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Hiring during COVID-19?
By
Cindy Willmann

In this strange and unusual world we are now living in, the rules of engagement we once knew and relied upon aren’t the same as they once were. I’ve noticed that in the wake of this evolution, people are taking a step back, looking at their lives and contemplating significant life changes. 

I’m also speaking from personal experience. Only two weeks after our leadership team discussed extending our work-from-home mandate, I decided it was time to move into a larger home. Moreover, just four weeks later, I moved out of my home of 17 years – that’s a total of six weeks to make and put into effect such a large life change. Strange and disorienting times indeed. 

However, I’ve also seen this self-exploration play out in my day-to-day work in the form of a number of staffing changes on my teams. These examples are varied and interesting case studies of the individual risk assessments that people are doing in their lives. Many of them have come as a result of the pandemic, in some we can see a desire to navigate to a safer environment, while others show a willingness to seize an opportunity in this new world order. 

Here are just a couple of the reasons behind resignations that I’ve observed in the last six months:

  • Moved back to their home state in order to be closer to family.
  • Moved to Scotland to pursue a graduate school opportunity.
  • New hire: Took another job opportunity at a startup.
  • New hire: Received a better offer from a large social media company. 
  • New hire: There was a miscommunication in our hiring process (more on that later).

After dusting myself off from my own personal life change (moving), I have reflected on all these staffing/life changes, and I think there are a few lessons to learn. 

Recruiting lesson #1: Don’t assume

First and foremost, everyone is handling this pandemic differently. Some people are wanting the safety and comforts of home, while others are wanting to take risks and pursue their dreams in a time when so much has been thrown up in the air. 

You can see this in the various stories of the people on my team and their journeys, so my advice is this: Don’t assume that people are handling it the way you are

We are all different and deal with stressors differently. When you’re interviewing a candidate ask them how they have been handling the pandemic and the related challenges. Their responses will clue you into how they’re managing and what their needs might be as a new employee. 

This New York Times opinion piece talks about taking stock of your personal risk tolerance as the world begins to reopen. For example, I have been fairly open to going places and doing things, but when my gym re-opened I really had to stop and think about going back. For now, it’s felt just over the “too risky” line for me. And the same holds true for potential employees in different situations – get a pulse on that, and you can evaluate whether someone is a good fit for your team and how to accommodate their needs when bringing them on board.

Recruiting lesson #2: Communicate, communicate, communicate

The teaser I gave above comes into play here. One of our new hires didn’t end up staying with us as long as we would have hoped because we failed to communicate well during the interview process. 

The position for which they were hired requires some degree of in-office work even though the majority of staff are working remotely right now. Unfortunately, because this employee had some vulnerable family members at home, they were uncomfortable with coming into the office as much as the position required. They were unable to take the risk that coming in to the office entails, which makes sense for their situation at home. This echoes my earlier point regarding risk tolerance, as well.

We could have easily avoided the churn of hiring someone only for them to leave by more effectively communicating the needs of the position during the interview process and ensuring they were willing and able to come into the office as-needed. 

Instead, this employee stayed only a few weeks before having to change things up again and find a new role, while we lost the investment we had made in trying to fill the position. Better communication would have better served both parties in this situation.

All in all, remember that communication is a free and easy risk mitigation strategy.

Recruiting lesson #3: Video interviews

While most interviews in the “old days” were done in-person, that’s often no longer possible. 
Face-to-face interviews may be the best way to get to know someone, but virtual recruiting can be just a lucrative – with the right tools and strategy. 

No big surprise here, but like with most things these days, video is the way to go. Why? Because you need as much information from your candidate as possible to be able to make an informed decision – and I mean more than the words they use to answer your questions. It’s not revolutionary, but the more “cues” you get from your candidate, the less risk you bake in to your hiring process.

  • Willingness and ability to video chat. Your candidate being unable or unwilling to join a video call easily tells you several important things about them as an employee: Their comfort level with technology, and their independence and flexibility as an employee. (As a bonus, it also tells you how easy your company’s technology platforms are to navigate as an outsider!) 
  • Visual cues. Videos also give you something else that you don’t get from phone calls – visual cues. As human, we rely on things like facial expression and body language to help convey interest. Is your candidate engaged – sitting up, looking into the camera, and focused? Or are they distracted and unfocused? 

For example, just a few weeks ago I had two video interviews and found both of the candidates warm, engaging and clearly interested in working for us. I could tell from their visual cues that they were really tuned into the conversation, and that they were caring people who would be a good fit for our team. One person was even so passionate about the role and what we do that she got teary – in a good way! 

The work doesn’t all fall on your candidate’s shoulders, though – it’s also important for you to do your part in video interviews: Minimize your distractions so you can be as focused as possible and maintain eye contact with the candidate to show that you’re engaged. 

Summary

In conclusion, on a normal, good day, hiring is about a 50/50 shot of getting the right person for your role and organization. It’s an inherently risky endeavor. Some go as far as to say it’s the biggest risk in any business. In these times it’s important to be even more attentive to risk mitigation strategies even the simple ones mentioned here. 


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Cindy Willmann

Cindy Willmann

Cindy Willmann is the vice president of operations at Global Impact. In her role, she wears many hats: overseeing internal and external facing technology, leading our Charity Services team and wrangling content for our board so they are equipped to serve us well. It’s a varied portfolio and keeps her on her toes! Cindy is a Boston native, but you wouldn’t know it from talking to her (she hopes!) and currently lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband and black pug mix, Chloe. In her spare time she loves reading to keep up with her 2+ book clubs and catching live music when she can, especially her husband who plays guitar. 

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