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Communication, Transparency, & Creativity: The Keys to Approaching Talent Acquisition in 2021 – A conversation with Carla Reed, PHR, SHRM-CP
January 15, 2021
HR Corner
Talent acquisition has long been a practice used by many human resources professionals in the workplace. However, as our environment and our society change, human resources professionals and their methods must change with it. We recently talked to Carla Reed, PHR, SHRM-CP to discuss her extensive experience and expertise with talent acquisition.

Carla Reed

Reed is currently operating as the Deputy Director of Human Resources with Community Change, a nonprofit organization geared toward helping those most impacted by social injustices to overcome such challenges through grassroots organizing and changing federal policy. She is also a stern advocate of advancing women in the workplace as a former Chair of the Women’s Information Network (WIN) and a current Women’s Campaign Fund (WCF) Board Member.

Since January 2020, Reed has supported the advancement of the organization’s human resources policies and strategies. Currently, she is streamlining the talent acquisition process to meet the needs of a virtual work-place. In this role, Reed is heavily relied on for her knowledge and experience within talent acquisition as the organization continues to expand. With its headquarters located in Washington D.C., many of the staff have worked remotely; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are now operating entirely online. While the adjustments have not been too drastic, it still required change within how the organization runs. All views and opinions expressed in this interview are that of the interviewee and do not reflect the views and opinions of the company of employment.

Q. Even though a good portion of your employees were already working remotely, how has switching to be completely remote changed the way your company is functioning, and especially, how has it changed your role as an HR professional?

I am pretty accustomed to working from a base office, the headquarters, where I can see the staff and people can pop into your office…It’s easier to check in with everyone to foresee any type of challenges or concerns that might arise, and now, virtually you have to be much more intentional about that…You have to be really, really strategic with your approach to challenges that arise in the workplace.

We’ve all had to get acclimated and adjusted to that [switch]. I’ll always be creative to make sure that we’re still engaged with each other and that we’re supporting each other. You have to be very intentional about being empathetic with people because we don’t know what other staff members have going on at home. One of the challenges I say, in most organizations, I think, not just ours, is we have employees who are trying to manage being caregivers for their children, teaching children from home, caregiving for parents. There are so many different factors that come into play. It has definitely switched up my role and how I interact with people. We’re constantly trying to find answers to problems that are more blatantly clear in the workplace.

While switching to working remotely has been a big challenge for many, it isn’t the only challenge human resources professionals are having to face. The current political and social climate is also having a large impact on the workforce. Although, as Reed mentions, these challenges are not completely foreign to everyone.

These challenges with the pandemic, with social injustice uprisings…These are issues that had been in communities for a long time. And now people are seeing it on a different level…I think the pandemic itself has really exacerbated [the situation]. We’re already there. What we have done as an organization, which I’m so grateful for that people recognize, is we have been very flexible with employees. We take the individual into account with our policies, so solutions are not just black and white. We don’t always provide the same solution for each employee. We’ve modified a lot of our policies to meet the needs of that and based it on their particular circumstances.

Q. Because of all of these situations being brought to the surface now in our society, how is that really changing talent acquisition? And how is the fact that we’re doing all of that remotely affecting it even more?

Number one, it depends on the organization. How you contact candidates of interest, or you receive candidates of interest, varies in accordance with your organization; your focus, your mission, your values. It’s not one size fits all…and I think that’s what we’re seeing with this pandemic…and then also our climate around race relations.

My message around talent acquisition and what I encourage our hiring managers to focus on when they’re recruiting for a role or trying to onboard passive candidates…is be very clear with your goals and your role that you’re seeking… Being clear, first and foremost, is a method that I always try to bring to the process. [Be] open and [follow] through and constantly [communicate] with candidates who you actually bring on board because people notice. Candidates don’t like to be left without a clear understanding of where they are in the recruitment process.

 You have to almost over-communicate so that people know when they should expect an update and where they stand…There’s no one size fits all, but I think any method or any process that you approach to talent acquisition is dependent on your company. And as long as you’re consistent, clear, and you follow through, and everyone’s on the same page in that process, that’s the best method.

