Thirty million— that’s roughly how many Americans are currently collecting some form of unemployment benefits, according to the US Department of Labor. Putting that in perspective – one in five workers are still without a full-time job as the U.S. economy continues its slow recovery from the COVID pandemic.

With all that talent available, recruiting, interviewing, and hiring should be a breeze, right? Well, think again.

Hiring great talent hasn’t gotten any easier during the COVID crisis, in fact it’s got harder, and employees’ priorities have shifted significantly during the pandemic. The priority used to be providing financially for our families and a proper work-life balance. Now prospective employees are telling us their number one priority is the safety of their families and a feeling of security from their employer.

No longer are you just competing with other employers for talent; now you’re competing with a new instilled fear that has talent questioning whether it’s safe to return to work, enhanced unemployment benefits that have incentivized workers to stay home, and a lack of childcare options that has parents demanding flexible hours and remote work. Transitioning from office life to work from home is much easier to organize than transitioning from work from home back to office life. It’s no surprise a large portion of the labor market are slow to return to the work life they were once a part of.

As business leaders begin to look ahead and consider what’s next, now is the time to plan how your organization will adapt and overcome these new hiring challenges. The economy will rebound, and companies will return to more typical production and hiring levels, but things won’t return to exactly the way they were pre-pandemic for years – if ever. Changes to how we recruit, interview, hire, and on board, developed out of urgent need during the pandemic can bring about permanent adjustments.

Candidates currently view the first interview as a two-way street, meaning they are interviewing the company just as much as the company is interviewing them. The recruiting and interview process is the first insight a candidate has into how the company runs internally and the company culture, and if it is unorganized than the candidate will assume that is how the whole company operates internally and more than likely decline moving forward in the interview process if offered.

So, what are the solutions?  There are several proven strategies, however, it does require a shift in thinking from our pre-COVID world.

  1. Speed Up the Hiring Process

Companies that have been the most successful at hiring the past 6 months have removed all blockers to making quick decisions on hiring. The ones struggling are caught up in the minutiae of details and process. You can choose speed or process, but rarely both, and current times call for speed to secure top talent. Consider new methods for interviewing such as virtual interviews, and tech-enabled job tryouts Leverage technology like Zoom, Calendly, or text-messaging to ease communication with candidates.

  1. Offer Opportunity to Work Remotely for Jobs That Typically Haven’t Done So

Though some companies have decided to fully adopt the work from home policy, the hybrid work schedule is becoming popular. Consider back-burner projects or new organizational initiatives that would allow employees to work remotely, when the typical nature of the job wouldn’t. Many companies have learned that their employees perform better in a work from home or hybrid work environment.

  1. Offer Incentives

Depending on your industry and how severe the lack of talent within it is, companies are beginning to provide hiring incentives just to get candidates through the door. This tactic is helpful, can set you apart from others, and can be as unique as you want. I’ve encountered incentives ranging from sign on bonuses, relocation packages of all sizes, extra PTO, to Visa Travel gift card (this also shows the company promotes a work/life balance), and even cash just for applying. The options are endless.

  1. Utilize Third-Party Recruiters/Staffing Agencies

Engage a reputable recruiting/staffing agency that aligns with your company values and needs to help source and/or hire high-demand jobs on a permanent or temporary basis. Once again, staffing agencies are your friend. Spend less time, resources, and money on sourcing, screening, interviewing, and hiring procedures to allow more time for other necessary activities. Choosing the right agency will provide you with the most value for your money. For example, if you are a small or medium sized company you would want to partner with a boutique agency like mine, Future Force, that will cater to your needs and understand your culture. If you are a larger company that has a large volume of open positions, it makes more sense to partner with a “big name” agency that can handle a large volume of job requisitions all at once.

  1. Consider attracting talent from outside your local area

Consider offering a relocation package, standard or customized to each new hire, to attract talent from other areas in the state or nation who are open to relocating. Many people are wanting to move and are looking for jobs outside their current location. “Open to relocation” is starting to appear more on resume and professional profiles and it is an untapped market of talent for most companies.

The gap between what companies seek and what’s available in the talent pool will not change overnight.  The best talent will continue to have leverage, they won’t just want the average market rates for their skills. The best hires will want to be paid well and want a company that fits in with their lifestyle needs and life goals.

This may sound challenging, or even intimidating. It is if you aren’t properly aligned toward the future of work and talent expectations. The good news, however, is disruption creates opportunities. There has never been a better time to make the necessary changes in your company and align yourself for massive growth long term. Small- and mid-size companies now have more access to talent than ever. All companies and talent are now open to remote work, creating a massive opportunity for companies in all markets to compete for amazing talent they never had access to before.