How social distancing has influenced the recruitment process
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How social distancing has influenced the recruitment process

The Coronavirus has been disruptive. The uncertainty it caused led some Swiss companies to put their hiring plans on hold. But now that the lockdown has ended, many Swiss companies are keen to get back to being fully operational.

1 July 2020

This means they are going to have to resume hiring. They may even need to increase their headcount in this new post-Coronavirus world.

 

How we will recruit will change

 

It won’t be the same of course. Shutting down public life for months on end has led to a huge shift in how we work, how we interview, and how we hire. A large part of this disruption is being driven by social distancing, which is still with us today.

 

Most of us by now have partially returned to the office. It’s a strange experience. I’ve noticed that some people wear face masks, but others don’t. Social interaction is also a little awkward. After months of not seeing colleagues, is it strictly forbidden to shake hands? Or have greetings been limited to touching elbows and tapping feet?

 

So, you can imagine how awkward it is when meeting professional candidates in a formal setting. For now, I’m going for the elbow bump. But this is the environment that social distancing has created. It’s also going to be around for a while. Consequently, it will have a huge influence on the recruitment process in ways I could not have previously imagined.

 

How do you search for candidates at a social distance?

 

Finding skilled candidates is art. You need to be both creative and innovative, plus have a strong established network. Once you find the right candidate, it can take time to try and persuade them to leave the company they work for. And, a large part of this process involves having one-to-one meetings: it might be in your office, over a coffee, or even for lunch.

 

When you meet someone face-to-face you can very quickly establish the kind of person they are. You get a sense of their personality from their body language, posture, and facial expressions. And it’s not always about meeting a candidate for a role. Often, it’s about gathering information that might help fill a position either now or in the future.

 

When social interaction is a bit more limited, this becomes tricky. You’re limited to telephone calls and Zoom video conference calls, which reduces your ability to pick up on these social signals.

 

Could the interview process change?

 

Interviewing candidates can also be a bit challenging in a social distancing setting. It’s similar to the issues experienced when searching for candidates.

 

In the past, hiring senior people always involved face-to-face meetings. For instance, it was also common practice for senior members of staff to fly-in when interviewing candidates for a high-profile role. However, thanks to technology it’s now possible to carry out such interviews by video conference call. And now social distancing has helped make this practice the established norm.

 

During the lock-down, some companies continued to hire, especially for highly skilled positions that they needed to fill. In some instances, almost the entire interview process was conducted by video conference.

 

What was interesting to observe was how these companies adapted. Faced with social distancing they used other methods to assess the candidate’s suitability for the role.

 

They would carry out more thorough reference checks. Online assessments, even for the most senior positions, were used by some HR teams. However, what impressed me the most was that often the video conference interviews were recorded.

 

This meant that candidates needed fewer interviews as the interview recordings could be watched an analysed by multiple people long after the interview took place. It saved a considerable amount of time and sped up the hiring process.

 

The onboarding process has also been affected by social distancing

 

What was fascinating to observe was how candidates were onboarded at a social distance. In some instances, candidates were hired prior to the lock-down. They had signed their contracts and agreed on their start dates, which ended up being in the middle of the lock-down.

 

It must have been a surreal experience for those starting their first day of work at home. I heard stories of recently hired candidates going into town to pick up a laptop that had been prepared for them from a partially closed office. Their entire interaction with their team and the rest of the company was completely digital. They were either communicating by email or video conference call with some team members they had never physically met.

 

Of course, since the lock-down has ended, things have changed. Such measures are no longer necessary.

 

However, even as social distancing fades, these experiences will still have a significant impact on the recruitment process. It has challenged the status quo and old ways of thinking. It’s also encouraged companies to use new techniques and technology to assess and hire candidates.

 

Perhaps social distancing will therefore have some beneficial effects on recruitment.

Luca Semeraro

Head of Badenoch & Clark
Zurich, Switzerland

Follow Luca on LinkedIn