November 25, 2020

Hiring and Being Hired During the Pandemic: Clarity and Resilience Are Key

employee resilience

With so many people having lost their jobs or been furloughed this year, it’s no surprise we have seen an increase in job hunting in impacted industries, with the spherical range of these industries gradually increasing as the pandemic wears on. Many recruiters have also found themselves adjusting to a new talent landscape as the pandemic’s disruptions resulted in an increased need to find more workers in industries such as healthcare, supply chain, and customer service. There has even been a surge of entirely new types of jobs created as a direct result of the pandemic.

Both job seekers and recruiters now find themselves wondering how to best go about their searches in a radically altered job market. While many elements of job hunting and recruiting have not changed at all from pre-pandemic times, there are certainly some things that both job seekers and recruiters should do differently to maximize success.

Job Seekers: Making Yourself Stand Out in a Pandemic

Many of the foundational elements of job hunting remain the same. When applying for certain jobs in certain industries, you still have to be capable, qualified, and competent. You still need the relevant education, skills, and/or experience. However, there are also some additional skills you can brush up on to maximize your appeal to potential recruiters in the current environment

First and foremost, the more tech savvy you can be, the more of an edge you’ll have. At the very least, cultivate a basic fluency with the most widely used digital business communication tools such as Zoom, Skype, and Slack. This means not just knowing how to use them, but knowing how to use them to present your best self.

Take Zoom, for example. It isn’t enough to know how to get on and off calls. You want to have the best possible setup for yourself, including a broadband internet connection, optimal lighting, a microphone that captures your voice loud and clear, and a reasonably professional-looking background or virtual background. (If you opt for the latter, use a green screen or green-screen-simulating app so the background doesn’t bleed into the contours of your body and face.)

Since many employers are still hiring remotely, you may not have the opportunity to do an in-person interview, which is somewhat of a disadvantage for job seekers. Many of the elements of building rapport depend on in-person interaction and nonverbal communication. On the other hand, if a company is hiring remotely, you’ll be on a level playing field with all the other applicants in that you will all be doing video interviews. Make yourself stand out with a video and audio presentation that underlines your professionalism.

While most of the questions that recruiters ask may not vary significantly from before the pandemic, you might notice more “What would you do if … ?” questions. What would you do if you were the only remote member of a team? What would you do if we had to go back and forth between a physical and remote workplace? In the wake of the tremendous disruptions to which companies have had to adapt, employers know it is in their best interest to hire employees who can respond optimally to various contingencies. Try to imagine in advance the kinds of “What if?” questions employers might ask and be ready for them.

Next, you want to highlight your ability to be adapt to change and uncertainty, both of which are inevitable in the era of COVID-19. Resilience and agility — what organizational consultant Joseph McCann calls the “two sides of a single coin called ‘adaptive capacity'” — are the magic words employers love to hear. Just as in non-pandemic times, you want to present yourself truthfully. If you feel you could improve when it comes to being comfortable with change, make it a priority to devote a portion of your job-hunting period to honing this skill. You also need to be ready to demonstrate your adaptive capacity with examples. If you’re a fresh college grad or you have limited work experience, think of examples from other contexts such as school or community involvement.

Finally, you must have clarity about the demands and expectations of the job you’re applying for. Crucially, consider whether the job is remote, based in a physical workplace, or a combination of both. If this information is not stipulated in the job description, a recruiter may go over it with you at some point in the interview process. If they do not, you will have to bring it up yourself — not necessarily right off the bat, but perhaps in a second or third interview.

For instance, some jobs being filled now will always be remote, but others may start out remote and then transition back to a physical workplace later, in which case location and distance will become pertinent factors. If you are someone hoping for a permanent remote-work arrangement or live too far from the physical workplace to feasibly commute, you will need to clarify whether or not this would be a problem for your prospective employer. Seeking this clarity in itself sets you apart by demonstrating your professionalism and thoughtfulness.

Recruiters: It’s All About Resilience

In many ways, the situation for most recruiters mirrors that of job seekers. Since you are recruiting people in a situation that is less than ideal, you will need to take care to make certain clarifications and ask certain kinds of questions.

Let’s start with the clarifications. The expectations you have for future employees should be communicated and clarified in ways you might not need to when things are “normal.” These expectations need to be made clear while you are assessing candidates, not after they’re hired.

For example, should you transition back to a physical workplace, is the candidate prepared to make that transition? Are they looking for something that’s permanently remote? Will the candidate be expected to provide all of their own technology and hardware (e.g., broadband internet, printer, etc.), or will any of this be provided for them? Basic information, such as whether you’re expecting remote-work arrangements to be temporary, should be included in your job ads. More involved logistics can be covered in an interview or possibly the onboarding process.

Of utmost importance for all recruiters is fortifying their companies with resilient employees. “Resilience” has become quite the HR buzzword in recent years, so you may have already worked this consideration into your recruitment process anyway. Even so, you will need to devote even more focus and energy to resilience now.

The importance of resilience transcends the pandemic and its many repercussions. Societal circumstances are changing with unsettling speed, often causing anxiety that can affect employees’ everyday performance levels. Whereas you may have previously sought to hire people who were balanced and mentally healthy, these criteria are not necessarily enough anymore. Spend a little more time and effort assessing the extent to which a candidate seems capable of responding skillfully to change, disruption, and uncertainty.

Resilience includes the ability to balance and set boundaries, so ask candidates about the routines and measures they have in place to manage the stresses of remote work and how they set boundaries between work and personal life. These shouldn’t be deal-breaker questions since young and inexperienced candidates may signal constant availability, believing this will set them apart from other candidates. (You can help these candidates  grow by explaining why this is actually not a desirable quality.) Simply make this one additional part of your assessment process.

Resilience is not so much a magical, inborn trait as it is a natural consequence of learned and practiced behaviors. Candidates who know and practice these behaviors are the ones who will be able to weather the proverbial storms to come.

There is no question we are in unique times. Whether you are a job seeker or recruiter, your ability to be fluent in your communication will make a difference in your ability to connect with others. The skill of  “human fluency” — the ability to be fluent in human interactions — is always relevant, but in the era of virtual meetings, interviews, and onboarding sessions, one’s ability to connect and demonstrate value becomes even more crucial.

Dr. Stephen Carman is an adjunct professor at the online MBA program at the University of Tulsa and cofounder of Human Fluency.

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Dr. Stephen Carman is an adjunct professor for the online MBA program at the University of Tulsa and the cofounder of Human Fluency.