Job Seekers, and Recruiters, Adjusting to a More Flexible Future Workforce

Trends in available jobs are shifting. Eighty-four percent of employees surveyed in a recent CareerBuilder study say they are willing to take a job outside of their current or most recent role. “Be flexible,” says CareerBuilder. Search experts from Helbling & Associates, InterSearch Worldwide, Stevenson Group, Odgers Berndtson, Valor Partners, Ward Howell International, and The ExeQfind Group weigh in!

March 18, 2021 – Job seekers are becoming more open to opportunities outside their current roles, pointing to a future workforce that is more skilled and more apt to transition into new industries, according to new survey examining the impact of the pandemic on recruiting and job seekers by CareerBuilder. A third of respondents said that too much competition for jobs hampered their chances of landing a new position, indicating the need to stand out from the millions of displaced workers. A quarter of job seekers thought the most challenging part about searching for work was being unable to find jobs in their field. The pandemic has forced an imbalance in available roles; while openings in some industries have dwindled, the economy has gained jobs in others. Job seekers are willing to adapt to these trends in the economy and match the shift in the employment landscape, with nearly 84 percent of survey respondents indicating they would be willing to take a job outside their current or most recent industry or role. And many are actively considering it: Sixty-one percent of job seekers reported having reconsidered their current industry or role, signaling this trend is well underway.

“In this type of labor market, we are advising job seekers to be more flexible when it comes to the industry or opportunity they are looking for,” said Sasha Yablonovsky, president of CareerBuilder. “As we are seeing in the survey results, those looking for work should consider pivoting to other areas where they can apply their transferrable skills. At CareerBuilder, we have made it easier for people to find available jobs based on their skillsets, not just their previous roles.”

According to the survey, many job seekers are working to advance their own skillsets, positioning them to perform in more diverse roles. Seventy-five percent of professionals said they dedicated time to learning a new skill or completing an online education program during the pandemic.

Additional findings from the survey include:

  • Nearly 88 percent of respondents said they were actively searching for work; twenty-three percent had filed for unemployment.
  • A quarter said they strongly preferred flexible hours as a benefit included in a job offer.
  • Thirty-five percent would turn down an offer if it didn’t allow the possibility to work remotely.

Top Search Consultants Weigh In

“Companies should commit to reskilling efforts, too, to improve how they recruit and retain candidates for the long-term,” Ms. Yablonovsky said. “We’re helping employers understand the new ways candidates are looking for jobs and how their talent acquisition practices need to evolve for the future of a more flexible workforce. They need to take a skills-based approach to hiring and give more weight to this than past experience. This can be accomplished through smart technology, like our skill-based matching capabilities, and can help highlight candidates who have the necessary skills that can add value to the team.”

Top Grading Talent

“We have noticed organizations addressing their internal human resources issues, including employee relations and employee retention, before hiring new talent,” said Wes Miller, managing director at Helbling & Associates. “Some groups that are hiring are not doing so as rapidly as they did pre-pandemic because they are unsure of growth projections in the current economic climate. There is also a missing ability to network in person at industry meetings and events, which often helps candidates to find positions.”

“However, there are positives to note,” Mr. Miller said. “A lot of organizations are re-evaluating existing talent to determine if they have the right people in the right seats. We have many assignments at Helbling that are geared toward upgrading talent during this pandemic. Clients are looking for talented people who can help lead as well as grow their business.”

As a result, the search firm is adjusting. “First, and foremost, in the increased use of technology,” said Mr. Miller. “We are initiating more video meetings with screen sharing between team members, clients, and candidates. When adjustments save time and money, they are likely here to stay.”

Uncertainty Lifting

“As the COVID-19 vaccination programs go ahead the market players become more and more optimistic,” said Frank Schelstraete, chairman of InterSearch Worldwide. “We forecast the feeling of uncertainty job markets experienced in the last year will be lifted in some months, but this doesn’t mean the recovery will be fast and without challenges. Some industries where the demand is stronger continue facing discontinuous material supply and unexpected sickness leaves, others have to cope with a decreased demand in their traditional markets where the COVID impact has been stronger and need restructuring or review their strategies.”

