People are the lifeblood of an organization. If your best team members are leaving, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to replace them with hires of the same caliber, you’re not alone. Dubbed the Great Resignation, millions are quitting their jobs as they realize that work needs to accommodate life, and not vice-versa. If organizations want to recruit and retain the best candidates in our new virtual world, they can’t rely on their pre-pandemic playbook for hiring.

Conferences, networking, job postings—these get candidates in the door, but many organizations overlook that the candidate journey and hiring process play a large part in whether a candidate accepts an offer. Candidates form judgments about an employer from what they see, not necessarily what they’re told, and many view the candidate journey as indicative of what it will be like to work in an organization. Like any good marketing strategy, the hiring process should appeal to the target market—in this case, your ideal candidate.

We spoke with a number of individuals who recently interviewed mostly or completely virtually about their experiences. This is what CHROs and other executives need to know.

Reputation and professionalism make a mark

When an individual joins an organization, they become one of its representatives, and reciprocally, they stake their own reputation on the organization. Candidates want to know that the organization is committed to quality and makes a substantial, measurable impact.

As one candidate put it, “I want to know that I am going to elevate the clients that I work with.”

Usually, the first place candidates go to get a sense of an organization’s work is their website. Well-written case studies and testimonials are an excellent way to show client work in action. White papers, blogs, and other publications demonstrate an organization’s thought leadership. Candidates also appreciate the opportunity to speak to a number of people in the organization, rather than having a single point of contact, because it gives them a chance to learn what makes the organization special from multiple perspectives.

Similarly, candidates bring professionalism to the hiring process, and they expect the same in return. What may seem like minor details—how conversations are scheduled (and if they’re constantly rescheduled), whether the interviewer is on time and prepared, and orderly versus chaotic Zoom backgrounds—impact a candidate’s impression of an employer. Look directly at the webcam and get comfortable in front of the screen, so that during the interview you’re composed mentally and physically. Know that candidates are paying attention to what you say, down to what might seem like an innocuous complaint. And if you’ve asked them to complete pre-work—like a video recording or sample task—make it clear that you’ve reviewed their work and offer feedback.

People want to matter and value the opportunity for development

Often, hiring processes are designed to determine whether a candidate has the right skills for the job and would be a good fit on the team. Rightfully so—these are requisite for success in any role. But it can’t end there. People want to be treated as people, not as a body in a chair.

Our post-pandemic survey found that individuals no longer keep their “work” and “personal” lives separate. They now have one, whole self. The candidates we spoke to noticed when potential employers took this into account. It can be as simple as asking what a candidate enjoys outside of work, or about their family. You might ask a candidate to record a short video about themselves. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of being interested, caring, and gracious.

“I had the experience that I matter,” said one senior individual we spoke to, of the organization whose offer she accepted. “I didn’t necessarily have that experience in other places. I was just someone they were checking out.”

Individuals also want evidence that they will continue to be valued after they accept the offer. In particular, women and minority candidates want to see that they will be taken seriously and can be successful at the organization. The candidates we spoke to said it made a difference to interview with leaders of diverse backgrounds—and conversely, they took note when everyone they interacted with came from the same background.

In the words of one candidate, “When I interviewed with a woman, and in particular a mother, who had been at the company for 25 years, it showed me that someone like me can make it in this company.”

Clear and articulated pathways for development are also high on the agenda. Candidates have said they will choose an offer from an organization that is demonstrably committed to continuous growth and development for their employees, over an offer that may be slightly more attractive financially but where the structures and processes for development are less clear.

Imbue the process with flexibility

Our post-pandemic survey also found that inflexible workplaces are a thing of the past. For most candidates, requiring five days a week in the office is a deal-breaker. Most of the people we spoke to were looking for a hybrid schedule—some time in the office to connect with colleagues in-person, and some time at home to balance family and individual needs.

The need for flexibility extends to the hiring process. Many candidates seek a new job while already employed full-time. Companies that want to secure top candidates need to be willing to work with a candidate’s schedule. Consider having candidates schedule the interviews, rather than vice-versa (this also gives candidates a chance to demonstrate initiative), and don’t limit your availability to business hours.

And if you extend an offer to a candidate who interviewed remotely, invite them into the office to get a sense of the physical space they’ll be working in. If this isn’t possible, consider a Zoom or video tour instead.

Ultimately, flexibility offers more than convenience: it’s a sign that an organization respects its people. Inflexible companies will miss out.

Summary

High-quality candidates are in short supply, and if organizations want to remain competitive, they need to bring intentionality to their hiring process.

    1. Individuals stake their reputation on their employer, and as a result, they want to see that an employer prioritizes impact, quality, and professionalism.
    2. Candidates want to know they matter as human beings, and that they won’t be treated as a worker-machine.
    3. Flexibility conveys respect; it is a must-have during the candidate’s journey and beyond.
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