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Hiring during a pandemic: peer-to-peer advice

The recent coronavirus pandemic has shaken many people both personally and professionally. For those working in recruitment or HR, the impacts of the virus are close to home. As teams trade in their meetings for video calls and recruiters grapple with hiring freezes and uncertainties, now more than ever, professionals are looking to their peers for advice.

Peer-to-peer advice

We recently spoke to Melanie Grunert, Head of Talent at Container xChange, to learn more about how organizations are handling the pandemic from a people perspective. Melanie is responsible for recruitment, building up a great team, and developing stellar processes at Container xChange. 

Container xChange is a growing tech startup in the logistics space that provides a B2B marketplace to share excess containers with other companies. Based in Hamburg, Container xChange is committed to hiring, though in the current conditions they’ve shifted to a more remote process when it comes to recruiting and onboarding. Melanie shares her experiences with the pandemic and a remote-first approach to hiring below.

So how has this recent pandemic impacted hiring in your organization?

We did hire remotely in parts before since we’re a very international team permanently on the look-out for great minds joining us. 

But at a certain point in the hiring process, we’d always tried to meet candidates in person, having the chance to introduce them to our teams, get a personal impression, show them our office vibes and give candidates an idea of what their roles would look like at our company.

So what did change in the hiring process is that we switched to a fully remote hiring process, which means interacting with candidates 100% via Zoom or Skype. We had to try creating a good remote candidate experience, where they could meet the teams, and get a feeling of our company culture and how we think and how we work.

Having hired remotely before, is it different under these circumstances?

Prior to the pandemic, mainly the screening process and first interviews have been remotely, via phone or Zoom and Skype sessions, and then at a later interview stage we would meet the candidate in person. Now it’s 100% remote recruiting, hiring and onboarding.

What candidates are generally missing at the moment is the personal touch, by that I mean showing how the office is set up, what the working atmosphere is like, and, of course, all the day-to-day office interactions we’d have. Unfortunately, this is hard to show in a remote interview. Now candidates see our living rooms or kitchens via Zoom, which is a different kind of personal touch but does not replace the office vibe

 We now need to make a different case for the candidate experience and make sure that they get a genuine experience with us. More than ever they need to get to know us “personally” before they consider quitting their jobs in order to move, or relocate for work. Creating this trustful relationship and holistic experience is the biggest challenge at the moment.

What is Container xChange doing in these times to replace the interaction that you get in the office with your candidates?

We’re trying to create a few more meaningful touchpoints. So instead of having one quick Zoom session, followed by an interview and then the hiring decision, we try to split it up a bit so that candidates have the chance to meet the team virtually beforehand. We also try to get a few more people involved in the call so that all of the candidates questions can be answered early on.

Are you seeing any opportunities that this kind of remote hiring environment has posed for your organization?

The hiring process is moving along much faster now that we’re remote. People don’t need to come into the office so it is a lot easier to find a slot for an interview if you do not have to take travel times into account. You can check in on a video call quickly and get a feeling if candidates are a match or not. With remote hiring, you get a personal impression of a candidate much earlier on.

Industry professionals are paying close attention to the candidate experience now to create more transparency because every company is having a difficult time. And with candidates, they want to know how we’re doing in the crisis, whether we’re still hiring, how safe our business model is, etc. 

These are all questions that would not have come up so early up in the hiring process before, and the responses are now much more direct and transparent. We need to have a closer relationship from the beginning, and tell them what they want to know and communicate that the recruiting process much more transparent, also to assure that the candidate knows what tools we are using and how the interview will take place.

Do you see any great examples of teams that are overcoming these challenges in different ways or taking advantage of these remote-triggered opportunities?

People are really transparent about the current crisis and its impact on their markets, and what I’m seeing more of is industry professionals exchanging stories and sharing their learnings with others in their sector. 

I have the feeling that recruiters and managers are doing their best to align teams remotely, and are really trying to understand their candidates and their needs better. There are a lot of platforms and lists where companies and candidates communicate openly, trying to connect candidates of companies that are laying off great people with companies who are still hiring. That’s a big step forward for the sector coming from the point where companies were “fighting” for talent on their own.

What does the recruitment/HR broader community need to do in order to collaborate more on remote hiring?

I have the impression that companies are doing a lot more to support their employees during this pandemic. Being accommodating is essential, especially when it comes to technical issues and technology failing while working from home. 

Employers are also choosing to be more accommodating when it comes to the work-life balance of their employees, keeping in mind that some may have children to look after. I think there are a lot of companies doing a great job of trusting their employees by giving them the flexibility, support and freedom to juggle their workload in a way that works for them. Some companies are going as far as offering tech support, while others are letting their employees take desktop equipment, including monitors and chairs from the office, for ease of comfort in their new home offices.

But it’s not only about hiring. It’s about remote onboarding too.

How do recruiters get new hires interacting with their teams? How do they introduce them to the company culture? How often do they check-in to ensure everything is going all right? This is about so much more than just sending company laptops to the employees home address and signing the contract remotely.

It’s about how to integrate new employees, and ensure they’re able to reach out to their teams and feel comfortable enough to lean on their colleagues at the beginning. 

We also have to consider our current employees. Four weeks ago, we were talking about a regular working from home situation when one or the other person was in a home office. Now we’re talking about a whole company being remote. How can you keep employees motivated? How can you make sure that nobody’s falling behind?  How can you offer support to employees feeling alone at home? A lot of companies are taking the initiative to become more virtually social by implementing regular Zoom events, remote coffee or lunch chats, and I think this is helping a lot of people stay connected. 

For those who are experiencing a hiring freeze, what kind of strategic initiatives can these teams actually take on in the meantime?

If there’s a hiring freeze, there may be people who are about to start, who can no longer join or have a delayed start. It is very important to walk them closely through the remote onboarding and working process.

If you can’t let people start immediately, try to get them involved early. Invite them to a few introductions, and check to see if they have everything they need.

In recruiting, you always have tons of areas you can work on. We need to keep in mind that the candidate experience is changing. Candidates will get used to this remote experience, especially as it improves. So I think everybody should make sure that they get their processes and tools ready for a more digital experience, as that’s where we’ll be likely heading post-pandemic. 

Finally, look at creating a really good talent pipeline. Proactively set up a talent pipeline and try to figure out who’s searching for jobs at the moment, and who might be a good candidate for future roles. And, of course, have a look at your employer branding while you’re doing this. Think about creating some videos with your hiring managers and your team. Really show future candidates what it’s like to work in your company. Many of these things can even be done from home.

What kind of recruitment and HR teams are going to come out stronger as a result of the current pandemic?

I think teams that have strong communication, are great at setting up processes, are agile in trying new things, and are able to anticipate candidates’ needs are going to do well.  Hiring teams that are able to build open, honest, and transparent relationships with candidates are going to come out stronger.

Recruiting in times of change

At the best of times hiring talent and managing a growing team is tough. In the current circumstances, the stakes are higher and the risks are higher. However, learning from Melanie’s observations, there are many teams that are hurdling these uncertain and remote challenges to create stronger teams in the long run.

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