 Q. Do you think this change was inevitable? In your experience, have you seen a lot of advancements and development in things like talent acquisition over the past five years? Or do you think it was the society and the outside forces that have been impacting how we’re approaching talent acquisition?

Over the past five years, HR professionals, specifically recruiters or recruitment professionals, have had to be really creative with their approach…Now with this pandemic, with COVID, we’re noticing that a lot of companies cannot talk the talk. They also have to walk the walk, so you have to live your values. Organizations are having to demonstrate how are you, in this particular moment in time, showing up for your employees and talent? [Candidates] want those examples of how you’re showing up for your employees on a day-to-day basis, and what they could expect.

Culture has always been a really big thing…Companies are having to be very clear with their vision, with their values, with their goals. And talent, they see that. That clarity also impacts how you approach candidates and how they approach you. There has to be examples of how you really show up for your employees. That’s seen on the internet as well because people can search, they can look for your company, they can see examples, they can see testimonials, they see the work that you do on a daily basis. Creativity, being solutions-oriented, not necessarily just expecting people to come to you, but how do you go to people, and how do you keep people?

Q. Do you have any examples or stories that you’ve heard that have stood out to you about a company really going above and beyond in terms of creativity when it comes to recruiting and talent acquisition? Or on the opposite end, have you heard any horror stories of companies trying to take that route and it going very wrong?

 You always hear about what’s not working. Now’s not the time for your practice to not be clear and for your process to be extremely long…Candidates know, and they’re questioning, ‘Is this necessary? Why am I doing this?’…Candidates who receive assessments and it’s not clear around the goal, [ask] “why am I doing this? I have this experience.’ And so sometimes it can seem like, to the candidate, that the organizations have them do some work for [the company]. I’ve seen candidates, and I’ve heard of candidates, totally back out of the process because they had not seen those [assessments] as necessary requirements to get into position.

The type of questions that you’re asking your candidate in general: are they helpful? Are they intentional? Are they tailored to the role? Panelists who are not prepared and have not looked at the materials for the candidates. I think that’s the most challenging thing that you can do when you’re meeting someone and they’re interested in your company is not be present and be proactive about looking at their materials beforehand…With the creativity part, you have companies who are the total opposite of that. They’re very thoughtful, they’ve tailored their process to a virtual world, where the candidates feel connected, they’re responsive, they’re courageous, they’re not reactionary, their process is clear and streamlined…Those are always success stories that I hear.

Sometimes I think the challenge with talent acquisition is wanting the candidates to meet so many people. It’s not necessarily necessary for a candidate to meet so many employees before they join the organization. The ones that are successful, raise the creativity, are very intentional about what they do or strategic about how and what they expose the candidates to…Once you hire someone, bring them into the organization, you’ll see people sending out company swag to new hires before they start or doing virtual lunches where they can meet the team beforehand or doing virtual scavenger hunts. They can learn about the organization. Everything is virtual. It’s new and different and creative. Any method that I recommend is always tailored to the organization, tailored to the role and the team. Organizations that do it best, they always use a combination of those strategies in their recruitment process and the onboarding process.

Q. When it comes to the political and social climate, especially in an election year and on top of COVID, how do you think it all affects these companies? Do you think many companies approach it well? Or do you think a lot of people are overwhelmed with how to even begin with all of these different aspects that are falling into HR?

It’s a double-edged sword here. Because oftentimes, in companies, you’ll have this question, ‘Do we need HR? Do we need an internal HR team?’ I think what these times have shown us is that HR is important. They’re valuable. It’s strategic, depending on the organization and the function of the department. But a lot of organizations are seeing just how much they need HR. Whether that’s around compliance because there are so many emergency leave options that we have to know about in relation to the federal laws and also the state laws. And so, for us, it’s a great thing…but it can also be challenging because you are now part of this central team that’s focused on keeping your staff engaged, focused on keeping your leaders engaged, focused on wellness, even more now than ever, and thinking about ways to be strategic with your goal setting and your performance management. Because it’s not just checking the boxes. A lot of times we’re hearing that people are burnt out from working from home, burnt out from the global and domestic events, and concerned about family or friends. There’s a constant bombardment of desire and expectation to keep the productivity levels the same as they were pre-pandemic. It’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity for HR professionals to really show up in a strategic way.