“It’s impossible to predict to what extent home office will become a normal practice after the end of the pandemic, but it surely opened up new possible scenarios,” Mr. Schelstraete said. “Remote management gained importance and requires highly skilled C-level managers to motivate and evaluate distant teams. Candidates with proven crisis management experience are now more demanded, literacy and comfort in using electronic platforms and sophisticated IT communication systems gain increasing importance.”

Mr. Schelstraete noted that with the decline of in-person interviews, candidates may get a job of strategic importance even without meeting with the possible employer. “Companies – and the executive search firm they appoint – must be able to present the job opportunity to prospective candidates with the utmost transparency and clarity concerning role and responsibilities, meanwhile candidates have to learn how to be convincing only on screen,” he said.

“Within InterSearch Worldwide our consultants are prepared for this new approach,” Mr. Schelstraete said. “During screen interaction it is crucial to get a comprehensive picture of the ideal profile our client demands as well as evaluate the candidate’s skills, motivation and psychological aspects (including non-verbal communication). We have worked out procedures that include more frequent meetings to assure a continuous and smooth flow of communication with both client companies and candidates, mainly on video or over the phone rather than email and use thorough tools for diagnostics.” Consultants and researchers from all regions within the firm meet on regular basis to exchange best practices. “This pandemic is hopefully passing but it is likely to be around for a while – so the changes we have enacted will be with us, we think, for a while.”

Client Integration

“The pandemic has challenged leaders to maintain and inspire their organizations during a time of incredible uncertainty,” said Adam Bloom, president of the The Stevenson Group. “It can become a moral conflict as to whether they advance their own career or stay the course and continue until we’re settled into our new-normal,” he said.

“The adoption of video communication was instantaneous, and has become standard practice,” Mr. Bloom said. “Relationships across the board have benefited, and it’s likely here to stay. We’ve been utilizing video on the candidate side for many years, but the integration with our clients has been profound. I’m hoping the dial-in conference line has a nice retirement.”


Competing for Remote Workers

“The pandemic has accelerated the uptake of new technologies, and this has obviously had an effect on how candidates are found, what qualities come across in digital interviews, and how they’re onboarded,” said Steve Potter, U.S. CEO of Odgers Berndtson. “But I think the biggest pandemic-related challenge and change may actually be demographic in nature. Companies have come to recognize that remote employees get stuff done; so, we expect companies in a post-pandemic world to continue rethinking the geographic constraints they previously placed on talent. In places where there is high demand for talent, we’re going to see companies adopting the flexible and remote-friendly work policies that allows them to compete for remote workers. And this, in turn, will intensify competition in these smaller talent markets. For candidates, this means re-thinking where they’re considering working and, in the process, expanding the geographies of their personal networks.”

“Networking is another thing the pandemic has changed,” Mr. Potter said. “Networking has gone onto Zoom, or onto apps like Clubhouse. But in my experience, there’s a generational difference between how much networking people do via these mediums and how well they do it. For many older candidates (people in search of board seats, for instance) the pandemic has frozen their networks and hindered their ability to expand into new areas, while younger candidates seem to have not only adjusted to networking remotely but learned to take advantage of the pan-geographical possibilities that digital socializing allows for.”

Zoom – or whatever digital meeting platform one uses – has advantages and disadvantages over in-person meetings. “On the one hand, the organizational and logistical aspects of setting up client and candidate meetings have gotten far easier,” he said. “But it’s harder to assess a candidate’s personality – or for a candidate to assess a company’s culture – without meeting face to face. To help candidates and clients get to know each other better, we spend more time than we used to briefing both parties about each other’s personality and culture,” Mr. Potter said. “Essentially, we spend more preparing candidates, providing them with an understanding of the setting they’re going to be working in, and letting them know what kind of expectations they’ll be operating under. And since Zoom is surely here to stay, I think this kind of culture-based briefing will likewise remain important.”


