interviewing, natural language processing, speech recognition, gamification, chatbots, virtual reality experiences, predictive data analytics, and, of course, the promise of artificial intelligence in guiding their efforts. The increasingly vital question in this emerging technology-intensive ecosystem, however, is what role does human interaction appropriately play? In other words, where is the humanity in the technology of talent acquisition?
For all its obvious strengths and unquestioned potential, we do know that technology is not foolproof. Algorithms, for example, can powerfully perpetuate the status quo, and it is fair to say that AI is not creative, empathetic, or loyal—all attributes that only humans are, at least at the moment, fully capable of. Further, prospective candidates do not all react in the same way to the talent technology ecosystem. Aside from the obvious issues of access, e.g., reliable Wi-Fi and appropriate devices, technology can be intimidating. Issues of gender and culture, for example, can significantly impact the ability of candidates to present themselves in an authentic and compelling way via a pre-recorded interview. Regardless of accessibility and comfort level, most candidates still lament the loss of what they value as the personal touchpoints and interactions that make the entire process seem more personal and relevant and the organization’s interest more genuine.
The pandemic has reminded us all of the vital importance of connecting the personal and virtual worlds and that finding a way to blend the best technical recruiting practices with humanity is more important than ever. This moment is bigger than the next recruitment cycle and offers an overwhelming opportunity to create something not only new, but better for candidates and recruiting organizations.
During the last few months, Cappfinity’s co-founder Nicky Garcea and New York Times best-selling author Lindsey Pollak collaborated on a research project with global talent leaders across multiple sectors that provided insights into the impact of the current circumstances and trends on the Class of 2020 and beyond. Research findings from the #2020Strong project revealed an overwhelming desire to bring more humanity into an increasingly technological recruitment lifecycle and not repeat some of the mistakes made during the Great Recession. Employers are increasingly concerned with how to bring greater innovation to the interview process and help candidates demonstrate their authentic and whole selves through the candidate experience and evaluation process.
Many are also asking how to best evaluate candidates in a consistent and unbiased manner and how they can help new hires thrive in their roles by contributing most effectively to their development and leveraging their strengths and skills. These are critical questions as candidates are seeking organizations and opportunities that allow them to realize their true selves in a work culture that supports their growth and development. Social justice issues, for example, have never been more front of mind for candidates given the current climate, and organizational positions and commitments to the importance of these issues can significantly impact candidate interest and engagement.
Many current processes still simply make it too easy to screen out candidates who can contribute greatly to an organization. While current circumstances are forcing students to reflect on the type of work and organization they want to work for, they are also providing the opportunity for hiring organizations to consider different types of candidates with a variety of backgrounds, allowing a reimagining of early careers hiring and aligning humanity and technology in a fairer and more inclusive process.
Given these considerations and the increasingly virtual nature of work environments, there are some specific strategies organizations should consider.
Strategy 1: Expand the Top of the Funnel
During the research conversations, so many recruiting leaders referenced 2008, when engagement and hiring with perspective to early careers talent came to a screeching halt. Those practices and failing to engage and create different opportunities made it challenging to restart their programs and often negatively impacted their hiring for the next three to five years. Especially now, it is important to reach out to students and campuses to build a more inclusive pipeline. Schools and candidates that could never get the attention of well-known companies suddenly have recruiters open to interacting in more meaningful ways and discovering talent pools that may have been easily overlooked in the past.
The pandemic has made senior leadership more open to innovation and change; this includes a more inclusive hiring process. The pandemic forced recruiting organizations to become more agile, converting internships and recruiting programs overnight to virtual experiences. In many cases, this nimbleness gave recruiting leaders a seat at the table to make the case for exploring different recruiting approaches that would bring more diverse students into the pipeline early in the process and creating ways to support these students during the journey.
Strategy 2: Value Difference and Authenticity
The challenges facing everyone have contributed to a greater sense of empathy for candidates and their situations. This creates a safer environment for candidates to speak up about their needs and differences. Finding new ways to provide support when in-person conversations are unavailable can be a challenge, but these human connections are proving so important. Many employers are experimenting with new ways to check in and work through difficulties and complexities, so candidates feel comfortable and supported.
Authenticity has become exceptionally important to candidates and, with that, there is a new willingness among many to disclose a disability or circumstance that may affect their candidacy, but not their qualifications. Asking for extra time or support during the process has increased; with this development, there is more willingness than ever before by employers to listen, collaborate on solutions, and demonstrate their understanding of these concerns.