For me, it’s a reminder. I’m heavy on being very intentional about my time and being organized and setting boundaries. Because it can be a lot to constantly show up for other people, but also reminding people that you’re a person, you need people to show up for you as well…For any HR professional, I always recommend having a core circle of support. Those are mentors, our friends or family, a combination of all those things. Some people have to seek professional support, and that’s okay too. Because it’s heavy things in the HR field. It can be intensely heavy work, but this work can be just as emotionally fulfilling.

Q. Are you seeing a lot of companies trying to overcompensate for what’s happening in the news? Or do you think people are trying to keep it consistent with what they’ve been doing based on what you’re seeing in your circle and your network?

I’m seeing a combination. We’re talking about the pandemic and then also race relations in the US, in particular, and how that’s impacted the workplace. A lot of organizations are speaking out on some of the most relevant and challenging issues externally to attract talent. So everyone has this stance on where they stand in relation to what’s happening in our nation today, which I think is really good…How it’s impacted talent acquisition, it goes back to some of the methods and factors behind how you attract talent. Because talent, they ask you these things. ‘What’s your stance on diversity, equity, and inclusion? What’s your stance on equity in the organization? What does retention look like for people of color and women? How are you inclusive of individuals from different lived experiences?’ Internally, staff are also holding space for each other to talk about things that were not shared openly in the past…In my network, also within our organization, and going back to the values of the company, I think, front and center, there has to be a lived value. Because candidates know, and if they don’t know, they’ll ask and find out.

Q. What do you think companies need to be aware of to ensure that, even if it is their lived value, that it’s being perceived that way and it’s being perceived correctly?

Tying that into your brand, into your strategy, into your teams, your communication team, and making sure that you’re communicating that out externally. The work that you’re doing internally, how you support your employees, and how your employees come from various backgrounds and experiences. And the companies who do that well are very outspoken on the issues consistently…Candidates are questioning, ‘Are these your true values? Or is this something only for the moment?’ So being very clear and incorporating your brand into your talent acquisition strategy. You’re making sure that it’s consistent.

Q. What advice would you give to HR professionals or companies that really want to improve their talent acquisition in today’s world and in today’s society? Going back to that idea of living your values, how can they do that if they may be lacking in that aspect right now?

 The items that are most important to me in any talent acquisition process is being very intentional with your process and consistent with your process at all times. Being upfront and honest with candidates, people appreciate clarity. That’s never gone wrong…Just being clear about deadlines and expectations, and when they should expect to hear back from you or who they should expect to hear from, or what their status is in the process. Sometimes it means giving feedback. And I understand that a lot of times that can be scary for people because there could be repercussions. ‘Will someone take this feedback and receive it in a positive way?’ Personally, I’ve never had an experience where someone [said], ‘I’m so mad at you for being clear with me.’ Being an HR professional, how can you show up in your space and be the most ethical as possible? That’s all people really want is to be aware of where they stand with your organization.

2020 has surely put many HR professionals to the test. As Reed puts it, it is both a challenge and an opportunity. The desires and values of talented candidates are evolving; therefore, methods and processes needed for successful talent acquisition, as well as the company and staff that incorporate them, must evolve as well.

For more content and articles such as this one, subscribe to our blog to receive insightful updates and information on HR topics including learning and development, HR technology, diversity and inclusion, talent acquisition, and more. You can also connect with Carla Reed and our team via LinkedIn.

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By Emily Provost

Emily is BrandResumes' Content Specialist and is an Associate Resume Writer. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in Publishing Studies with double minors in Marketing and Journalism from Hofstra University. She has had editorial experience working as an editor for various publications from Hofstra and worked as a writing tutor for undergraduate students.

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