Feature article

Navigating a changing job market

The job sector is seeing condensed recruitment timeframes with video interviews and offer letters sent out in a week

Key takeaways:

  • From taking two to four weeks for the recruiting period, employers are now hiring within a week.
  • Two thirds of workers in an AUT study said they would quit if they were made to go into the office every day.
  • Around 40% of employees in the AUT survey were working in some kind of hybrid way.
  • Recruiters caution some candidates do better in virtual interviews than others.
  • They advise employers have a mix of virtual meetings and face-to-face conversations to balance any bias.
  • Employers' value proposition will be key when seeking to attract new employees.
  • Employers will have to show they are prioritising their employees’ mental wellbeing .

Speak to any recruiter or employer, who has been hiring since pre-Covid-19 and they’ll tell you the recruitment process and the time frame it’s done in, has transformed since March 2020. The hiring process has become far more condensed.

This has been triggered by two things, a shortage in skilled talent – the unemployment rate in New Zealand for the September 2022 quarter remains at a low 3.3% – and job hunters and employers becoming very comfortable with virtual meetings, often choosing to do them rather than travelling for face-to-face meetings.

A short sharp process

Christian Brown, General Manager of Madison Recruitment, an Accordant company, which recruits for temporary, contractor and permanent white collar positions, says he’s seeing short, sharp interview processes where some candidates are being offered roles without physically meeting anyone. And it’s very common now for candidates to be “onboarded virtually,” he says.

In the case of temp roles, he’s seeing one video interview will lead straight to the offer stage. If the candidate is already on the books, the whole process can be done in a day. For permanent roles, pre-Covid, it was typically a two to four week process from job brief to offer, and now that’s been compressed one to two weeks in many cases, says Christian.

The Madison GM still advises employers to try and meet up with candidates after the first video interview has established that the applicant and employer are a good match.

“But often our clients are in a rush to onboard someone and prefer to interview via video, so they can get all their interviews completed much quicker,” says the GM.

With fewer people than expected moving to New Zealand from abroad, good candidates are at a premium and employers will pull out all the stops when they find someone, explains Christian.

“It’s a race to find good candidates. As soon as an employer finds a good candidate they’re jumping on them and speeding through the process as quickly as possible, rather than having time to sit back and ponder the decision. If you’re slow, you’ll miss out on the candidate as they’ll undoubtedly get swept up by someone else.”

A cup of coffee is still worthwhile

As an agency recruiter, Tom Stephens, Principal Consultant at Momentum feels responsible for streamlining and expediting the recruitment process in a job market like this. But there’s definitely value in making time to meet face-to-face, he says. Tom will always recommend a meet up over a coffee. “It’s a more disarming, relaxed environment and people are more likely to be themselves,” he says.

“Wherever possible I try to meet people for coffee, to tell them more about the position that might not be immediately obvious from the job description, and I can get an understanding of what they’ll bring to the role. I recommend that kind of meeting to the client too,” he says.

While a virtual meeting is logistically easier, being physically present with people allows both parties to read body language and other non verbal cues, he adds.

In Tom’s area of expertise – project management and business transformation – technical skills are important but soft skills are often the deciding factor on who gets the role.

And it’s in those face-to-face meetings, he’s trying to understand how the candidate will work with internal stakeholders and how they’ll influence people who they might not necessarily have authority over, for instance. A relaxed cafe setting makes it easier for people to be themselves, says the Momentum consultant.

How Covid-19 changed flexible working forever

Of course the working arrangements that new hires are negotiating in this market, are another key difference in 2022, with flexible working the norm rather than the exception. And there is some area for nuance in this space.

Madison’s Christian Brown explains: “The best employers are not just providing one type of flexibility – they’re listening to their staff and creating bespoke options to meet their needs.” For some this may be a four day work week, while for others, they may want to do school drop off and pick up every day, he adds.

Or they may want to work from a completely different office or location. “At Madison, our Finance Manager now lives in Wānaka and our Group Marketing Manager lives in Papamoa – both have the tools to work efficiently from home and to travel to one of our offices as and when required,” he says. And employers are being rewarded for this flexible approach, he adds.

Hybrid three days in the office two days at home the global standard

Alternatively, employers would be punished if they didn’t give employees what they want in the current competitive job market. In Professor Jarrod Haar’s latest Wellbeing@Work study, two thirds of employees said they would quit if their company “changed the rules” and enforced a return to the office every day, he found.

Close to 40% surveyed in his study were working in some kind of hybrid way. The global average for hybrid working arrangements is that employees are working three days in the office and two days from home, says Jarrod.

His research found that over 53% felt they were more productive working from home and 35% about the same.

“It works so well, it gives employees enough freedom to enjoy working from home, they feel trusted, but it also gives managers enough days to keep eyeballs on staff,” says the academic.

It all fits with Steve Jobs’ mantra of “hire good people and get out of their way,” he adds.

