Recruitment In COVID-19

The Second World War provided enough motivation for people to realise their healthcare system was insufficient. And Britain became the pioneers of healthcare for all.

The National Health Service is a positive force that emerged from the tragedy of WW2. And we’re more thankful for it today than ever before.

Positives come from tragic events. The current global coronavirus pandemic may provide the impetus for wholesale positive change to our working world.

Lots of business models are broken. Hyper-efficient, just-in-time supply chains are being exposed. Airlines, hotels and restaurants reliant on near maximum occupancy are in serious trouble.

Now is the time for a re-think.

Every business, like every person, will want to cultivate greater resilience.

For many companies, largely thanks to the governments furlough scheme in the UK, the clock has stopped. Business has been paused.

What a rare and valuable opportunity for businesses to reflect and make the kind of decisions they can’t in real-time.

A lot of companies will emerge stronger. Disruptive new businesses will emerge because of this crisis. But what about the Recruitment industry?

I’ve spent the last few weeks speaking to hundreds of recruiters, business leaders, and owners, trying to build an idea of the impact COVID-19 will have on the industry in months to come.

I’ve heard wildly different accounts: inspiring stories of recruitment leaders who’ve managed this crisis in human and selfless ways, and horror stories of leadership looking after themselves and showing disregard for their people.

Good or bad, there’s a lot to learn at a time like this.

1. Immediate Impact

“Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity but cash is reality”

Recruitment businesses who prioritised a vanity metric like headcount will be more exposed than those who valued the reality that cash is king.

Poor cash management will catch up with businesses. Without cash reserves, you’re ultimately reliant on your immediate revenue which, for most, has been devastated virtually overnight.

Early stage recruitment businesses won’t have the same cash reserves but should have lower, more flexible overheads. Their startup capital may not be spent how they’d envisaged but, supported by the government, they should be able to get through regardless of their sector.

Whereas established recruitment businesses will have more fixed overheads and should have built a buffer, many hadn’t.

Not having cash reserves means you don’t have time. Furloughing or making redundancies may still be the right decision for a business. But having the luxury of time to contemplate those decisions is important. Not just to help you make the right ones, but to give you time to manage the process in a way that doesn’t risk the trust and respect of your teams.

Another important factor for a company in a time of crisis is leadership. Great leadership is about enduring the turbulent times as much as thriving in the good times. Strong leadership now will inspire confidence in your teams about the future of your organisation.

I look at the contrasting styles of 2 prominent world leaders. Donald Trump and Jacinda Ardern. Both seemingly hoping to achieve the same objective: ensuring security and prosperity for their respective nations.

But their approach has been different. And I’ve seen both reflected in today’s recruitment leaders.

When it comes to responding to a crisis, you could downplay it and delay taking action, even when it’s worsening. Or you could take action quickly, and offer meaning and purpose with instructions.

You could advise others to follow instructions you aren’t willing to follow yourself. Or be human, show you’re facing the same challenges, and lead by example.

You could react angrily and show contempt whenever someone questions your decisions. Or you could encourage independent scrutiny, and welcome questions.

Your call.

2. Mid-term Impact

This is the period we will be entering next. When the lockdown lifts, life returns to ‘normal’, and the economy starts its gradual recovery.

After your clients have reeled from the impact this pandemic has had on their business and they start to return to something that resembles work, attention still might not turn to hiring.

Before hiring is un-furloughing the staff that had to be put on paid leave. Or hiring back the contractors who were cut quickly.

We don’t know how long it will be before companies get back into growth mode and hiring is a priority. And the growth of the recruitment industry is tied to the growth of other industries. So for many organisations, things won’t get back to pre-COVID19 levels for some time.

Consider the short-term impact of The Olympics being postponed, along with the European Championships, Wimbledon, the Open.

The creative projects for the world’s leading brands to advertise to millions of television viewers. The hospitality industry planning for packed hotels and sold out events. The supply chains and logistics preparing for millions of visitors .

It’s not hard to imagine just about every sector being impacted due to these sports events being cancelled alone.

For recruitment companies, things won’t be easy. There’ll be less work available in the mid-term. It won’t be the best time for developing new business. But the companies who have developed strong relationships with their clients and candidates – the ones who’ve spent time helping, advising, supporting clients and candidates when there was not an immediate opportunity for a fee – will be the ones most likely to pick up work as needs arise.

This will be a hard time to be a rookie recruiter. Not many recruitment brands will be hiring at entry level. Hitting the phones won’t work like it does, or used to. Companies won’t suddenly revert to business as usual with everyone back in working “office hours”.

Positive change

I know a number of businesses owners who’ve been surprised at how well their teams have adapted to remote working. People who never would’ve thought running a sales business would be compatible with home working. People who’ve realised they can get the same amount of work done or more and still spend time with their family.

There are company leaders who have been given the luxury of time to work on the business, and will come back with greater clarity on their strategic direction and with a reinforced employee value proposition.

Re-thinking offices

It’s not a great time to be working in commercial real estate. It is more likely lots of smaller businesses will have relinquished their fixed office in favour of reconsidering the overhead when things pick up.