Strategy 3: Connect for Culture and Humanity
Candidates are craving human interaction, and many are seeking a highly personalized experience: Adding the human touch helps create that desired experience. Some companies are putting more emphasis on “old-fashioned” practices that were effective several years ago. Many, for example, are ramping up phone interviewing as a way to build a more authentic connection and have a real conversation with candidates. Recruiters are also asking their interns to reach out to students they know and refer them.
There is an increased focus on onboarding new hires not only to their roles but also to the culture of the organization, ensuring that new hires are assimilated and feel a sense of belonging. This can be challenging under the best of circumstances but particularly with a new virtual workforce. Organizations have created a toolkit of very specific actions, strategies, and best practices for managers and their new recruits. This goes far beyond distributing “tech,” such as company laptops, mobile devices, and gear, and having a brief conversation. It is really about creating a culture that is welcoming and supportive, even if, for now, it is not in person. Doing this well will have lasting and positive ramifications for the hire and for the organization.
Providing increased access to real client phone and video meetings and conversations, and connections to senior leadership are also making a difference for many interns and new hires. Town halls or “all hands meetings,” once an infrequent occurrence, are happening far more often, giving all staff the opportunity to be aware of organizational developments and to be heard. Participants feel included and valued and a more vital part of the organization.
Strategy 4: Give Feedback and Build Connection
New hires and existing staff are craving feedback, and employers are more willing to provide it, using a number of technological approaches, but also introducing a more human element. Many employers see a new imperative to help talent grow and develop new skills and competencies as well as understand their strengths and areas for improvement. Mentoring has often been a “one off” that involved a 20-minute conversation over coffee. The emphasis should be on developing meaningful relationships with professionals at different levels, firmly demonstrating humanity and personal investment in employees. Consistent communication and frequent connection points are helping candidates feel more informed and cared for in the process.
Recruiters are also realizing that a virtual internship or work experience that normally includes social events requires that there are random acts of kindness and joy integrated into the experience. Examples include interns naming their favorite song and building a Spotify playlist, bringing connectivity and excitement to the group—the playlist went viral to other firms. One firm gave all interns access to a personalized “app” that gave them fun “homework,” including ways to stay connected with other interns and colleagues. Other companies encouraged students to make videos of their apartments or engage in virtual board game nights or virtual “Iron Chef” competitions. There has also been a concerted effort to acknowledge the accomplishments and resilience of this group of students. Some firms sent awards and medals to each graduate to recognize them individually.
Strategy 5: Support Mental Health
Emotional well-being is no longer something that can be marginalized or considered an afterthought in the work setting. Every college campus is striving to provide increased resources and support systems to students with increasing mental health concerns. Organizations should recognize the importance of continuing these support systems for new hires. There are encouraging examples of everyone from senior leadership to hiring managers communicating to new hires that this is a front-of-mind issue, stripping away the stigmas, promoting mental health and well-being support services, and encouraging employees to take advantage of them. Forward-thinking organizations are conducting well-being surveys, tracking and speaking to employees each week, and trying to provide additional connection points and resources. This is especially important for new hires who are living and working alone or not near family, demonstrating care and empathy repeatedly for their situations. Helping to provide support and a human interaction is pivotal.
Demonstrating empathy and compassion at every stage of the recruiting process has become absolutely key. Recruiters must take the time to explain and demonstrate to candidates the company philosophy, mission, and values. Candidates are seeking and expecting a highly personalized connection, including customized communications at every stage of the process. For most, that first job or internship is memorable in learning from mentors, benefiting from the support of managers and colleagues, reflecting on successes and failures, and forming impressions and lessons learned that are carried forward in their career. It is not lost on many in the recruiting and career services community that we need to find a way to create these powerful experiences for the Class of 2020 and for future graduates who will need as much support and personalized interaction as possible.
There has been a new spirit of cooperation and collaboration amongst employers and career services professionals on best practices and benchmarking efforts. There is a growing network of employers that are trying to support students, especially ones that may have had internships or full-time jobs rescinded. Employers are reaching out to each other and sending the resumes of candidates that no longer have offers to other employers that are still hiring. There are recruiters suggesting teaming up with three or four industries or local companies to make the virtual hiring experience easier and positive for students this fall. There are also efforts to support employees that may have been laid off in some of the hardest hit industries and providing coaching and referrals for possible new opportunities.
The circumstances that we now find ourselves in are difficult, frustrating, and painful. The pandemic has changed nothing but accelerated everything. This new normal not only allows us to move forward with the technology essential to the complex processes of talent acquisition but also reminds us of the fundamental humanity that should always form the basis for all our plans, efforts, and values.