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Human Capital Management during COVID-19: Navigating Talent Acquisition in a Changing World

COVID-19 has changed the way work gets done at most organizations across the globe, with most countries or states issuing stay-at-home orders or lockdowns. Most organizations have transitioned to remote work for all employees who can work from home. And with the global economy declining precipitously, most organizations have been forced to or have chosen to undergo cost-containment measures. Some of these measures include mass layoffs, employee compensation and benefit cuts, and hiring freezes for all but critical positions.1 As a result, the talent acquisition (TA) functions in most organizations have had to dramatically change their processes and move to primarily virtual recruiting.

To help TA leaders navigate the many changes required by the current COVID-19 pandemic, we recommend the following 12 actions:

  1. Don’t rescind new hire and intern offers. To quickly save costs, many companies rescind offers. But in doing this, organizations risk alienating both high-caliber candidates and the universities from which many of these hires are recruited, jeopardizing their reputations and long-term investments in these relationships. Instead, consider deferring new hire start dates. And if it’s possible to defer only some start dates, ask the new hires if a deferred start date will cause them financial hardship (e.g., recent graduates or workers who have quit other jobs without other income). Some new hires are financially secure and would welcome the additional time off before starting a new job. In addition, find ways to use interns remotely. Some TA leaders are planning to create virtual training materials and are partnering with their learning teams to build new content. One TA leader suggested assigning interns weekly deliverables rather than a summerlong project to promote constant engagement.2
  2. Proactively communicate with candidates. In times of crisis and uncertainty, communication, transparency, and clarity become increasingly vital.3 Recruiters should let active candidates know as soon as possible where they are in the hiring process or if a hiring freeze has been implemented. Following up with individual candidates in a personalized and empathetic manner will develop trust and credibility, which will build good will for the organization once the recovery begins.4 Consider developing a central hub on your website with consistently updated information and candidate resources that can answer questions and convey important hiring changes.For example, Cigna has created a FAQ page on its Careers site with COVID-19 resources for candidates.6
  3. Give internal candidates a closer look. Many organizations’ recruiters are not allowed to look internally for candidates to fill open positions. However, if there is a hiring freeze, recruiters can find current employees who have the skills needed for other, more critical, positions.7 Current employees require less onboarding time and less money to recruit. Additionally, focusing on internal mobility decreases interviewing time by 25 to 50 percent and creates a more cohesive and engaging environment with trusted personnel.8 UBS, a Swiss-based global bank, created a tool for internal recruiters to identify internal candidates for open roles. It matches employee profiles with the open roles, maps out career paths, provides recommendations for learning opportunities, and allows employees—who also have access to the tool—to directly apply to those open roles.9
  4. Help redeploy affected employees. Many organizations are well-positioned to help employees who are working reduced schedules or being laid off find new opportunities. Specifically, some companies in sectors hardest hit by COVID-19 (e.g., airlines and hospitality companies) are partnering with companies that are hiring aggressively in response to COVID-19 (e.g., grocery stores, medical suppliers, and delivery services). For example, while American Airlines hasn’t laid off employees, it has partnered with a number of employers to provide an expedited hiring process for its employees who are looking to supplement their income.10 To prevent permanent job losses, Hilton announced that it was furloughing many employees, who will continue to receive benefits and will now have access to more than 500,000 temporary jobs at more than 30 companies.11
  5. Revamp your recruitment marketing strategy. Recruiters should tell candidates about their organization’s current hiring process while also explaining how their organization is supporting its employees during these turbulent times.12 Create a regularly updated FAQ for recruiters so they can answer questions and quickly ease candidate concerns. Review media content (ads, videos, blogs, etc.) through an empathetic lens while being situationally aware of the global pandemic. Communicate the impactful actions and decisions being made throughout the company and by leadership to candidates and through newly tailored social media pages.13 If recruiters are less busy, use this time to optimize job descriptions for better success with future applicant searches.14
  6. Transition to virtual interviewing and onboarding. With stay-at-home and lockdown orders, now is the time to retrain both recruiters and hiring managers on virtual interviewing techniques and create a virtual onboarding capability.15 Many companies have already adopted virtual interviewing because recruiters and hiring managers can assess candidates’ facial expressions and levels of engagement via video while saving time and money.16 If your company hasn’t used this technology (see tools here17), provide recruiters and hiring managers with training that covers the technical aspects of video interviewing.18 Or take advantage of the 16 free learning courses LinkedIn offers, including how to build an executive presence on video calls, lead virtual meetings, and use virtual meeting tools.19 LinkedIn also offers interviewing capabilities via its Talent Hub platform, allowing recruiters and hiring managers to interview candidates virtually; assess coding, writing, speaking, and soft skills; and verify candidate information through secure background checks.20 Once they’ve hired candidates, companies that swiftly pivot to virtual onboarding processes can demonstrate to new employees their agility and resourcefulness.21 Organizations should develop innovative ways to welcome new hires when in-person interaction is no longer feasible. For example, Hormel Foods Corporation deployed Discovery Map®, a gamified platform that allows new workers to quickly learn about the company.22