We’ve seen it already.

Although for companies desperate to get their people back into the office, they may need to create more space between teams and set up protective screens and supply PPE.

They may need to rotate when staff are in or start back, not to mention the reality of bringing a number of people that have been Furloughed during this time back to work and expecting them just to get back on with their jobs.

Invest in your most important assets

Critically, companies should use this time to develop their people. It’s important that even those who’ve been furloughed remain able to take part in training.

Still employed staff will likely have more time. And even for the best recruiters who normally don’t, they may have recently found themselves with the opportunity to invest in a bit of L&D.

Learning and development during this period will help to reinforce your culture. It will set your people up for greater success when things pick up. It will help encourage interaction between your teams while they’re not in the office. And it will positively impact your retention.

3. Recovery


Now this could take 12 months or more, but it WILL happen. In fact, things may well be better than ever.

Client companies will be making up for lost time, hiring to compensate for the blip in their story that was COVID-19.

And there will be less competition. Recruitment company numbers may have dwindled. And there’ll be far fewer recruitment consultants than there would be if 12 months’ worth of trainee hiring had gone ahead.

Plus there’ll be career changes. People who weren’t 100% recruitment was right for them may now have realised their calling is elsewhere during this downturn.

Many people who had been made redundant are now on different career paths. And just like after 2008/09, great recruiters and great businesses will emerge from COVID19.

(Working) life has changed

For the recruitment industry there will have been a seismic shift to the post-pandemic era. Companies will be thinking differently about office space, working hours, company culture, employee wellbeing, people management, incentives and rewards.

The recruiters who are thriving will have survived the worst period the industry has ever endured.

And there will be real opportunity ahead for the recruiters and recruitment companies who have adapted for the new working world.

Coming back to bite you

There will be brands who don’t treat their employees fairly or with respect through this pandemic. Brands who won’t have adapted their working practices or their employee wellbeing to support staff working from home. Not only will their behaviour impact their reputation through people leaving the company, it will be felt by their still-employed staff who may feel as though they have seen their employer’s true colours.

There will be companies fighting the shifts in our working habits, desperate to get their teams back in and tied to their desks like “the good ol days”.

But will their people, who as a direct result of a pandemic, experienced flexible working, be as keen to just revert back to fixed hours? Will those who’ve thrived without rigid call times, KPIs and power hours be excited to get back to an environment offering them control over their days?

I’m not so sure.

A sign of normalcy

We know we’re back to business as usual in the recruitment industry when your biggest challenge and the decisive factor in your growth is hiring more great recruiters.

In what is notoriously a very talent short market, we’re currently seeing a job-short dynamic. There are fewer opportunities for recruiters than there are active job seekers. But when things start to pick up, this surplus of talent will soon be in short supply.

Unlimited Talent pools

With less need for staff to be present, the best brands have opened up massive untapped talent pools. When you consider the greatest challenge to growing a recruitment agency is hiring more great talent, this could be a game-changer for brands willing to invest in infrastructure to support distributed teams.

Prepare today for growth tomorrow

Every company that will be proactively hiring in the future would have done well to be employer branding through this crisis.

The paradox right now is that although there is more online traffic, there is less engagement with job adverts. People are looking for information and for inspiration. By focussing on your employer brand now, you can build positive equity in the minds of your future hires.

Use content and social channels to communicate how you’re managing this situation. But don’t over-sell. You want your target future hires to see you’re handling this better than their employer is.

Then remove uncertainty. That’s the last thing people need. If you’re interviewing but not onboarding for a few months, make it clear from the outset.

Companies will all have shown their true colours during this crisis.

There will be winners and there will most certainly be losers.

The winners will have used the extra time to focus on the business, to consider their downturn exit strategy and develop their employee value proposition. They would have invested in their teams’ development and their wellbeing.

These are the companies who will retain their people and attract more.

The winners may be better businesses because of the pandemic.

If you’re doing things the right way as employer, make some noise about it. Inspire your own people and put your business and your positive changes in front of as many future hires as possible.

A new era for recruitment

The above graphic shows the economic recovery after the last global flu pandemic- The Spanish Flu of 1918-1919. Before COVID19, the recruitment industry was booming, and the rate of innovation was accelerating.

This pandemic, the “pause” and thinking time it has provided us, coupled with the swift recovery when it arrives, are a recipe for growth and advancement we have never seen.

The Recruitment Industry won’t revert back to pre pandemic ‘normal’, but we will see a return to the ‘new normal’ for businesses that have used this time to their advantage and have adapted their business model having learnt from the lessons this crisis has taught us.

It will still be possible to operate a recruitment business in the same way it has been for the last 30+ years. For now, it works. Make enough calls, send enough CV’s… placement fees will follow. But there will be an inflection point. There are already innovative challengers taking market share from those who refuse to adapt and update their model.

COVID19 may have just brought that inflection point forwards a few years.

Businesses will only ever be limited by the talent they can attract to their company.

Not by a virus or a lockdown.