How to Hire During a Crisis

When a crisis hits, it seems as if every forecast or future plan you had suddenly disappears. Maintaining any sense of normal function is a challenge, much less adjusting a hiring process during a crisis.

Do you hire? Do you change how you hire? Should you wait before hiring to see how things pan out? Should hiring freeze indefinitely? 

Consider these tips for hiring during a crisis.

Hiring doesn’t stop during a crisis.

Don’t assume all hiring should stop because there is a crisis. 

In every crisis, there are industries that surge even as some struggle. Big box stores, government, anything with delivery, whether food or general shipping—these are surging right now. Groceries, pharmacies, and other essential goods businesses are thriving. Medical and some manufacturing industries have put out a call for more workers and volunteers.

In every crisis, there is also an opportunity for businesses who adjust to the new environment. They have the potential to adapt and grow.

Do an assessment of where you stand.

Instead of a hiring freeze, do an assessment. You’ll need to ask yourself some questions:

  • What do you have? Assess the positions you have and what you will need to fill. Assess how your business will change to adjust for the crisis. Do you have positions that can shift to virtual or working from home? Do you have the infrastructure (e.g. online ordering or virtual communication with clients) or will you need to hire someone to build it?
  • What will you need? Some of the ways you do business may change, and so you will not need as many employees in some areas as you do in others. For example, your drive-up, delivery, cleaning, or shipping staffing may need to increase while your front office or store staff will be reduced. You may need to hire or move some employees from now-obsolete jobs to handling online orders, delivery, or other virtual positions. A crisis will change prior plans; what you needed last week is not what you’ll need now.
  • What systems will change? How will your customer expectations change? How can you meet those expectations and function within other restrictions that come with the crisis? You may need employees that can work in a virtual environment. Your hiring approach will need to reflect this new work requirement, putting those positions on the frontburner. 
  • What needs to go? There’s nothing like a crisis to highlight unnecessary rules that hamper speed and efficiency. What rules are hampering your ability to thrive during the crisis? What can you do away with, even if only temporarily? What part of your business should you do away with as you adapt to the new environment?

Assessment is all about evolving for the changed arena. Businesses live or die based on how well they can evolve.

Be willing to change how you hire.

Hiring is expensive and time consuming, and if you’ve finally figured out a great hiring process, it will be hard to change it. But a crisis changes everything and your hiring process is no exception. 

You may have tighter hiring windows, or be looking for differently skilled employees than you normally do.

You will still need to use recruitment tools to find the best employee for the jobs you have. However, you need to use the tool that the people you are looking for are using. This is especially the case for interviewing and hiring virtually. 

You might need to adjust the recruitment language from what you’ve used in the past, because again, you’re hiring in a different setting.

You might not be able to use the same tools and procedures you used in the past, because you’ll attract the wrong kind of employee during the crisis.

Be flexible. Be willing to change from what worked in the past, because in a crisis, the past is over, at least temporarily.

Adjust what you think are valued skill sets.

A crisis is going to change the skills and requirements you’re looking for in new hires. This is going to be difficult; you may have avoided some of these kinds of employees in the past. 

  • Virtual workers. Being able to work virtually is going to be a necessity. These are people who can quickly merge into your team, work effectively, and not struggle with the technology or remote working culture. You’ll want them to have experience with teleconferencing software, project management software, and messaging platforms.
  • Fast learners. Time is short in a crisis. When the business model shifts in a day, you don’t have the luxury of long training periods for new hires. Find people who have a proven record of learning various skills quickly. They might have resumes you’d normally shy away from, resumes that might seem incohesive and spotty. Look for those who put in at least a few years at a job without disciplinary action forcing them out, and have varied job experience. They learn, and they aren’t afraid to learn. 
  • High functioning. Some employees struggle with boredom in regular work. They figure out how to organize chaos and then become bored. They might have resumes where they change jobs every few years, because they left when there was little left to improve. These people are excellent in a crisis. They thrive in turning confusion into clockwork.
  • Value perspective. Some people struggle to justify profit or success in a crisis when others may be losing jobs or experiencing difficulty. You want people who are able to put perspective on the value of work during this time.

You will find that many of the perfect people to hire in a crisis are those who have experienced layoffs or other crises before. They are not scared or shaken, and they are quick out of the gate. They are adept at adjusting to a changing landscape.

What you used to think of as a good, stable job candidate might change in a crisis. It takes a different kind of person to hit the ground running in the midst of chaos, but that’s exactly the kind of person you need.

Hire from newly available employee pools.

In every crisis, some industries suffer more than others. Right now, the seasonal, travel, retail, hospitality, and service industry are taking a hit. That means there are a lot of skilled workers now available in what might have been a previously tight job market.

  • Target your job descriptions by using job titles and descriptions that let people know their previous job would translate well into what you need. If they’re not familiar with your industry, they might need help recognizing how they’d fit.
  • Contact local media to let people know that you could use help, even if it’s temporary to fill sudden demand due to the crisis. 
  • Consider contract positions for people who are furloughed and need work just to get through the crisis. 

Assessment and information are the key to hiring during a crisis. Before moving forward, figure out which direction you should go. Be willing to change how you do things. Embrace flexibility.

A crisis might be the time your business leaps to the front of the pack and adapts successfully when others struggle to operate as usual.

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