How Recruiters Can Keep Adding Value During a Hiring Freeze
August 21, 2020
A hiring freeze is a moment in which recruiters can demonstrate the full value and relevance of the talent function. Here's how.
If there’s one thing that can be said about recruitment, it’s that agility is baked into its job description. Recruiters navigate big and small changes on a daily basis—from candidates’ last-minute scheduling needs to fluctuations in hiring managers’ ideal candidate profiles to changing headcount plans. But for many organizations, COVID-19 took hiring off script entirely—which has meant more dramatic pivots in business strategies and changes in hiring plans than many of us have ever seen. Some industries have experienced unanticipated high-volume hiring, sure; but for many industries, hiring has slowed or been brought to a virtual standstill. And the very nature of the hiring freeze means recruiters’ primary day-to-day responsibilities—screening and interviewing candidates, for example—are no longer available to them.
The point of a hiring freeze, of course, is that the company can conserve revenue for more essential operations, allowing it to thrive in the long run. This means hiring will resume eventually, once your org has clarity around the economic repercussions of COVID-19 and has adjusted its talent needs accordingly. In the meantime, recruiters don’t become redundant when hiring stops. As a strategic partner to the business, you possess strong skill sets and acute insights you can contribute to the org in other ways. This is a moment to demonstrate the full value and relevance of the talent function. If you can discern the most valuable ways to be spending your time right now—in alignment with headcount predictions and business priorities, even as they shift—you’ll be on the right track. Below, we catalogue a variety of ways recruiters can continue to add value to their orgs.
Build, Diversify, and Nurture Pipelines
The nature of a hiring freeze is that it’s temporary; and you don’t want to be rushing to catch up with demand when it lifts. Check in with your hiring managers regularly to identify the roles they’ll most immediately need filled when the freeze is lifted. These check-ins will help you prioritize which roles to source for. Search your CRM, LinkedIn, and other social platforms. Leverage hashtags and @mentions for searches. (This is a time to experiment with diversifying your search practices.) Remind employees about your referral program. If your org has decided to have employees work remote indefinitely, there may be fewer geographical boundaries you have to work with, which opens up your pool exponentially.
It also diversifies your talent pool, which is something well worth focusing on right now. Reach out to underrepresented employees and your ERGs to ask for referrals for future open roles. Actively seek out URM candidates on LinkedIn. Add HBCUs and Hispanic-Serving Institutions to the list of schools you’ll reach out to for university recruiting. But building pipelines isn’t enough; you’ve got to keep them warm. It may seem counterintuitive to reach out when there’s no open role to speak of; but this is the time to build real, genuine relationships with prospective candidates without the pressure of a job req hovering over you. What are their career goals and aspirations? What about an organization excites them? Are they willing to share more details about their experience? Talent may be more open to networking and to human connection than ever right now. Don’t hide the fact that these conversations are only exploratory. Remember the power of sensitivity and empathy.
Request permission to keep in touch occasionally after these conversations. If prospective candidates agree, you can place them in a long-term nurture campaign. And when hiring resumes again, you’ll have created and sustained relationships with strong talent who are more than ready to consider working for you.
Revise Job Descriptions (and Make Them More Inclusive)
Job descriptions should be thought of as marketing materials—documents meant to engage candidates and encourage underrepresented talent to apply. They reflect the attractiveness of the role, so they shouldn’t be tedious and uninspiring. During this lull, sit down over video with your hiring managers, and review and revise. Which JDs are stale? How can they be made more current and dynamic? Do they sound “human”? Are they clear? (Really ask this: while 72% of hiring managers claim they provide clear job descriptions, only 36% of candidates agree.) Do they accurately reflect your culture and values? Do they still accurately reflect what the position entails?
Aside from reflecting your org’s needs, ensure your JDs speak to the interests of talent. It’s worth remembering what candidates want to see in a job description. According to Built In, for example, a description of the company and details about compensation are as important as the details of the role. Take a look at other candidate surveys and use that data to optimize your JDs according to what candidates want to know. You might also conduct interviews with recent applicants or current employees to learn how to best optimize those documents.
