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How COVID-19 has transformed the recruitment process

With vaccines and renewed hope on the horizon, 2021 is likely to be a year of opportunity at all levels


The added stress and exhaustion resulting from the pandemic have put health and wellness at the forefront of decision-making. (Halfpoint/Adobe Stock)

The one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 lockdown has come and gone, and the pandemic’s impact on the recruitment process for Canadian businesses — across all industries — has been undeniable. 

At the outset of the pandemic, recruitment slowed while companies took a reactive “wait-and-see” approach. Mid-level businesses were hit hardest as organizations downsized or opted to rely on internal resources to fill roles. And people felt hesitant to leave their organizations during the early days of COVID-19, despite experiencing increased levels of stress and exhaustion. 

With vaccines and renewed hope on the horizon, 2021 is likely to be a year of opportunity at all levels. And it appears there will be no shortage of candidates ready to apply for the opportunities to come. 

According to a recent LinkedIn poll conducted by LHH Knightsbridge, nearly 70 per cent of 681 respondents were actively looking for a new job in January, so no surprise that February’s loosened restrictions brought some optimism, with the unemployment rate falling at 8.2 per cent and the labour underutilization rate shrinking back to 16.6 per cent — the same levels as in the early stages of the pandemic. 

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Attention on health and wellness

The added stress and exhaustion resulting from the pandemic have put health and wellness at the forefront of decision-making for both employers and candidates. 

Organizations will now be judged on how well they weathered the pandemic and took care of their employees. Meanwhile, candidates may choose to prioritize roles which allow them to work closer to home or find entirely remote opportunities, allowing for a flexible work environment they’ve become accustomed to. 

Many would assume, with the financial challenges influenced by the pandemic, compensation would be top of mind for employees. Yet, with staff now settled into the remote work environment, priorities around workplace flexibility and the close-to-home mindset have surpassed demands for additional monetary payment.

Will executives throw in the towel in 2021?

The uncertainty presented by the pandemic played out differently at the C-suite level, with less of a delay in recruitment at the upper-most levels attributed to the assumption that these roles were critical to recovery.  

At the executive level, a sense of loyalty and desire to help their organization navigate the challenges presented by the pandemic kept them in place. 

However, executives who stayed to stabilize companies may leave once markets become stable again. This includes some opting for early retirement. 

The pandemic-driven challenges within the workplace, specifically in the context of recruitment, have shed a spotlight on the importance of having updated succession and emergency plans in place, in case of a leader’s sudden departure. 

As executives’ transition and step down from their roles, many organizations have realized they do not have the appropriate plans in place to ease transitional leadership.

Organizations that do not have an emergency plan and succession plan should consider creating one, as they will offer a way forward in these transitions. 

How much will COVID-19 affect recruitment?

Diversity, digital skills in spotlight

Throughout the pandemic, women faced much higher levels of unemployment than men, because women disproportionately work in industries with low-paid or shift work that were more impacted. 

In addition, women of colour in Canada have reported facing higher unemployment in comparison to white women, highlighting one of the many inequities the pandemic has exacerbated in Canada. 

Interestingly enough, as women in low-paid roles starting falling out of the job market, we started seeing a significant closing of the gender pay gap in Canada.

It is extremely important that these women, who have been proportionally disadvantaged by the pandemic, are recognized and heard. 

Meanwhile, an essential aspect of the future of recruitment will come from companies’ abilities to adapt to a virtual world. The pandemic has shown us that technology can provide flexibility for employees and increase productivity.  

With a continuing demand for individuals with digital skills, finding the right technology leaders will be a crucial indicator of success in the years to come.

Interim and cross-border opportunities

As companies make decisions about the coming year, many are opting for interim hires. 

This is especially true in some of the hardest-hit industries, such as hospitality, travel, entertainment, and retail. These industries are cautiously banking on large pent-up demand and rapid growth once they reopen, fueling the interim hiring model in the short-term. 

The pandemic has also created more acceptance of interim work as organizations have leaned into this option over the past year. 

Remote work will also continue to play out across organizations — and across borders. Working in the increasingly digital world enables people to live and work anywhere. 

With a new government in the United States that favours collaboration and partnership, more new U.S.-based opportunities are expected to open for Canadians. 

Greater talent opportunities will exist for companies that continue to embrace flexibility.


Robert Hosking is senior vice-president and managing director of search practices at LHH Knightsbridge in Toronto.