Canadian Underwriter

How to hire during a pandemic

March 15, 2021   by Adam Malik

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During the pandemic, in the absence of being able to meet job candidates face-to-face during the hiring phase, it’s best to arrange multiple meetings to get a better sense of what your new recruits are like, and whether they are a good fit for your office culture, a brokerage human resources leader suggests.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s still an ongoing war for talent in the P&C insurance industry, Shannon Millar, head of human resources at Gallagher Global Brokerage Canada, told Canadian Underwriter recently. And so it would be a mistake for any company to slow down their hiring process just because of a pandemic.

“People are still looking to make moves, and I think with that comes some challenges in how you run your recruitment process,” Millar said.

One challenge is to get a “real-life” feel for the candidates you’re hiring. With all interviews now being done in a virtual setting, it’s difficult to pick up on non-verbal cues you would typically get while being in the same room.

“I think studies have shown that a large percentage of our communication is actually non-verbal communication,” said Ilan Serman, Ontario regional president at Gallagher. “And while certainly we’ve all become very comfortable and familiar with Zoom or WebEx over the last year, I still think there’s a lot of non-verbal communication that you miss out on when you’re not sitting across the table from someone.”

That goes for whatever side of the table you’re sitting on, be it the hiring manager or the candidate. “I’m not sure that there’s a substitute [for that],” said Serman, who recently went through the recruitment process when he joined Gallagher in January.

To approach a real-life feel for the candidates, companies could conduct a number of virtual interviews with strong candidates, Millar and Serman suggest. That way, different people in the company get a chance to speak to the candidates; and candidates will meet different people to get a sense of the company and its culture.

“We want somebody to be confident when they’re joining our organization that it’s the right decision for them,” Millar said. “So, the more people you get the opportunity to talk to, the better sense you get of the organization you could be joining.”

Hiring virtually is a must, since brokerages can’t lose sight of one important thing as they add to the ranks: Safety.

“I would say it’s absolutely critical — and it has been for us — that you know you’re being as concerned about the safety of your candidate as you are about the safety of your employees,” Millar said. “As a risk management company, that is certainly at the forefront for us. We’ve really been able to make sure that we’re relying on virtual tools to be able to facilitate that recruitment process.”

Going virtual allows more people to be part of the hiring process without having to worry about schedules, she added.

“From a hiring perspective, it give us the opportunity to bring more perspective into the hiring decision than perhaps we may have been able to before because of those challenges and getting everybody coordinated and onside and all that kind of stuff,” Millar said. “It works well but now I think we just have more voices in that hiring process. That allows us to bring more to the conversation as far as assessing candidates that could be a fit for our culture long-term goes.”

One bright side of hiring in a virtual world is the speed at which hires can be made. The process can be much faster now than before.

“I think one of the biggest risks we have in the recruitment process is that it takes too long,” Millar said of the pre-pandemic days. “There’s too much time between a recruiter making contact and then a formal interview happening and so on and so forth.”

It’s something Heather Masterson, president and chief executive officer at Travelers Canada, noticed.

“What we found [through video interviews] was our time to hire, that whole recruitment process, has seen some pretty great efficiencies,” she said during at the Insurance Institute of Ontario’s latest At the Forefront series entitled Strategies for Recruitment and Retaining Staff In Office or Remotely. “We gained a 38% efficiency from the time we posted for the position to the time we onboarded the candidate.”


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