Companies not actively hiring now should use this time to improve their recruiting and hiring process, making it faster, easier and less expensive."

The pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of the way — and if — people are working. The country’s talent pool continues to churn between pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs in many sectors and an urgent need for qualified associates in others. All this has made finding and hiring the right associates more difficult than ever, requiring employers to rethink best practices for recruiting.

Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, the unemployment rate hovered around 3% and recruiting and hiring qualified associates for open positions in the field, such as merchandisers and event specialists, wasn’t easy, even for companies who were best-in-class in the area of recruiting. Relatively few people were looking for work. Those who typically found opportunities online applied for many at a touch of a button and researched the job details later, often waiting for the companies’ recruiters to call to fill them in on the specifics. The cost of advertising open positions to the right candidates and converting those candidates was higher than ever.

When the impact of COVID-19 caused unemployment to rise to 14%, most employers expected the challenge of finding qualified candidates for field roles to become less difficult. But the opposite happened.

At Advantage, our most critical asset to nurture and grow is our people, and our field teams have made a tremendous positive difference during the pandemic in the communities in which they work. But as COVID-19 swept the nation, employers of all types saw the number of candidates for high-demand, essential field roles decline, corresponding to a 40% decrease in the Google search term “Jobs near me.” Many of those who did apply did so to meet the requirements to maintain their unemployment benefits, but follow-up calls from recruiters were left unanswered.

Today, as the country reopens regionally, the need for in-the-field talent is growing even stronger. Here are four strategies that have helped our Talent Services team have greater success finding and hiring high-quality associates for our front-line roles:

  1. Get creative and cast a wider net. Along with using traditional recruiting methods, such as posting to or, our recruiters have joined local Facebook Groups, including neighborhood and garage sale groups, and send text messages to previous employees to see if they are interested in returning or can suggest potential referrals. We’ve created and promoted virtual job fairs and reached out to companies with significant pandemic-forced layoffs, including a leading hotel chain, fast-food chain and department store operator, for candidate leads.
  2. Lean into referrals. At all levels, acquiring, developing and retaining talent must be a top priority. Recruiting cannot be isolated to a single group. Referrals have always been a valuable recruiting resource, but at a time when candidates have a heightened interest in the practices and values of their potential employer, referrals from employees, friends and family are even more critical. This means a return to grassroots recruiting that supplements online efforts, such as our upgraded Advantage career site that makes it easier than ever to refer talent to Advantage.
  3. Stay current on unemployment benefits and pandemic-related stimulus legislation. Today, recruiters need to be first in line when a great candidate wants to return to work. We need to be prepared to talk about our value proposition and securing employment in a highly uncertain world.
  4. Use technology to respond to candidates quickly to fast -track the hiring and rehiring process. At Advantage, A.I. chatbots are playing a bigger role in interviewing and qualifying candidates, either by text or web instant message. In some cases, a great candidate may be hired within minutes without the intervention of a human recruiter. For example, for an event specialist position, a bot may describe the role, inquire about the candidate’s interest in the role, and ask a series of questions, such as “Are you at least 18 years old?” or “Do you enjoy engaging with customers?” The bot details the name and location of the stores assigned to the event specialist and the pay rate, then asks about availability and flex scheduling. Depending on the applicant’s answers, the bot could move straight to a job offer, eliminating a live interview with a recruiter.

Companies not actively hiring now should use this time to improve their recruiting and hiring process, making it faster, easier and less expensive. For example, we’re using analytics to speed the re-onboarding of associates by prepopulating their employment paperwork with data we have on record so that they can be rehired with a few clicks of the keyboard, rather than requiring the paperwork be completed from scratch.

No matter what outside forces are playing on the consumer goods, retail and services industry, having the right people, in the right places, at the right time will always be the key differentiator.

Adeem Fenster
Senior Vice President, Workforce Management & Talent Acquisition
Advantage Solutions

Adeem Fenster is responsible for field staffing across Advantage Solutions and leads our Talent Services group. Prior to joining Advantage in 2014, he worked as a management consultant.