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Recruiting First — Being Social While Distancing

CJ currently serves as the Talent Lead for the Defense Digital Service

The year 2020 is undeniably one for the history books. The world was affected in the first month of the new year, on January 26, when the news broke that NBA legend Kobe Bryant and seven others, including his 13 year old daughter, died in a helicopter crash. Less than six weeks later, the world as we know it came to a halt, and we began preparing for stay at home orders to combat COVID-19. Here we are, more than 60 days later, at home adjusting to strict protocols that have removed socializing in public spaces and replaced that with video conferencing as an everyday practice.

As a Digital Service Expert at the Defense Digital Service, preparing for telework until further notice was not a challenge, but as a recruiter I was concerned with how to attract top technical talent without attending technical conferences or Meetups. During the first week of quarantine, like many of you, I thought, this is great, an entire week to get a lot of work done without office interruptions. Our office even hosted daily brunch sessions that were fun pick-me-ups in the middle of everything. During week two I completed interviews with candidates who were vetted pre-COVID-19. By week three reality set in, and I began to have anxiety about being social while distancing. I didn’t want to let my team down, and after a day of worry, I realized this pandemic is universal and everyone is at home — this is a great time to recruit!

Following that epiphany, I began reaching out to every software developer, data scientist and interesting technical recruit I could find on LinkedIn by phone and email. I also engaged with technical recruiters and talent acquisition managers in the private sector who happily shared upcoming virtual recruiting conferences and companies that were laying off technical talent. These leads were not only priceless, but they proved that technology is the most effective social tool because it can bring people together in hundreds of individual spaces at one time for one purpose — to socialize.

Since we began mandatory telework mid-March, here are my three key takeaways:

  1. People want to talk: As I mentioned before, this is a great time to recruit because everyone is at home. Also, the majority of candidates are tired of being the principal, cafeteria worker and geometry teacher to their children in between remembering to wear a mask and clean their packages. During each interaction, candidates have been more engaged and eager to learn about an opportunity they were unaware existed. Not only is this good for your team, but it also makes a connection for the candidate.
  2. People want to feel connected: Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” This quote is true throughout life, especially during times of uncertainty. Many employees are reconsidering their place of employment based on their company’s reaction to the pandemic. Some employees are even seeking new places of employment that aligns more with their morals and desire to serve. As an organization within the Department of Defense, we focus on connecting technological talent to the mission — a way to serve your country outside of being a member of the military.
  3. People want to be social while distancing: Although social setting locations have changed from the SXSW conference venue to your individual living room or backyard, we should remain social with our communities of people. Virtual social events should never consist of PowerPoint presentations, but should be trivia game events to coffee chats. Virtually you can showcase team strengths. We should also stretch ourselves to attend webinars and virtual events with people we would normally not attend. In these social interactions, we not only strengthen our social skills but also expand our contacts for potential future talent that will build a stronger team.

During these unprecedented times it is vital to maintain a healthy schedule inclusive of connecting with not only friends and family but also with social groups that emulate who you are. These strange times will not last forever, but the social connections you make along the way will. Since moving to a mandatory telework model, DDS has successfully recruited 13 technical hires. Talent is everywhere, may you always be recruiting!