Virtual hiring, avoiding layoffs part of HR's pandemic response

In the face of a pandemic, many firms are trying to avoid layoffs and even hire. They are using virtual tools, including testing systems called virtual job tryouts, to select their potential new hires

Grocers, distributors and delivery operators are hiring in large numbers to meet demand. CVS Pharmacy, for instance, said Monday it is hiring 50,000 full-time workers -- and in a pandemic-friendly way. It will hire using "virtual job fairs, virtual interviews and virtual job tryouts," it said.

Unemployment claims are soaring, and there is no doubt that the coronavirus outbreak is having an ugly effect on the job market. But there's another side to the economic fallout: Firms are trying to avoid layoffs and some hiring continues -- nearly all of it with the help of virtual hiring tools. 

In research conducted late last week, 49% of the 800 firms Gartner surveyed have imposed a hiring freeze. But only about 8% of those firms have started a downsizing process, said Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at Gartner.

The mindset of firms right now "is the belief that this is going to be a quarter to maybe two-quarter problem, and not a year to two-year problem," Kropp said.

"They are avoiding -- at all costs -- laying off employees," Kropp said. Firms are trying to do all they can to manage costs around different parts of the business, he said.

For those firms that are hiring, virtual hiring tools are gaining ground. For people seeking jobs at CVS, the firm provides a link to a video interviewing platform from HireVue Inc.

Virtual hiring process

The CVS vetting process includes a "Virtual Job Tryout." Applicants may get a "situational judgment test" that "presents problem situations." There are four possible responses; applicants pick their most likely response and least likely response, according to the site.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., an outplacement firm in Chicago, has surveyed 200 companies beginning Friday and said 35% have instituted a hiring freeze. It found that 48% of firms are conducting job interviews, and 78% of firms that are hiring are conducting the process virtually.

They are avoiding -- at all costs -- laying off employees.
Brian KroppChief of HR research, Gartner

"There's still this optimism among medium to large employers," said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

There is a belief that "there's going to be a snap back in the economy at the end of this crisis," Challenger said. "Companies went into the crisis on pretty sound financial footing," he said.

Some firms are furloughing employees and maintaining benefits for them. Doing so will enable employers to return them to work quickly, Challenger said.

Only 14% of firms are still doing in-person interviews, according to Challenger. Virtual interviewing is the preferred method now, he said.

In its survey, 57% of firms are still onboarding, or hiring workers.

"Businesses that rely on foot traffic are being deeply affected," Challenger said. "But there is a segment of the economy that has adapted to working from home and to conducting business virtually in a way that allows them to stay moving forward."

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