Why COVID-19 Will Lead to More Evidence-Based Hiring

By: Josh Millet, founder and CEO of Criteria

The unemployment rate in the United States shot from 3.8 percent in February to 14.4 percent in April – the highest level since the Great Depression. However, while the job losses caused by COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future, the unemployment rate has already decreased dramatically from its peak a few months ago, reaching 10.2 percent as of July 2020.

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Although this hiring surge is good news for the U.S. economy, many companies now have to vet far more applicants than they did in the pre-COVID era, and they often have fewer resources to do so. On average, our customers are receiving more than twice as many applicants for each open job as they were pre-Covid. Meanwhile, the norms and practices around hiring have shifted rapidly – interviews are taking place on Zoom and other video conferencing platforms, companies are trying to figure out how to assess candidates more efficiently and reliably, and hiring managers are searching for different skill sets as remote work remains the norm.

These changes have given companies a powerful set of incentives to make their hiring processes more rigorous, streamlined, and effective. Hiring managers need a way to assess candidates on the basis of their ability to adapt to a new work environment and to fulfill the basic requirements of each job. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how companies can update their hiring strategies for the COVID-19 era and beyond.

Hiring will never be the same

While COVID-19 has had a devastating economic impact, it has also hastened the adoption of new technologies and led to a fundamental reconsideration of how many companies operate and manage human capital. According to a recent survey conducted by Gartner, 48 percent of employees “will likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19,” compared to 30 percent before the pandemic.

This means companies are recognizing that the factory model of work – which doesn’t always make sense in an information economy – is outdated. We’re seeing similar long-term shifts in hiring practices. A survey by the Addison Group found that almost half of the hiring managers who cited the move toward virtual interviews as the most significant benefit of COVID-19 believe these interviews will be implemented permanently. A quarter of respondents even said their hiring process had been expedited amid the pandemic.

However, remote hiring presents opportunities that go far beyond convenience and time savings. It has never been more important for hiring managers to objectively evaluate potential employees’ aptitudes and skills, and remote interviews give them the ability to do so more robustly and consistently than ever.

Ability and potential matter more than lines on a resume

COVID-19 forced companies to make radical adjustments overnight – from the way employees communicate and collaborate with one another to how they structure their time and fulfill their responsibilities. This is why agility and innovation have been so vital in the COVID-19 era – companies have had to quickly rework their operations and redirect human capital to minimize disruption, adapt to changing market conditions, and keep everything running smoothly.

Before the pandemic, hiring managers were reporting a skills shortage. According to a 2019 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, 83 percent of hiring managers were struggling to recruit candidates, three-quarters of whom attributed this problem to a lack of relevant skills. Managers were particularly concerned about the lack of soft skills like innovation, creativity, and critical thinking.

These happen to be the most useful skills for dealing with the pressures of a pandemic and a severe economic downturn. While hiring managers have a much larger pool of employees than they did in 2019, this won’t do them much good if they’re incapable of properly assessing candidates. This is why companies are increasingly focused on identifying talent signals at the top of the funnel, which will help them filter out candidates that don’t meet their requirements right at the outset.

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The power of structured interviews and objective assessments

The traditional method of screening and hiring candidates – which consists of a brief resume scan and an unstructured interview – has become obsolete. Recruiters usually spend just seconds reviewing a resume (on which a significant number of applicants–85% in one study– misrepresent their skills and experience), and many interviews aren’t systematic enough to get an accurate picture of a candidate’s suitability for the job.

These are all reasons why employers are increasingly moving toward pre-employment assessments, which can help remove bias from the hiring process and give companies a much clearer picture of a candidate’s cognitive ability, personality, skills, emotional intelligence, and other relevant characteristics. These objective, data-driven assessments are easy to administer online, and at a time when in-person interviews are impossible, companies should shift toward the most accurate and predictive form of hiring.

After pre-employment assessments are administered, hiring managers are increasingly conducting structured interviews, in which candidates are asked a standardized set of questions and graded methodically on their responses. This approach is far more effective than unstructured interviews – as Harvard business and government professor Iris Bohnet explains: “Dozens of studies have found them [unstructured interviews] to be among the worst predictors of actual on-the-job performance.” As with pre-employment assessments, now is an ideal time to implement structured interviews, as remote communication makes it easier for hiring managers to take notes and focus on the responses themselves.

While COVID-19 will have many negative consequences, it has also prompted a sweeping reevaluation of how companies find and hire the right people. If companies take this opportunity to start using evidence-based hiring practices, they will emerge from the pandemic with stronger workforces than ever before.

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