Recruiters Weigh In: Are We Ready for In-person Hiring Events?

As businesses attempt to return to some level of pre-pandemic normalcy, one question that continues to be asked in nearly every industry is whether we’re ready to resume in-person gatherings. 

During the initial full shutdown period of Covid-19, it was much easier to decide whether to organize or attend an in-person hiring event. Local stay-at-home mandates kicked in loud and clear, and we quickly pivoted to virtual events.  Now, seven months later, more companies are starting to look for ways to safely host face-to-face gatherings as they learn to adapt to changing local guidelines and other safety precautions. 


What We Learned From Our In-person Hiring Conference Survey

As a business that relies heavily on in-person events, we wanted to gain more insight into what our clients were thinking. What would keep them from attending events? What would make them feel comfortable? Were they limited by state restrictions, company restrictions, or personal comfort levels?

With unchartered territory ahead and no roadmap to follow, we dug deeper and surveyed recruiters, HR and Talent Acquisition leaders, and hiring managers from companies of varying sizes and geographic regions to help guide our planning for in-person hiring events. Here’s what we learned based on feedback from 125 respondents:

  • While many factors can influence the decision to attend an in-person hiring conference, 24% of respondents stated they are ready to attend an event now. 12% preferred to wait for another 1 to 3 months; 15% of respondents wanted to wait for another 3 to 6 months; 27% planned to wait for 6 to 12 months; 11.3% projected they would want to wait over a year, and 10.5% were unsure.  
  • When asked what would positively influence them to attend an in-person conference, over 50% of respondents said mask requirements, availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),  and modifications to ensure social distancing. Slightly less than 50% mentioned health screenings for attendees and the lifting of work-imposed travel restrictions. Other responses included assurances of a low number of attendees and the use of plexiglass table shields for candidate interviews. 
  • 53.4% of respondents stated they would be most comfortable in a private interview setting,    while 44.9% felt that a more open setting, such as a hotel ballroom, would make them more likely to attend.
  • Almost half of respondents (49.6%) said they would feel comfortable in groups of less than 24 attendees; 26.3% said that 25-50 people would be acceptable, and less than 20% would be comfortable in groups of 50 people or larger. 


Prioritizing Safety, Maintaining Candidate Quality

According to survey respondents, event organizers need to focus on the following areas to safeguard the well-being of their attendees.  

Venue Setting

Suite or ballroom? The choice of venue was top-of-mind for potential attendees. A private interview setting such as a hotel suite was acceptable to some respondents provided that the number of people in the room is closely monitored, 6-foot social distancing and mask requirements are maintained, and cleaning supplies are made available to wipe down areas between interviews.  Other respondents preferred a hotel ballroom setting for interviews with 8-10 foot tables set at least 12-ft apart, and defined traffic flow. It was also noted that indoor locations must have the proper environmental HVAC control equipment such as HEPA filters and UVC Emitters to manage airborne viral loads. 

Other respondents stated that they would only attend venues that can accommodate outdoor events with patios or open areas for tents. 

Safety Compliance

It’s no surprise that the predominant concern of respondents was the transmission of Covid-19 within groups in confined spaces. Respondents were also worried about asymptomatic applicants traveling to and from various states, and attendees not following safety guidelines.  

What might allay some of these fears?

Even though it might slow down the pace of an event agenda, respondents open to in-person events wanted to see strict monitoring of social distancing, use of masks, temperature checks, and the availability of hand sanitizers. Other safety precautions mentioned:   

  • Event size limited to less than 25 people, and monitoring of those numbers
  • Large tables and plexiglass barriers with follow-up meetings in more private settings 
  • Limited group interaction activities and interactions
  • Smaller groups for presentations and discussions, even if that means having more sessions 
  • Individual meal options, rather than large group dining
  • Robust contact tracing to alert attendees if someone at the event tested positive for Covid-19 within 14 days of the event
  • Spaces sanitized between interviews

Another consideration is to communicate safety protocols to potential attendees.  These days most of us want to know ahead of time the kinds of safety guidelines that will be followed and how they will be enforced. 

Quality of candidates 

While safety was the top priority, survey respondents also raised concerns about the criticality of meeting and interviewing quality candidates. To address this, some respondents suggested virtually pre-screening candidates so recruiters could use their conference time more efficiently by doing in-person meetings with pre-qualified candidates.  Also suggested was viewing company presentations in a virtual format with candidates having a window of time to review the session prior to their interviews. These ideas decrease time spent in direct contact with others and can be another new best practice to emerge as we navigate our new reality.

Pandemic or not, companies need to keep hiring.  While the acceptance of new norms such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and venue sanitization may make in-person events more feasible, varying comfort levels and safety guidelines also necessitate the continued availability of virtual options. 

There is no one-size-fits-all answer for when the time is right to resume in-person hiring events. The best solution we have is to keep in close touch with the changing needs of our customers and stay informed, flexible, and patient as we work to keep ourselves and our current and future employees comfortable and safe. 

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of respondents to a survey conducted in July 2020, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Orion Talent. We recommend that conference organizers and attendees continue to assess, based on current guidelines from the Center for Disease Control for official event guidelines. 

Mike Starich

Mike Starich is the former CEO at Orion Talent, a provider of skilled talent acquisition, recruitment optimization and military hiring to businesses in manufacturing, supply chain, energy, healthcare and more. Prior to joining Orion in 1992, Mike served in the Marine Corps for seven years as a flight officer and Marine officer recruiter.