A Candidate’s Perspective of Recruiting During the Pandemic

Written by Rachel Meade, Master of Science in Business Analytics Alumna, McCombs School of Business

Posted on 08/23/2021 by Austin Chamber

My mouse hovered over the send button as I read the email for the seventh time.

“I hope this message finds you well.”

“I'm reaching out to ask if I'm still being considered for the Data Science role on your team. I know these are strange times, and I completely understand if you don't have any updates. I continue to be very interested in this role.”

“Thank you for your time and consideration.”

I sent out several emails like this in April and May 2020, all to companies with whom I had begun the interview process B.C. (Before COVID, obviously). Earlier in March, hiring at technology companies across Austin had come screeching to a halt as employees suddenly began working from home. All the email recipients had since gone silent about the hiring process, even though some had previously seemed keen to make offers or schedule final-round interviews. I understood the situation: No one knew how long lockdown conditions would last or how badly it would affect the global economy. Many companies were in a holding pattern, gauging how they would adjust. Recruiters and hiring managers were sitting at home, like me, wondering what would come next.

I was looking for a job because in 2019 I had decided to change my career and pursue a master’s degree in business analytics at UT Austin. As I applied to jobs in January and February, I’ll admit, I congratulated myself on what a great return on investment I would soon receive and what a great decision I had made to continue my education. The memory of my smugness stung a little as I proofread my email a final time, checking that I’d successfully edited out the desperation I felt. I couldn’t help but wonder whether my hopes for a new career would have to wait months or years longer than I had planned. Despite hours of screenings, interviews, and technical assessments, I had no idea where I stood with these companies, and the prospect terrified me.

If there’s one thing I wished for in that moment, it was communication. The hiring process is opaque for candidates, and the typical tendency of most recruiters is to communicate very little. There are reasons for this: Recruiters handle dozens of candidates for numerous open roles, so I can only assume they receive a daily flurry of requests for status updates from candidates. Meanwhile, a recruiter might want to respond to candidates but could be waiting for information from interviewers, hiring managers, budget officers, background checks, and more. Even when every individual person you have to deal with is kind, understanding, self-sufficient, and competent, people en masse are still hard to manage. I could empathize, but it felt absolutely awful to chase companies by phone or email to try to assess whether they had frozen hiring temporarily, closed the requisition, or were just waiting a few weeks to see how things went. The silence was deafening.

Despite the challenges around high-touch communication with prospective hires, some companies (or at least some recruiters in those companies) are getting it right. And those that can manage communication with candidates effectively stand to benefit. My story came full circle, and even though I was in a state of near-panic in April trying to get companies to respond to my emails, I ended up with two competing offers before graduation. Both companies were small technology businesses owned by a larger corporate parent. Both promised similar tech company perks (free food, sleek offices, and a laid-back dress code) upon an eventual return to the office. They offered similar salary and benefits packages. The job I took was with a company I felt connected to and welcome at. That sense of belonging was developed in large part by the recruiter.

Recruiters are the face of the company to prospective hires: Candidates are benchmarking their expectations of company culture from the first conversation. The recruiter I worked with communicated frequently and answered my questions promptly. I’m certain she was managing five or more candidates for the role, but she made it feel like the team was excited to talk to me specifically. She ensured the interview process went quickly, from start to finish. Where other companies had left weeks-long or month-long gaps in the process with no communication, this recruiter stayed in touch every week and ensured that the whole interview process was complete within 30 days. Today, that’s a rapid turnaround for technical roles that require multiple skills assessments and technical screenings along with the typical behavioral interviews and screenings for culture and team fit.

At a tactical level, the two key pieces to successful recruiter communication are simple:

  1. Communicate with candidates weekly, even if there are no updates. Candidates are already anxious about the process, so they appreciate not being made to guess about whether they’re still being considered. And when things go wrong or the process is complete, candidates appreciate a prompt notification either way.
  2. Move as quickly as possible. Candidates are almost never applying to one role at a time, so companies lose the best ones if the process takes six weeks or more. Ensure that first offers are being made within 30 days of initiating the process.

My experience with the top-notch recruiter checked those boxes, but there was something more to the puzzle. When I went to work for the company, I experienced firsthand that they had built a culture that valued treating one another like a community and encouraged interpersonal connection. Thinking strategically about communication style with interview candidates can result in more candidates who are excited for opportunities with the company. Today, it’s an inexpensive way to differentiate a company in an environment where top candidates are interviewing with several companies at once and may be deciding among multiple opportunities. From personal experience, that high-touch communication in recruiting can make a world of difference in both brand perception and propensity to accept a job offer.

Today, as the companies continue to add jobs to their payrolls, let’s be kind to job seekers and communicate more than ever. They (like many of us) have had a tough year.

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