Talent Acquisition in the Current Environment

  • October 15, 2020

In light of the Covid-19 Pandemic we have seen a significant dip in the number of vacancies both in the UK and globally. Multiple businesses are downsizing and restructuring due to poor market performance across a range of sectors.  With talent acquisition being one of the biggest costs to business, we have seen immediate hiring freezes, rapid reduction of talent acquisition teams and a halt in the use of third parties except where absolutely critical. Whilst this is the case across most sectors, even in areas that have been less impacted revenue wise, there also caution around hiring decisions.

There will always be a need to hire fresh talent

Whilst these actions have helped to reduce business costs in the short term, in the long-term businesses will need to start scaling up again and hiring the talent needed.  However, they will no longer have the effective resource to do this! Despite the downturn there will always be the need to hire fresh talent. 

So how are organisations navigating their way through talent acquisition in the current market?  Below we examine some of the challenge’s businesses are facing.

Challenge 1: When/where/who/what to hire

Understandably firms are being cautious when hiring new talent. They are waiting for market stability prior to committing. However, it is critical to review the opportunity costs to delaying recruitment. This can lead to inertia for a business, not having the right people in the right roles to take the business forward, especially in these tough times.

The challenge for HR is knowing at which point the cost of not hiring talent becomes detrimental to the business while also ensuring that the positions they want to hire are the right roles/ levels/ technical capabilities that the business needs to succeed.

Successful businesses are looking to their HR teams to work with their leaders to identify and define talent needs effectively by;

  • using strategic workforce planning and talent development programmes to ensure they are hiring the right talent externally;
  • utilising the capability of existing internal talent.

This has the benefit of increasing both engagement and productivity of existing employees with expanded international career prospects, and additionally reduces costs by not always having to seek the talent externally. 

Challenge 2: The virtual hiring process

How do you hire successfully when you can’t physically meet face to face? When lockdown first hit, some firms delayed hiring processes as they wanted to physically meet individuals prior to making final decisions. This has slowed down and even halted hiring processes and decisions resulting in firms losing out on critical talent.

Other companies quickly embraced virtual technologies such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet to drive remote interviewing processes. They have found that this has led to a leaner, faster and more effective system. Candidates and clients alike have had greater accessibility and availability without the constraints arising from physical face to face interviews.

As time has progressed the comfort level of candidates accepting a role where they have not necessarily seen the office environment has also increased. 

In the most effective organisations, HR has been instrumental in designing ways of sharing the company culture, ethos and values through virtual means and communicating these effectively to candidates. This has ensured consistent approaches and messages throughout the interview process. A crucial aspect has been to select interviewers who are best placed to promote the organisation and engage candidates remotely. This has been achieved through effective training and support for these interviewers.

Some organisations have been less effective in the virtual hiring process due to lack of infrastructure, poor communication and unskilled interviewers which has resulted in disjointed processes, delayed start dates for candidates as well as candidates refusing roles. HR is critical in putting in the measures to overcome these shortcomings.

Success in the virtual hiring space has seen candidates who have gone through a complete remote hiring and onboarding process feel excited and part of the organisation despite the lack of physical contact. There have been multiple social media posts from candidates highlighting this and praising the communication they have had with the new company onboarding them.

Challenge 3: Ensuring you are accessing the best talent in a market flooded with candidates

There are a greater number of candidates available in the market than we have seen for a very long time. Demand for jobs is high, and in turn candidate applications per role has increased dramatically.  For example, HR Business Partner roles are typically attracting up to 1000 applications. This makes the hiring process incredibly time consuming, especially where Talent Acquisition Teams have been downsized.  The onus on filtering is falling on broader HR Teams and Line Managers who sometimes, as stated previously, require requiring support and training.

Those organisation with a high level of resources have been extremely fortunate to have use of AI technology which supports them with their screening processes to filter down applications.  However, they must use this with caution and still need to put measures in place to ensure AI is being used in the right way.  AI is only as good as the data and filtering mechanisms being employed. Criteria can change over time and if not managed correctly candidates could be deselected based on outdated approaches. A specific issue raised in the use of AI has been around the lack of reference to Diversity & Inclusion with diverse candidates sometimes being deselected through the use of AI models working to more traditional parameters.

The other area to be mindful of is whilst AI can save time and automate part of the process, human interaction also needs to be a visible part of the process.  We are all human and candidates can become frustrated and disengaged without some form of human interaction. Changing roles can be a life-changing decision.  Little to no human interaction during each stage of the process can have a very negative impact on candidates’ perceptions of an organisation.

HR is integral to ensuring automation and the human element of the process are well-balanced.

Some organisations do not have the resources to utilise AI and other automated tools to assist the recruitment processes.  The onus falls to HR Teams and Line Managers to filter thorough huge numbers of applications which is not only time consuming but detracts from other key responsibilities. Organisations need to ensure they have enough capability in talent acquisition to manage the high volumes of applications efficiently and effectively to get the right candidates.  Alternatively, the use of a third-party search firms / agencies for support could be critical.

None of the above addresses the fact that selection can only be attained from candidates who have applied to the organisation.  It does not allow access to the passive market or those who may not have seen the role advertised.  This again is where third-party agencies and in-house teams have a critical part to play in ensuring quality candidates are made available in a timely manner.

Challenge 4: Ensuring you are engaging with candidates appropriately in the hiring process

Often the first instinct in a downturn is for organisations to feel in a position of power when hiring. We know there is a large volume of candidates available, so they should be able to acquire talent cheaply and have their pick of candidates for roles, ignoring offering the candidate a positive experience, right?

WRONG! This is not the best practice any organisation should adopt. It may seem easy to cut corners in the hiring process, be slow in decision making, changing roles and prevaricating about candidates mid-way through the process just because there are lots of other options available.  However, this will impact on the brand, engagement and reputation of the organisation in the longer term. We must remember the market won’t remain as it is today. Candidates who have a poor experience will be deterred in the future. Even in these challenging times the market is highly competitive for sought after skills and experience and candidates who are of the highest calibre. 

Organisations who are taking this viewpoint are leaving the market with a poor impression of their brand, leading to attraction and retention issues in the future.

Those who are successful in this space will ensure that the candidate experience is positive whether they are successful or unsuccessful in the process.  HR is instrumental in defining touch points in the talent acquisition process to make the experience as positive as possible.

In conclusion, the current market has thrown up challenges on how businesses approach their talent acquisition strategy.  Smart and adaptable organisations have found ways to overcome these challenges by effectively defining their hiring needs and streamlining their processes.  The way in which talent acquisition is approached has changed. The most successful organisations have adapted well by identifying potential pitfalls and how they can be overcome or avoided using some of the HR strategies identified in this article.

Nina Adair
Practice Head - HR & Talent Management Recruitment 
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