  7. Provide virtual interviewing resources to candidates. Interviewing is often a challenge, especially for soon-to-be college graduates and inexperienced workers. Now with the COVID-19 restrictions, many candidates will require some guidance on how to successfully prepare for and perform in a virtual interview. We suggest that recruiters check in to ensure candidates are comfortable with a virtual interview and send them a document explaining what virtual platform will be used, along with tips for success.23 Microsoft has created a virtual interview resource page for candidates that outlines steps to follow before and on the day of the interview, addresses problems they may run into, and includes a FAQ.24
  8. Complete I-9 forms virtually. In late March, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a temporary modification tothe Employment Eligibility Verification/E-Verify process.25 For employers operating completely remotely, DHS has temporarily halted the requirement to physically review employee identification and employment authorization documents when completing the Form I-9. In addition, an organization can designate anyone (even a family member) to review a new hire's I-9 documents and verify eligibility. Organizations can also consider using an electronic I-9 option.26
  9. Refocus on your employment brand. An organization’s employment brand is the market perception of what it’s like to work there, and it is incredibly important that companies pivot to align with the quickly changing needs of their audience. How an organization responds to the COVID-19 crisis will determine how current employees and candidates view it in the future. Check your social platforms, websites, and advertising for insensitive or inappropriate messaging;27 partner with your marketing team to ensure consistent messaging across all platforms;28 and emphasize the elements that will convey security, safety, and stability in these uncertain times as these will resonate significantly. For example, Microsoft created a separate web page to display how it is responding to COVID-19, with stories on how employees are helping their communities, tips and resources for working and conducting business remotely, and resources for educators and families.29
  10. Implement virtual career fairs. Organizations should consider creating online recruiting events, such as a virtual career fair, to facilitate interactions with potential applicants.30 Employers and applicants can meet in a virtual environment by using chat rooms, teleconferencing, webinars, and more to discuss job openings. Job seekers upload their résumé prior to the event, fill out questionnaires about their interests and experience, and are matched with various companies that have openings that align with their skills.31 Some platforms create virtual environments that mimic real-life career fairs, including a map of the layout of booths. Earlier in 2020, Ford conducted a successful virtual career fair with over 2,300 registrations and 1,500 job applications through vFairs, a virtual event platform.32
  11. Focus on diverse candidate slates with alternative credentials. Increasing the diversity of applicant pools creates a more diverse workforce, which has been found to increase innovation and thus revenue by 19 percent.33 With so many potential candidates flooding the market, don’t make the mistake of creating arbitrary filters that eliminate diverse applicants. In the past, college degrees have been used as a filter for hiring, but alternative credentials (certificates, certifications, work experience, etc.) allow organizations to broaden their talent pools with workers from many educational backgrounds.34 For example, accepting alternative credentials allows the TA team to think more broadly about what skills will be needed in the future, not just those needed today, notes an HR executive of a large medical institution.
  12. Redeploy your recruiters. Rather than laying off recruiters during a hiring freeze and having to rehire during the recovery, organizations should leverage the versatility of recruiter skills by retraining them for other positions and tasks. First, recruiters are ideally positioned to become outplacement specialists, providing laid-off and furloughed employees with information about external positions, as well as advice for résumé development and effective interviewing. In addition, organizations can temporarily move recruiters to cross-departmental positions that have become priorities in the face of this crisis where they can use their skills (e.g., call centers or marketing positions).35

This report is part of the larger Human Capital Management during COVID-19 series created by The Conference Board to help HC leaders navigate the effects of the pandemic with their employees. The series reflects not only the latest research (ours and others') but also the comments and insights from our Members as they address this unprecedented challenge. To see the other reports in the series, visit The Conference Board COVID-19 Pandemic Resources & Support for the Human Capital Community.


Related Resources

Ron Blum, “Get Your Message Right: Considerations for Your COVID-19 Employer Brand Strategy,” Indeed, 2020.

