Job searching in the new normal

By Chee Jo-Ey

TO accommodate the new normal of social distancing, most of us have to change the way we work and, naturally, the same goes to the way we look for jobs.

Movement restrictions have spurred employers to trial non-traditional work practices, be more flexible in workforce management and embrace technology on a scale that they would not have attempted otherwise.

The movement control order (MCO) has also drastically shifted how companies are engaging and hiring talent. Many hiring managers have replaced face-to-face interviews with teleconferencing options during the MCO period.

Randstad Malaysia & Singapore MD Jaya Dass said digital platforms can help provide employers with data to assess candidates’ suitability for the job.

“Besides video conferencing, HR departments are using automated reference checking technology and online assessments to ascertain the candidates’ skills, competencies and personality traits. The results and data collected from these digital tools can help build employers’ confidence in making the right hiring decision.”

Previously, local companies preferred to conduct recruitment activities in a more conventional manner via face-to-face interactions, but the pandemic has expedited the adoption of virtual hiring.

According to Kelly Services MD Brian Sim, moving forward, companies will encourage recruitment processes from sourcing to onboarding to be conducted on digital platforms like Skype and Microsoft Teams.

Sim foresees that virtual networking sessions will be gaining traction as well. Companies will order meals to be delivered to their staff at home and have lunch meetings at appointed times. The prominence of webinar training is also on the rise and all these are opportunities to network with and source talents as well.

At the initial stage, the challenges with adopting virtual hiring will be getting employees to work with their resources and maximise the features to facilitate virtual hiring. “It is more than a change in modus operandi and moving the hiring process online. Companies need to update employees regularly, cultivate a new mindset for all generations of employees and provide the right training,” said Sim.

Sim observed that both employers and employees are showing more interest in adopting work from home methods and learning the skills involved, which is a positive sign.

Virtual hiring will yield more benefits as compared to traditional hiring, if executed right. For one, going digital will cut short the turnaround time in hiring by lessening the hassles involved in a face-to-face job interview. It would also appeal to the Gen Z who are more technologically savvy.

While the pandemic has kicked-off the largest global experiment of working from home, employers will also need to re-evaluate their recruitment processes.

Moving the interview process online means that companies would also need to ensure that their hiring managers are equipped with the right digital tools to work remotely. These would include HR technology that would allow them to qualify, interview, test, evaluate and onboard their candidates seamlessly.

“It is indeed more challenging now to schedule job interviews between candidates and employers due to the complicated schedules of HR professionals and stakeholders, particularly more so when they are all working from home. Many employers would also prefer to meet the shortlisted candidates face to face to determine personality and culture fit before coming to a final decision. For these reasons, candidates can expect a delay of around four weeks compared to last year,” said Ranstad’s Jaya.

For employees, the MCO has inevitably led to fewer job opportunities, as many businesses have been forced to come to a halt as the country grapples to contain the spread of the virus. 

Employers within the aviation, hospitality and transportation industries that traditionally have a large workforce have frozen their headcount. Job seekers have to vie for the fewer vacancies available and may realise that they might not have the skills to take on jobs in other industries.

According to Sim, the frequency of hiring activity currently varies according to industries. There are uptrend industries such as healthcare, logistics and online trading that are doing well amid the pandemic. Companies that are affected should be preparing for the new normal that will most likely have a spillover effect post-MCO.

“No doubt, jobseekers will face tighter competition for the next six months to a year as there will be an influx of unemployed candidates in the market. They must stay relevant with current work trends and equip themselves with the basic technology know-how,” Sim said.

Communication skills need to be ramped up and interviewers must be able to relay their messages clearly during a virtual hiring. On the other hand, jobseekers with a high sense of creativity along with adaptivity skills will be in demand as they focus on finding solutions and not shy from new ways of doing things. They can also learn how to present themselves and keep the interviewer connected during a virtual interview.

“The job market is vastly different this year. When the economy is volatile, people would prioritise job security over a chance to work in a job that is more exciting or pays more. Most people would also have concerns around being ‘last in, first out’, which is the belief that new joiners are more likely to be let go before other employees during a restructuring exercise, due to their short tenure. Therefore, candidates who are currently employed are more hesitant to change jobs,” explained Jaya. 

Candidates who are looking for a job in the current market should be more patient, according to Jaya.

When everyone works from home, the number of meetings that we have to host or attend increases. This could be to compensate for all the impromptu discussions that we would have had if we were in the office. But since we have reduced face time with each other, people are arranging more calls and virtual meetings just to catch up with each other on the progress of their projects. As a result, it can take longer for HR professionals to schedule an interview with candidates and gather all the information and feedback from the internal stakeholders.

This global pandemic might be with us for a while, which means the format of having a job interview over video or phone is something that employers and candidates have to get used to, at least for this year.

Video interviews would help to brush up on your presentation and communication skills, so that you can present your best self, competencies and skills via the screen. Practice in front of a mirror and observe the subtleties in your body language and facial expressions, and learn how to use these non-verbal cues to communicate better to make up for the lack of a face-to-face interaction.

You should also use this opportunity to upskill youself – either through learning from mentors or online courses such as Coursera. It’s critical that you continue to equip yourself with in-demand skills so that you can remain employable.

Last but not least, be open to contracting work should the opportunity presents itself. In these challenging times, companies may be cutting back on permanent headcount budgets, but may still need temporary manpower to continue working on critical projects.

“Working in contract roles can also open many doors to other ideal employers. In fact, contractors often secure their next gig even before their current contract ends. Contract professionals also get to work in different environments and teams, which in turn will give you more learning opportunities and work exposure,” advised Jaya.

With the reduced face time and physical interaction with potential employers, it has become even more critical to be able to articulate and present your best self over different digital modes of communications. This means being clear in emails and messages, as well as being able to deliver a clear message over video interviews. Practice your video interviewing skills with your family or friends, and be mindful of the non-verbal cues, such as your body language and posture, facial expressions, as well as eye contact.

Companies will increasingly turn to digital platforms to conduct their talent search, interviews and assessments, which mean job seekers will have to be visible on these online channels too. Take the initiative to learn how to use the different technologies that you will encounter in your job search, such as the different professional social media networks, types of teleconferencing tools, online assessments, pre-qualification screenings and chatbots.

During these unprecedented times, jobs are harder to come by. With the country coming to a standstill and most of its workforce working from home, it is easy to feel isolated and detached from the world around you. Jaya encourages job seekers to keep looking for opportunities to network with people within and outside their industries. This will help keep your pulse on the market and remain visible in the job market.

More and more companies are organising webinars, virtual career fairs and online classes during this period. Candidates are encouraged to take the opportunity to participate actively, learn from others and expand your network to significantly improve your employability in the near future. – April 28, 2020

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