How COVID-19 is changing the UK recruitment industry.

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August 12, 2021

We’ve been waiting until the dust settles until thinking about the long-term implications of COVID-19 for the UK recruitment industry. Now the dust is finally starting to settle; it’s becoming clear that recruitment life isn’t going to return to pre-COVID normality any time soon.

Here’s what we’ve seen changing for our customers, and what we think it’s going to mean for recruiters for the future. (The great news is, we believe there’ll be many more winners than losers).

How has the recruitment industry changed since March 2020?

When all this started, most of our customers fell into two clear camps:

  • Recruitment Drive
  • Recruitment Challenge

Recruitment Drive

This was most true of our customers like the NHS and those in call centres or retail. Key industries where furloughing isn’t an option, and sickness rates have increased pressure on delivery.

People in this situation have been facing a few main challenges:

1) They’re inundated with applications for open roles, often from people who’re transferring from other industries. They’re under enormous pressure to be more efficient, faster and able to evaluate cultural fit without relying on like-for-like industry names.

2) They’ve had to take the entire recruitment cycle virtual. The challenge has been fundamentally changing how they interact with candidates while meeting aggressive recruitment targets.

3) They’ve had to learn to work together virtually. Most recruitment teams – who have typically been used to working together, often in the same room, have suddenly been thrust into remote working. That could have significant consequences for collaboration, right when process efficiencies are more important than ever.

Then, on the other hand, plenty of recruitment teams have faced the opposite.

Recruitment Challenge

Throughout all this, we’ve unfortunately seen recruitment flatline for many recruitment teams, with hiring freezes becoming the norm.

Their main challenges have looked more like:

1) HR challenges. Letting people go with compassion and integrity without damaging your employer brand. Maintaining culture, morale and productivity amongst remaining employees. Preventing burnout and anxiety.

2) Deciding what to do with recruitment teams. Furloughing? Layoffs? Redirecting their energies towards building long-term talent communities? Moving people internally?

3) Handling skills gaps. Workforce planning to identify gaps that might’ve opened with layoffs and training to reskill existing team members to fill those gaps where they can.

After a few months, though, most recruitment teams seem to be stabilising.

An Even Keel

For most of our customers, recruitment drives are starting to scale back, and recruitment dives balance back out. We’re reaching more of an even keel – but that doesn’t mean we’re “going back to normal”.

The most significant long-term challenge for everyone, no matter what’s happened since the start of the pandemic, is the shift to virtual. This movement is likely to impact HR and recruitment teams for many months yet – if things ever go back to how they were pre-COVID.

For example:

  • Large group interviews are very unlikely to happen for a long while. Even if it’s “allowed”, many people won’t feel safe in large groups, especially if they or someone close is vulnerable. Showing you prioritise people’s safety will be crucial to your employer brand.
  • There’s likely to be an overall shift to remote working. In-person interviews won’t even make sense for remote roles. For instance, maybe your call centre staff will now work exclusively or mainly from home.
  • Recruitment teams might be covering bigger regions. For teams who have suffered layoffs, reduced team size could start to mean increased workloads – and you might often find yourself recruiting for several regions. It won’t be cost- and time-effective to meet people in-person if you’re recruiting across a vast area.
  • L&D is likely to change fundamentally. Like with group interviews, people aren’t likely to feel comfortable en-masse in large training groups and conferences. Not to mention that much training involves international travel, which could be increasingly complex and unattractive to employees from here on out.

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Let’s look at the implications of these changes for recruitment teams.

What do these changes mean for recruitment teams?

From our perspective, these changes are looking to be pretty positive for recruiters. Even our customers who faced difficult situations in the early days of coronavirus have typically seen the major positives of this new approach to recruitment.

But let’s start with the negatives.

Cons of virtual recruitment

Understanding the potential negative implications of post-COVID recruitment means you’re better placed to mitigate them.

