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What if you need to hire workers during COVID-19?

Mike Toten discusses the impact of coronavirus when it comes to recruiting.
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What if you need to hire workers during COVID-19?

What if you need to hire workers during COVID-19?

14 April 2020

Written by Mike Toten

A paradox of the coronavirus pandemic is that some industries and businesses suddenly find themselves requiring a lot more employees. Mike Toten discusses the impact of coronavirus restrictions and procedures on the actual processes of recruitment and selection.

We’ve all seen footage of the long queues of newly-unemployed people outside Centrelink, but a paradox of the coronavirus pandemic is that some industries and businesses suddenly find themselves requiring a lot more employees.

Examples include the obvious one of health care, as well as supermarkets, call centres, home delivery services, online shopping services, security workers and perhaps IT specialists – the latter to help with the big increase in the volume of employees working from home (something that may well continue beyond the impact of coronavirus).

This article examines the impact of coronavirus restrictions and procedures on the actual processes of recruitment and selection.


Most interviews will now be online


Face-to-face interviews have long been a major part of recruitment and selection processes. Online interviews have existed for a while, for example to recruit people located in remote areas, but have been used mainly as an initial screening tool and often followed by a face-to-face interview. However, the “stay home” instructions imposed by coronavirus and the need to protect in-house employees have in many cases made them essential.


Conducting interviews


Below are some tips for conducting online interviews.
  • Allow extra preparation and set-up time. Make sure the technology is working faultlessly (eg you can clearly see and hear each other, there are no drop-outs, distortions or background distractions). Don’t start an interview until you are sure the applicant is comfortable and any glitches are sorted.
  • Have a back-up plan (eg phone numbers or set another time/date) in case the technology at either end fails.
  • Explain in detail how the coronavirus pandemic has changed your organisation and its jobs. For example you need people to start and learn on-the-job quickly, employees will be dealing with fearful/struggling/irate customers, decisions need to be made very quickly, etc.
  • Some industries have had large scale retrenchments, eg hospitality, retail shops, airlines, tourism. Their former employees may be numerous among your applicants. Explore the extent to which their skills and knowledge are relevant and transferrable to your organisation and its industry, for example customer service or IT skills. How quickly can they be trained in matters specific to your organisation/industry? Remember you are mainly looking for evidence of ability to adapt and learn quickly.
  • Describe scenarios that could occur on-the-job during the current crisis. Ask applicants if they can recall similar scenarios from their past employment history and ask how they handled them.
  • For managerial roles, a typical scenario at present will be the need to introduce new working arrangements at short notice and to manage employees working from home. Look for evidence that an applicant could do those effectively.


Other recruitment and selection issues


Some recruiters have requested that applicants prepare and submit short videos about themselves as a substitute for a face-to-face chat. The content of the videos may provide some insights into the applicant’s values and personality, but their relevance may depend on the extent to which the skills of making a video and presenting oneself are important to the job in question. Overall, it may provide some useful extra insights for the recruiters, but should not be used as a core component of the process.

With reference, background and qualifications checking, be aware that the organisations you need to contact will also be operating under different arrangements due to coronavirus. You may need to allow some extra time for them to respond to your enquiries and, in the case of background/qualifications checks, may have to follow different procedures.

Psychometric testing, games and simulation tests can be done online as usual. It may be tempting to rely on them more than usual, but be aware of their potential limitations and the need always to conduct them in a fair and valid manner. As always, the inherent subjectivity of the overall recruitment and selection process means that it is advisable to rely on a combination of methods.


How long will you need the new employees for?


An important issue to consider is whether the new employees you need now are likely to still be needed when the coronavirus pandemic is over and normal business resumes, or whether you merely need them to deal with a (hopefully) short-term crisis.

If the latter, it is wise to consider short-term instead of permanent employment arrangements. Common examples are fixed-term contracts, casual employment (but only if it is suited to the type of work in question) and independent contractor arrangements. In each case, make the potentially short-term nature of the job clear to the employee and ensure that he/she understands the termination provisions that apply to the contract.

If it transpires that you want to keep the person on when normal business resumes, you can always make more permanent arrangements then.


Finally, maintain communications and courtesy


This is a very stressful time for people who have been thrown out of work suddenly and are fearful about their futures, both short-term and long-term. More than ever, take care to communicate promptly and courteously with ALL your applicants. Acknowledge applications immediately, keep applicants informed of progress and timeframes for decisions, and if you reject an applicant do it tactfully and as soon as you have made your decision.

If using software for initial screening and routine communications, check that it is able to cope with a potential big increase in the volume of applications.

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