COVID-19 has left its mark on almost every aspect of our lives - from the way we communicate to the way we view work. For employers, the fight for talent is one area that has been changed significantly.
With changing perceptions on remote work, many employers are tapping into the worldwide talent pool. A pool that comes with it’s own benefits and challenges.
We spoke to four Talent Acquisition specialists to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on local and international recruitment efforts.
Danny Crook, Recruitment Lead at Klarna
Danny Crook is Recruitment Lead at payments giant Klarna. With 10 years in recruitment, Danny has significant pedigree when it comes to sourcing technical talent. Cutting his teeth in an agency, Danny was picked up by Facebook and Google before moving to Stockholm where he took the position with Klarna.
For Danny, who has overseen a shift away from reactive recruitment and towards a robust, process-driven recruitment, COVID hasn’t caused any significant changes.
“We group similar positions together into pipelines and recruit for profiles instead of specific teams which makes managing change a lot easier and provides an overall better candidate experience.”
Danny’s team, who work very closely with Klarna’s Engineers, immerse themselves fully in the Engineers world attending both architecture meetings and sandboxes. This very flat structure has enabled Klarna to attract and recruit the very best talent - but it also allowed them to ride the waves COVID has caused with very minimal disruption.
This, in turn, has allowed them to keep their fingers on the pulse of exciting talent, regardless of where they are in the world.
Candidates Are Still Willing to Relocate
Just as no two parts of the world are similar, our experiences of the pandemic differ wildly based on where we are in the world. Technology, for the most part, has played a big part in bridging geographical boundaries and bringing people together - whether that’s for a pub quiz with mates or an interview with a prospective employer.
Interviews, which traditionally have worked best in person, present the biggest question mark for talent acquisition teams. For Danny and his team at Klarna, who have historically used video interviews for early stages, it was a case of making very minor adjustments to make that video interview experience serve the entire lifecycle of the acquisition pipeline.
“We use Google Hangouts as a platform for both technical and behavioural interviews, which works very well for both candidates and interviewers.”
A company's culture, although somewhat abstract and hard to quantify, is a massive selling point for highly skilled candidates who will get similar benefits packages wherever they go. HR and Talent Acquisition specialists regular use culture as a selling point for candidates but now, as the pandemic creates boundaries, the paradigm is shifting.
Klarna has a global reputation for excellent Engineering culture, as a result, international recruitment has always been part of Danny’s day-to-day. Now, however, restrictions mean they can’t invite candidates to Stockholm - a part of the interview process that was, up until now, viewed as critical.
“The number of people who have accepted job offers from us without having visited the country first, has been huge. I was positively surprised by that"
Relocation is a massive decision for candidates. Often, months and months of thought and planning go into the decision to make a move. COVID-19, with all the restrictions put into place, is forcing candidates to think about the value of a visit.
“I think it's forced people to think about the value of physically visiting the country. There's so much information available online and you can easily find people who've made the same transition.”
Candidates Are Moving to More Resilient Industries
Stockholm, well known for producing and attracting top technical talent, is a valuable local market for Danny and his team.
Sweden’s response to COVID-19, which has been widely praised, has seen a lowered impact than its European neighbours. Lockdown restrictions that would otherwise be commonplace in other countries, have been avoided in Sweden. As a result, local talent acquisition has seen less disruption.
For Danny, the local change comes as a shift in candidate’s perceptions around moving roles as they look to protect themselves from future disruption.
“We've seen people take a more cautious approach to changing jobs and choosing staying where they are for the time being, but we’ve also seen people choose to move to more resilient industries, fintech being one of those.”
Technology Has Levelled the Talent Acquisition Playing Field
With little disruption to the working processes at Klarna, Danny believes that the Future of Talent Acquisition remains about the single-minded focus on creating good candidate experiences - be that a remote one or a face-to-face one.
“Technology in recent years has levelled the playing field in terms of candidate discovery and most employers can no longer differentiate themselves from a sourcing perspective. It's about providing the best candidate experience. And if candidates decide that the best experience for them is doing their entire interview process from the comfort of their own home then that’s something to consider.”
Ana Timofei, People and Culture Lead at WGTwo
Ana Timofei is the Recruiting and Employer Branding Lead at an early stage company developing software for telecommunications, WGTwo. With 10 years in the HR and recruiting space, Ana started her career in international internships before moving to Alcatel-Lucent, and later Electrolux to deliver HR and recruitment processes transformation. Now in Stockholm, Ana is working on building teams in a startup setting.
For Ana, who has experience recruiting across a number of different industries and specialises from technology to executive, COVID-19 has provided little disruption to a talent acquisition process that was always open to remote candidates.
“What we are building is unique. So, on one hand, we hire generalist software engineers as well as niche profiles, who want to innovate in the telecommunications world - cloud-native and software-based - regardless of the pandemic.”
