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What recruiters will look for in 2021

It might not seem like much changes in a year, but when the year is 2020, all bets are off.

What recruiters will look for in 2021
[Photos: Rawpixel; DESIGNECOLOGIST/Unsplash]

In normal times, entire industries and business models don’t typically change seismically in the course of a year. But in 2020, the rules go out the window. Virtually every sector changed in some way since the beginning of the pandemic. And many of those shifts have created changes in what companies prioritize now.


Recent research from HR software firm Jobvite found that the importance of time-to-hire—getting someone onboard fast—has given way to a more thoughtful process that prioritizes factors like diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as the quality of the candidate. And that means that what recruiters are looking for in the coming year has shifted, too.

“[Recruiting] takes a much different skill set than in the past,” says Amy Glaser, senior vice president at Adecco USA, a recruitment and workforce solutions provider. With the changes and stressors hiring managers and candidates are facing, recruiters need to operate with more empathy and emotional intelligence, she says. And to meet the demands of both—finding the best talent for hiring managers while providing an exceptional candidate experience for job seekers—some of the traditional assumptions about what recruiters want have shifted in important ways.

Then: Job titles and degrees
Now: Transferable skills

Glaser says that hiring standards will be looser, focusing less on job titles and degrees. “In the ‘new world,’ those things are not important. What’s important are the skills you have. Are they transferable?” she says. You can learn to do the tasks related to many jobs, but it’s harder to teach people to be adaptable, adopt a problem-solving mindset, and collaborate well with others. Glaser says one of the most exciting shifts she’s seeing is how recruiters are truly focused on the right transferable skills needed for the job while considering how the job-specific skills can be developed if they don’t exist in an otherwise promising candidate.


Then: Tell me about yourself
Now: Tell me your COVID-19 story

The pandemic is arguably one of the events in recent history that has had the biggest impact on the world. Recruiters want to know how you responded to it, says Mark A. Herschberg, author of The Career Toolkit, Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You. Their responses are often revealing, he says.

“Now that answer could be, ‘I finally got to spend more time with my family or my kids.’ It doesn’t have to be ‘I learned a foreign language’ or ‘I read all the classics.’ But they want to see if there was something proactive you did,” he says. So, take some time to think about what you did during the pandemic, how you grew or renewed yourself, and how it changed you.

Then: Discussion about D&I
Now: Commitment to DE&I

Jobvite’s research found that most companies surveyed have specific diversity hiring goals with respect to race/ethnicity and gender, while others also had goals related to age, veteran status, LGBTQ+ people, and immigrants. One-third of recruiters reported that job seekers are also asking more about diversity, equity, and inclusion measures now.


“We’re learning a lot more about the psychology of bias and creating a process to mitigate . . . bias in the hiring process,” says Roy Notowitz, founder of executive recruiting firm Noto Group. Recruiters are helping companies make job descriptions gender-neutral, conducting consistent and structured interviews, and being critical of statements like “not a culture fit” as a criticism. “We’re moving away from that into, ‘How will this person add to our culture? How can we be more welcoming and inclusive?'” he says. Recruiters are working harder to cultivate slates of diverse candidates from various underrepresented groups.

Then: Will you relocate?
Now: How will you work across time zones?

Now that we’ve seen how many jobs can be done well remotely, the pool of potential candidates expands, Herschberg says. Job seekers can hop on an hour-long videoconference interview from wherever they are, and no one’s the wiser. And if the best candidate for the job is a five-hour flight away, the only thing you need to worry about is navigating time zones. He says that recruiters may deliver candidates from more disparate regions. However, these hires may add employment law or tax complexities that employers and employees should understand.

Then: Videoconferencing experience
Now: Tech adeptness

After the first month of widespread remote work, companies began to lose patience with remote workers who couldn’t figure out Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms. Video meetings and interviews became an art form, complete with directions on how to put your best face forward.


But companies are accelerating their adoption of technology and trying to compensate for the shortcomings of assessing someone through a 13-inch monitor. “With the increased focus on soft skills, companies are saying, ‘We need a better way to see if people are open to learning new ideas, or curious or how they are with teamwork.’ So I think companies are going to be training before hiring. And that means putting you through a simulation,” says Jeanne Meister, founder of HR research firm Future Workplace Academy, which recently released an eBook on VR adoption.

As virtual reality becomes more commonplace, recruiters are more likely to use it for simulations to see how a candidate deals with an angry customer or solves a problem. “VR is perfectly suited to put . . . candidates in simulated experiences,” Meister says.

Then: First-round interview
Now: Screening by AI

Using chatbots and other artificial intelligence tools to screen candidates isn’t a brand-new concept, but those tools are becoming more widespread and sophisticated, Adecco’s Glaser says. This frees recruiters from rote work and also allows candidates to apply and do their initial screening any time, day or night, avoiding delays and games of phone tag to set up an interview. That improves the candidate experience.


“You’re seeing a faster response time for the candidate, and they get more information,” she says. “They’re engaged from the start and now have a next-step action of when they’re going to meet and speak with a live person,” she says. The resulting conversation is more meaningful and productive.

Both technology improvements and changes borne from the COVID-19 pandemic have changed how the folks responsible for finding and screening talented candidates do their jobs. Ultimately, recruiting is becoming less transactional and more focused on relationship-building, Glaser says. And that will serve both job seekers and the firms that hire them.


About the author

Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites