4 Tips to Recruit Top Candidates and Widen Your Talent Pool During a Pandemic

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the global economy, the true U.S. unemployment rate sits at an incredible 26.1%. What had been an employee’s market at the start of 2020 now seemingly favors employers. Yet, hiring in the current economy hasn’t become easier: Top talent, reluctant to leave relatively secure positions, has become more difficult to recruit.

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This has prompted hiring managers to revisit their recruitment strategies, giving new consideration to what matters in the professional landscape now: a diverse and inclusive workforce, teams that can work remotely if needed, and a focus on skills over pedigree in making essential human capital decisions.

Widening the view of the available talent pool is how organizations not only meet current hiring needs but also set themselves up for future success. Here are four tips to help companies recruit and hire in the midst of the pandemic while moving the needle on strategic talent initiatives that center on skills.

1. Search Your Internal Talent Pool First

It’s not uncommon for recruiters to initially begin their candidate search outside the organization. However, they would be wise to fill critical positions by first looking inward at their organization’s existing talent. Not only do current employees have a handle on the company’s goals and operations, but relationships are also already in place, competencies and skills have already been verified, and the acclimation curve is likely to be much less steep than with an external hire.

In addition, internal candidates have likely grown since their first day with the organization. They might have participated in professional development and career advancement opportunities you’ve offered; they may also have taken initiative and developed skills on their own.

As you build out new roles, analyze your current team’s competencies and certifications to locate potential role matches. You can deliver precisely selected candidates to fill new roles and upskill or reskill employees to fill other internal gaps. Your internal talent pool, replete with qualified and passionate candidates, can save you valuable time and resources while placing your most qualified employees in the right roles.

2. Favor Top-of-Hiring-Funnel Filters for Specific Skills Instead of Poor Proxies

When 2020 began, companies on average received more than 250 applications per job posting—and that was before the pandemic upended the labor market. Consequently, hiring managers must review even taller stacks of résumés and render quicker decisions on who moves into the hiring pipeline.

In the past, hiring managers have relied on proxies and biases: college degree (including which school they attended), years of experience at previous jobs, and even the ease of pronouncing a candidate’s name. These practices resulted in the rejection of otherwise qualified candidates and a shallowing of diversity in the finalist pool.

Better options exist. Now, companies focus on verified skills and competencies at the top of the hiring funnel. Instead of correlating years of experience with ability, determine what skills you’d expect from someone with that much experience. Then, filter candidates by those who can prove they’ve obtained needed skills with verifiable credentials and qualifications, and place less value on the path candidates took to achieving those credentials. This more tightly ties candidates’ skills to job expectations and offers an edge over your competitors still dependent on poor proxies.

3. Seek Out Adaptable, Future-Focused Skills and Mind-Sets

Like every aspect of business, critical skills change over time. Monitoring industry and technology trend shifts can better elucidate the upskilling opportunities managers should encourage their employees to pursue. Your workforce will be competing both internally in developing future-focused skills and externally with incoming generations that possess verified technical skills and digital badges.

That means hiring managers should consider not only a candidate’s current skills but also his or her predilection for continuous education, interest in adapting to future needs, and traits like agility and curiosity.

Managers should take note of candidates with recently earned skills or role-based credentials like product certifications—these signal candidate motivation and self-discipline to learn. Rarely do these credentials require prerequisites like a degree, which widens your talent pool’s aperture and lets in more diverse candidates who possess the most needed skills and aptitude for growth.

4. Verify Skills Through Digital Credentials

Hiring can be an exciting process—and an expensive one, especially if you invest in a candidate without the skills to support his or her claims of performance. It’s a mistake a company can’t afford to make and doubly so in the current economy. This means companies need a way to build trust with a new hire and verify the person can perform from the start.

Verifiable, skills-based digital credentials reliably ensure a candidate can support his or her competency claims. Along with building trust, digital credentials let managers leverage a candidate’s knowledge to bypass unnecessary onboarding and deliver results faster. While technical skills might seem the easiest to verify, trusted credentials for soft skills like leadership, management, and curiosity can give candidates—and your company—an extra boost that can make a big difference in a competitive market.

With traditional hiring practices disrupted, it can be daunting to recruit top talent right now. But recruitment strategies that prioritize candidates with verifiable skills and digital credentials can surface great people from a diverse talent pool who can deliver results from day 1.

A nationally recognized innovator in workforce development and learning, Jonathan Finkelstein cofounded HorizonLive (acquired by Blackboard) and LearningTimes. He has coauthored numerous articles and reports on digital credentials, employee engagement, and upskilling in the workforce, in addition to having authored the book Learning in Real Time. The son of two New York City public school teachers who inspired lifelong learning, Finkelstein received his AB with honors from Harvard.