Employment Law18.03.2021 Newsletter

Recruiting in corona times - easy game or digital challenge?

The effects of the corona pandemic are also being felt on the recruitment market. Although it appears easy to obtain personnel at first glance, unexpected hurdles seem to have become stumbling blocks for companies. Our partner Jörn Kuhn talks to Thomas Hartenfels, Director at Robert Walters, a leading international executive personnel consultant.

Mr. Hartenfels, 1 year of recruiting in times of corona. Have companies adapted to the new situation?

We have indeed noticed a certain degree of acclimatisation to the new work normal by our customers. The situation was totally different during the first lockdown, as many companies felt caught off guard because they often simply lacked the basic equipment for mobile working.

One year down the line, mobile work devices and software solutions such as Teams, Zoom and Stack have now become commonplace. As a result, companies have developed a certain routine and we are observing an increasing digitisation of work processes.

We’ve noticed that not everyone is comfortable with purely virtual job interviews yet. What’s your impression? Do companies still insist on face-to-face interviews or is it all virtual?

According to recent enquiries with our customers, two-thirds of the job application processes now take place completely digitally. The remaining third often carry out partially digital procedures, but still want to meet the applicant personally at the end of the process. In our experience, only very few companies are still completely adhering to face-to-face meetings. 

I agree with you about the acceptance of digital interviews, however: this is not particularly high. More than half of our contacts and two thirds of our job applicants tend to perceive them as disadvantageous - for understandable reasons: First of all, so many important impressions fall by the wayside, such as the holistic experience of one’s counterpart or the potential new workplace. Just the trip from the reception to the conference room can already provide a job applicant with many impressions of the company - these are now missing.

Secondly, it is not as if interviewers and job applicants alike switched to digital interviews out of conviction and affinity; external circumstances forced them to do so. And coercion often causes scepticism, also in this case.

Have you gained any experience of what job applicants expect at virtual interviews?

The recruiter handling the interview should try not to focus solely on the content of the interview, but should also provide the applicant with a bit of broader information on the company and its operations in digital form. Since personal proximity is already lacking, recruiters should also try to build up a relationship with the other person in the digital interview to create a basis of trust. An interview that is already at a distance because it’s on-screen should not be unnecessarily formalised and stiff - this doesn’t leave the applicant with a very good feeling.

What would definitely scare an applicant away in a virtual interview?

Applicants take a particularly negative view of a lack of technical routine by their counterpart and of delays. If the recruiter is otherwise occupied during the interview and fails to give the applicant his full attention, this clearly shows a lack of appreciation. Basically, the same rules apply to both the company representative and the applicant here.

Severely shortening a digital interview if you’re not interested and ending the scheduled one-hour interview after 15-20 minutes is simply bad practice. In digital meetings, the other party should always be given the opportunity to clarify open questions. Also in digital interviews, all participants should leave the interview with a good feeling.

How exactly can companies present their employer branding to an applicant during purely virtual interviews?

Anything that is added as further information besides just the interview with the manager is helpful. A presentation to introduce the company, to explain its values and visions, for example, can be helpful. An image film or a film about a typical day in the life of an employee can also help to make the digital impression more holistic.

We have had very good experiences, for example, with the digital simulation of a trial day, where the applicant is able to get to know the team and has the opportunity to speak privately with an employee in a comparable position. This kind of thing creates trust and provides a very authentic idea of the new workplace.

Often the last impulse is missing to convince an applicant. What's the one trick that always works? Does it exist?

I'm still looking for the holy grail of recruiting too – that single tip is considered lost or a myth.

I would say that there are four key tips in the hiring process that regularly make the difference.

1. All interaction with the applicant must show a deep appreciation of the applicant. There's a world of difference between ending a conversation with "You'll hear from us next week" and ending it with "I can really imagine the two of us working well together and would be delighted to welcome you aboard."

2. A frequently underestimated aspect of the application process is speed. Recruiters are aware that they need to reach a decision on an applicant quickly, as they will not wait forever for an acceptance and will otherwise accept another offer. However, the saying borrowed from sales, "time kills all deals," is not yet reflected in every hiring process.

3. A good job application process, which ultimately leads to success, basically consists of the two aforementioned points: the applicant should feel appreciated, have as few steps as possible to climb and find out relatively quickly exactly where he stands in the job application process.

4. Subsequently requested interim steps, interviews, evaluations or references can be interpreted as uncertainty on the part of the employer. If every step of the process is announced at the beginning, this provides transparency and clarity, thus already laying the foundation for a relationship of trust.

In my experience, I find that an onboarding that takes place entirely or largely digitally requires far more work and far more communication. How do you see it?

We ourselves and our customers have made this experience. One thing’s for sure: digital onboarding in its current form is not yet final and still has a lot of potential for optimisation. Only 20 percent of our customers have begun to digitise onboarding content, for example by creating learning and instructional videos.

Webinars and digital pre-boarding videos can still be used to a much greater extent – there’s still room for improvement here, which should especially ease the burden on companies time-wise.

Mr. Hartenfels, thanks very much for the interview and for your insights.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you, Mr Kuhn.


Interviewpartner: Thomas Hartenfels, Director at Robert Walters Düsseldorf & Cologne, Fürstenwall 172, 40217 Düsseldorf, T +49 211 30 180 002, [email protected]

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Jörn Kuhn

Jörn Kuhn

PartnerAttorneySpecialized Attorney for Employment Law

Konrad-Adenauer-Ufer 23
50668 Cologne
T +49 69 707968 140
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