COVID-19 has fundamentally changed many aspects of life in 2020 and talent acquisition has not escaped its snare. As we looked back over the year and what it has meant for hiring, we identified four key areas where we think 2020 has changed talent acquisition, not just for this moment but for the long term.

Taking the cautious approach

With tighter hiring budgets, getting new hires right the first time has become even more important. This more cautious approach plays out in two ways.

First, the time to hire has stretched out. The approval process for new hires has become more rigorous, with some companies even escalating approvals to the CEO. But this has also paid some interesting dividends.

As the earlier hiring freezes have eased, many organisations are returning to hiring, but with greater due diligence. Companies are interrogating the need for each new role: do we really need it? What does the role look like in wake of the COVID-19 crisis? What is the right candidate fit for the role?

Secondly, this focus on process has driven an increased take up of talent analytics, with both upstream and downstream benefits. Better use of data and analytical tools not only assists in identifying the right candidate profile and pool but also enables processes to be evaluated on an ongoing basis.

A more cautious approach to hiring has driven an increased take up of talent analytics. Click To Tweet

Digital recruitment remains a challenge

Although digital recruitment has been around for years, not every business was ready for the overnight adoption and many are still struggling to adapt.

The challenge has perhaps been exacerbated by the peaks and troughs in hiring trends throughout the year. Many hiring managers have only recently recommenced hiring and are now trying to catch up with changes to hiring processes.

For example, in countries which experienced a second or third wave of COVID-19, at the beginning of the pandemic in March, companies pivoted to hiring virtually, switching back to face-to-face as the COVID-19 situation improved, before returning to virtual hiring once more as those countries face a second peak in infections.

We believe this return to virtual hiring represents the new norm, with face-to-face interviews offering a secondary channel. The challenge for organisations is to rapidly upskill hiring managers to enable them to effectively and professionally recruit digitally, including running panel interviews over digital platforms like Zoom, leveraging online assessments and, in some high volume sectors like retail, creating digital assessment centres. 

Virtual hiring is likely to become the norm. The challenge for organisations is to rapidly upskill hiring managers to enable them to effectively recruit digitally. Click To Tweet

The pool of available talent has changed

For some organisations the talent pool has shrunk, whereas for others it has expanded. Why? In significant part, it’s due to the pandemic-induced changing nature of the workplace.

Many offices remain empty, with employees still working remotely. While some organisations and industries are thinking of making this move permanent, others expect to eventually return to a more traditional set up. This has implications for the geographical pool of potential hires.

For example, many tech organisations intend to continue remote working until the middle of next year. Important considerations for new hires therefore include where the role will be based or whether it could be done remotely.

Remote work has implications for the geographical pool of potential hires: can the role be done remotely? Where will it be based? Click To Tweet

Other organisations are contending with the impact of international border closures. Singapore, for example, has previously been able to access a wide pool of talent including expatriates. But that has all changed. Governmental policy is also influencing hiring practice, with the Singapore government focusing more on its own citizens to ensure they will be given employment priority first.

And of course, there remains the perpetual challenge of finding candidates with the right mix of skills and attributes. Even with more available talent in the market due to higher unemployment, it may not necessarily be easier to hire an employee who is fit for the role.

This is especially the case for leaders. COVID-19 has accelerated demand for leaders with high levels of learning agility to succeed in transformative environments, the skills to lead enterprise-wide transformation, and the agility to adapt, and manage constant change. This is driving more expansive searching practices - as organisations struggle to find such leaders with relevant industry experience, they are having to consider talent from other industries.

Getting internal mobility right

As hiring has picked up, internal mobility has come into the spotlight, with organisations trying to look after their permanent employees as well as plugging the gap in skills and experience they cannot find externally.

This has put the spotlight on internal recruitment processes, with many organisations finding their existing processes aren’t up to the task. One challenge is that these processes often rely on unwritten rules and may involve informal discussions between managers and candidates which can narrow the candidate pool. The result? The right talent may not end up in the right roles. Existing processes may also compound diversity and inclusion challenges if, for example, the current workforce doesn’t represent a diverse mix of employees.

In recent years some progressive organisations have started creating internal talent communities where people can register their details and have an internal recruiter proactively approach them for a role. However, most organisations are not structured that way.

COVID-19 has certainly changed the nature of talent acquisition. But the solution to the talent challenge in many ways remains the same. As we look to 2021, it will be those organisations that can attract the right talent who will be best positioned to accelerate through the recovery. Here are key areas to focus for talent acquisition success next year and beyond:

Strategic workforce planning: No matter where organisations are in terms of talent management sophistication, a strong focus on strategic workforce planning – knowing the skills required for future success and where gaps exist – is the cornerstone for internal and external recruitment strategies and critical to addressing skill shortages.

Talent analytics: You can use information that you have collected from your talent management system (TMS) including recruiting, onboarding, engagement, performance, or compensation, to make better talent decisions. If you are a Korn Ferry client you can leverage decades of research into individual, team and organisational success currently stored in your TMS to identify candidates with the right skillset through 'Success Profiles'. Success Profiles define what 'good' looks like. In times when companies are being extra cautious about their hiring decisions, they can rest in the knowledge that the underlying data is based on what determines success in a role.

Upskill your hiring team: With virtual recruitment becoming the norm, hiring managers should be prepared to adopt digital recruitment and onboarding. Organisations need to upskill hiring managers to make sure the process is effective, seamless, and fair. This includes investing in the necessary tools and thoroughly training your hiring managers on how to use the software.

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About the contributors

Pip Eastman is the Managing Director for APAC Regional Solutions, RPO and Professional Search, Korn Ferry. She is responsible for the performance and growth of the APAC business; developing new clients, enhancing market presence and integrating RPO and Professional Search’s lines of business into existing clients. Pip has extensive experience in solution design. Her responsibilities included client development, contract and commercial negotiations, and the implementation, operational delivery, and continuous improvement of projects.



Anthony Modrich is the Market Leader – ASEAN for Professional Search. With over 13 years’ experience in recruitment and executive search in Asia, Anthony has a broad track record delivering mid to senior level hires across multiple sectors and geographies.

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