The Rules of the Job-Hunting Game Have Changed, for Better and Worse

Wall Street Journal

The pandemic has upended the hiring process in ways large and small, say some looking to fill positions in New York City.

When Kristin Marquet launched a search mid-April for an executive assistant at Marquet Media, her Manhattan branding agency, she thought she would land someone fast. In a city that has shed 915,000 jobs, after all, there should be many great candidates.

But good luck landing one. Before the coronavirus pandemic, a job post would typically generate five applications daily, and roughly half were a potential fit, Ms. Marquet says. Now, it is a deluge. With many candidates taking a shotgun approach, however, few are on target. The dozen Zoom interviews haven’t gone well either. Candidates show up in T-shirts, fiddle with their phones and entertain interruptions from family members. “It’s kind of crazy,” Ms. Marquet says. “So many people have lost their jobs recently. You’d think they’d try to make the best impression possible.” Three months in, she’s still looking.

Around New York City, recruiters and hiring managers say the pandemic has upended the hiring process in ways large and small, for better and for worse. New York City’s unemployment rate shot from a record low 3.4% in February to 20.4% in June, compared with the 11% average nationwide. Meanwhile, metro-area job postings are down 37% year-over-year, compared with a 23% decline nationwide, says Jed Kolko, chief economist with jobs site Indeed.
A post that would have received 20 applications now generates hundreds of responses to sort through, says Laura Mazzullo, owner of East Side Staffing, a Manhattan recruiting firm focused on placing human-resources professionals.

Unsolicited queries, meanwhile, have quadrupled to roughly 20 a day. Everyone gets a reply, “but it’s hard to keep up with the volume in a market like this,” she says. And candidates need more hand-holding. Ms. Mazzullo now schedules 45 minutes to an hour for introductory chats that previously took 30 minutes. Many need time to talk about their pandemic experience. “It is exhausting sometimes,” she adds. Ms. Mazzullo understands and is happy to listen. But a candidate can stand out by acknowledging that things might be challenging on the recruiter’s end as well, she says. “If they don’t show me empathy and compassion, I wonder if they are a compassionate and empathetic HR leader.”

Nickie Robinson, a financial-services recruiter with Compliance Risk Group in Manhattan, says that as the number of queries hitting her inbox rose from roughly 10 to about 90 a week, she can no longer respond to all of them.
“I reply back when someone has reached out to me more than once, when they follow up,” she says. “I like that. It shows they are focused, diligent and detail-oriented. Those are the type of candidates I want to place.”

Some companies are throttling response volume by adjusting their search strategy. PuppySpot, an online puppy marketplace based in Jersey City, N.J., that saw business grow more than 50% last quarter, says it is relying less on job boards to fill positions—ranging from director of logistics to “puppy concierge”—in favor of LinkedIn postings and InMail. “We typically would rely on [job boards] for the volume, and now we can be a little more picky,” says Claire Komorowski, chief operating officer.

The move to Zoom, meanwhile, adds another set of opportunities and challenges. Bill Kirkpatrick, a vice president of business development and recruiting with RSC Solutions who places high-level tech executives such as chief information officers with financial-services firms, has only good things to say about the trend. It is simple to schedule interviews when no one is traveling, he notes, and easier to arrange a Zoom call than an in-person meeting. He recently filled a managing-director opening at an investment bank. It typically would take two months to fill the position, he says. “In this situation it took two weeks.” It’s also easier to contact candidates who are still employed. These people were never comfortable taking his calls at the office. “Now, they are always home,” he adds.

But once you’ve got the ball rolling, it’s difficult to size up candidates in a video call, says Beth Ehrgott, a managing director with the Alexander Group who places top-level executives at life-science companies. “When you are skilled as an interviewer, which is an art, you need to have the person you’re interviewing feel comfortable dropping their guard. That’s how you get to know the real person,” she says. “It’s much more fluid and accurate in person, quite frankly.”

Candidates have concerns with the online hiring process as well, says Anna Chalon, recruiting director at, a video-review and collaboration platform that is doubling its staff this year to 200. “People express worry about joining a company where they have never met anyone in person. It’s scary, and there’s a lot more uncertainty,” she says. To make people comfortable, emails candidates a recorded video tour of its Financial District office. It also offers happy-hour chats to senior candidates so they can enjoy a drink with their potential future colleagues.

And there is always the great outdoors.
Patty Morrissy, a recruiter with Macrae in Manhattan who places partners at law firms, says she has helped arrange socially distanced interviews with candidates in a park or a hiring manager’s backyard. “If they’re both staying in the Hamptons, why not have a get-together that way?” she says. “It beats the conference room!”

By: Anne Kadet