Finally, pay attention to how inclusive your job descriptions are. Underrepresented talent will be looking at all of your messaging for cues about how safe they’ll be at your company; and your JDs are no exception. Do they use gender-neutral language? Is the language inclusive? (Does it include acronyms that will alienate talent that is self-taught, or that isn’t already in your industry and doesn’t know the jargon?) Do they favor “qualifications” and “requirements” rather than “results” and “impact”? Do they explicitly shout out your commitment to diversity? (We’ve written an entire asset on inclusive job descriptions if you want to cover your bases.)
Use the Hiring Freeze to Attend to Employer Branding
Your employer brand is the collection of elements that makes your company stand out as a desirable place to work. It highlights your culture and values, and speaks to the unique set of benefits talent will receive in return for the skills, experience, and effort they bring to your org should they choose to come work with you. But an employer brand doesn’t just impact prospects’ decisions to apply to your (future) open roles; it also impacts how current employees feel about your company.
The elements you highlight when it comes to your employer brand may be different post-COVID; and this is a conversation worth having with your team. Talent is likely more risk-averse now; so communications need to build confidence in your org by detailing the ways it’s positioned for a profitable recovery. Values-alignment is more important to talent than ever before. They want to see the resilience of both your company and your individual employees. All of this may be more important than things like the caliber of your talent, which you may be used to highlighting. Here’s what you can focus on when it comes to employer branding:
Gathering collateral. Take stock of your content. What do you already have and what do you need to create for a complete narrative of your company? Identify and interview employees to spotlight in blog posts or podcasts. Have them make videos about their roles, their trajectories within your org, what a-day-in-the-life is like. How have they adapted to remote work? What projects are they working on and excited about?
Updating your careers page. Do you need to update your images? Do you need to offer a Q&A based on questions you’ve fielded from talent in recent months? Does the page acknowledge the current crisis and offer information about how you’re adapting in response? Do you include employee testimonials? Do you have a CTA for a talent community? You may see more inbound applications eventually. Be sure the right talent is signing up to hear from you.
Leveraging your social media profiles. 73% of millennials found their last job on a social network. A hiring freeze is a great time to audit your social profiles, or to embark on your social strategy. This may mean creating a calendar of “social media takeovers,” in which employees take turns posting photos or creating stories. It may mean creating ground rules and workflows to ensure posts are edited for voice, tone, and content.
Turning your team into brand ambassadors. Sometimes talent needs to be reminded of the impact they can have by shouting out their employer on their own channels: messaging shared by employees garners 561% more impressions than the same messaging shared by the company; it’s also shared 24x more frequently. Once you have content to share, encourage the team to leverage that content for the benefit of the org. Streamline the workflow for how employees get notified of new content to share.
Strengthen Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Initiatives
We discussed diversifying pipelines above; but underrepresented talent isn’t going to stick around for long at a company that’s failed to consider equity and inclusion. Take this time to look at historical pipelines and ask if, and why, underrepresented dropped out at certain stages of the hiring process more often than majority talent did. Take charge of unconscious bias trainings for hiring managers and interviewers—whether that means creating a curriculum specific to your org and its hiring process, or inviting an organization to conduct a webinar training for your hiring teams.
You could also partner with HR to examine every aspect of the company and scan for ways underrepresented talent may or may not feel included and safe at your company. Recruiters often already have a finger on the pulse of how employees are feeling because they’ve maintained relationships with the team members they brought in. You can use these long-standing relationships to gather anecdotes and points-of-view about inclusion and belonging. Some other questions to ask:
Do you have employee resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups? How about formal mentorship and sponsorship programs?
What safeguards are in place to ensure leadership assessments and promotion processes are as free of bias as possible?
How frequently does underrepresented talent get promoted? What do their career trajectories look like compared to their White/male/cisgender/heterosexual counterparts?
