Early in the pandemic, many talent attraction leaders were striving to maintain typical hiring processes. But as months passed, plans to return to the status quo kept getting delayed. Eventually, it became clear that there was no longer a status quo to maintain. 

While that reality might seem daunting, it is also liberating, since you’re no longer anchored to a playbook. Here’s how to apply some of the lessons learned from 2020 to better compete for talent, improve recruiting and interviewing and deliver the best possible candidate experience in 2021. 

Look for talent (nearly) anywhere 

With the sudden shift to working from home for companies with a large base of knowledge workers, the talent pool will be much more geographically distributed in 2021. 

Since the pandemic began, some employees and job seekers in expensive metro areas such as New York and San Francisco have realized that they no longer need to live in those places to work or find jobs. This fueled an exodus from these metro areas as workers moved to more affordable areas. 

As proof of this shift, the number of homes for sale rose 96% year over year (May to July 2020 vs. May to July 2019) in San Francisco, according to recent data from online real estate company Zillow. During the summer of 2020, in less expensive and nearby Lake Tahoe, real estate prices jumped 20% largely due to Bay Area professionals relocating there. 

What does this mean for TA professionals? Thanks to the growth of both remote work and talent distribution outside traditional hubs, you can look for candidates just about anywhere (keeping in mind the potential tax and other complications of hiring in locations where your business doesn't operate). 

When geography no longer limits your talent pool, not only do you have more opportunities to attract great candidates, but you can also focus on finding people with the skills and experience that most align with your company’s mission, rather than simply the ones who are nearby. That’s a much better use of a recruiter’s time and is more likely to result in a successful hire. 

Offer flexible working arrangements  

Many companies spent the past few months rethinking how and where employees will work once it’s safe to return to offices. 

For example, Indeed recently introduced a workforce transformation plan for our 10,000 employees with three new job options: in-office work; permanent remote/work from home; and flex (a combination of the two). This makes sense for our business going forward — and the flexibility it offers appeals to both current and prospective employees.

The companies that can offer a flexible work environment — in which employees can work from home when they need to be productive and in the office when they need to collaborate — will be more attractive to knowledge worker candidates. 

For example, a flexible working arrangement removes the need for employees to endure regular, long commutes to the office — a major source of stress and a potential deal-killer for the candidate, since roughly two-thirds of remote employees want to keep working from home, a recent Gallup poll finds.

Diversify your talent pool

Remote work has the potential to revolutionize organizations from a diversity and inclusion standpoint. With access to previously untapped talent pools all over the country and even the world, you can more easily recruit a more culturally and ethnically diverse workforce. 

The shift to a remote workforce can also enable you to attract candidates from across the ability spectrum who might find regularly coming into an office a significant challenge. (You’ll need to ensure your job postings, assessments and other online recruiting tools meet accessibility requirements, of course.) 

Focus on the human side of hiring 

Given these stressful times, it’s important to consistently emphasize the human side of hiring. Your empathy and understanding can help put candidates at ease throughout the hiring process. This gives them a greater opportunity to shine and can lead to a more successful interview. 

Bring empathy to your job descriptions by letting candidates know there can be some flexibility for working parents and others who may be struggling these days (assuming you can, in fact, offer that flexibility). Personalize communications with candidates when possible, so they don’t feel as if they’re interacting with a bot. You might even communicate with them via text message.   

When conducting virtual interviews, it helps to show patience, understanding and a sense of humor, too — because distractions can and do happen. 

For example, the candidate might live with roommates, one of whom strolls by in the background; their child might need attention, or their dog might start barking at a delivery person. To put candidates at ease, proactively let them know that you realize these aren’t normal times, and it’s not possible to isolate our personal lives from our professional ones when we’re working at home. 

Passive candidates — those not actively looking for jobs — are even harder to win over during a recession, when fears of “last hired, first fired” are rampant. Showing empathy in interviews when something goes awry can help you convince these candidates that working for you is worth the gamble.

Try to be flexible about how the interview is conducted, too. Ask candidates up front if they need any particular accommodations for the interview, such as using a phone rather than video for those without a strong internet connection, rather than putting the burden on them to ask for those accommodations. 

Forget about the free lunches

It’s ironic, but when many employees were forced to work from home and rely even more on technology, the hiring process became a little more human by default. 

Because of the pandemic, you can't walk a candidate through your awesome offices and entice them with free lunches anymore. Nor can you count on the energy of open workspaces and pool tables to get candidates excited. 

In place of those perks, the human interaction between the recruiter or hiring manager and the candidate has become a significantly more important factor in the candidate experience. The conversation has shifted to what matters most: the needs you have as an employer, the skills your candidate has and the interpersonal dynamic between you.

As we head into 2021, let’s keep those meaningful human interactions going, no matter where we're working.