Guide for Adapting Your Talent Acquisition Processes to Respond to COVID-19, Cielo, March 2020.

Stephanie Vozza, “How COVID-19 Is Changing the Recruiting and Hiring Process,” Fast Company, March 26, 2020.

1 For more information on this topic, see Robin Erickson and Amy Ye, Human Capital Management during COVID-19: Finding Innovative Alternatives to Layoffs, The Conference Board, April 2020.

2 For more information on internships, see the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

3 For more information on this topic, see Human Capital Management during COVID-19: Crisis Communications, The Conference Board (forthcoming 2020).

4 Andrew Barks, “Surviving a Hiring Freeze: 5 Tips for HR,” The Predictive Index, March 18, 2020.

5 Nicole Fallon, “How to Recruit and Hire during the Coronavirus Outbreak,” US Chamber of Commerce, March 24, 2020.

7 For more information on this topic, see Robin Erickson, Marion Devine, and Amy Ye, Total Talent Mobility: Strategic Purposes, Barriers, and Best Practices, The Conference Board, April 2019.

8 Why Internal Mobility? Paddle HR, September 27, 2017.

9 Stefan Seiler, “This Swiss Bank Found the Key to Employee Satisfaction,” Fast Company, May 14, 2019.

10 Kenneth Charles and Robin Erickson, “An Abundance of Caring: American Airlines Helps Redeploy Employees,” The Conference Board Human Capital Blog, April 15, 2020.

11 “Hilton Corporate Response to COVID-19,” Hilton (press release), March 26, 2020.

13 Melissa Morse, “Should You Suspend Hiring during the Coronavirus Outbreak?” HR Daily Advisor, March 12, 2020.

1410 Tips for Writing SEO-Friendly Job Descriptions,” Glassdoor, February 24, 2020.

15 For more information on this topic, see Robin Erickson and Amy Ye, Artificial Intelligence for Talent Acquisition, The Conference Board, January 2020.

16 Morse, “Should You Suspend Hiring During the Coronavirus Outbreak?”

17 Organizations are now regularly using many video tools for internal meetings and external interviews (e.g., Facetime, Microsoft Teams, Skype, WebEx, and Zoom). Some video interviewing platforms also allow candidates to prerecord video answers to interview questions (e.g., HireVue, Montage, and Spark Hire).

18Tips for Virtual Interviewing,” University of Massachusetts Amherst, March 19, 2020.

20 Morse, “Should You Suspend Hiring During the Coronavirus Outbreak?”

21 For more information on this topic, see Barbara Lombardo, Amy Ye, and Robin Erickson, Human Capital Management during COVID-19: Why Organizations Shouldn’t Forget about Onboarding, The Conference Board, April 2020.

22 Chiradeep BasuMallick, “10 Best Onboarding Experience Strategies for Your 2020 Hires,” HR Technologist, November 19, 2019.

23 Lauren Landry, “9 Tips for Mastering Your Next Virtual Interview,” Harvard Business School Online, August 8, 2019.

25DHS Announces Flexibility in Requirements Related to Form I-9 Compliance,” US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (press release), April 3, 2020.

26 Roy Maurer, “How to Complete I-9 Verification during the Coronavirus Pandemic,” SHRM, March 18, 2020.

27 Sylvia, “Coronavirus: Should Your Recruitment Marketing Change in a Crisis?”

28 Ashley Cheretes, “Managing the Candidate Experience during the COVID-19 Crisis,” Rally, 2020.

29Responding to Covid-19 Together,” Microsoft, 2020.

30 Louis Columbus, “Remote Recruiting in a Post COVID-19 World,” Forbes, March 30, 2020.

31 Laureen Miles Brunelli,“Virtual Career Fair FAQ,” The Balance Careers, November 20, 2019.

32 Warda Zahid, “How Ford Accelerated the Hiring Process with a Virtual Career Fair,” vFairs, February 26, 2020.

33 “Diversity Proves to Be a Key Ingredient for Driving Business Innovation,” Boston Consulting Group (press release), January 23, 2018.

34 For more information on this topic, see Deb Cohen and Robin Erickson, Different in Degree: Closing the Talent Gap with Alternative Credentials, The Conference Board, forthcoming 2020.

35 Prodita Sabarini, “The Coronavirus Is Changing How We Work—Possibly Permanently,” The Conversation, March 25, 2020.



Robin Erickson, PhD

Principal Researcher, Human Capital
The Conference Board


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