Are company benefits inclusive of underrepresented talent (coverage for domestic partners, for example; or appropriate health care plans for transgender employees)?
Does your company allow employees to take their religious/cultural holidays of choice off?
Do employees use their pronouns in email signatures? Are they pronoun-forward when introducing themselves?
The answers to any of these questions might lead your team to initiatives it could undertake. Ultimately, it means the underrepresented talent you’re filling your pipelines with during this down-time will be more likely to express interest in your org when the hiring freeze is over.
Strengthen Relationships with Hiring Managers and New Hires
We know that organizations that improve hiring manager satisfaction are 3x more likely to reduce time-to-hire and 2x more likely to improve quality of hire. Add to this earlier research that showed the biggest driver of talent acquisition performance—four times bigger than the second-biggest driver—was strong relationships between recruiters and hiring managers. If these partnerships aren’t already in place, now is the time to start building them. You’ll set yourself up for much better success post-freeze if your HMs begin to view you as a strategic thought partner during this lull.
If you need guidance on building better relationships with your hiring managers (as well as insights directly from other recruiters), check out these best practices. We cover everything from educating HMs on the recruiting process, to leveraging data to strengthen trust, to ensuring the most relevant and qualified candidates get passed on by asking the right questions. Maybe this is the time to share best practices for candidate interactions, or to remind hiring managers of the importance of maintaining their networks, or to recommend the best ways to partner with your team. Check in regularly with HMs during this down-time. How do they envision the future of the team? What skills and experiences will be most valuable to them in a post-COVID (or fully-remote) world? How have they felt about your past performance in terms of turnaround times and quality-of-hire? Get an honest assessment from them of the pre-freeze recruiting process, so you know what to optimize in the interim.
The other relationships to maintain right now are those with new hires. 90% of new hires decide whether to stay at a company within the first 6 months of joining, which means check-ins are crucial in those early months. Reach out to the hires you’ve made in the last year. Find out how their day-to-day is going, what projects they’re most excited to be working on, what they love most about their role right now. For those that have been in their roles in the 6-12 month range, ask how they imagine their career progression with your org. When new hires know that recruitment is already thinking about their trajectory with you, they’re all the more likely to stay.
Use the Hiring Freeze to Clean Up and Evaluate Your Tech Stack
One of the smartest ways to impact your org during a hiring freeze (and an initiative your CFO will thank you for) is a full audit and evaluation of the tools in your recruiting tech stack. There are a few overarching questions to attend to here. What range of tools and licenses is your team currently using? Which ones are actually adding value, and which are unhelpful and/or redundant? Of the ones that have an ROI that makes them worth keeping, are they being used to their fullest extent? And finally, what tools can you add to your tech stack to ensure that your team can hire with efficiency in the new, post-COVID paradigm?
Start with a full audit: your ATS, CRM, sourcing platforms, email finders, interview schedulers, video interviewing platforms, mobile recruiting tools, chatbots, applicant screening tools, referrals platforms, and whatever other tools you’re working with. Evaluate and grade each tool on efficiency, using the data you have on hand. What time- and cost-savings is each tool affording you? How is it impacting your time to hire, or the rates at which candidates drop out of process, or overall candidate engagement? Is it giving you the data and visibility you need to iterate on your hiring process? Questions of this nature will help you identify the tools worth abandoning or substituting.
Once the team has agreed on the technologies it intends to keep, evaluate and optimize how you use them. Can your entire team comfortably and capably use all the features in these tools that are relevant to your hiring process? Do your internal training resources for those tools need to be updated? Have you standardized the data points recruiters need to input throughout the hiring workflow, and is every recruiter inputting that data? In short: is the tool being used to its full potential? Use this time to do some data cleanup in your ATS, CRM, and sourcing tools. Clean up old interview notes and add ones that never got logged; update candidates’ information (titles, companies, contact, OFCCP); move candidates into the correct stage of each process; close out old roles; and so on.
