Skip to main content

Recruiting in the coronavirus crisis

Written by: Julie Towers is managing director of Penna
Published on: 27 Mar 2020

The coronavirus crisis means we have had to adapt quickly to use digital means to secure talent. We’ve been using digital for many clients prior to last week, usually to support processes when face-to-face was not possible.

Now, everything has changed. Rather than cancel recruitment, most of our clients moved quickly, with our support, to run digital recruitment programmes. Every single one of our assignments at final interview over the last two weeks made appointments. Something to be proud of? Or the new norm?

Any organisation can use digital to improve the candidate/employee experience when recruiting and onboarding. We’ve had the facilities and technological advancement for years. However, some parts of the process have adopted technology more readily than others. There is nothing new in using online as part of the process of finding candidates. No selfrespecting recruiter would neglect digital as part of the sourcing strategy.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, getting potential hires to consider opportunities has increasingly become a remote seduction process. Gone are the days of expensive coffees in top hotels to meet the headhunter. Now recruiters use digital to excite and engage potential candidates. Oneto-one interviews are easily completed using user-friendly, cost-effective platforms, be it Facetime or Microsoft Teams. Video screening is at our fingertips – either on desktop or mobile. The recruitment process utilises worldclass applicant tracking systems to ensure a constantly, consistently excellent candidate experience. Accordingly, we are more agile, faster, inclusive, adaptive and thorough in screening and engaging potential hires.

Many recruitment process stages are conducted face-to-face. And that’s not wrong, or inappropriate. Nothing beats (for candidate or client) meeting in the flesh people who you may work with for many years, and you will be making a significant investment in. But perhaps we’ve been too slavish to this process? Perhaps last week, recruitment was changed forever?

At technical assessment stage, using the free-to-use service Skype, the Government of Jersey was able to engage on and off island talent in their recruitment programme to build a new senior leadership team with Penna’s help. Last week they stepped that up to running supervised assessments with assessors and candidates in different locations. Dorset Council recently used a video presentation to assess the digital attitude and competency of their final panel candidates for the director of digital and change campaign.

At the start of the COVID-19 social distancing directive, our clients moved to video technology for their final panels and it worked; bringing differently located stakeholders together around a candidate to run topical discussions and a final interview with Members and officers.

We’re also working with the High Value Manufacturing Catapult to find a new CEO. With the onset of social distancing, we immediately switched all face-to-face interviews to Skype/ Microsoft Teams.

 In both instances, our clients commented on the quality of the experience, the expediency and focus it brought to proceedings. Others were unsure of the lack of face-to-face but recognised the value of digital in a way they hadn’t before.

Liz Watts, chief executive of South Cambridgeshire Council, who had to deliver three final panels last week said: ‘Faced with cancelling the final panels for three leadership posts last week, we decided to go ahead, using technology as far as possible. All interviews had some combination of panel member and candidate in the office, they all had both via video link. 

‘Probably the oddest was having the candidate and two councillors on Skype while a colleague and I were ‘in the room’.  Did it work?  Well we made three excellent appointments! 

How did it feel? To be honest we do quite a bit of video conferencing already at South Cambs, so while I had never expected to transition quite so quickly to this level of technology, once we were over the initial nervousness it was fine. 

‘My PA and another colleague who were virtually the last people left in the building were spectacular in supporting me on already busy days. When we lost power to the building for 15 seconds, we quickly got up and running again.

‘And the future?  Well I’d certainly be happy to make video conferencing standard if it means people can attend more easily.’

Another client commented last week: ‘There is no going back’. Once the crisis imperative has gone, we believe we will continue to embrace digital. The benefits far outweigh the perceived cost or indeed loss in not meeting the candidates, albeit we think a balance should be sought.

Video panels not only demonstrate and advocate a digital first mindset, they embody our reality. The Society for innovation, technology and modernisation tell us that 65% of citizens expect local government engagement to be via a digital platform. For some candidates, mostly in the private sector, they question why there is not a digital screening platform.

While the cause of the impetus is terrible, the learning from it will drive positive change. Now is the time for the public sector to catch up.

To take your recruitment digital, get in touch. In these challenging times, we’re busy transferring offline learning to e-learning and helping our clients quickly activate their online recruitment and onboarding. We’re also helping our clients prepare for the return to normality. Employer branding will be scrutinised – employers who last week laid off significant numbers of people in a knee jerk reaction will pay long-term. Employees will only remember what you do, not what you say! n

Julie Towers is managing director of Penna