The pandemic has changed the world of recruitment — perhaps forever. The needs, preferences and expectations of candidates have evolved, and companies have altered their approaches to the hiring process as a result.

Many of these changes were on their way before the virus struck. Yet, a global health crisis and the lockdowns that followed catalysed several significant shifts, such as the move towards flexible and hybrid working arrangements, the widespread adoption of technology and the renewed emphasis on company culture and work-life balance.

So, as we emerge from the worst of the coronavirus crisis, it is time for businesses to consider how their recruitment strategies have changed over the past couple of years — and what they need to do to future-proof their hiring methods to keep up with the new normal.

What was the recruitment landscape like before coronavirus hit?

In the years preceding the coronavirus outbreak, skills and talent shortages created fierce competition for the top talent.

Unemployment had been falling consistently, with the employment rate reaching a record high of 76.2% in 2019. As a result, sourcing, onboarding and retaining the top talent was challenging. Recruiters had their work cut out for them, especially as many companies had not yet fully embraced technology to streamline recruitment processes.

Flexible work was on its way, with almost 70% of small businesses offering some form of flexible working to their employees. Yet, according to a report on the link between work-life balance and mental health by the Mental Health Foundation, 40% of staff in the pre-pandemic world reported neglecting other aspects of their life because of the pressure of the demanding work culture in the UK, with negative repercussions for their mental health.

However, when the impact of the pandemic began to ripple outwards from Wuhan in 2020, everything changed. Early indicators in May indicated that the tides were about to turn, with Labour Force Survey data covering the period up to the end of April 2020 showing weakening employment rates due to the number of people temporarily furloughed or away from work.

Job vacancy and employment levels fluctuated dramatically throughout this period and directly impacted economic stability and hiring activity. Consequently, the coronavirus outbreak marked a turning point for the recruitment industry, profoundly altering not only the way we live and work but also how businesses find and onboard new talent.

How did hiring activity change during the crisis?

At the height of the pandemic, hiring activity halted for many sectors, as lockdown restrictions forced many companies to shut or downsize.

In April 2020, the unemployment rate reached 14.8% — the highest rate recorded since 1948, when data collection began. Some industries, such as healthcare, faced a surge in demand for services that necessitated immediate recruitment campaigns. But for the most part, the pandemic had devastating impacts on both individuals and businesses.

More positively, with digitisation ramping up to allow employees to work from home, employees proved they could operate no matter where they were based. This widespread adoption of hybrid and remote working and the implementation of digital infrastructures to support the ‘new normal’ has actually helped to improve recruitment for many sectors.

As lockdown restrictions eased and companies adapted to social distancing rules, remote working also impacted talent acquisition. Before the pandemic forced people to work remotely, many hiring managers believed that meeting a candidate in person was the ultimate way to determine their suitability for a role. But when faced with a global health crisis, employers overcame anxieties about change and reconsidered their hiring needs and recruitment methods.

Many organisations found that virtual hiring had several advantages, including recruiting from a wider candidate pool, targeting passive candidates more effectively and sifting through applications more efficiently — especially useful when employers received hundreds of applications for every opening.

What does the future of recruitment look like in the post-pandemic world?

Coronavirus restrictions officially ended in the UK on 24 February 2022, and we are now emerging into the post-pandemic world. Economic recovery has instilled more confidence in business growth, and many employers are actively recruiting. In fact, job vacancies have broken several records in recent months, some even exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

This shift in the job market presents a whole new set of challenges for employers. Economic uncertainty and change have caused many employees to favour security, and fewer candidates are actively searching for new roles. Plus, the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ further diminishes the pool of available candidates. As a result, we are currently in a candidate-driven market, meaning that companies must impress top candidates to stand out from the competition.

Salaries will become increasingly important as the cost of living continues to rise, but work-life balance, collaboration and company culture also came to the forefront of candidates’ attention during the pandemic. Social movements like Black Lives Matter prompted swathes of employees and employers to reconsider their working priorities, with workers ranking inclusivity and diversity as an increasingly important consideration since COVID-19 began.

So, businesses must refine their recruitment strategy to ensure they put their best foot forward in the job market. Technology investments will be crucial to help optimise hiring processes and target passive candidates. But business leaders must also ensure they maintain a personal connection with candidates and cultivate a progressive, inclusive culture within their company.

Recent events have demonstrated just how rapidly the recruitment landscape can change. Howett Thorpe provides expert business support and recruitment services for finance and accountancy firms. Contact us today at 01252 718777 or email to discover how we can help.