The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how companies do business almost overnight, forcing a shift at most organizations to across-all-ranks remote and virtual work. But what hasn\u2019t changed as substantially is the need to attract, recruit and hire top IT talent.\n\nThe pandemic\u2019s full impact on IT hiring remains to be seen, but unemployment for IT occupations remains low, at 2.4 percent in March, and many companies continue to hire despite shutdown offices, as IT leaders tweak their hiring processes to overcome issues brought about by this unprecedented situation.\n\nSheryl Haislet, CIO at Vertiv, is one such IT leader rethinking hiring in the COVID-19 era. She\u2019s still hiring IT support roles for critical customers, in addition to sales roles.\n\n\u201cThe whole process changes, obviously,\u201d she says. \u201cYou don\u2019t meet people for lunch or dinner. We\u2019ve moved to using video conferencing, like Zoom, for interviews.\u201d Haislet also says she is using online screening tools to test technical acumen and to screen for leadership skills, personality insights and other soft skills.\n\nThe rise of the video interview\n\nIn this shift to remote and virtual recruiting and hiring methods, the pandemic may only be accelerating a trend that\u2019s been on the rise for the past few years, says Andrew Hewitt, an analyst for infrastructure and operations professionals at Forrester Research.\n\n\u201cCompanies already are leveraging technologies like AI and ML, video interviews, online skills screenings. This crisis has forced it from a \u2018nice to have\u2019 to a \u2018must-have,\u2019 and that means organizations that have already been ahead of the technology curve will have an advantage, while others will need to play catch-up,\u201d he says.\n\nJobVite client data backs this up, says Jared Adams, senior vice president of product engineering at the recruiting and applicant tracking software company.\n\n\u201cWe see customers talking about how this has accelerated and removed the barriers to adoption of AI, chatbots, and other technology tools for hiring,\u201d Adams says. \u201cNow people have the \u2018permission\u2019 to go try these new tools and leverage video, leverage AI, leverage text and in ways they weren\u2019t doing before.\u201d\n\nMatt Martin, CEO of smart calendar software company Clockwise, has also moved entirely to video calls and conferences for interviewing candidates, and he\u2019s surprised at how seamless the change has been, despite some idiosyncrasies.\n\n\u201cThe back and forth over a video conference is harder,\u201d he says. Out of politeness, people can be reluctant to interrupt, so that can be awkward, but Martin and his hiring team set the tone right off the bat and that helps to smooth the way for candidates.\n\n\u201cWe have reduced the number of people interviewing candidates to two, which takes some of the pressure off. And we make sure to say, look, we apologize for interrupting and we know there\u2019s going to be some instances where we\u2019re talking over each other, and that\u2019s okay, it\u2019s not going to be held against you,\u201d he says.\n\nPre-recorded videos enable candidates to \u201cmeet\u201d their interviewers beforehand, and allowing candidates the option to do interviews over two days reduces the fatigue and stress of a video interview. To deliver offers to candidates, Martin says Clockwise uses delivery services still active in the Bay Area and includes a customized \u201cgoodie bag\u201d to personalize the experience.\n\nAssessing soft skills \u2014 while social distancing\n\nThe pandemic is also shifting the mix of skills IT leaders are looking for, and the means by which they vet them.\n\n\u201cThis hasn\u2019t had a big impact on our hard skills\/technical skills needs, but it has increased the need for candidates to have exceptional soft skills like being a self-starter, working independently, communication, collaboration,\u201d Vertiv\u2019s Haislet says. \u201cAnd familiarity and being really comfortable with remote work tech, obviously, as well as the ability to prioritize, to juggle scheduling, work with distractions, and of course, flexibility.\u201d\n\nBrian Lancaster, CIO of Nebraska Health, says he\u2019s also adapting to interviewing virtually, especially for a couple leadership roles in his IT organization. While technical skills are still easier to qualify and quantify by looking at code examples, portfolios, past work product and by assigning challenges, those leadership roles necessitate an emphasis on softer skills, which means a shift in strategy when assessing these qualities remotely.\n\n\u201cYou can still tell if the candidate is going to fit, it just takes a heightened sense of attention and understanding how you have to change your approach,\u201d Lancaster says. \u201cYou can ask more open-ended questions, and assess how they put those into a structured, logical answer to gauge their thought processes and how they get to the end result.\u201d\n\nFor this, Lancaster suggests asking candidates about a bad decision they made, and how they handled the fallout. \u201cOr about a time when they really dropped the ball and what the consequences were. Ask how they handled that,\u201d he says.\n\nTaking a more situational approach can help assess whether candidates are accountable to mistakes, possess the humility and curiosity needed to succeed and the ability to strategize and collaborate, Lancaster says. \u201cWhat I\u2019m trying to hire for are directors and executive directors, so it\u2019s about strategy and process and how to leverage technology to move the business forward,\u201d he says.\n\nThe downsides of hiring at a distance\n\nThe trickiest factor for hiring remotely is that of culture fit, says Jayne Mattson, career coach and founder of CareerEngage Boston. Because it\u2019s much harder to judge personality and fit on the candidate side and how that matches up with your company\u2019s culture, it\u2019s possible we could see an uptick in \u201cbad hires\u201d during the pandemic response, she says.\n\n\u201cYou have to balance the risk of someone not ending up as a good match with the necessity of filling these roles that are so critical,\u201d Mattson says. \u201cMany companies may increasingly rely on referral hires, which itself has pros and cons. Yes, you can better assure culture fit, but you are sacrificing diversity and difference of perspective, to some extent.\u201d\n\nPeople tend to gravitate toward those who are like themselves, so this could result in a decrease in diverse applicants and hiring, says Fran Berrick, career coach and founder of Spearmint Coaching. Technology and IT already are dominated by straight, white, cisgender male workers, who then refer other straight, white, cisgender men, exacerbating the lack of diversity.\n\n\u201cYou have to make sure you\u2019re paying extra attention as a company to make sure you\u2019re looking outside the box, even with referral hires,\u201d Berrick says.