  • Recruiters are likely battling ever-increased application volumes as unemployed people from other industries apply. If you’re not using good recruitment software, you’ll struggle to effectively run your processes virtually, and efficiency gaps will start to open.
  • Your recruitment team are more likely to suffer from burnout if they’re dealing with increased workloads, the stress of losing people in their team and the anxiety of working together in new ways. There could be a long-term mental health cost unless you prioritise mental health and remote working support now.
  • Candidates will expect you to keep them informed and safe. There’s a bigger duty of care burden than ever – with severe costs associated if you mess up. For instance, if you rush back to in-person assessment centres and there is an outbreak.
  • Some candidates may struggle with the shift to virtual recruitment. Zoom fatigue, for example, is a big possible issue. You may need to give candidates some extra support to help them represent themselves well – so your recruiters can accurately assess quality-of-hire.
  • If your new virtual recruitment processes and just gap-fillers that don’t truly replicate your in-person experience, you risk damaging the candidate experience and damaging your employer brand. Winners through all this will be the teams who create an excellent virtual candidate experience.

None of these negatives are insoluble problems, but they do take careful thought to make sure you don’t accidentally fall into traps.

Now the positives.

Pros of virtual recruitment

To our minds, the positives of all these changes far outweigh the negatives. So much so, we’re predicting recruitment will never completely ‘go back to normal’.

  • With good recruitment software, you can capitalise on efficiencies that make your recruitment dramatically faster and cheaper (which also helps combat recruitment burnout!) It’s a great use of resources – especially if your recruitment team is depleted. Take assessment centres. Booking the location; feeding people; travel costs – these things all add up. Virtual assessment centres are a more convenient experience for candidates while slashing your costs to practically nothing.

Learn which factors matter most when assessing virtual assessment recruitment providers with our free checklist.

  • Often, recruiters have been fighting for change for a long while. It’s business leaders who might struggle to understand the value and endlessly kick the can down the road on software investment. This could finally spur the business to do things differently.
  • Taking your recruitment processes online means you’re prepared for whatever the future holds for the business, whether that’s fully remote, partially remote, sometimes remote, or not remote at all. Many elements of recruitment software make sense; however, you recruit – like video interviewing to replace telephone screening.
  • While some candidates might struggle with virtual assessments and interviews, others might really thrive. So your recruiters can potentially make great-fit hires you’d otherwise have overlooked. Recruiters’ taking extra care to make sure all candidates are comfortable and prepared can only be a good thing.
  • It’s a much better candidate experience, especially at the moment. Taking your recruitment online means candidates don’t have to travel – some might be getting to you on busy public transport, for example. Don’t have to interact with peers. Don’t have the anxiety of wearing a mask for interviews. But even after all this – taking parts of your recruitment process virtual shows respect for candidates’ time. No more stealthy days off work for an hour’s interview. No more travel costs.
  • Talking of masks, virtual recruitment definitely makes sense for as long as masks are mandated. Assessing candidates accurately when half their face is covered will be difficult if not impossible. And some candidates might be uncomfortable wearing a mask so not perform their best. That’s neither fair nor good business.
  • Smart recruitment technology makes sense long-term because it can adapt to your recruitment needs. If you want to take your assessment centres back to physical centres but keep video interviewing, great. If you want to hold virtual assessment centres but final stage cultural fit interviews in-person, great. Few recruitment software options are all-or-nothing so finding something flexible to your changing needs isn’t hard.

Virtual recruitment isn’t going anywhere

COVID-19 has brought short-term fluctuations in recruitment demand, and the employment landscape has undoubtedly changed – but they’re bounce-back changes.

The real change is the movement towards virtual recruitment.

For sure, there are possible negatives. But if you capitalise fully on the medium to deliver a great candidate experience, and ramp-up the support you give candidates, there’s a real opportunity here.

You just might find you’re not just ‘filling a gap’ until you can ‘recruit normally’ again. You’ve landed on a whole new way to recruit, that’s much faster, cheaper, delivers a better candidate experience and drives better quality-of-hire.


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