Trends in Recruiting – COVID and Beyond: What We Learned from our Exceptional Panel on January 4th

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COVID has significantly affected the talent marketplace in the United States. We’re all familiar with the near-daily headlines about the Great Resignation, the talent shortage, and working remotely. It’s imperative that career practitioners stay abreast of these developments in order to provide up-to-date and on-target counsel to the job seekers and career changers who trust us to be their valued guides in this rapidly changing landscape.

Thus, the focus of MCDA’s first professional development event of 2022 was Trends in Recruiting – COVID and Beyond. We heard from a panel of four exceptional recruiters and gained valuable insights about how the pandemic and its aftermath has and will change the talent marketplace. This panel represented multiple industry perspectives including early and experienced talent, a variety of occupations, contract and permanent hires, and both agency and corporate recruiting.

Our panelists were: Erin Koolen, Senior Account Executive at Beacon Hill Staffing Group; Derek Halen, Senior Recruiter – Talent Acquisition at Allianz Life; Renee Wharton – Recruiter and Campus Recruiter at BerganKDV; and Bethany Kennedy, Business Development Manager at Doherty. The panel was facilitated by MCDA’s own Cindy Edwards.

The following summarizes the panelists’ response to four questions posed during the session. 

Q1: We see daily headlines about talent shortages. How, if at all, has the talent landscape changed in your industry as a result of the pandemic? 

Derek Halen: At Allianz, there has been a significant increase in remote positions that’s similar to what is happening nationwide. A second change is that corporate talent acquisition departments are more open to working with talent agencies due to the difficulty of finding skilled talent in the marketplace. Talent shortages are widespread across all functions and levels and resignations have accelerated rapidly. Allianz used to be in the enviable position of having very low turnover, but resignations have multiplied significantly during Covid.

Renee Wharton: BergenKDV is experiencing the same trends. There is a shortage of qualified talent with the accounting experience the firm needs and lots of people are leaving jobs. (It is easier to find early talent in the finance and marketing fields.) Remote work is important to workers, and a lot of  work has been done to open minds to accepting remote working arrangements. 

Erin Koolen: This is the craziest time she’s seen in her twelve years working in agency recruiting. Recruiters are burned out and HR is too. There is huge turnover at client organizations and they’re struggling to stay abreast of their hiring. Candidates are very picky and will simply decline offers if only one thing is out of line rather than staying engaged and negotiating.

Bethany Kennedy: The result of Covid is that the war for talent just sped up! The labor shortage is legitimate and real, and even the best corporate cultures are experiencing it. It’s especially acute with experienced professionals because their investment portfolios are doing well and thus, their array of life choices has increased. The shortage of talent at the middle manager level is especially strong and this talent is constantly being poached.

Q2: Companies have been forced to quickly adapt their practices to a remote working environment. How has this changed your talent acquisition processes and what lasting impact do you predict this will have? 

Erin Koolen: All interviewing is now virtual and it’s expected this will stay the norm after the pandemic ends because both interviewers and interviewees highly value the time it saves. Virtual interviewing is also speeding up the recruiting process, which is a benefit to all. Onboarding has also moved to a fully online format, and many value this streamline process.

Derek Halen: Yes, video interviewing has become the norm and the increased process efficiency is valuable. However, virtual recruiting and virtual work is taking a toll on corporate cultures. Allianz has long valued their healthy corporate culture, and there is early evidence that the decrease in informal interpersonal connections like having hallway conversations and community volunteering is taking a toll on engagement.

Renee Wharton: Recruiters are spending a lot more time on sourcing activities. She’s also seeing hiring bonuses become more common, and recruiters are putting their best offer on the table right away since many candidates will simply walk in lieu of negotiating in this market.

Bethany Kennedy: Manufacturing has been slower to go remote during the pandemic because the nature of the work continues to require in-person work.

Q3: We have also heard a lot lately about the Great Resignation as employees face new challenges and re-evaluate priorities. What changes have you noticed in what job seekers are looking for in the employee experience and offer packages? 

Bethany Kennedy: The widespread high turnover and short-staffing has taken a toll on organizations’ ability to train new employees. Staff are simply too stretched to do a solid job of this.

Erin Koolen: Flexibility is priority #1 with job seekers, both in terms of being able to work remotely and the expectation that they can have flexible hours (e.g., start work at 6am, take a break to get kids ready for school and on the bus, and then resume work). Recruits are trading pay for flexibility.

Renee Wharton: Starting wages have gone up very rapidly. New accounting grads were routinely being offered 15% more at the end of 2021 than they were at the beginning of the year. Candidates are getting bolder in their pay requests and more creative in what they’re asking for, e.g., paid hotspots so they can work remotely.

Derek Halen: Companies are prioritizing retention and are individualizing their efforts based on what each employee values (e.g., flex hours, remote work, pay, etc.) to keep their talent from walking out the door in the first place.

Q4: What advice do you have for the career practitioners in this virtual room to best prepare their job movers and seekers in this changed talent marketplace?

Derek Halen: Just because the market is hot, job seekers shouldn’t be sloppy. Even in this market, he’ll immediately disqualify a candidate that hasn’t done their company research. He’s seeing a decreased amount of effort being put in by candidates across all levels and functions.

Renee Wharton: Yes, there is a general decrease in the quality of interviews, e.g., candidates who haven’t researched the company, no questions prepared for the interviewer, etc. Remind candidates of the importance of these things, even in this market. Also, advise your clients to set their LinkedIn profiles to show you’re open to opportunities, and if they’re using Handshake, to be sure their info is up to date. Having an online presence is really important to being found.

Erin Koolen: Always be open to having conversations with recruiters, both on LinkedIn messages and verbally. This is a great time to grow contacts and networks, even if you’re not looking or if the job presented doesn’t seem right for you.

Bethany Kennedy: Advise clients to ask questions about onboarding, training, and mentoring during interview processes to be sure they’ll be supported as they start new roles. Also, the higher wage demands are really hurting small and medium sized businesses. They’re feeling the financial pressure of this. Consider the long-term implications of asking for these high salaries on both business viability and career standing. It’s possible that persons hired at wages above the norm will be under higher pressure to prove their worth and be more vulnerable to layoffs as future circumstances change.

MCDA thanks these panelists for the generosity of sharing their time and expertise with us. This was a highly valuable session thanks to their insights.

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