Lessons Agencies Can Learn From Hiring During Lockdown

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How do you offer a job to someone you’ve never met face-to-face? And how does a potential hire agree to accept a role at your agency without ever setting foot through the door, checking out your reception, or sampling your catering? Like other agencies who’ve been lucky enough to have roles to fill during the lockdown, over the last few months we’ve faced these questions and had to completely rethink the way we do recruitment.

Having recently taken on a brilliant new addition to our strategy team, I’ve been struck by the differences of hiring during the pandemic, and also the fundamentals, which have remained constant since before we all started working from home. It’s revealed some truths about how agencies and candidates make those tricky decisions, as well as offering some potential learnings on how we handle talent acquisition once we return to some form of normality.

When lockdown kicked in, agencies quickly adopted the video call as the next-best-thing to a face-to-face meeting, and suddenly our diaries were packed with Zoom invites. While this technology has certainly helped us get closer to the traditional meeting experience, many of us have started to feel video chat fatigue and realized that there’s no substitute for a physical get-together. When it comes to meeting a potential hire, this becomes even more pronounced. As we went through the process of meeting candidates for our strategy role, we realized how much an interview is about the physicality, body language and intangible ‘energy’ we get from a person when we’re in the same room with them, which just doesn’t translate when mediated by a screen. Candidates and agencies have to work much harder to communicate their personalities and passions.

Conversely, while getting a sense of someone’s ‘vibe’ might be more difficult when speaking remotely, meeting via video is a strangely intimate experience. A video interview during lockdown takes you inside someone’s home, giving you an insight into their life outside work. From the choice of paint color through to someone’s book collection, a Zoom background can help tell a story in the absence of more tangible physical cues.

Video interviews also tend to force us to get down to business more quickly – which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about small talk. In the absence of the walk to the meeting room and offer of a cup of tea, I found that the conversation became more focussed and that the chat tended to be more functional – about our work for clients and the candidate’s own experience and capabilities. While this approach lacks some of the bubbly fun of a more informal conversation, it at least means you can get more of a grasp of your potential hire’s strengths more quickly.

Another interesting consequence of hiring during lockdown is that meeting people virtually makes the process more accessible. Prior to the outbreak, candidates would have to hide behind a “doctor’s appointment” and allow travel time. Suddenly, people can interview for a role without the fear of being caught creeping out of the office, with less of a time commitment, and geography is no barrier. Perhaps video interviews are a way to ensure we’re seeing a broader, more diverse range of candidates. We can spread the net further and see more people, more easily.

One of the biggest challenges when making our recent hire was making the candidate feel comfortable and confident throughout the process – from the first video chat to their first day of work. We’re living in uncertain times, and people are understandably nervous about leaving their current position to join a new company. It’s been essential to ensure that those we were talking to understood this was a real role: an opportunity for long term career progression at a successful creative agency, in a very busy strategy department.

ELVIS is an agency with a strong and vibrant culture, so we also wanted to make sure that translated throughout the process. Chatting to our new team member has confirmed our belief that agency culture is about much more than a cool office and a fridge full of beers – and something we can communicate through our actions. Without a physical space to fall back on, we’ve had to bring to life the ELVIS way of doing things through every interaction we had. We’ve even tried to replicate our usual welcome and onboarding process using digital channels – something we thought might be impossible. On our new hire’s first day, we arranged a ‘virtual walkaround’, where they got to meet their new colleagues individually, in a relaxed and informal way – or at least as relaxed as a Zoom call for 50 people can be.

Ultimately, the experience of hiring during lockdown has emphasized the need for flexibility in the agency recruitment process, as well as the importance of being aware of and adapting to people’s individual needs – after all, it’s as much about them saying ‘yes’ to you as it is about you saying ‘yes’ to them. Lockdown has brought to the fore the very human way in which we find and choose new talent, and it might just point to a new model for how we do things moving forward.

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