Skip to content

Hiring in a crisis: 10 strategies for uncertain times


As a business leader today, you may find yourself hiring in a crisis such as a(n):

When an economic, social, or really any marketplace uncertainty is taking place, it’s less often an isolated, short-term event. Typically, one crisis spurs other crises, which gives the experience a lengthier, episodic quality and complicates the conditions in which you recruit candidates.

An example of this is what happened with the COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t simply a public health emergency. There were diverse impacts on the business world:

  • Lockdowns across multiple states
  • Business closures
  • Near-collapse of several industries
  • Widespread layoffs
  • High unemployment claims
  • School and daycare closures
  • Lack of technological preparedness for the sudden shift to remote work

Now let’s explore why you would want to hire in the midst of such chaos and the effect that crises can have on the hiring process.

How crises impact hiring

The existence of a crisis doesn’t mean that hiring stops – for some businesses, it’s quite the contrary. When a crisis creates a surge in demand or presents a unique opportunity for your product or service, your business may actually expand while others struggle.

Or perhaps your business was impacted by a crisis, but now it’s in recovery mode. For example, maybe you’ve ridden out the storm and are ready to hire again after layoffs, or you’ve shifted your business into a new direction and need talent to support this move.

Whatever your company’s situation, a crisis doesn’t necessarily change the basic fundamentals of the hiring process. Rather, a crisis tends to impact the mindset of hiring managers and job candidates.

Hiring managers

Hiring managers focus on how a new hire can improve the business going forward.

Their goal is to identify the person who embodies the desired set of skills and will bring the most value to an organization given all that transpired, or is transpiring, during the crisis.

Job seekers

For job candidates, changing companies is much more personal and fraught with uncertainty.

For some, a job with your company could represent a dramatic improvement in their current circumstances. You won’t have to sell them too hard on the benefits of accepting a job with your company.

But in other cases, a job with your company could represent a change from a currently stable position to a less stable one. Or it could mean jumping from one uncertain situation to another. These prospects won’t be so easy to convince.

Overall, job candidates are worried about the crisis worsening and are anxious about their future job security. Understandably, they ask themselves these types of questions:

  • What’s better about this new opportunity than my role at my current company, if anything? What’s in it for me?
  • What if I’m the last one in? Will I be the first one out if things get worse?
  • Is it likely that I’ll have to take a pay cut or a reduction in benefits?
  • Will my scope of responsibilities change in a way I won’t like?
  • How will this job change affect my family?
  • How will this job change impact my career for the long term?

If you’re targeting highly skilled professionals in niche areas and other choosy job candidates, be prepared to deploy ingenuity in your recruiting strategy. These candidates are aware of their worth in the job market and are challenging to recruit in normal times – especially so during a crisis when people are fearful of making a wrong move.

As an employer, you’ll need to deploy an emotionally intelligent recruiting strategy that factors in the psyche of different types of job candidates during a crisis:

  • Identify and respond to their needs and motivations.
  • Allay their fears and concerns.

What employers should do when hiring during uncertain times

1. Assess your open position and company from the perspective of each job candidate

In addition to posting jobs on online boards and LinkedIn to reach a broad swath of candidates, you should also actively seek out prospective candidates and contact them directly. Before you do, consider how each particular candidate will most likely view the opportunity with your company.

  • Are they currently employed?
    • If not, is it because they’re in an industry impacted by a crisis?
    • If so, how long have they been with their company? How has their career advanced within their current company?
  • How stable is their current company or industry compared to yours?
  • How well do their skills and current title align with your open position? Based on their history, are they likely to be interested in what your position entails?
  • Does your position represent a demotion, lateral move or a promotion for them?

This analysis will set the tone and strategy for your initial communications, and improve your chances of them engaging with you.

2. Enhance the quality and frequency of your candidate outreach

Whether prospective candidates can afford to be choosy or they’re hesitant to make a change amid a crisis, you’ll have to put in more front-end work to entice qualified prospects into moving to your company. This means engaging in more outreach to compensate for the anticipated lower response rate.

To yield more responses, your messages need to be personal and targeted – not just a generic job description. Show prospects you’ve done your research on them, are impressed by them and aren’t wasting their time with an opportunity that isn’t relevant.

  • Reference their background and skills, and explain why you think your opportunity may excite them.
  • Communicate the value of the role to your organization.
  • Describe what they’ll gain from the position.
  • Ask them questions about their goals, interests and needs, or what concerns them about changing jobs now.

In all your communications, demonstrate transparency and strive to overcome obvious objections. If your company is known for experiencing adverse impacts of a crisis, acknowledge it and explain that conditions have improved. At a high level, mention new strategies and future plans so prospects understand that your organization is stable.

3. Identify what differentiates your company from the competition

Savvy job candidates look beyond salary. They want to know what the company stands for and how they take care of their people. Especially in a crisis, prospects want to feel a sense of security at your company.

Different crises can make people examine your organization in distinct ways. For example:

  • An economic crisis can make job candidates focus more on benefits packages.
  • Social and political turmoil can lead candidates to study an organization’s diversity initiatives, values or their inclusion policies. 
  • A pandemic can cause prospects to prioritize safety practices, remote work capabilities and paid sick leave.

