I am no stranger to the challenges of candidate management during a crisis. I started my career in executive search right out of college over 13 years ago, so recruiting is work that I’ve always done and always loved.

While in the second year of my profession the great recession hit and had a significant impact on my area of expertise including venture capital, and private equity-backed technology companies. Now 13 years into my career, all of us will have to re-learn how to navigate recruiting during a severe global pandemic that is unprecedented in magnitude.

Most companies have decentralized their teams due to social distancing, measures directed by state and federal governments to keep people home and prevent further spread of the disease. Businesses are taking proactive measures to protect cashflow and ultimately this is impacting the workforce. These two things combined have frozen our economy and halted hiring up and down all levels of organizations across many industries and sectors.

The reality is there were ongoing searches when the global economy came to a stop, and all of those candidates are probably still wondering whether they will have a chance to join your company. In order for companies and hiring executives to maintain the reputation of being an employer of choice with their most important candidates, they must be empathetic about what those people are going through and keep the process moving towards an outcome (hire, pause, or pass) wherever possible.

Consider the following recommendations for effective candidate management during a crisis:

  1. Empathize: In a situation like this, it is human nature to think about one’s own health, safety, career, and expenses first. Similarly, during a search, clients often default to thinking about their needs rather than those of the candidates engaged in their process. The first step to great candidate management is thinking about what he/she is going through psychologically and emotionally at any point in the interview process. While a candidate may seem distant or like they are only moderately interested in your role, he/she may actually be wildly excited and have a family that is hoping they get the job. So, if your hiring process is paused, that could cause a much more significant inconvenience in that person’s life than you may think. Step back and think about how this pandemic and resulting process holdup may be causing worry to the candidate and his/her family.
  2. Strategically Communicate: Communicating with candidates is child’s play at a conceptual level. What I am recommending is a highly strategic communication plan to help maintain a candidate’s interest in your role and respect for your company. This means thinking carefully about the frequency of communication, modalities, engagement, proper updates, explanations, subtle selling, trust-building, company information sharing, organizational changes, evolution or expected evolution of the role, and changes in compensation structure, to name several. General expectation setting and maintenance is paramount to any recruitment process and especially so in a tumultuous market environment.
  3. Ask Questions: Because people generally love the companies they work for, hiring managers are inclined to think candidates should be and are super excited about their opportunities and can’t wait to get an offer. But on the flip side of the scenario described in Number 1, candidates may begin to drift during a pause in your search process. Further, in an unsettling economic environment, executives may begin appreciating their current situation more and value their roles, compensation, and co-workers more than they had prior to the crisis. So if your goal is to ensure that the same great candidates that engaged before the crisis are still viable candidates when you flick on the switch in a few months, you need to make sure you know exactly where their head is on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Ask the hard questions you don’t want to such as, “Are you still excited about this role and our company?” Or, “Has anything changed in your decision-making criteria since we first spoke?” It can be uncomfortable, but it is critical in properly managing candidates, especially when everything around you is changing.

Social psychologist, Philip Zimbardo said, “Situational variables can exert powerful influences over human behavior, more so that we recognize or acknowledge.” With such paradigm-shifting variables like those associated with the Coronavirus pandemic, we must identify changes in how we think and operate, and similarly how candidates interact with our search processes. This will allow all of us to retain the attention and interest of our best candidates, and in turn, maintain a reputation as being an employer of choice when this all passes.

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