“Companies have had to let go a lot of talented people in an effort to save money and conserve costs as their business have constricted,” said Doug Johnson of Roanoke, VA-based executive search firm Valor Partners. “Many companies still haven’t figured out what they need to do to adjust. The result is excess talent and fewer positions. The greatest challenge facing candidates is how they position themselves as the best candidate for the role. Most people, even at the executive level, sell themselves and their value to a company poorly. The better one can sell him or herself, the better they will be.”

“We have approached the market more as advisors,” said Mr. Johnson. “We have found that best way to serve many of our clients is to serve them selflessly, and many times that has meant steering them to a different option or helping to find the right person themselves.”

Video Handshakes

“With so many senior-level interview processes now starting with a series of video conferencing calls for the first and second rounds, candidates need to master the art of video conferencing to leverage the camera to drive encounter, engagement and enthusiasm during a video interview to overcome a meeting devoid of handshakes and personal connection,” said Matt Clemens, managing partner at Ward Howell International. “This could start with proper lighting or making sure and candidates’ camera is position correctly to ensure proper eye contact. It is imperative that a candidate employs a heighten sense of listening and pause throughout a video interview to ensure that someone has finished a question or statement. It is so easy to speak over one another over video. The art of reading a room based on body language or facial expressions can be limited during a video interview. This can be detrimental for any candidate balancing the need to speak too little or too much. Video conferencing can help and hurt people for different reasons when compared to a traditional in-person interview.”

“Connectivity through technology has never been greater and more important in light of the fact that many clients have limitations on guests in their building and business travel to meet candidates in-person curtailed due to various state COVID restrictions,” Mr. Clemens said. “With the inability for a recruiter or a client to meet a candidate in person once or more than once, recruiters and companies have needed to get creative in their approach to have as many formal and informal video touchpoints / connections. You learn as much and arguably more about a person’s true style, approach, and thoughts in the informal touchpoints as you do in a formal interview when people feel comfortable and let their guard down. It was no surprise that final steps in most interview processes included dinner.”

Mr. Clemens said that many of the issues surrounding meeting candidates in person can be overcome. “We have had clients use virtual meetings for plant and headquarter tours,” he said. “Within the guidelines of travel, our firm has found creative and safe ways to meet clients and candidates for coffee or socially distanced meals outside company headquarters. The use of technology such as Facetime, video conferences and virtual team meetings has allowed for multiple ‘informal’ connection points with candidates and clients than ever before, and if used properly can help offset the lack of in-person meetings. However, I do not think those adjustments are here to stay. Once COVID-19 restrictions lift and people feel safe, the old fashioned, face-to-face interview and a less formal lunch/dinner is still the best way to understand a candidate’s true leadership style, approach, and strengths and weaknesses.”

Changing Approaches

“The pandemic has completely changed both hiring and work routines – requiring that both companies and candidates change their approach,” said Sylvia MacArthur, senior managing partner of The ExeQfind Group. “Candidates that are used to interviewing and building rapport in person have needed to adapt to video interviewing and learn how to communicate and differentiate themselves via this new forum. Hiring managers have also needed to adapt by being better prepared for video interviews that don’t allow for the same level of personal interaction as in-person meetings.”

“Both candidates and clients have commented that video interviewing is a more intense process,” she said. “As a result, better interview preparation is critical in building confidence on the part of the manager in their hiring decision when doing it all remotely. Once the hiring decision has been made, on-boarding and integrating the new hire has also become a new challenge – getting a new hire to become part of a new corporate culture with people they have not met in person.”

“We have kept even closer and in more frequent contact with clients and candidates to shepherd the process – ensuring that both have enough interaction so as to be comfortable in their decision to hire/join,” Ms. MacArthur said. “We have provided more interviewing coaching to clients and have frequently participated directly in the interviews to ensure that both sides are getting the information they need to make informed decisions. We have also been more involved in the on-boarding process and kept a close pulse on how the candidate is being integrated and ensuring that any issues are addressed right away. For practical reasons, video interviewing in the early stages of the process is here to stay – however, companies will revert to in-person interviews in the final stages as soon as it is safe and prudent to do so. Close involvement throughout the process has served to further strengthen our client relationships and for that reason, wherever possible, we will try to maintain that level of involvement.”

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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