Australia’s record-breaking 29-year run of economic growth came to an end in 2020 – and does anybody need to be reminded why? We’ve enjoyed better-than-average coronavirus case numbers up to this point, but as we and so many other countries have observed, the situation is unpredictable. Keeping infections down comes at a cost, and the economic impact transcends national borders.

These conditions are far-from-ideal for the job market. Unemployment in Australia hit 7.1% in May, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Statistics. Total hours worked fell, along with participation rates.

In July, a growing mood of optimism was interrupted by new cases, fresh lockdowns in Victoria, and a closure of the of Victoria-NSW border.

Back in 2019 (it seems like a long time ago), the government published employment projections covering a five-year period from 2019 to 2024. It was predicted that jobs would increase across 16 of the country’s 19 broad industries, with healthcare leading the way. Per the government’s official web site, those projections should now “be used, and interpreted, with extreme caution.”

Now hiring?

Despite the drumbeat of grim news, certain sectors of the economy – including grocery, telecommunications, e-commerce, healthcare, pharmacy, and delivery services – have been adding new workers to meet higher demand. Even those employers who were forced to lay people off may find themselves in need of new personnel and new skillsets as the situation develops.

The fact is, anyone in a position to hire during these unprecedented times will probably see a spike in the number of applicants per job opening. It’s a question of numbers: There are fewer jobs available in a recession, and more people looking for them.

From an employer’s perspective, a situation like this comes with theoretical advantages, at least in the narrow context of filling a given role. Namely, the employer draws from a deeper pool of candidates. This should allow for a more deliberate selection process, and a better overall fit. In practice, however, the dynamics can be quite different.

Potential pitfalls

A thriving and stable economy means that employers and candidates have more space – economically, professionally, psychologically – to make deliberate choices. The importance of passive candidates is a good illustration of this. People who aren’t actively looking to switch jobs, but would be open to doing so in the right circumstances, represent an important and under-utilised source of talent and cultural fit.

But in a situation like this one, there are pitfalls.

From a candidate’s perspective, the impact of the pandemic on mental health, personal finances, and home dynamics can bring an element of desperation into play.

Landing a job is less about finding the right fit or charting a deliberate career course, and more about meeting basic needs or “taking whatever you can get.”

This can lead to overqualified candidates who might not be suited to a given role in the long-term, and who might want to move on as the economy stabilises. It can also lead to under-qualified candidates who misrepresent themselves out of a feeling of necessity. Neither of these situations is ideal.

Keeping our eye on the ball

Hiring may not be a high priority for a lot of Australian employers at the moment – but for those who do need to bring in new people, or will need to do so in the near future, the uncertainty of the current situation only increases the need for solid, reliable recruitment practices. Now more than ever, keeping our eye on the ball and finding the right fit will ensure that new hires are optimal and valuable, even after the worst of the coronavirus has passed.

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