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Nurturing Talent During A Downturn: Why Now Is Not the Time To Let Up

Nurturing Candidates During A Downturn: How To Keep Your Talent Pipeline Warm When Hiring Freezes Up

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the world, the economic outlook is as uncertain as ever. Almost overnight, businesses have had to adapt and develop strategies to help them ride out the storm.

It’s no surprise that recruitment is one of the first things to get put on hold. According to a recent survey, 42 percent of large companies in North America have already frozen or reduced hiring. Another 28 percent say they may follow suit.

Most HR professionals have been through this before. When the economy gets sluggish, many organizations hunker down and go on the defensive. They start looking for ways to build capacity, without adding headcount. They focus on finding new ways to communicate with customers, suppliers, and employees.

But there’s another audience they need to keep in mind during a downturn: candidates.

In this post, I’d like to offer some practical tips for keeping your talent pipeline engaged in uncertain times, to prepare for better days ahead.

Talent Pipelines: Your Insurance Policy for Future Growth

HR professionals all know how overwhelming it can be to recruit and hire in times of hyper-growth. Sourcing and engaging qualified passive candidates on short notice can be very challenging. Screening and vetting candidates (let alone interviewing) takes time. You can put systems in place to make the process more efficient, but it will only take you so far. At the end of the day, you’re still dealing with people — and people don’t scale.

That’s why having a strong talent pipeline of qualified candidates is essential. But building and maintaining that pipeline takes time and effort. Hiring may be cyclical for many businesses, but identifying top talent is an ongoing activity for great recruiters.

My point is this: If you’ve built a talent pipeline for your organization, now is not the time to let up.

picture of plants growing

Source: Gem

Keep in mind that even if your company has implemented a hiring freeze, you may still see employee turnover. You may need to backfill some critical roles, and having a warm talent pipeline to draw from will make your job much easier.

The short-term outlook may be unpredictable, but all crises pass eventually. Organizations still need to build capacity to meet the challenges ahead, and strategic or targeted hiring may be part of that. How you manage your talent pipeline, even in the middle of uncertainty, will speak volumes about your brand as an employer.

The same goes for any active candidates you’ve been dealing with for positions that are now on hold. How well you treat candidates now will impact your ability to hire down the road.

Nurturing Candidates During A Downturn: How To Keep Your Talent Pipeline Warm When Hiring Freezes Up

Let’s be honest. It isn’t easy to set someone’s mind at ease about a potential job offer when you don’t have any concrete information to give them. It’s especially tough when you’re dealing with an active candidate. It’s harder still if you have to walk back an offer that you previously extended.

Candour and empathy should be the order of the day. You need to think of your candidates like your best customers. Treat them with the same sensitivity and respect you’d show any of your customers.

With that in mind, here are some tips for keeping potential candidates engaged, even when you can’t move forward right away.  

Communicate Regularly

Communication is a critical piece of recruitment. The longer the hiring process, the more uncertainty and potential frustration for the candidate. According to research almost one in four candidates lose interest in an employer if there’s no follow-up within a week of an initial interview. A further 46 percent lose interest if they don’t hear back within two weeks.

Those are the numbers for candidates who are actively engaged with your company. Passive candidates are likely much less engaged. Without proactive communication, you’ll quickly drop off their radar.

Set up auto-reminders in your Applicant Tracking System (ATS) for regular check-ins, even if you don’t have a specific position to fill. Things can change quickly — for you and for them. Staying in touch keeps the lines of communication open. Expressing a continued interest in their career aspirations shows that you value their talent and skills. It also signals confidence that things will turn around. That optimism builds goodwill that will serve you well when positions open up.  

picture of an old fashioned key on the word communication

Source: BFry Speaks

Frequent communication also helps you keep your pipeline up-to-date. Some candidates may no longer be viable, and you can tag them accordingly or remove them from your pool.

Be Transparent

I’m a big proponent of transparent communication. Transparency is a hallmark of resilient organizations. It creates trust between leadership teams and employees, and in peer-to-peer relationships.

Transparency also goes hand in hand with candidate engagement. Recruiting is all about building good relationships with potential candidates. Being open and honest from the outset shows respect and establishes trust. It also improves retention rates when new hires come onboard because expectations are clear from the get-go.

Transparency is even more important in times of uncertainty and will be key to your success in nurturing talent during a downturn. Active candidates need to hear from you whether the news is good or not. If your company’s hiring practices have changed, communicate it to active candidates at the earliest opportunity. Delaying it will only create confusion and damage your brand as an employer.

Passive candidates want candour too. Transparency is a sign of respect, even when no offers have been extended or accepted. You may not be able to offer many details on your organization’s plans, but acknowledging the situation is better than radio silence. A good-faith gesture, especially in difficult times, is a compelling differentiator for your brand as an employer. They’ll remember it, and likely share the story with their network.

Nurturing Talent During A Downturn: Make It Personal

Strong relationships are built on personal connection. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all of us, in every aspect of our lives. Showing genuine concern for your candidates during disruptive times offers a chance to get to know them better.

During normal times, it might seem natural to ask about their goals. But under the current circumstances, it’s perfectly natural to get a little more personal. Checking in on how they’re doing generally sets you on a more personal footing. You don’t need to be intrusive. But you can acknowledge that this pandemic is impacting everyone, yourself included. Recognize that this may well be an anxious time, and be open to listening.

block letters make the words ARE YOU OKAY?

Source: CX Service 360

Some candidates prefer communicating by text, you can use a texting app to streamline communication, but make sure to make it personalized. Social distancing practices make in-person meetings tough, but you can still have a “virtual coffee” over Zoom. Share helpful resources you’ve come across that might help them navigate the downturn.

Candidates will stay interested in you if you stay interested in them.

Active communication and demonstrating continuous interest and empathy will be noticed by your candidates. That connection will help you engage them more fully down the road when opportunities open up again.

Keep Showcasing Your Brand

Personal outreach is indispensable when you’re nurturing potential candidates. But your public messages should be consistent with your employer brand.

Many companies have shared the actions they’re taking to help address the pandemic. From public gestures of goodwill to extra support for employees, these businesses are showing a very human side.

Post on social media. Respond to online reviews on sites like Glassdoor). Share what you’re doing to help your employees adjust to the new workplace reality. What support has your company put in place for employees now working from home? Do you have flexible work arrangements to support employees with children at home? Is your company doing any virtual team-building activities to keep them engaged? Is your leadership team communicating with employees on a regular basis?

The way you communicate with your internal audience is equally important. Your existing employees are your strongest ambassadors. Whatever you’re doing, they’ll share it with their network. Make them feel good about recommending your organization when hiring opens up again.

People want to work for companies that care about their employees. What you do now and how you communicate it will position you as an employer of choice in the future.  

Play the Long Game To Come Out Ahead

We’ve seen downturns before, and some have definitely been worse than others. But all downturns have one thing in common: they pass.

Nurturing Talent During A Downturn: Recruitment is a long game. Treat your candidates like you would treat your customers. Take care of them now, and you’ll be top on their list of preferred employers when the right time comes to make a move.

Are you struggling to keep your talent pipeline engaged while hiring is on hold? Get in touch with ScaleX to discuss some unique strategies for Nurturing Talent During A Downturn!  


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