Building Talent in the Covid-19 World

ByCari Kraft, Jacobs Management Group


Covid-19 has created challenges everywhere, including the hiring process. Research conducted in late March by Willis Towers Watson, a global risk management and advisory firm, shows that 42% of surveyed organizations have frozen or reduced hiring. But that means that 58% are still hiring.

And, for those of us in the pharma, biotech, and medical device space, we are seeing sharp increases as some companies ramp up to support Covid-19 products and freezes and declines for companies that support elective procedures which are being deferred. For those companies who are hiring, filling positions will be more difficult, especially those that were already hard to fill before the coronavirus pandemic. And, while it might be counterintuitive, this might be a time to reach out to your agency recruiter for those hard to fill positions, as they have unprecedented access to talent in this time.


Walk through your hiring process from end to end

Many of our clients have made the move to virtual interviewing, but what about the rest of the process? How do you replace that “feel” that candidates get from being in your space, walking by and seeing a team meeting, or having a casual side conversation with someone in a hallway introduction? The entire process is changing with the restrictions of Covid-19, and it is important to walk through it from end to end and make sure the entire team is on the same page. Some questions to consider include:

  • Are your managers comfortable hiring someone they have never met in person?
  • What steps to do you need to add to the process to do that?
  • Who else can you include, now that geography is no longer a challenge?
  • Which technologies are you going to use and how are you going to make sure everyone is trained and prepared?
  • How are you going to handle candidate presentations, assessments, white-board talks, or case-studies?
  • What can you do to offer a virtual tour of your environment?
  • How can you offer a virtual real estate tour for those who are relocating?

Think through it all and then communicate. With everyone working remotely, it is even harder to keep them all in the loop. Make sure you have looked at your communication process from candidate review, to interview management, feedback, and how you are going to manage candidate interest throughout the process.

Evaluate Your Security Process

With the process moving virtually make sure you cover all of the data protection issues. The last thing you want are the repercussions from having an interview “leaked” and posted on Facebook or YouTube.

  • Does the software you are using have encryption?
  • Does it preclude unauthorized recording?
  • Have you covered security access issues to preclude “zoom bombing” or having unknown eyes and ears into an interview?
  • Do you have the appropriate password protection in place? Even though it can be a hassle, in addition to preventing malicious attacks it can help avoid a simple scheduling issue where the next candidate joins a video conference before the prior one is completed.
  • Are you recording interviews? If so, make sure you have the appropriate permissions and know where and how the data is stored.

Re-evaluate your candidate experience

The current level of uncertainty has created a heightened level of stress in everyone. Candidates will be much more reluctant to make a move, so the candidate experience is even more important.

  • How good was your organization at this before the corona crisis?
  • How can you translate those areas virtually?
  • What else can you add in to put candidates at ease?
  • How can you give them the insight they need to be comfortable?

Evaluate your process to see what you can do remove uncertainty. One way is to over-communicate. Give candidates a step by step review of the process all the way through to final interviews so they are clear on what to expect.

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This is an uncharted time for candidates as well, so anything you can do to reduce nerves will help their experience. One way is to be clear on your technology by providing clear instructions for setup.

  • Is there anything they have to download?
  • Are there passwords they need?
  • What should they do if they have incompatibility issues?
  • Which parts of the process will be done using which tool or tools?
  • Who will be initiating the call?
  • Is there a backup option?
  • Do they have the name, title and contact information for everyone they will be interviewing with?
  • What pre-interview information do you expect them to have sent?

Coach your interviewers to give leniency to candidates struggling with technical issues. Give candidates some additional time at the start of an interview and do a quick audio and video check. Remind them that technical glitches are the norm and have them try to approach the situation with patience and understanding.


Prepare and test your technology

Even if you are living on video conferencing as part of standard coronavirus remote operations, take a moment to test your technology.

