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If you stopped recruiting because you froze hiring, you may have some catching up to do.

If you’re like a lot of leaders in startup and scaleup companies, you likely put a lot of things on hold with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis – including your hiring. If you stopped recruitment too, it’s time to get that engine fired up and running again.

By now, you and your team have settled into a routine. You’ve mastered the rhythms of the home office, debugged six different video call platforms, and maybe even taken a stab at cutting your own hair. Now you have your eyes on the future again as you try to focus on growing a business.

With that comes a nagging thought: How and when are you going to kick off recruitment again, so you don’t fall behind? If you stopped recruiting when you froze hiring, you may already have some catching up to do.

The first thing to remember is that recruitment and hiring are different. Recruitment leads to hiring, but a freeze on hiring should never cause you to stop your efforts to attract and engage great people to your company.

You may be surprised to hear that a lot of your tech peers never stopped recruiting. Brian Anderson, VP of Product for Expeto Wireless, an IoT networking company based out of Vancouver, initially paused recruitment when COVID-19 hit. However, he quickly learned that the decision was actually hindering rather than helping the company’s development. “We have continued to win some big contracts, and we know the business is continuing to grow. Expeto has always been a distributed company, so we are COVID-ready. Everyone is remote now, but we are experienced in managing remote work.”

Seb Dignard, President of Toronto-based embedded-vision systems provider, iENSO, paused their hiring, while they adjusted to working outside of the office, but never stopped recruitment. “We just kept close contact with our finalist candidates until we were ready, and now we’re starting to bring them in to help us grow.”

If you put your recruitment on pause, it’s time to get back in the game. With that in mind, here’s a 4-step plan to get your recruitment machine back up and running again.

Get your recruitment up and running during the COVID-19 crisis

Step 1: Start recruiting now, because it’ll take longer than you think

Time is not on your side. Many organizations recruit reactively. They put energy into recruitment only when they intend to hire for a vacant job, and they are the most likely to stop recruitment when they stop hiring. Even if you are reactive in your recruitment, it’s important that you think ahead. We tend to be overly optimistic about how long it takes to fill a job with the right person, so we often start too late.

Consider the timeline. If you are starting from scratch, you will need to define the role, write a job posting, and prepare to launch the recruitment effort. This is actually a modest amount of work, but when you have to reach a consensus on the details with the rest of your busy team, the process can easily take one or two weeks. 

Now, let’s consider the best-case-scenario: after a single week of advertising the job, you identify three promising applicants. On average, an applicant for a technical role will be evaluated through a phone screen, a technical assessment, at least one set of interviews with the hiring team, and a set of reference checks. This is a 3-4 week cycle if everything runs smoothly.

Success! You’ve found the right person. Although it can vary a lot, we’ve found it most often takes about three to five days to get an offer pre-negotiated, prepared, and into the hands of a candidate. Once this is done, you typically give your candidate a few days to discuss with their family and decide, as well as an accommodation for their notice period. Even though two weeks’ notice is the standard, many professionals will want to give three or even four weeks’ notice in these challenging times.

When you add it all up, you can see that a complete hiring cycle of eight to twelve weeks is very common. We tend to be overly optimistic because we think of the hiring cycle beginning when we start seeing applicants, and ending when the right person accepts an offer. In reality, you need to start your recruitment now for the people you want to have on your team two to three months from now.

Step 2: Keep your best candidates warm through personal contact

What if you crush the normal recruiting cycle, and you’ve found great people before you’re ready to hire? This is not a problem.

This is the time to strengthen those relationships through honest and authentic personal contact. Regular contact with a small pool of great candidates not only keeps them interested and engaged in your company, but also gives them better insight into your culture and purpose. If they’re the right fit, this will make them more committed to joining you when you are ready.

Encourage your hiring managers to schedule personal weekly phone or video calls with finalist candidates. These conversations need to go beyond a simple update on the hiring timeline. Use detail and stories to bring the person into what is going on right now on your team – both the wins and the challenges. Also, take the time to find out how they’re doing, both personally and professionally, and what small things you could do to help.

As you identify strong candidates, you may find you have more time now to decide the perfect fit – as will they.  You’ve heard the advice to hire slow, well now you may have the time to do just that.

Step 3: Go deeper with your “Why Work Here?” message

Take some time to visit your own career page. Now that your team is remote, will your message still attract the right people to want to work with you?

If your “Why Work Here?” message is built around a beautiful office with free food and regular team-building events, it’s time to go deeper. You need to explore the elements that genuinely connect your team, and give them fulfillment in their work.

It’s not as hard as you think. Start by picking a few people on your team and simply ask them:

  • What do they love about their job and the company?
  • What about their work makes them most proud?
  • How do they feel they’ve grown both personally and professionally?

You will discover new insights about what is truly motivating them: a sense of purpose, opportunities to learn and grow, the challenge of solving hard problems, or the chance to have a lasting impact and change lives. Pull on threads and find common stories. Eventually you will get closer to the core of why people are attracted to and committed to your purpose.

Step 4: Engage your Tribe to find more people like them

This is also a good time to mobilize your best promoters - your team. With a shift to remote work, and a pause on hiring, many organizations may find that their employee referrals have stopped as well.

Referrals are gold, and communication with your team is the key to getting them flowing again. Make your hiring plans a part of your normal company update. Let them know what areas are on hold and why, and what skills will be needed as soon as you start hiring again.

Above all, make sure they know you are continuing to look for great people to join the team. The byproduct may be that you will instill a deeper sense of transparency, and insight into plans as we move through this crisis.

Let’s do this

Henry Ford once said, “A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.” Think of recruitment a little differently; think of it as an activity to attract and engage strangers, and tell them your story. Think of it as advertising.

There are a lot of great people out there who have been laid off and are looking for their next opportunity. Others are working from home, reconnecting with family, and taking a hard look at how their work aligns with their values and purpose. It’s a tough time, but it’s a good time to make new connections that can make lasting contributions to your team.

The global situation will improve and the companies that remain are going to come out more determined than ever. With that we’re going to need to be prepared for a hiring boom. So, dust off the hiring plan and get your recruitment engine revving again. You’ll be glad you have the perfect candidates in the pipeline when you need them.

Bonus Tip – Start getting proactive about recruitment

Want to get proactive about recruitment? You don’t have to be a Fortune 500 to start building talent networks, even when you don’t have specific jobs posted. You just need to think a little more like a marketer.

In an upcoming article, we’ll talk more about how you can build simple recruitment marketing strategies to attract strangers to your company and turn them into friends.

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