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Is COVID-19 a catalyst for change for TA leaders?

COVID-19 was a catalyst for transformation in the way we work, live and connect with technology. In the world of talent acquisition, it’s been a year of rapid experimentation with virtual hiring and onboarding. This experiment has proved that you can deliver an effective, engaging and efficient hiring process that is virtual but not distant.

Our collaboration with the RL100 was an opportunity to ask TA leaders what they’ve learned and what they’ll be keeping moving forward. Sova’s Dr. Alan Bourne and Gavin Mulcahy were joined by Nerida Rooney, Talent Acquisition Manager at Kier Group and Hema Bakshi, Co-founder at The Business Buddha and previously Head of Future of Work - Workplace Transformation at Santander.

How have organisations ensured the human touch is retained in a virtual setting?

Overall, candidates have adjusted well to a virtual process, says Nerida. At Kier Group, both candidate and assessor drop-off have been lower than previously, and the business has made savings on venue hire. But the team had to work hard to ensure these benefits don’t come at the expense of the human touch and have put extra effort into putting candidates at ease.

Virtual recruitment is an opportunity to create an enhanced experience, adds Hema, but it needs to be carefully planned as does any process including face to face. With a virtual process we need to give more thought to how you make a connection with candidates. The choice of tools requires careful thought so that nothing is lost, and that tech augments the process rather than leaving candidates feeling isolated.

At one Sova client in the legal sector, around 70% of early career candidates want to have a face-to-face component to the hiring experience. However, the benefits of no commute or travel are appealing too so we need to find the right balance, says Alan. “What does the candidate need to get out of the process? Keep the things that can stay digital, digital”, is his advice.

What’s been your key learning from the last 12 months?

“100% invest in training talent. It’s a deal breaker for early career. Candidates want good quality training to help them for the longer term”

Nerida Rooney, Talent Acquisition Manager at Kier Group

“Talent acquisition teams have a powerful role if they can respond to the strategic challenges that we are facing. As TA leaders we need to understand the market, understand the labour market, and understand the economic backdrop.”

Hema Bakshi, Co-founder at The Business Buddha

“People have thought about why they are doing what they are doing. They’ve broken out of the routine and looking around to see what it is that they want from their lives. We won’t go back to where we were before, so we need to think about steps into the future.”

Dr Alan Bourne, founder and CEO at Sova Assessment

How are you taking your learnings from the last 12 months forward?

At Kier Group, the team implemented Sova as part of their early career recruitment process which has been a fantastic success. The team has received great candidate feedback that they’ve been able to take forward.

One of the unexpected learnings for the TA team was the experience of seeing into candidates’ working environments: “It opened our eyes to candidates who are trying to perform at an assessment centre in a cramped dorm room or at a busy home with siblings running around”. As a result, Nerida’s team made some changes to the way they run assessment centres.

At Santander, the TA team realised the importance of candidate feedback reports, especially those that aren’t successful: “Constantly being rejected for roles is disheartening. Feedback reports can help candidates and provide a development opportunity, even if they aren’t a successful hire”, says Hema.

Communication and engagement between offer and day one is critical, says Nerida. An early career candidate who has an offer is likely to be interviewing elsewhere. Nerida believes that this period is more important than ever in the current environment. Alan agrees, adding that the virtual approach has widened the talent pool. This means that more firms are targeting the same top percentage of the talent pool.

Has virtual hiring had a positive or negative impact on diversity?

Although a move to remote working has opened up more diverse talent pools, we need to think about digital inclusion says Alan, highlighting that candidates may not have access to the right technology or connectivity and may be sharing a device.

Nerida agrees: “Don’t assume that people in a global marketplace have the same technology and Wi-Fi. Check with candidates that they have equipment that they can use for the assessment process. They may not have it in their personal environment. Check before you send an email.”

One Sova client has put together an online briefing pack which clearly explains every stage of process says Gavin. This client has seen improvements in the drop off rates across the board and especially of BAME candidates at later stages of the process.

The pandemic has been a step backwards for diversity in some ways, says Hema. There is a massive opportunity for change if we use data and insight to level the playing field. Nerida agrees that there is much more work to be done with some diversity initiatives being put on hold during the pandemic: “It has dropped off the agenda. Initiatives such as work on the gender pay gap have been put on hold. But during the pandemic, women were more likely to have lost their jobs than men. What do we need to do to close these gaps?”

What have been the learning points if you were to look at the last year with fresh eyes?

Giving candidates the confidence to be themselves is something that came up time and again with candidates, says Nerida. As a result, her team now includes reassurance about interruptions, physical appearance and backdrops in invitation emails to put them at ease.

Switching from a process mindset to a personal one, says Hema, highlighting that in the rush to go online, some companies resorted to mimicking their current in-person experience online. Consider what the experience looks and feels like for candidates - and review and possibly reengineer your process before moving to a virtual setting.

TA teams have wanted to make some of the innovations that we’ve seen in the last year for a long time, says Alan. COVID-19 has allowed them to do it, but TA teams have been hard hit with perhaps fewer people in the team and a huge increase in candidate volumes. Consider your tools and how automation could take on some of the heavy lifting.

Join our Community!

We launched the Sova Assessment Community earlier this year as a place for those interested in talent acquisition, assessment and development to come together, share expertise, explore best practice and network with HR professionals from other organisations.

We’ve created a FREE online course, “Equitable Assessment - why equality is not enough” for you and your team to upskill and make practical changes to your assessment and recruitment processes.

“People have thought about why they are doing what they are doing. They’ve broken out of the routine and looking around to see what it is that they want from their lives. We won’t go back to where we were before, so we need to think about steps into the future.”

Dr Alan Bourne, founder and CEO at Sova Assessment

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