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Unusual times call for unusual questions. With the future of whole sectors thrown into doubt, hiring managers have a unique insight into the collective mindset of job-hunters through the changing questions they ask in the recruitment process. 

The answers candidates look to find out in the job-seeking process shine a light on what they prioritise in a role and an employer. And 2020 has proved a year in which candidates’ priorities have shifted considerably – as evidenced by the questions being posed in the recruitment process.

Here are some of the never-before-heard queries our network of people partners and recruiters have been asked by prospective colleagues over 2020.

“Are you set up to survive the virus?”

Job security matters. Candidates - understandably - are looking for signs that your organisation is going to stand the test of time and the economic fallout that could conceivably impact the UK in 2021.

Daniella, a hiring manager for a global sales company, noted that every person she has interviewed post-March 2020 has asked questions about her company’s solvency. 

“Previously, candidates would ask about our company culture,” she shares. “They’d enquire as to how I’d describe the company and what our values are. One person even asked if we had a ping pong table in the office (the answer was, sadly, a no). I would also hear a lot of the more practical questions around personal and career development; I was used to fielding queries about the training we have in place and the scope for promotion and progression across the course of a colleague’s time with us. 

“But across the majority of 2020, this focus has changed. Instead, I have heard candidates wanting reassurance that our company will still be standing after the pandemic has (hopefully) passed. They want to know the figures, our projected growth and how confident we are in existing in five years’ - even five months’ - time.”

Amidst the backdrop of news of 242-year-old department Debenhams facing closure, and high street giant the Arcadia Group sailing on troubled water, it follows that jobseekers are conscious that previously secure companies can hit hard times – and they want to be sure that they are not jumping aboard a sinking ship. 

The role of the hiring manager is to provide the context, and the (legitimate) reassurance that the position the candidate is applying for will have – as far as possible – a future. The very fact that a company is looking to take on new talent is a good start; those involved in the recruitment process should familiarise themselves with proof points reflecting their organisation’s durability.

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“What’s your sick leave policy?”

As well as our own network of recruiters reporting widespread enquiries around the COVID-19 policies (whether PPE is supplied, whether face masks are required in the workplace, wondering about securing measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus), many also want to know what would happen if they did fall ill.

In the course of the recruitment process, speaking about taking days off for ill health used to be verboten. A no-go area. Research from analytics brand Gallup shows that actively engaged employees take fewer sick days, and it used to be feared that alluding to the eventuality that a candidate could come to rely on sick leave revealed a lack of dedication or a workshy nature.

But in the shadow of a virus that leaves many sufferers bed-bound for extended periods of time, finding out the company allowances for taking time off ill comes up to the top of the list of ‘need to knows’ for many jobseekers.

Hiring manager James has seen this change in attitude first-hand. “Prior to 2020, I had never discussed sick leave with a prospective colleague, aside from if the colleague had specific health needs to accommodate. But this year I have become intimately familiar with the technicalities of my company’s policy around taking time off due to ill health. I can understand it entirely. If I were a jobseeker I would want to find out what would happen should I need to self-isolate, or take time to recover in bed, as well. It just seems prudent in today’s environment.”

And it’s not just questions about candidates’ own health. James says that he has also been asked some more tangential questions about what his company policy is for those who unexpectedly have to care for an unwell family member.

“From these queries about extended support networks it really does feel as though jobseekers are more aware than ever of their responsibilities to those they live with. They are taking into account how their home lives may impact their ability to be present at work in a more holistic sense than before.”

What digital platforms do you use?

Are you on Slack? Zoom? Microsoft Teams? Google Hangouts? Perhaps you and your teams use a mixture?

For many office-based workers, time spent carrying out their role in a location other than the traditional workplace is to be expected rolling into 2021. Working from home has landed – and all signs indicate that, for those who have the option, it’s not going away quickly.

And working from home means working using – often unfamiliar – technology. There’s a whole host of digital options to choose from, and candidates now want to know which platforms you’re set up with.

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Daniella comments: “We’ve all become much better-acquainted with speaking to screens and typing messages which previously would have been a simple conversation grabbed across desks in the office or shared over a cup of coffee.

“Because we’re all spending so much of our working day using programmes like Teams or Workplace, candidates are increasingly seeking to have an idea of which specific interface they’ll be interacting with for many hours every week. The rationale behind this, I think, is two-fold – job-hunters want to know that we use programmes that they are familiar with and are comfortable using, and if they’re not, they want to give themselves the chance to practice with the platform before potentially securing any job with us.

“Previously, our roles largely involved using Word, Excel and PowerPoint exclusively. Now, candidates are needing to flex their technical muscles a bit more with a broader range of communications technology being part of the day-to-day role – and the fact that candidates are asking this question reflects that.”

These questions – and a hiring manager’s ability to answer them satisfactorily – matter. Research advisory brand Gartner in its ‘Top 3 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2021’ found that 65% of candidates have cut short the hiring process because they found certain aspects of the job (e.g. work-life balance, development opportunities, company culture) unattractive. 

By understanding some of the doubts, concerns and interests on the minds of candidates, you’ll be well-equipped to assuage fears where appropriate, address the needs of those you’re meeting and help you get ahead in the race for great talent.