Why You Can’t Attract Enough Applicants During This Pandemic… Fully Explained

It’s a first in modern times, with record unemployment, attracting applicants will still be extremely hard. My research indicates that this is the first time that most companies will struggle to attract sufficient applicants during times of record high unemployment rates. If your organization needs to ramp up business quickly as this pandemic fades, start by fully understanding each factor that currently limits job applicants. 

It’s A First In A Lifetime Occurrence 

Even with high unemployment, the volume of job applications is way down.

Historically, managers and recruiters assume that attracting a high volume of applicants will be easy whenever record high levels of unemployment occur. However, even though the US is currently experiencing record high unemployment levels. Today, it’s easy to find multiple press reports highlighting how numerous small to medium-size companies around the country are struggling to find the necessary talent required to reopen their businesses and match their pre-pandemic production Capacity fully. 

One way to demonstrate the difficulty of current recruiting is that many small businesses find it difficult to attract their currently unemployed former employees. Recruiting in some industries like the restaurant industry is currently extremely difficult. Almost all of the industry’s laid-off former employees are now unwilling to apply for open jobs in their former industry. If you expect to fill your open positions rapidly during the coming business upturn. You first need to fully understand why so many potential applicants have multiple reasons not to apply for open jobs during the pandemic. Therefore, in the section below, you will find that each major application limiting factor is listed, highlighted, and explained. And for each limiting factor, I have included some recommended recruiting approaches that can help your organization mitigate each limiting factor.

Nearly 70% of US companies reported that they are struggling to find skilled workers, the worst level since they have been tracking it (Source: The Manpower Group).

The Pandemic Related Factors That Are Limiting Job Applications

The best way to identify the actual reasons why previous active applicants are currently reluctant to apply is to survey a representative sample.  Ask your potential applicants to identify their personal limiting factors; however, if you don’t have sufficient time for a survey. Below you will find a comprehensive list of the economic and demographic factors that I have discovered are currently causing qualified applicants to resist applying for open jobs. Among the 14 significant limiting factors that I have listed, those with the highest estimated negative impacts on recruiting appear first. 

