Our speakers, clockwise from upper left: Obehi Ogunbayo of Cox Enterprises, Ximena Juncosa of McKessen Corp., Mike Cassani of Cengage, moderator Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, Robi Nevers of Allstate, and Jake Burke of SkillSurvey (Image by From Day One)

“What you took for granted yesterday, it just doesn't exist anymore, right?,” Ximena Juncosa, McKesson Corp.’s VP of executive talent, told From Day One recently. “I've got to think through everything differently.”

The role of hiring managers has changed almost overnight, as the labor market has gone from the lowest unemployment rate in a half century to a ferocious growth in joblessness. Americans have filed more than 40 million claims for unemployment benefits in the past ten weeks, with one in four American workers now looking for work. Yet, despite what feels like a national hiring freeze, some companies are looking for workers and others are building relationships with people they hope to hire in the future as the economy rebounds.

While some companies are faring better than others, the good news is that these quick pivots have brought about creative recruitment solutions and a reorganization of priorities that might not have taken place before, according to a panel of talent-acquisition leaders in a recent From Day One webinar.

Which roles have been put on hold, and which ones are ready to be revamped? How do we get to know our new and prospective employees when we’ve never met them in person, given the new work-from-home regime and other restraints? Among the highlights:

Building Your Pipelines

While some of your company's hiring plans may have been on hold, now is a great time to groom your pipeline of incoming candidates. Adjusting language in job descriptions to meet wider swaths of talent and more diverse individuals is an essential part of that. “Once things come up and all the rules come up all at once, everybody's going to be fighting for the same talent,” said Obehi Ogunbayo, director of executive search at Cox Enterprises.

Recruiters can take the time now to ask themselves how they are going to source new talent once the pandemic eases off. This includes getting creative about the logistics of your hiring cycle and how to progress candidates through each stage.

“I don't think this is all doom and gloom for many of us,” said Jake Burke, VP of sales and education at SkillSurvey. “I know some of us are having a hard time, but there is some light here too.” Embracing the situation at hand and finding ways to continue growing will take us far, he added.

As many companies embrace remote work, perhaps for the long haul, the sourcing of out-of-state talent is a growing consideration. This can open the door to new communities and diverse groups that wouldn’t have been able to apply before.

Freshly graduated students can be nurtured right now, and companies can work with Employee Resource Groups to continue sourcing diverse candidates. LinkedIn, Handshake, and other online platforms will become important hubs for talent leaders to interact with new hires and continue building relationships before hiring takes place.

“We are very much trying to nurture our relationships with our external diversity partnerships in a way that we're connecting with students and making sure that when we are ready to move forward with opportunities, they're thinking about our employment brand,” said Robi Nevers, senior manager of talent acquisition for Allstate.

Reorganizing the Office Experience

Not so long ago, prospective hires and employers got to know one another by meeting face to face and walking around their future workplaces. Now those sensory experiences are suspended. Talent executives are keenly aware of this as they move interviewing and onboarding online. Our panelists said they’ve found ways to bring new hires online while being mindful of the anxieties of their new remote roles.

“We've done walking tour videos of the facility, and we send those to the employees and prospects,” said SkillSurvey’s Burke. “I think it's been very important for them to see something different and feel something different because they're not getting that opportunity to become a part of the family right away.” That sense of belonging typically reserved for in-person office interactions, while different in nature, can still be replicated virtually. “It has changed the dynamics of how you get them to feel the culture and how you get them to understand the company and the facility.”

Another additive measure: Getting new hires up and running with technology from the very beginning. This not only helps employees feel productive sooner with the right tools in hand, but also gets them connected to their colleagues faster.

“It just doesn't end with the recruitment process,” noted Nevers. “How do we start the onboarding in a way that really makes them feel part of the company and they're ready to get up and running from day one with the right training, onboarding, leadership, and connectivity to their bigger group that they may not end up meeting face to face for quite some period of time?”

For those opting to head back to the office or relocate, details need to be considered more carefully than before. Physically, we expect that offices will look vastly different with less dense layouts, daily health checks, and fewer common hang-out areas. It’s important to ensure that candidates feel safe in the process wherever they decide to get their work done.

Navigating the Pay-cut Issue

In attempts to reduce and avoid layoffs, some companies are opting for pay cuts. Many CEOs are even pledging to forgo their salaries entirely amidst the pandemic, while other employees have seen their pay reduced by anywhere from 5% to 30%. Those pay cuts make it harder to recruit outside candidates, unless companies can persuade prospective hire about their other attractive qualities, including the corporate mission.

But there’s another approach too. “The current situation allowed us to actually look more at internal candidates,” says Mike Cassani, VP of human resources at Cengage, an education and tech company that has made pay cuts to avoid layoffs. “As you can imagine, it's a little difficult to hire people at the 20% discount. So we've looked internally quite a bit and found some really positive impact on development and giving people new opportunities,” he said.

Focusing on internal talent can include helping current employees develop new skills, acquire new credentials, and motivate them to immerse themselves more in their own journeys within the company. Leaders can also provide their teams with flexibility and “stretch assignments” to give employees an opportunity to experience different roles and try on new hats.

One thing companies should not cut back on right now is performance and talent reviews, warned Juncosa. “That really informs a little bit around your strategic-pipeline approach–your strategy on where are the gaps, where don't you have succession ready? Also with a big focus on diversity, because that's very important for us at McKesson.”

Sourcing New Skills 

With a nearly unrecognizable workplace, what new skills should talent leaders be on the hunt for? Our panel noted that in addition to developing and perfecting our teleconferencing skills (note to person talking while on mute: we’re looking at you!), it’s important to look into behavior too.

“It's understanding what the behaviors are that lead to that skill, or that prove that you have that skill is what is really, really important,” noted Burke. “Working from home is not just a change of venue or, you know, dealing with your children, or your dog or what have you. It's a lot of things.”

Adaptability and mental resilience are several competencies that SkillSurvey has been measuring lately with the help of organizational psychologists. With many of us leaning on technology more than ever, a great question for new hires is: “What do you do when things don’t go according to plan?”

Leaders may shift their focus in video interviewing to see if candidates are not only efficient, but also flexible in response to the inevitable unknowns of WFH culture. With all the distractions of home life, remote learning for children, and unpredictable WiFi, candidates who can shift gears and solve problems creatively will push themselves to the front of the pack. Burke added: “To me, that's a skill. That's someone I want on my team. That's someone who is cool under pressure.”

Thanks to those of you who have joined us live in our webinar series. Readers can also watch the playback video here and register for our next webinar here.

Mimi Hayes is a New York-based author, comedian, and assistant director of content at From Day One. You can read her work at mimihayes.com, check out her podcast "Mimi and The Brain," or find her first book, a comedic memoir about her traumatic brain injury on Amazon.