  • Do you have your settings correct for your clearest microphone and speaker? If you are using your phone for sound and laptop for video, make sure you only have sound on for one of those devices to eliminate feedback.
  • Do you have your username and password handy, or the link to click into the meeting? It might be worth a double check of your bandwidth to make sure no one in your house is overwhelming your Wi-Fi with streaming, which will create video glitches.
  • Check your lighting and charge your devices.
  • Check your camera. Are you looking right into the camera? If possible, place your webcam at eye-level. If you are using your phone, put it in horizontal rather than vertical position. If you are using an external camera and/or microphone, make sure they are charged. And if you are going to be typing, check out the sound your keyboard to the other person on the line.

Evaluate your space

It is also a good idea to check on your surroundings. What is behind you? If possible, try to be backed by a neutral background with minimal clutter. Keep the space behind you professional. While it is tempting to choose a virtual background, if you go that route, check to make sure you have a solid wall behind you so you don’t flicker in and out.

Know Your Backup Plans

Despite all preparations, things can go awry. Always have a Plan B, and maybe a Plan C.

  • Be ready for the internet blip, the video freeze, or the meeting drop.
  • Have the candidate’s phone and email handy, and know when you are going to call the cutover.
  • A key problem with everyone working at home is bandwidth. One option to address this issue is to continue with voice only and turn over video.
  • It is also more likely in this environment that you may need to reschedule the interview if it’s interrupted. Be prepared for this as part of your backup plan.

Prepare for the Interview

  • Dress for the camera. The best clothing is neutral and professional, avoiding loud stripes or bright colors, as they can disrupt the lighting.
  • It may sound strange, but check your teeth. With up close HD cameras, anything that is there from the meal you just ate could be apparent. First impressions matter as much virtually as they do in person.
  • Make sure you are clear on who will initiate the meeting, and have all of the candidate contact in-formation. Have a printout of the candidate’s resume and your questions to guide your interview.
  • The sound of a printer or other background machinery whirring while you are chatting can be distracting.
  • Just as in an office interview, silence your phone.
  • Since computer sounds are more noticeable, turn off chat and mail alerts as well.
  • It is always good to hop onto the meeting a few minutes early so you know everything is set.

Be Mindful of Virtual Professionalism

  • Manage your eye contact. It is always helpful to move the candidate to a place on your screen near your camera so you are not looking off when talking.
  • Pause and leave a few seconds at the end of a sentence and after a question to minimize talking over the other person. Technology often has a delay and you may need to pause more to facilitate a back and forth discussion.
  • Make it a point to speak more slowly and clearly. It is possible the audio and video are not 100% in sync.
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Guide the Next Step

Virtual interviewing can help speed the hiring process. In light of this, make sure to be clear with the candidate of the next steps.

Candidates interviewing now are part of a small percentage of candidates willing to consider a move at this time, and so they are most likely being pursued by others.

Take time at the end of the interview to clearly lay out next steps.

Stay in Close Communication with Candidates

For your sake and the candidate’s, be sure to maintain regular contact with those who are under serious consideration. This will help you get a read on the level of their interest, and will help them to make a decision about the position you are filling. It will also diminish stress for both of you.


  • Get candidates comfortable with the culture. Find a way to replace the water cooler conversation.
  • Get candidates comfortable with the area. The virtual real-estate tour.
  • Be flexible about start dates.


The virtual hiring process will dovetail into the virtual on-boarding process, a key to protecting a company’s investment. Lin Grensing-Pophal, in an article in HR Advisor, quotes The Learning Matchmaker statistics showing that 91% of employees stay with a company for at least a year if that company has an efficient on-boarding process, a number that only drops to 69% after 3 years. It would take an entire article to go through the virtual on-boarding process, so I’ll leave with you with a list to consider, on the following page. It’s tough enough to start a new job when you have the opportunity to meet people in person, in the lunchroom, in the hallways, etc. How much more challenging is it to make that happen remotely?

This time is a steep hill for all of us. People coming into a new company, a new atmosphere and possibly a new city need all the help they can get – which will help them be of the greatest value to you.


May / June 2020

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