GTP21: Improving your hiring - the five top lessons learned in 2020

Identify Finance Recruitment

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2021 Growth Through People campaign.

Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. In 2021 this involves 8 free online workshops taking place throughout March, and a virtual Growth Through People conference on 30th March. In addition, throughout the campaign the Chambers will be publishing thought leadership podcasts, videos and blog content such as this.

Thanks to our Headline Sponsors – Aston University, BMet College and the University of Birmingham’s Work Inclusivity Research Centre - all workshops are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more and register to attend Growth Through People workshops here, and the Growth Through People conference here.

2020 was, to be diplomatic, a ‘testing’ year for everyone. But as a certain man named Winston once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste” - and it’s true that amongst all the tragedy, the pandemic can teach us so much about building better, more resilient businesses. As the crisis deepened, many organisations rapidly changed their recruitment habits and practices, and some of those developments will be useful to almost every business as we move out of the pandemic.

1) Video interviews play a valuable role in recruitment

Perhaps the most visible change to recruitment since the pandemic arrived is the rapid rise of interviewing through video platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. With social distancing becoming a necessity for public health, 86% of businesses* turned to using video interviews for both initial and final interviews. While in the long run we all hope that we can return to face-to-face interviews for later stage interviews (the value of direct interaction cannot be underplayed), video interviews deliver many benefits and I anticipate that they’ll be a standard feature of recruitment processes in the years ahead. Video interviews have enabled businesses to engage far more rapidly with their shortlisted candidates. Previously, aligning face-to-face interviews around the hiring manager’s schedule, the candidates’ work, family life and other interviews, usually took around a week from interview request to the interview itself. With the ease of online interviewing, the same process can be completed within just a few hours.

One other surprising effect of video interviewing was the avoidance of unconscious bias. Because it’s so accessible, hiring managers became more ready to meet online with candidates they might previously have overlooked. As an experienced Recruitment Consultant, it can be frustrating when hiring managers won’t interview a candidate who you know has outstanding experience or a great attitude – attributes that are not always visible in a CV. With the ease of the video interviewing process allowing the hiring manager to ‘take a chance’ on talking to such candidates, they were effectively widening the talent pool available to them.  

2) Digitalisation of onboarding

Having spent my career working closely with HR professionals, I know that onboarding can be a long, complex and at times bewildering process. Lots of boxes need to be ticked, from ‘right to work’ checks, start date/ time/ location confirmation, to sending an employee handbook, signing the Code of Conduct, and lots more. With the accelerated take-up of cloud-based software under lockdown conditions, most companies can now carry out these processes digitally, making it much easier to track and fill any missed steps.

3) Creating a more flexible workforce

For most businesses, cash flow and revenue streams were highly unpredictable in 2020. However, where operations continued, workforces still had to be sustained or grown. While these firms might traditionally have taken on permanent staff, many found that the flexibility of hiring contractors or temporary staff gave them a healthy balance between their operational abilities and long-term financial risks. With economic uncertainty set to remain for some time to come, this is a trend that is sure to continue.

4) Employee wellbeing and business success

 ‘Employee wellbeing’ has been a fashionable phrase in recent years and some brands have perhaps given it more lip service than substantial consideration. However, 2020 changed this dramatically. Public awareness shifted to the health of others, and businesses had to become keenly aware of their employees’ physical and mental ability to do a good job in the face of exceptional and universal stresses.

Businesses have taken action on this in several ways. Some have signed up to online initiatives such as the InsideOut Leaderboard, in an effort both to normalise the open discussion of feelings and to help eradicate the stigma of mental ill health from the workplace. Many companies have added access to fitness and wellbeing apps as an employee benefit to help their workforce keep fit and well even during lockdowns. Most importantly, with many employees working from home, team leaders have become more aware of taking the time to check in with their colleagues about the problems they’re facing and how they can help. By doing this, employers not only nip problems in the bud and avoid having to recruit to replace later on, they can also market these benefits to prospective employees in future. Prior to 2020, it had become clear that purpose and a sense of belonging were more greatly valued by candidates seeking a new job than the once-prized salary increase. By transferring their investment to these employee benefits and marketing them to the candidate market, businesses also invested in their own ‘employer brand’, helping them to attract the right recruits for many years to come.

5) Finding the right candidate in an overcrowded talent pool can be a laborious and time-consuming

Aside from the obvious health crises, one of 2020’s worst features was undoubtedly the vast number of redundancies. Each one brought its own devastation to individuals and families nationwide. As a recruiter, the evidence was horribly clear, with a dramatic rise in the number of job applications. For roles which once attracted a few dozen applications, my inbox was suddenly filled with hundreds of CVs. In purely selfish terms this might seem to be a positive for businesses who were hiring: with jobs scarce, they suddenly had far more choice than before. But the flood of candidates brought its own significant problems. With more applications than even a large recruitment team could effectively manage, it became hard to see the wood for the trees. How could businesses find those very few candidates who were truly right for their team and roles without being distracted by the hundreds of other applications who weren’t?

Successful hirers started at the end of the process. They had a very clear idea of both the experience they wanted in their candidates, and the non-negotiables, such as shared values and purpose, and evidence of a candidate’s plan for success in the role. By establishing these indicators at the very start and building a recruitment process that clearly identifies the matches, these businesses became very efficient at screening vast numbers of applications to find the individual who would be their perfect fit.

There’s no doubt: 2020 won’t be remembered for record levels of hiring. But even under the most challenging conditions there are valuable lessons to be learned. I’m confident that successful businesses will use those lessons to turbo charge their recruitment processes, giving them the benefits of an effective, motivated and flexible workforce for many years to come.

*According to a survey of 334 HR leaders by Gartner, April 2020

Daniel Hayes
Identify Finance Recruitment