Despite tough economic times, many organizations with seasonal workforces are still tasked with hiring in volume — and quickly. Health insurers are ramping up for open enrollment. Ecommerce and shipping companies are preparing for year-end holiday shopping. And in the coming months, some employers will be hiring temporary staff for tax season.

Whatever your industry, however, yesterday’s tried-and-true seasonal hiring playbook probably needs a rewrite to include 2020’s biggest update: virtual hiring.

Virtual hiring helps reduce the risks of exposure to the pandemic, enabling employers with high-volume, seasonal hiring requirements to more safely prescreen, schedule and interview candidates at scale. In fact, 86% of organizations are now using virtual hiring technologies to acquire new talent, according to an April 2020 Gartner poll of HR leaders.

Here’s what you need to know about virtual hiring for your seasonal workforce needs.

Virtual hiring helps CVS Health, Chewy and others quickly scale

CVS Health has conducted four virtual hiring events this year across the U.S. using Indeed Hiring Events, which enables interviews without being limited by physical locations. Indeed began rolling out virtual hiring events earlier this year.

Using Indeed’s platform, CVS Health set up screener questions to ensure that every applicant met its basic qualifications; scheduled interviews (achieving a 27% show rate of RSVPs); interviewed 215 candidates; and offered a job to 97 people.

Pet product retailer Chewy recently held a virtual hiring event using Indeed Hiring Events, achieving a 32% show rate from RSVPs — a 160% increase compared to in-person events. The company extended offers to 10 candidates from its virtual hiring event.

A diverse range of other organizations are using various virtual tools to some degree to hire at scale, including Humana, Kalahari Resorts & Conventions and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Virtual hiring benefits

Digital tools and platforms minimize health risks by greatly reducing, if not eliminating, the need for face-to-face interactions that typically occur during the hiring process. Other benefits include:

  • Increased efficiency for candidates and TA professionals. “Recruiters and hiring managers can interview more candidates in less time, speeding up the hiring process and potentially yielding better results,” says Tracy Cote, Chief People Officer for HR software firm Zenefits. “Tools such as virtual job fairs, online assessments, and virtual job tryouts can help employers more efficiently handle interviews and candidate screening at scale.”
  • Decreased cost per hire. Virtual hiring’s faster time to hire and onboard new employees reduces your overall cost per hire, says José Cong, an independent TA advisor. For example: Automating some manual tasks, such as scheduling interviews with candidates, can reduce the time recruiters spend on seasonal hiring initiatives.
  • Wider candidate pool. With virtual hiring, employers can consider candidates for seasonal remote work positions, such as customer service representatives, with less concern for traditional geographical constraints. Let’s say your call center employees will be working from home instead of onsite at a call center. This allows you to look further afield for candidates, thereby widening your potential talent pool. Cong points out that companies were already moving toward remote work — the pandemic simply sped-up the inevitable.

    One caveat, Cote warns: Hiring seasonal remote workers in locations where you don’t currently have business operations can create tax, legal or other complications.
  • Reduced ghosting. When unemployment rates remained low and the labor market was highly competitive, ghosting was a big problem. A 2019 Indeed report found that 83% of companies experienced no-shows for scheduled interviews or new hires who failed to appear for their first day. 

    However, virtual hiring technology can help reduce ghosting by automating and streamlining initial communications (such as RSVPs) between applicants and hiring managers and recruiters. And because virtual hiring helps save candidates’ time and effort, talent professionals have reported a reduction in ghosting. (In June and July 2020, Indeed conducted a global research project, interviewing 26 TA professionals in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France and the Netherlands about how COVID-19 has changed the talent acquisition process.)
  • Better interview panels. In some cases, particularly for high-level hires, multiple people may need to interview a candidate at one time. Assembling a diverse panel of the most appropriate interviewers — especially when your company’s workforce is dispersed — may be logistically easier to accomplish virtually, says says Dr. Timothy Golden, a professor of management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which can, in turn, yield better results.
  • Less stress. The ability to speed up the hiring process and conduct more interviews in less time has the potential to make seasonal hiring — especially holiday hiring — less stressful for recruiters. And that’s important, as a poll of 250 HR professionals in late 2019 found that holiday hiring was the most stressful of all recruiting periods.
  • The ability for candidates to “try on” a job. To succeed in hiring for seasonal positions, you’ll want to augment virtual hiring/interviewing platforms with tools that simulate the job for candidates, says William Tincup, president of RecruitingDaily. Virtual job tryouts, along with virtual reality-style games, can give candidates a sense of being on the job, which helps eliminate early on those candidates who aren’t comfortable with the role’s responsibilities and required skills.   

A few inherent challenges to hiring virtually

Regardless of technologies used, virtual hiring comes with a few inherent challenges:

  • Lack of confidence in hiring decisions. Recruiters and hiring managers aren’t always comfortable hiring someone without meeting them in person, even if that person is filling a temporary, seasonal job. In fact, according to interviews conducted for Indeed’s global research project, some employers — especially those outside the U.S. — still conduct the final part of the hiring process in-person. The reason, Cong says, is that “most of us aren’t accustomed to making hiring decisions under these circumstances.So, it’s up to us to get over the fear of making a bad decision, and to learn to better assess candidates interviewed virtually.”

    It’s understandable, though, for recruiters and hiring managers to feel anxious about a hire made virtually vs. in-person, Dr. Golden says. “Virtual hiring can sometimes make it more difficult to get a sense of an applicant’s internal motivation and drive,” he explains. “These motivation-related signals can be more problematic to evaluate via video calls and other communication media due to the greater difficulty in gleaning non-verbal and other subtle signals that might be relevant to the hiring decision.” Gaining experience in virtual hiring and, if needed, training in non-verbal clues can give recruiters greater confidence, he says.
  • Logistics. Hiring virtually can present logistical puzzles or limitations to figure out. While virtual hiring can help you reach a more diverse candidate, it can also limit interviewing for candidates without access to high-speed internet or necessary hardware, notes Dr. Golden. And Cong points out many additional logistical considerations: How do you efficiently onboard new hires? How do you distribute needed equipment? How do you set up their access to systems? How do you train and mentor new hires remotely? While none of these challenges are insurmountable, all should be factored into your planning.

For many, virtual hiring is here to stay

Before COVID-19, many recruiters and hiring managers hadn’t experienced virtual hiring and didn’t necessarily know to ask for virtual hiring tools, says Tincup. That changed when the pandemic and remote work forced them to work virtually.

“Now that they’ve used virtual hiring tools, a lot of recruiters don’t want to go back to the old ways,” he says. “Once you’ve driven a Ferrari, you don’t want to go back to a horse and buggy.”