Meanwhile, for companies like professional consulting firms who would like their employees in the office more than this, they’re spending up large on having a workplace that looks like a five star hotel, says Jarrod.

Regional hubs to stay in touch with remote working staff

To employers whose staff are working more remotely around the country, the AUT professor likes the idea of regional hubs set up from time to time for workers to pop into.

“There’s no reason why a company can’t say: “We’ve hired a room and some desks and we encourage you all to drop in,” suggests Jarrod. It’s about having more of these boutique approaches to try and keep the worker happy and socialised.

“In the end, if they get isolated to the point where they don’t feel connected, they’re more likely to leave,” he notes.

A smart organisation will pull people together for a day or two, say at Christmas time for example. It’s a chance to connect and to celebrate a successful year.

“With food and merriment, it’ll send them back home smiling then they won’t start job hunting after Christmas,” says the AUT professor.

And as for onboarding remotely, something that again has become normal in the past couple of years, the business academic thinks it’s a good idea to touch base with others around the country doing similar work, in a regular online meeting. This way the employer is saying: “Here’s some paid time to talk to your colleagues,” explains Jarrod. If 20 people are doing a similar role, some will pick it up better than others so it’s a good chance to compare notes, he says.

Employers’ responsibilities to staff working from home

If companies are offering flexible working to staff they should take care that their people are well-equipped to work from home, says Momentum’s Tom Stephens. “Do they have monitors and a decent set up to maximise their productivity?”

If people are working at home two or three days a week, employers should endeavour to ensure that it’s a productive and safe environment. Employers still have health and safety responsibilities,” says Tom.

“Ultimately, If you trust these people and value them as employees, it’s a lot cheaper to retain staff than to recruit,” advises the Momentum consultant. It’s about being accommodating to their requirements, with a really keen appreciation that their work environment is as good as it can be, he explains.

Companies increasingly taking their staff’s mental wellbeing into account

Employers are paying more attention to their staff’s mental wellbeing since Covid, says director, Daniel Harmes, of Platinum Recruitment which works in the tech, engineering, and manufacturing sectors.

“The whole idea of physical wellbeing has always been there but how many have looked after mental wellbeing,” asks the recruiter. There will be a big emphasis on this and as the economy tightens and inflation takes hold, employees will need more support, he predicts. “We’ll see a lot more investment in that space,” he adds.

Having a strong company culture is also going to be more important for employers, says the Platinum director. The Dunedin-based company has realigned its values since Covid and one of them is to be human, to be respectful that staff all have different wants and needs.

It’s good to acknowledge the tough times, says Daniel. “We’re not machines, we make mistakes, we learn, we grow, we strive to support them,” he says.

In the competitive job market, the Platinum director is finding more employers are coming to his recruitment firm because it’s harder to hire directly in the current environment.

Daniel will ask these employers if they have an employer value proposition. For instance, is it flexible working, a great culture, great tech and products? What is it?

Culture is a very big deal for Platinum and as a result most of Daniel’s staff have wanted to come back into the office after lockdowns. But he notes Dunedin is a “10 minute city” so no one is commuting to work over an hour each way as Aucklanders do.

“My team are a social bunch, we wanted to get back,” Daniel says, though a few are doing flexible working.

“Humans are sociable creatures and our business of recruitment is like a sales company. We need noise and vibrancy and you learn from your losses,” says Daniel.

Removing bias in virtual interviews

Although the Platinum director is open to speeding up the interview process in the current tough job market, he warns that online interviews open up a bias.

“If the candidate is a good speaker or orator and gets their point across well, recalls and delivers information well, they’ll interview far better than an introverted person who doesn’t want to leap in with an answer and wants time to digest the question,” explains Daniel.

For recruiters it’s really important for them to remove that bias, he says. And really understand the best person may not have the best CV for the role.

“I would advise to have a person-to-person meeting as well to avoid that bias. Running a highly structured process suits one type of person, it’s not a one-size-fits all. They might not respond to psychometric testing, for instance.”

“You need to ensure your process matches what the role is,” adds the Platinum director.

As part of the interview process, the recruiter is a big fan of “working interviews” where the candidate comes and sees the work environment and gets a good feel of the company culture. The employer shows them the job, connects with them and sees if they gel with the team.

“We encourage a rigorous process, meeting the team is a critical part of the role. You want them to meet as many stakeholders as possible,” says Daniel.

Bonus point: paws for thought

Anyone who has a pet will tell you how much their animals loved having them around during the Covid lockdowns, and when someone is thinking of changing jobs they will think of how their new hours might affect their animal’s well-being.

Madison’s Christian Brown says his company allows pets to come into the office once or twice a week. “We’ve got a few different pets around the offices so that allows enough balance so we don’t turn into a doggy daycare centre!” he says.

“It’s now much more common for candidates to ask about company pet policies when they’re looking for a new role,” he adds.

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