Over the course of my recruiting career, I’ve noticed that companies tend to hire when the top executives feel the future looks promising. When they believe that conditions are conducive to growth, you’ll see companies aggressively adding to staff. They want to get ahead of their competitors and bring aboard the best talent.
Conversely, when the future looks uncertain and bleak, companies will hit the brakes on bringing aboard new people, enact freezes and start to downsize workers.
A new survey from Robert Half, the large recruiting firm, found that “hiring managers are taking longer to hire [and] stringing along candidates thinking that a ‘better hire’ may come along.” The firm reported, “One-third of senior managers surveyed said their company is taking more time to hire today in hope that better candidates will come along.”
We are now in a peculiar time in the job market. The weekly and monthly jobs reports have been lackluster—to put it politely. The United States is still down about 10 million jobs from where it was a year ago at this time. Roughly 80 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic started.
The U.S. has hit a horrible milestone. Half a million people in America have succumbed to Covid-19. Vaccines are being rolled out, but not quick enough. There are questions about its efficacy and side effects. A lot of this is due to the distrust of the government and its officials—on both political sides of the aisle.
With this backdrop, it’s understandable that hiring would be soft and layoffs continue to occur. Picture yourself as the CEO of a major corporation. On the positive side, you see a decline in cases, but you can’t help but notice the lack of unity in Washington, D.C., the absence of a speedy program to vaccinate people en masse and the failure to provide financial resources to people—especially those who are worried about losing their homes and apartments. As a manager, you’d probably think it doesn’t feel like the right environment to start hiring in the midst of all of this uncertainty. It would be unsettling to hire a person, only to fire them a couple of months later, if things don’t improve.
Department heads recognize that even if they wanted to hire, it’s not so simple during a pandemic. There’s little or no in-person interviews, as they take place online. There’s an underlying concern that a manager may make the wrong decision, as they didn’t have a chance to spend time with the applicant in person and introduce them to all of the people that they’d work with. If a person is hired, instead of coming into the office, surrounded by colleagues and managers, a newly hired person would work from home. It’s hard on both sides to make this work successfully. You’ll hold off hiring for the foreseeable future. It’s reasonable—and easier—to take a wait-and-see attitude.
This is the situation we’re in now. We collectively hope things will improve, but we don’t know when. It’s easier for companies to pile on more work on existing employees rather than hire new people. Managers callously maintain that their staff will do the extra workload because, for many, there aren’t a lot of other opportunities.
This will explain why the job search process is so painfully slow. On one hand, there looks like there is light at the end of the tunnel. Covid-19 cases are coming down, people are slowly getting inoculated and Congress is working on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion financial stimulus plan, along with an infrastructure program that could create a lot of new jobs.
Even with the positives, supervisors don’t feel the need to hurry up and hire. They’ll take their sweet time and wait for the perfect candidate who they can get cheaply. If someone is good, but not great, they’ll say, “Thank you for interviewing. We are still looking at a lot of other applicants.”
Hiring managers question why they should hire someone unless they find the absolute perfect person, as they believe with millions of Americans out of work or worried about their own jobs, there will be an endless supply.
The result of this attitude is that you’ll experience rude, callous and abrasive treatment during the interview process. You won’t receive feedback and will get ghosted. Scheduled interviews will be canceled at the last moment without any apologies. You’ll see the same job listing keep popping up, as the companies can wait it out until they find the exact perfect person. They’ll string you along since they feel they don’t have to act quickly. You’ll be left questioning, “Am I still in the running or not?” Since companies feel they have the upper hand, they tend not to keep you posted about the status of your interview.
Take heart, as this won’t last forever. It’s hard to believe that only a little over a year ago, the U.S. boasted of record high employment and there was a “war for talent,” in which companies scrambled to quickly procure workers before their rivals.
The odds are high that once we vaccinate a substantial percentage of the population and lawmakers agree to financial stimulus programs, the mood of the nation will shift. We’ll become more optimistic. Businesses, especially in the hardest-hit sectors, such as hotels, restaurants, bars, airlines, concerts, shows and movies, will reopen.
There will be a pent-up demand. While many Americans suffered financially during the outbreak, a large segment of the population saved their money, as they weren’t able to do much. The rising stock market and real estate value grew the net worth of a lot of families. It’s likely that a large segment of people will get out of their homes and go to retail shops, shopping malls, take a vacation and engage in other activities that will funnel money into the economy and revitalize moribund businesses.
When this happens, corporate executives will sense the tide turning. The future looks brighter. They’ll start aggressively hiring, commence new ventures, roll out new products and aggressively start hiring. Pretty soon, we’ll be leaving the pandemic phase and enter one of renewal, growth and hope. Jobs will return and our lives will improve.