  • If your industry’s image is damaged, most potential applicants will explore other industries first.  If you currently recruit for an industry that was especially hard-hit by furloughs and layoffs (including retail, restaurants, hospitality, construction, entertainment, transportation, etc.). It’s time to realize that the recent downturn and the associated furloughs likely damaged your industry’s image. And that damage may be so severe that most of the experienced talent that lost their jobs in your industry will now only consider returning after trying to get jobs in every other more stable industry. Recruiting action – to get your best former employees to rejoin and stay. You will need to offer noticeably more in the “job attraction areas” that have emerged during the pandemic. The extra attraction factors that proved to be effective include: noticeably better pay, a more stable schedule, more work/life balance, increased job security, and more opportunities to develop and move up.
  • Until their unemployment benefits expire, many will not apply.  When recruiting targets get an amount of unemployment compensation close to their normal pay when working, many have chosen to delay seeking permanent employment. Recruiting actions – generous unemployment benefits will cause many to postpone applying for jobs until the first week in September approaches when many federal unemployment supplements end. One possible alternative is to have them agree to accept the position but delay their formal acceptance until September. Also, it’s smart to focus your immediate recruiting on your higher-paying jobs because they are less likely to be impacted by the amount given to the unemployed. And one final alternative is to delay most serious corporate recruiting until after September 11th.
  • Until all their kids are fully back in school, many parents simply won’t apply.  Having kids at home and not at school is a major factor that limits job applications. Whenever school closings or remote learning keeps kids home, those that care for them can’t apply for full-time jobs.  During the pandemic, more women accepted the responsibility of taking care of homebound kids. Women are now leaving the workforce in record numbers (2.2 million left last year). Recruiting action – to maintain current diversity levels, organizations will need to offer more women diversity-friendly options. Including higher minimum wages, childcare options, scheduling flexibility, paid sick and family leave, and work at home options. 
  • Many will stay with their current gig job until some of the uncertainty subsides.  Many of those that are unemployed as a result of the pandemic have chosen Gig jobs. In part, it allows them to avoid making a long-term decision to accept permanent work during uncertain times. Gig work also provides more flexibility for those that have prioritized things in their life ahead of permanent full-time employment. Recruiting actions – proactively show your potential applicants that if they accept one of your permanent jobs, you will come close to matching the flexibility that their current Gig employer offers. Alternatively, consider hiring them for gig work at your company, with the premise that they will likely be able to convert to full-time permanent status whenever the uncertainty in their life clears.
  • Many international workers are no longer available within our borders.  The concern for family health issues in their home country had employed international workers, and international students return home. Also, the travel restrictions and recently added visa limits have severely restricted the number of international workers who can now apply for open jobs in the US. Recruiting actions – recruiting functions need to develop the capability of hiring remotely and allowing new hires to decide their work location. Your recruiters will need to realize that because many firms worldwide will also offer remote work options, the competition for top talent will be fierce and will now cut across many international boundaries. 
  • Many older workers simply decided to retire rather than re-enter the job search process.  The high level of business uncertainty coupled with the reluctance of many older workers to go through the relatively painful job search process one final time has driven many older people to stop working. The recent pandemic also increased the reluctance to apply for new jobs because of increased competition and the likelihood of facing age discrimination.  Lastly, the stigma of a higher susceptibility for catching Covid-19.  Recruiting actions – focus on employee referrals from among your current cadre of older employees because they know many other older workers. But also because their peers know the most effective ways for selling other older employees on why they should apply for your organization’s job opportunities. Also, make it clear to potential applicants what specific actions you’ve taken to protect the health of older employees.
  • The pandemic has forced new technologies to be adopted, so applications for modified jobs require new skill sets. During this pandemic, several factors have increased the use of technology in the workplace. Three factors have had the most influence on the shift toward the use of more technology. Those factors include a reduction in the number of available workers, the rise of remote work, and the sudden need for “no-touch workplaces.” These new technologies require a different skill set to implement and operate. The minimum job requirements to apply increased in many jobs. The upping of minimal job requirements means that many of your previous employees and most of the released employees from other firms in your industry can no longer qualify for restructured jobs even when the revised open job is one that they previously held. In addition, if your jobs require a good deal of recent experience and current training, many workers that have been unemployed for nearly a full year will no longer be qualified to apply. Recruiting actions – guide potential applicants, specifically to where they can get the training needed to become qualified for the updated jobs. Alternatively, have the company sponsor the needed training. Based on the premise that if they are otherwise qualified, the individuals that pass the training will be designated as a priority hire.
  • Many younger potential workers are stressed, confused, and therefore delaying applying for jobs.  Everyone agrees that both high school grads and currently enrolled University students have experienced a great deal of uncertainty during the pandemic.  Many who would normally be applying for open jobs avoid the arduous job search process because it would add even more unwanted stress. So many students will take the easy path and continue to live at home without seeking full-time employment. Recruiting action – ask your recent grad employees to help identify potential student hires through the employee referral program. Limit student new-hire anxiety and increase their excitement levels by allowing new student hires to rotate to other similar available internal positions periodically voluntarily. 
  • A reduction in public transportation availability has reduced everyone’s applicant pool. In large metropolitan areas, the severe curtailing of public transportation has reduced many employees’ ability to get to work. That same limited availability of public transportation will also limit the number of applications you get for your lower-paying jobs. Recruiting action – change the work hours of a new hire to coincide with public transit availability. Also help to facilitate car and vanpools to create other viable ways to get to work without the burden of accepting the health risks associated with mass transportation. 
  • Because your organization has fewer recruiters, you’ll be getting fewer applicants.  At most organizations, the downturn and subsequent hiring freeze have resulted in severe budget cuts in the recruiting function. And with fewer experienced recruiters, your company’s sourcing, job ad, content, job ad volume and placement, and employer brand messaging are all now more likely to become much weaker. Also, the lack of recruiting expertise will likely directly impact both the number and the quality of applicants your organization receives. Recruiting actions – the cost is so great when you cannot completely ramp up your business because of a talent shortage. It makes sense to retain your top recruiters even when you’re not conducting a high volume of hiring. If necessary, assign them alternative work as facilitators of the internal movement of talent within your company.
  • Many Americans are moving, so there are fewer applicants in the vacated areas. The dramatic increase in remote work options created the opportunity for a better cost of living in other geographic areas. Others are moving because they want to live in areas with fewer Covid restrictions or where fewer cases are appearing. Obviously, when many employees vacate a geographic area, firms in that area will, of course, receive fewer applications. And that means that some areas (like California) will begin to receive fewer job applications, while other areas like Texas will have increase applications. Recruiting action – you can increase job applications and reduce employee turnover by offering more remote work options. You should also consider increasing your applications by relocating some jobs to geographic areas where your workers want to live. Offering relocation support for new hires and current employees can also be effective.
  • Fewer are applying for jobs because state unemployment departments are overwhelmed.  When states are experiencing normal levels of unemployment, the staff at state employment departments will actively check on whether each client is periodically seeking new employment opportunities each week. However, because the pandemic has overwhelmed their staff, the unemployed now receive very little active encouragement to apply for multiple open jobs. And as a result, companies are receiving fewer applications from the unemployed. Recruiting action – there is no corporate action that can mitigate this problem.
  • The Covid 19 virus has removed many “long haulers” from the application pool. Unfortunately, as many as 10% who get the Covid-19 virus suffer serious and sometimes debilitating symptoms for many months. As a result, many of these “long haulers” can’t predict how long their symptoms will last, and therefore, few will apply for jobs, even the ones they are qualified for. Recruiting action – encourage more applications by making it clear to all potential applicants that you will continue to be flexible in all areas related to the virus after they start. 
  • Until qualified prospects have taken their well-deserved long vacation, many will postpone applying. This last but not least factor of potential applicants “demanding a vacation” may seem like a petty reason not to look for a job. However, because the pandemic has been so stressful to both the employed and the unemployed, many of the unemployed who have survived this pandemic year will simply postpone any serious job search until after completing what they feel to be a well-deserved long summer vacation. Recruiting action offer delayed start dates until after they complete their “earned” vacation. Or give them the option of still taking their long vacation later in the summer after starting the job. 

Next week on 5/10 /21 a follow-up article will be published. It is entitled “How To Attract Reluctant Job Applicants (Passives)… As The Pandemic Winds Down.” This companion article will focus on related pandemic recruiting issues, including the most effective recruiting sources for attracting additional passive applicants. It will also cover the new applicant “attraction factors” that are emerging after a full year of the pandemic. 

Author’s Note 

  • This article was designed to make you rethink an important recruiting area. And if it succeeded, please help others by proactively sharing it widely among your team and network.
  • Next, please join the many thousands that have connected with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn. And after following or connecting, you can leave comments and read others about this article on his LinkedIn page. 
  • And when time permits, review his 1,300 other talent articles and books @ www.DrJohnSullivan.com.

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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