Star Interview

Making transparency the key to better pandemic hiring

HR Grapevine caught up with Christina Ioannou, Vice President of HR at LEWIS, to find out why communication, transparency and feedback play such a crucial role when hiring during the pandemic…

Words by Sophie Parrott | Design by Lucy Bick

Words by Sophie Parrott

Design by Lucy Bick


The coronavirus crisis has overhauled the ways in which employers and HR conduct professional life. From an organisation’s approach to employee engagement and staff wellbeing, to the talent attraction and onboarding process, employers have been forced to adapt their traditional workplace practices to suit a working world which is much more virtual. Take hiring for example. With lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures in place – meaning that a large portion of workforces are operating remotely – many employers have gone digital with their recruitment processes too.

In fact, research carried out by Gartner HR showcases just how digital talent attraction has gone. At the start of the pandemic, their studies found that 86% of employers conducted virtual interviews, while 85% of organisations utilised digital technology to onboard new recruits. And, largely, it's going well. Separate research from recruitment outsourcing firm Cielo found that two-thirds of organisations successfully interviewed and onboarded new talent during the pandemic, despite the need to shift at the start. This, according to the research, pointed towards a greater comfortability among hiring experts when it comes to using technology for talent acquisition purposes. Pre-pandemic research shared by Software Advice in 2015 found that 60% of hiring managers and recruiters used video to satisfy their remote job interviewing needs. So, it is clear from these separate data sets that there has been an uptick in the use of digital means to complete recruitment as a result of the pandemic.

The follow-up, the communication, the transparency and reinforcing our process has really been what we’ve emphasised a lot during COVID-19 times

However, not everyone is comfortable with digital hiring just yet. To become a virtual recruitment master, HR must think strategically and base hiring on secure business-minded foundations. This is exactly what global communications firm LEWIS appears to be doing. The global agency – which has 24 offices around the world, in hubs such as London, Singapore and San Francisco – serves a world-wide client base and has previously worked with Deliveroo, Jaguar Land Rover and Bare Minerals. As such, the pressure is on to satisfy their demands and they must have the right talent to do so. But, in order to get the right talent into the business, it is crucial that the HR function has a strong hiring process that attracts and engages prospective talent. So, what does best practice in terms of hiring look like during the pandemic?

In an interview with HR Grapevine, Christina Ioannou, Vice President of HR at LEWIS – who has oversight of operations in the US – explained there are a number of things that define HR best practice when hiring during the COVID-19 pandemic, but one thing comes out top. “The most important best practice I think for us to reinforce significantly during this time is the importance of overcommunication, or communication generally, but overcommunication with candidates,” she said. Throughout the entire selection process, the marketing firm’s HR lead said that staying close to candidates, communicating with them, and building a rapport using a variety of channels, such as email, phone and video calls, has been really good for the firm with its US HQ in San Francisco. “Things seem to be picking up at least in the US right now in the job market so candidates have their pick and you have to stand out as an employer while you’re recruiting,” she added.

Christina facts

  • Has worked in HR for more than 15 years.
  • Has a degree from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, a South African university in her home town of Port Elizabeth.
  • Left South Africa just after studying at the age of 23 and spent 14 years in London, before relocating with LEWIS to San Francisco, California ten years ago.
  • Favourite part of working in HR: leading a team of talented HR professionals and watching them develop, grow and shine in their roles.
  • Bonus Fact: Has a seven-year-old Cavapoo called Crumpet, who travelled with her from London to San Francisco.

LEWIS facts

  • LEWIS is a global marketing agency.
  • Company Motto: We Do: Fuelled by creativity and data, we deliver bold integrated marketing and PR campaigns that drive results.
  • 24 offices around the world.
  • Regional HQ’s in London, Singapore, San Francisco.
  • 500+ employees.

While keeping strong channels of communication with candidates is a priority at LEWIS, separate pre-pandemic research found that this is an area employers could improve on. Numbers from Careerarc found that 63% of candidates said that employers don’t adequately communicate during the hiring process – whether this is about the status of their application, or instructions about getting to the venue. A plethora of research has pointed towards the importance of good communication in the working world – and this is not just exclusive to the hiring process. For example, insights published on recruitment firm Michael Page’s website explain that good internal comms is an essential tool in building and maintaining strong working relationships across all levels in the business. In addition to this, if employers actively invest time and efforts into developing clear channels of communication, it can have huge benefits regards output, morale and productivity – and this could be key when attempting to attract prospective talent.

Ioannou’s second piece of strategic advice is regarding the need to remain transparent with candidates during this difficult time. “[Transparency] around where the business is going and the state of our business [because] people are very cautious and conscious of their next move for stability reasons, so we have had to be very open about the changes that we’ve experienced as a result of COVID-19,” she added. “Also communicate clearly that we are in a stable situation right now so that joining us right now won’t be too unpredictable for candidates. Transparency is key.”

Transparency isn’t just a pandemic must have, though. Even before coronavirus changed the business landscape, 2016 research from Glassdoor found that nine in ten jobseekers say that it is important to work for a company that embraces transparency. And having high transparency throughout the hiring process to keep prospective talent interested could actually help employers secure the top talent that they need to succeed, which is crucial to business success. As proven by industry findings last year – in a joint HR Grapevine and Allegis whitepaper – getting the right talent was a core part of how businesses perceived they might be successful. One HR leader told HR Grapevine: “Talent acquisition is massively important to business success. The success of the people in our organisation directly influences the success of our sales and delivery to our customers.”

In addition to this – and as an important part of transparency – Ioannou said that the firm has a robust selection process and it’s about ensuring candidates are given feedback after each stage of the process, as well as giving feedback to those candidates who may have been rejected from a role, is key. But, this shouldn’t just be communicated via email, Ioannou said that verbal feedback plays an important role too. Despite the importance of providing candidates with feedback, to aid them in future interviews and to maintain a good relationship with the individual, 2015 research in LinkedIn’s The Ultimate List of Hiring Statistics report found that just 41% have received interview feedback in the past.

I think we are in a fortunate position at LEWIS because we are hiring and re-hiring a lot right now, so we are in a good position to hone these skills

With many hiring processes being moved online in light of the pandemic – as a wealth of research has pointed towards – Ioannou said that re-skilling interviewers so that they can confidently host virtual interviews with candidates is another example of hiring best practice during the pandemic. “That is actually a different skillset verses the way that you would do it in person,” the HR VP added. “We do spend time with people in navigating how to interview better when you are doing this all virtually and how to build a rapport in a virtual environment as well,” she explained. With recent research published in Jobvite’s 2020 Recruiter Nation Report finding that 40% of recruiting experts believe that virtual interviews will continue to be the default moving forward, honing in on these skills in the hiring process will help employers create the best possible candidate experience with a view to recruiting top talent into the business.

When reflecting on hiring best practice throughout the pandemic, Ioannou summarised, stating that a couple of things have been really crucial for them as an organisation. “The follow-up, the communication, the transparency and reinforcing our process has really been what we’ve emphasised a lot during COVID-19 times. I think we are in a fortunate position at LEWIS because we are hiring and re-hiring a lot right now, so we are in a good position to hone these skills,” Ioannou concluded.

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