Finally, this may be the time to check in with other vendors if you evaluate your tools and discover the ROI on them isn’t what it should be. Parts of your hiring process may now be virtual for the long-term. Your recruitment tech should support remote collaboration so all stakeholders can be involved in the process. It should bolster your new hiring paradigm. As much of the recruitment process as can be streamlined and automated should be from here on out. You’ll have to put more emphasis than ever on the human element of your work, and on creative tasks related to candidate experience. Ultimately, the point is to emerge from this moment with a tech stack that allows you to efficiently rebuild your workforce, and hire faster than your competitors, when hiring does resume again.
Evaluate Your Candidate Experience and Your Hiring Process
After you’ve cleaned up the data in your recruiting tech, re-pull historical reports. Your ATS and CRM are great places for objective data on things like time-to-fill, cost-per-hire, passthrough rates, and more. Candidate experience surveys are important sources for more subjective data. Use all of this for insights into what can be changed in your process to bolster candidate experience, identify bottlenecks, and optimize your funnel. Look at every stage in your process from the perspectives of efficiency, inclusiveness, and candidate experience. Define the things you can start testing to improve conversion rates once the recruiting function is up and running again.
You can also analyze the degree to which recent hires have aligned with the organization. Use performance data (Are new hires staying? Are they performing well? Are they getting promoted?) to determine the ROI of those hires. Does the data suggest that your screening or interviewing processes need to be more rigorous? Do you have matrices of weak/average/excellent answers that can guide less-experienced interviewers and align expectations across the hiring team? Are your interviews structured? How do notes get shared and what does collaboration look like between interviewees (especially remotely)? Do you need to diversify your interview teams? How are you interviewing for culture add rather than culture fit?
If you see fit, update your training resources (recruiting handbooks, best practices, hiring manager training manuals, FAQs for recruiters on talking points about your company) or create new ones. Rewrite your interview scorecards.Remember to be future-thinking in these evaluations. Virtual hiring experiences may be the new norm going forward. How do processes and guidelines need to change to accommodate this? What elements of the hiring process can be replicated virtually, and which ones will require creative thought and experimentation? Does remote work affect your role requirements at all? (Hint: it probably won’t change the skills and experience candidates need to have; but what about adaptability, mental resilience, self-motivation, the ability to pivot, collaborate virtually, and creatively problem-solve? How do/will you interview for those things?)
Use the Hiring Freeze to Invest in Upskilling and L&D
Professionals spent 3x more time watching videos on LinkedIn Learning in the first week of April 2020 than they did in the first week of January. According to LinkedIn, key focus areas for recruiters are storytelling, using data, and influencing business leaders. The moral of the story is that recruiters are hungry to learn. Give yourself the time to do a skills evaluation on yourself and expose your own gaps—then design a plan to close them through L&D.
Of course, there are a host of resources out there on running remote interviewing and onboarding processes and managing remote workers to achieve a productive and engaged workforce. Given the times, you may need to start there. Add to this data from LinkedIn that suggests the three skills recruiters believe are becoming increasingly important are engaging passive candidates, analyzing data to drive talent decisions, and advising business leaders and hiring managers. Maybe you let those trends and expectations guide you. Maybe you take that online course or pursue that certification through SHRM, or LinkedIn Learning, or Recruiter.com (or Geekruiter Academy or DevSkiller, if you’re a tech recruiter).
You could also use this moment to get updated on the latest recruiting trends and on what’s happening in your industry. What new tools and technologies are on the market? What best practices are changing? What does candidate experience look like right now? Who’s doing it right? Or turn to your own business. Can you learn from sales how to demo the product and speak about your solution with more confidence? Taking the time to study any other area of the business will help you gain perspective and speak more fluently about the org as a whole when it’s time to return to outreach, phone screens, and interviews. Areas of overlap and inspiration are everywhere; look for them.
It may be the case that a popular question in future interviews will be: “How well did you, as a recruiter, continue to add value during your hiring freeze and stay engaged during COVID-19?” Imagine how you hope to be able to answer that question in future interviews, and begin there.
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