June 15, 2021

Successful Post-COVID Hiring: Recruit Nontraditional Candidates

The post-pandemic economy is going to present some challenging moments for HR. One of those is the exodus of anxious workers who have been biding their time throughout the pandemic, waiting for the right moment to switch jobs. 

“There is absolutely pent-up turnover demand in the U.S. workforce,” says Danny Nelms, president at Work Institute, a research and consulting firm. Nelms cautions HR professionals to be prepared for an increase in voluntary employee turnover in 2021 as more job openings become available in a market with lower labor participation rates. He says an imbalance in supply and demand will fuel that voluntary turnover.

This means HR must plan talent acquisition strategies now to deal with the anticipated tidal wave of workers changing jobs and leaving key roles vacant.

Workers are Ready to Make Career Changes

According to Prudential’s Pulse of the American Worker survey, 26 percent of employed adults in the U.S. expect to switch jobs as the economy recovers from the pandemic. As more opportunities become available and the perceived risks associated with leaving a job during the pandemic fade, workers are becoming more confident about taking the leap to advance or change their careers. 

A number of different factors are driving this desire for job changes. 

Career Progression is Top of Mind for Workers

Eighty percent of respondents to Prudential’s survey indicate they intend to switch because they are concerned about advancing their careers, and 72 percent say it’s because the pandemic has them concerned about the relevancy of their skills sets. For a lot of workers, the pandemic has created a “very real experience” of “a lack of career progression, and a concern around skills development,” says Rob Falzon, vice chair at Prudential Financial. 

Employees Want More From Their Employers

Data culled in the Achievers Workforce Institute’s Employee Engagement & Retention Report shows 35 percent of employees would leave their current jobs for better compensation and benefits, while 25 percent would change jobs for the opportunity for a better work-life balance. 

“This year’s Employee Engagement & Retention Report revealed how the pandemic is affecting today’s workforce, with work-life balance – or lack thereof – being a key component as to why an employee might be motivated to seek other career opportunities,” says Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, chief workforce scientist at Achievers Workforce Institute.

The results of the survey also shows that employee engagement has suffered throughout the pandemic. Workers are feeling less connected to their employers than before the pandemic and feel that company culture has diminished since the pandemic began. 

Worker Burnout is Driving Turnover

Burnout is another real problem for workers who have stayed in their current roles throughout the pandemic. According to research by management consulting firm Eagle Hill Consulting, 57 percent of employees are now experiencing burn out at work compared to 45 percent of workers at the start of the pandemic. 

“Leaving is often viewed as the best option for employees to address burnout,” writes the team at Eagle Hill. “And when the economy and labor markets get healthier, some employees may feel they have no other choice.”

butterfly on a leaf; nontraditional candidates concept

Employees Expect Flexibility at Work

The explosion (and overall success) of remote work during the pandemic had led to employees expecting more flexibility at work. Ernst & Young Global Limited’s 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey finds that 54 percent of employee respondents want more flexibility to choose when they work, while 40 percent want flexibility in where they work. This expectation is driven by the belief that they can be productive at work from anywhere.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that flexibility can work for both employees and employers, and flexible working is the new currency for attracting and retaining top talent,” says Liz Fealy, global people advisory services deputy leader and global workforce advisory and solutions leader for EY.

The bottom line is that workers are ready to make a change. The end of the pandemic is a signal to them that it’s time to make the career moves they have been putting off. With so many talented workers poised to leave for new opportunities, HR is faced with the challenge of filling those vacancies from shrunken candidate pools. 

One way HR can overcome this hurdle to hiring is by expanding talent pools to include nontraditional hires such as veterans, formerly incarcerated people, and recent community college graduates.

Recruit Unconventional Candidates to Expand Your Talent Pool

The issue of hiring from ever-tightening talent pools has been an ongoing conversation in HR. The pandemic has exacerbated the issue as high-quality candidates are being heavily recruited (and willingly leaving jobs) in a candidate-driven market, creating gaping holes in the supply of talent to fill vacancies. To reach more potential candidates, HR teams will have to cast wider recruiting nets. That should include targeting nontraditional candidates.

“Being open to candidates who appear not to be a ‘fit’ at first glance and more closely assessing candidates who’ve had untraditional successes in their field, would be a great way of sourcing talent that will take your organization to the next level,” says executive coach Donna Schilder.

This may not be easy. “Recruiters often don’t take the time to get to know the stories of candidates whose work experiences, education, and skills don’t fit inside preconceived parameters,” writes Roy Maurer, online manager/editor at SHRM. Most profile candidates to locate those that fit a certain mold created for every role.

But that thinking limits the possibilities of reaching nontraditional candidates who might excel at the role in addition to bringing a diverse perspective to it. “Nontraditional candidates have the same level of skill and the same quality skills that the organization needs to be successful,” writes Jordan Bryan, senior marketing program manager at Gartner.

stars over the night sky; nontraditional candidates concept

Why Unconventional Candidates May be the Right Hire

Though these candidates may not meet the exact requirements you are looking for in a new employee, they may turn out to be the better hire. Unconventional hires bring a lot more to the table than just a wider candidate pool. The diversification in ideas, skills, education, and opinions gives companies a competitive edge in the marketplace. 

Because nontraditional candidates took a different path to get to where they are, they have unique perspectives and fresh ideas that may boost innovation in an organization. Also, because they have had to struggle to get where they are, most possess a strong work ethic and a drive to accomplish goals at all costs. 

These qualities would be an asset to any organization willing to give nontraditional candidates a chance to prove themselves. That’s what Cincinnati, Ohio-based company Nehemiah Manufacturing learned firsthand through its commitment to employ hard-to-hire candidates in entry-level jobs in light manufacturing, fulfillment, and warehousing.  

More than 85 percent of the company’s 110 employees in production and warehousing are now hard-to-hire employees. “These employees sometimes carry the baggage of a troubled past,” says Mike Pachko, Nehemiah’s chief operating officer. “But I’ll tell you, the ones who appreciate the second chance and are open to change become super-workers. For performance and positive spirit, I’d put our manufacturing team up against anyone – anywhere.”

Someone’s past isn’t necessarily indicative of their future. Keep this in mind as you prepare for large numbers of workers to leave for new opportunities post-COVID. As roles become vacant, expand the talent pool you are pulling from to fill those vacancies. Nontraditional candidates are a viable option with the potential to be a huge asset to your organization.

But you will have to be very intentional about reaching out to these candidates. It will require HR teams to design “inclusive hiring practices — and letting go of the notion that there’s one ideal candidate type for a role,” write Debbie Ferguson and Fredrick Lee, head of foundation engineering and chief security officer, respectively, at payroll platform Gusto.

David Brunelle, who started his career as a Starbucks barista, is now vice president of customer experience engineering at the company. He doesn’t have a college degree and has relied on on-the-job training in the Navy — and the chance to prove himself — for his career advancement. His advice to organizations: “Don’t be a gatekeeper. People with incredibly valuable skills come from all walks of life and have all kinds of backgrounds. Let’s evaluate people on the value they can add, and not the credentials they’ve had the opportunities to earn.”

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