Possible Recruiting Impacts From the Coronavirus Scare

The growing fear of the coronavirus requires recruiting leaders to prepare for an increase in discrimination against Asian candidates and to become aware of how far this fear could severely hurt global recruiting and local diversity efforts. Also, expect real travel restrictions and an increased fear of flying to increase the need for more remote video interviews.

Let me be clear. I am predicting that most of the recruiting issues outlined here will arise not because of the virus itself but instead because of the unjustified and often irrational fear surrounding the virus.

Already, the fear surrounding this virus is having an impact on business. Some Chinese restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area are reporting a drop in customers (up to a 70% decrease) as a result of a largely unfounded fear of being around anything Asian. So it makes sense to prepare for the probability that Asian prospects and candidates will be unwilling or unable to travel to interviews. Some recruiters and hiring managers will purposely avoid screening in and interviewing those whom they perceive to be Asian to avoid having to interact with them. 

Possible Negative Recruiting Impacts to Prepare For

Because a change in plans is always part of a great plan, it makes sense for recruiting leaders to anticipate each of the 14 possible recruiting problems that may arise as the fear of the virus spreads. Areas of concern might include: 

1. Widespread fear may actually reduce overall hiring. If the fear becomes high enough among your recruiters and hiring managers, they may purposely reduce or stop hiring altogether in some geographic areas with large Asian populations. Unless of course, HR can come up with a 100% remote-hiring model.

2. Hiring in Asia will be problematic. For companies with large Asian operations, obviously, any global hiring within Asia itself has already been impacted, and that impact may last a long time. Travel quarantine restrictions and attendance issues within Asia will also impact production, exports, and the need for talent. Incidentally, you may actually see a rise in applications for U.S. jobs from Asian countries, in part because the virus slow down provides people with more idle time to apply, while others will have an increased desire to move out of Asia in order to minimize stress in their lives.

3. Getting candidates to travel to interviews will become problematic. The actual travel restrictions in Asia will make it more difficult for many to travel either within Asia or from Asia to the U.S. for interviews. Non-Asian candidates may be more reluctant to fly anywhere for an interview because they fear being cooped up in an enclosed cylinder for hours with others that might have the virus. The net result will be that scheduling face-to-face interviews will become more difficult. So if you don’t want to lose these potential candidates, you will need to offer more remote video or telephone interviews.

4. Those from Asia may face discrimination. Due to conscious or unconscious bias, those perceived as being from Asia (especially China) will likely face increased discrimination when they apply for jobs outside of their home country. Those that have recently only worked or lived in Asia will also face discrimination. Everyone involved in the hiring process may act differently whenever a candidate from Asia is involved. Unfortunately, it may be impossible to train your staff to adequately reduce these biases.

5. Resumes with Asian-sounding names may be screened out. During resume sorting, recruiters and hiring managers may purposely or unconsciously screen out resumes with Asian-sounding names, regardless of where the person has resided. In some cases, recruiters might not even want to handle paper resumes from Asians. Don’t be surprised when the percentage of Asians on interview slates goes down because of unjustified fear. All this will make it more difficult to reach your diversity goals.

6. Those that wear masks may also face discrimination. Because of conscious or unconscious bias, candidates of all national origins that are seen wearing protective face masks may create unfounded fears among your recruiting staff. Asians who do not wear face masks may face a different kind of concern and discrimination, based on the assumption that they don’t care about others. In fact, all candidates who are perceived to have even had mild cold symptoms will likely face issues. So blind face-to-face or telephone interviews may become increasingly necessary.

7. Attracting prospects using public events will be more difficult. In some geographic areas with large Asian populations, it will become more difficult to hold traditional public recruiting events like job fairs and campus-recruiting events. Leaders will need to increase their recruitment marketing on the web and on social media.

8. Employees may also be reluctant to participate in interviews. When members of the work team are involved in face-to-face interviews, there may be some reluctance to participate when the candidate is perceived to be Asian or when they wear a mask. This lack of participation may inadvertently hurt the hiring chances for Asian candidates unless video attendance is allowed. 

9. Even handshake greetings may become problematic. Something as simple as a handshake may become problematic. In particular, the handshakes that occur during traditional face-to-face interviews with Asian and masked candidates may become awkward. An understanding to avoid handshakes with all candidates may be necessary. A physical layout where handshakes can be avoided without embarrassment may be needed for all interviews for a period of time.

10. Recruiters themselves will be directly affected. If your recruiters maintain their traditionally high level of face-to-face interactions with candidates, their chances of actually catching the virus will increase. In some cases, their fear of catching it may cause them to want to work mostly from home. Once symptomatic, recruiters will require a long quarantine period. Fortunately, in most cases, they will still be able to work remotely.

11. Time-to-hire may be negatively impacted. Jobs in all areas of the world that accept global applications may take longer to fill because of the travel issues raised here. HR will have to decide if waiting until candidates under quarantine are released is a reasonable accommodation in order to maintain diversity. Taken together, these delays may affect your talent competitiveness. 

12. Onboarding issues. New hires who are perceived to be Asian or who lived in Asia will likely have a much more difficult time acclimating and being accepted. Those who run onboarding and new hiring managers will have to be educated about the potential assimilation problems and possible solutions.

13. Set up a hotline. This epidemic is likely to raise numerous questions. It makes sense for recruiting or HR to set up a frequently-asked-questions website or even a live hotline to help reduce fears.

14. Anticipate protected group concerns. Virus suffers and people from different national origins, including those perceived to be Asian, have protections under the law. It may be wise to consult with your employment attorneys to ensure that whatever actions that you take don’t violate the law, your corporate diversity policy, or your corporate values.

Final Thoughts

Those who recruited during the SARS epidemic years ago may remember the negative impact it had on recruiting in some geographies. And with the recent increase in social-media interactions, any fears and false rumors will likely spread even more rapidly this time with the coronavirus. Under the best-case scenario, realize that this virus will likely be a major recruiting distraction. 

If you desire to minimize any discrimination and negative impacts on recruiting and diversity, it makes sense to convene a planning meeting to identify and prepare for all likely issues.

Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, please take a minute to follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn and subscribe to ERE Recruiting Daily.

As seen on ERE Media on 2/17/2020.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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