WGTwo, being classed as a small company, faces unique challenges when it comes to talent acquisition. For one, relocating international talent is something to think of twice, especially in these restrictive covid-19 times when borders are closed. . As a result, Ana and her team have become adept at navigating the local talent markets and finding the right talent to work remote. This has seen them grow to almost twice the size they were this time last year.
“When you open up an office in a certain location, it’s because you believe that there is local talent that either you can look into or you can attract in that location. ”
Working With Remote Candidates
As perceptions around remote work begin to shift, employers all over the globe are changing their processes to meet the shift. For Ana and WGTwo, it is something they have been looking into. Being a remote-friendly company and having a strong culture based on trust and freedom, being open to attracting talent who is passionate about software telco has been one of the focuses even before the pandemic.
“If you want to have bright people, you need to allow them space so that they can contribute, learn and grow. From that perspective, our culture has helped us."
It is always more challenging to be onboarded remote, though being a company with distributed teams, the remote work has always been part of how we do things. Of course, it is nice to be in an office setup and be able to ask your colleagues all those many questions one has when joining a new company. From a remote hiring perspective, there are not many changes WGTwo has faced.
“It's different when you see your colleague taking a walk and you say, ‘Hey, can I walk with you? I'll ask you a couple of things’, rather than just being alone in front of your screen.”
Sitta still i båten - The Future of TA at WGTwo
There was significant uncertainty at the start of the year as businesses and employees started to react to the growing threat of the pandemic. As a result, candidates or potential job seekers, found themselves in a difficult decision - stick or twist? For Ana, who keeps her fingers on the pulse of the local market, it was the former.
“There’s this expression in Swedish: “sitta still i båten”. This translates to “sit still in your boat” and I feel it’s a good way to summarise what has been happening in Sweden at the beginning of the pandemic. People were sitting still in their boat as the choppy waters came. This has changed in the last couple of months though.”
When considering the future, Ana predicts this behaviour will continue to some degree as candidates look back on their experiences during the pandemic and decide if they should switch boats or continue where they are.
“I think this pandemic has taught us that a good healthy company culture goes a long way. I expect that people will have tougher expectations for their employers. And we will require much more compassion and understanding from our employers.”
Charlie Bjurstrom, COO and Carin Ewald, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist @ Recommended By
HR and TA consultancy, Recommended By are focusing on delivering a holistic hiring solution. With 5 HR consultants and one Scrum Master, Recommended By are driving Agile HR, TA and sustainable growth for their clients.
“Recommended by works with a holistic view on HR and TA, looking at the organisational design, Agile HR concepts and sustainable growth plans. We’re not your typical HR-consultancy”
Both Charlie and Carin have an extensive track-record within the HR and TA space. With their rather unique position within the Stockholm tech-market, they are well placed to discuss how talent acquisition has changed during the pandemic.
We Need To Change The Way We Manage Processes We Have Taken For Granted.
The pandemic has changed almost every single aspect of how we work and communicate with each other. Through necessity employers have moved their entire processes remote - in some cases with no thought to the way their leadership style and organizational design need to change. One area that this is increasingly obvious for both Charlie and Carin is in the way we view relocations.
“Our clients find themselves in a situation where candidates are stuck in their origin countries. How do we handle that? We’ve been relying on way of work and processes that just don’t work in these extreme circumstances. If HR wants to support effective workforce planning we need to reassess our processes and re-position HR and TA within the organization .”
Expanding Your TA Function Won’t Work Anymore
Another process that we might take for granted is our own workforce. Typically, if you increase the number of people working on a project, the quicker it gets done, right? This has typically been the case in recruitment teams, but with COVID shifting the paradigm and remote working becoming more popular, it may be time to think more about up-skilling rather than up-scaling.
“Travel restrictions, WFH-policies and extended possibilities to work remote has lowered the bar to engage people and grow without physical meetings, with enormous potential to grow smarter. We’re trying to educate our customers and show them that just expanding your TA function doesn't necessarily help you with your workforce planning or your growth strategy. It's about doing things smarter.”
Charlie and Carin see this shifting market as a possibility of driving more advocacy and accountability for the recruiting teams they work with. This becomes even more important when you consider many of these recruitment teams will be working with remote teams. For Charlie and Carin, who are strong advocates for smarter recruiting, one answer lies in a community-led approach.
“We have adopted our way of working with HR and TA from the tech community. And we believe this also gives huge leverage when we're shifting focus from attracting and sourcing to more strategic planning.”
For those failing to adapt, Charlie and Carin expect to see difficulties down the line.
“Covid was a wake up call for a lot of companies that really haven’t had to focus on the more strategic aspects. Well now companies have to focus on conversions, analytics and employer branding since there is no room for risking long term growth.”
The Future of TA
As the market begins to stabilise, Carin and Charlie are seeing greater demand for smarter system support systems that can integrate more holistically with the wider business.
“This is an opportunity to make TA more autonomous, smarter and more ethical. We want to see the TA function taking up more of an advisory and strategic role to create more value for the organization. And we also see a greater demand for really efficient system support, not just an ETF, but also smart ideas that we can integrate with other systems i.e.finance and market.”