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The Challenges of Hiring During a Pandemic for Both Employers and Candidates

October 30, 2020

By Lorri Rishar, MBA

The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a storm of business-related challenges. For those fortunate enough to have hiring needs, they faced a whole new set of trials and tribulations since most, if not all of the process, had to be completed virtually.

As the owner of a small business, my 30+ years of hiring experience has shown me that professional credentials may open the first employment door. Character, personality, values and cultural fit, however, are vital aspects of selecting the very best candidate for the position. Even the perfect Zoom interview is not quite the same as meeting face-to-face and getting to know the person.

Let me share some personal scenarios my agency faced during the pandemic as they relate to internships and new hires.

Scenario One: The Eager Intern

In late winter 2020 (pre-COVID), we selected a candidate to fill our summer communication internship position. This rising star was pursuing a degree in marketing and digital media. He was the perfect fit to share new ideas while building his professional portfolio. We love interns for their energy and ideas. In turn, they get the opportunity to learn through real, hands-on experiences.

So, COVID-19 reaches the U.S. and our entire life changes, including the way we work. In scrambling to adapt while taking care of client needs, bringing on an intern was literally the last thing on our minds. As spring passed and summer approached, our eager intern from Adrian College resurfaced to inquire about his start date.

“As a college student looking for a summer internship, I was assuming that COVID-19 wouldn’t allow me to expand my work experience. I would have to go through the summer without these types of work opportunities due to circumstances out of my control,” said Edge intern Gage Dansby. “I figured the same thing when I applied for an internship with Edge.”

How can we bring on an intern when no one is working at the office? What kind of experiences would he gain from only getting to know us through calls, emails and video meetings?

My gut told me that an internship during the pandemic at a public relations and marketing agency would be an excellent addition to a young professional’s resume. We made the leap of faith, knowing that the Edge team was adept at working at virtually any location. But how would a college intern fare without a seasoned professional physically looking over his shoulder from time to time?

Dansby credits Edge’s ability to work remotely for giving him an opportunity that might not have been possible with a less progressive organization.

“Edge told me that if I was up to the task of working completely online then they would be happy to have me. What followed was one of the most dynamic and fulfilling internship experiences,” said Dansby.

In the case of the eager intern, flexibility and adaptation proved a winning combination for both the up-and-coming professional and the small business.

Scenario Two: Hiring Outside the Comfort Zone

While global companies have likely been hiring virtually pre-COVID for decades, smaller, community-based businesses often are much more grassroots in their hiring approaches. That means face-to-face interviews and talking with others in the community who may know the candidate. Enter a world pandemic, and everything changed when it came to picking your next team members.

Virtual hiring required a mind shift for many accustomed to a more personalized style. Just ask Danielle Lenz, Edge’s public relations and digital strategies director, who hired not one but two positions during the health crisis.

“I had to work outside my comfort zone in order to give someone the opportunity to work with our agency,” she said. “I typically know if a person will work out within a few minutes of an in-person interview. This was not the case with virtual interviews, and I had to do multiple meetings to choose the perfect Edger.”

What gave candidates the edge during this virtual hiring process? Aaron Pumfery, Edge’s chief creative officer, said quality, online portfolios were key to making a candidate stand out from the crowded field of applicants. And, you do not have to be an artist to pull together the best examples of your work whatever your profession.

While the full impact of COVID-19 on Michigan small businesses is still being realized, rest assured that the way we work has dramatically changed and continues to evolve every day. With flexibility and an open mind, today’s small business owners will do what they have always done—adapt, push forward and succeed!


Lorri Rishar, MBA, is the CEO of Edge Partnerships and chairwoman of the SBAM Board of Directors.

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