With the onset of the pandemic, organisations both locally and regionally had to play a more critical role in ensuring business continuity, especially with the pivoting of recruitment processes and onboarding of new hires. For the handful of organisations that were continuously growing (and still are) throughout the pandemic, physical and face-to-face interviews had to be transformed and done in a more virtual environment. In Malaysia, these turnarounds needed to be executed within a matter of days following the sudden lockdown imposed by the federal government.
Looking back, it is fair to summarise that the pandemic brought with it some very harsh effects but it also provided many organisations with the opportunity to re-evaluate their systems and processes while sparking creative innovations on the recruiting, hiring and onboarding fronts in particular. Although the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a serious threat to long-term vacancy and employment rates for many, those that have continued to hire have discovered positive changes they intend to keep as we weather out the storm and gain some sort of normalcy into our daily routines.
One of the many challenges faced by recruiters during this period is that the majority of talents shortlisted were afraid to explore opportunities and preferred to stay where they were for the first few months due to economic and market uncertainties. Many candidates would express interest but pull out during the last round of interviews or at the offer stage due to concerns about the LIFO (last in, first out) principle that would generally be adopted by most organisations during financial difficulties. Besides that, the pandemic also resulted in a rather volatile employment landscape which saw many companies facing financial difficulties having to lay off employees. This is where recruiters can leverage on opportunities to work with relevant industry partners like Jobstreet, LinkedIn and Hiredly to participate in virtual career fairs for unemployed job seekers. Recruiters that are hiring extensively can also collaborate with companies who are retrenching their employees to absorb employees that could be the perfect fit for vacant roles or participate in virtual university career fairs to engage with fresh graduates for junior roles or management training programmes.
Another common occurrence during the pandemic was the overwhelming number of applicants for vacancies. This meant a longer screening and review process, nevertheless it is important for organisations to ensure that all applicants are informed of their application status. There are also candidates that decline interviews or are no-shows despite confirming their availability due to a sudden change of mind. For instances such as bad internet connection or sudden emergencies, organisations should make it a practise to reschedule at a mutually convenient time and date.
Overall, there were many steps that organisations had taken to adjust and adapt to the current situation. Interview processes were moved virtually via Zoom or GoogleMeet, where candidates are informed of the virtual interview process right from the start and are required to prepare themselves with a good Internet connection with proper lighting and minimal noise. It is also encouraged for applicants to dress as they would for a physical interview. These small tips can go a long way to help candidates prepare for other interviews as well. All important information should be clearly indicated such as link to the virtual meeting, duration, details of the interviewer they would be speaking to and the job description.
Organisations should also take this opportunity to strengthen their interview process by ensuring a cultural assessment of the candidates by the Talent Acquisition team during the screening process. Separately, interviewers should be equipped with tips on how to break the ice in a virtual setting and to gauge body language.
Hiring decisions should be made via a team discussion with emphasis on skills, experience fitment and most importantly, after assessing the organisational culture fit. For certain roles, casual chats with the team should be introduced to help the prospective candidate understand the role better and directly from their future peers. This could help organisations make better decisions when hiring certain roles that are more project management oriented or with tasks that are spread across the organisation.
Through it all, the biggest challenge most organisations had to overcome was conducting a fully virtual onboarding session whilst still placing emphasis on a stellar candidate experience. They had to adopt an online induction for new hires right from the beginning - from sending them their laptops and welcome kit a week in advance to creating a Whatsapp group to welcome them and explain processes. The goal is to ensure that the new hires experienced a positive welcome during their first week. Organisations are encouraged to create a chat group on their own internal communicator for all new hires to be introduced to each other and have access to the various HR pillars to channel their queries during their first couple of weeks. Every new team member should be provided with a buddy to assist in helping new employees feel welcomed and connected during their first day, first week and throughout their first 3 months on the job.
All the above can be made possible with the cooperative effort from all the support function teams such as People Operation and IT along with leaders from other business functions backed by a common goal of ensuring a smooth onboarding experience for all new employees.
While the pandemic has brought on a multitude of challenges to the hiring process, it has also brought along sudden changes and immediate responses that were innovative. These innovations have invariably changed the typical recruitment process to be faster and more fluid than it already was, and some of the changes may be a permanent fixture moving forward.