To make your company stand out, identify what you’re doing differently and how this makes you more attractive to candidates – especially through the lens of a particular crisis. Then leverage it in your job advertising and candidate outreach.

Think about:

  • What’s your company culture?
  • What’s your vision and mission?
  • Do you allow people to work remotely?
  • Do you offer flexible scheduling?
  • What are your workplace policies?
  • How diverse is your company?
  • Do you have a competitive benefits package?
  • How generous is your paid time off (PTO) policy?
  • What unique perks do you offer?

If your company doesn’t have any strong differentiators or exceptional qualities, create them.

  • Analyze what your competitors offer.
  • Ask current employees and prospective job candidates what they expect companies to offer and what’s most important to them.
  • Read online reviews of your company for unfiltered feedback.
  • Determine what you’re capable of delivering from a financial standpoint.

4. Be flexible

By nature, a crisis is disruptive. As the situation evolves or as you receive feedback, you need to be able to reassess your requirements of candidates as well as your recruiting strategies and processes.

In a crisis in which entire industries were impacted, you may receive a flood of applications from candidates with experience in these industries who were laid off. They may not be an exact match with what you’re looking for, but perhaps some flexibility is called for.

In reviewing the applications you’ve received, consider the following:

  • Are there desirable skills that could translate from other industries into this role?
  • How broad is the role?
  • What can you do from a training perspective?
  • How much value do you place on a candidate that’s adaptable and can learn new skills?
  • How could fresh perspectives and ideas benefit your business?

Other crises, such as pandemics or natural disasters, can keep people out of the office and disrupt traditional hiring conventions, such as face-to-face interviewing. If necessary, enable virtual interviewing and onboarding. (You may want to gauge job candidates’ comfort level with remote work and virtual business platforms.)

5. Evaluate candidates’ mindset of resilience

During a crisis, equally important as a job candidate’s qualifications is their mindset of resilience. This means that they can:

  • Adapt to changing circumstances by incorporating new behaviors and following new processes
  • Let go of what makes them comfortable
  • Tolerate ambiguity
  • Work well under pressure

Encourage job candidates to describe a time in which they did one of the following:

  • Overcame adversity in their career
  • Helped their team to bounce back from a challenging situation
  • Successfully navigated a previous period of change or turbulence


As any crisis demonstrates, change is inevitable. Your team members need to be able to handle change well to maintain a productive working environment and improve the odds that your business will survive the next crisis.

You also want to make sure they’re not the type to bail at the first sign of a challenge.

Mistakes employers should avoid when hiring in a crisis

1. Closed-mindedness and complacency

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that, in a crisis, you don’t have to do anything differently to reach candidates and convince them of your company’s attractiveness.

And don’t assume at the outset that you know a job candidate’s motivations, mindset and level of desire for a new job.

Instead, listen. Ask questions and dig deeper into their background and motivations.

Be open to feedback and willing to adapt your recruiting approach based on what you learn about a candidate.

2. Operating in short-term, emergency mode

So often, companies treat hiring in a crisis as an emergency that needs to be resolved quickly.  

Instead, it should be treated as a strategic, long-term decision. Don’t rush to hire someone without a clear idea of who you’re looking for or the value they’ll bring. You’re not just trying to find a person – you need the right person.

3. Neglecting online brand perception

In a crisis, disgruntled employees tend to air their grievances about layoffs and criticize their company’s crisis response on job-review websites. If this happens to you, it can impact the perception of your company in the eyes of current job prospects.

Maintain awareness of your company’s online reviews. Address negative feedback thoughtfully and professionally – but don’t leave it unanswered.

Leverage your company website and social media channels to build a positive reputation. Use this space to communicate transparently and frequently:

  • Publicize what you’re doing to help and preserve employees.
  • Share positive news about your company and larger industry.
  • Promote your company’s good works within the community.
  • Explain the steps you’re taking to stabilize the company during the crisis.

4. Inability (or resistance) to answer hard questions

Count on savvy job candidates – and even those who are simply skittish about making a job change – to do their homework on your company and ask tough questions. If you want to project an image of transparency, stability and preparedness for the future, you should be ready to answer them.

These questions may include:

5. Overly long hiring process

Limit the number of interviews per candidate to three to four, at maximum. By this point, you should know whether you want to advance to the offer stage with a candidate.

If you like a candidate, move forward. Don’t be fearful of missing out on someone better. If you wait for another hypothetical candidate to emerge, the actual exceptional candidate you liked may accept another offer in the meantime.

Remember: Crises impact industries, companies and individuals differently. Where some struggle, others thrive in new opportunities. Don’t assume that a candidate is desperate for a job or not in demand with other companies.

Summing it all up

Rather than completely overhauling widely accepted recruiting tools and processes, hiring in a crisis is all about understanding the mindset of job candidates and being flexible enough and open to feedback to adjust your recruiting strategy.

In addition to selling a prospective candidate on your company and the role, you’ll have to spend more time assessing their needs and motivations, addressing unique concerns and fears, and convincing others that you can deliver stability and security.

To learn more about how to hire successfully regardless of the circumstances, download our free e-book: How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.