Post-COVID Hiring Will Remain A Candidate Market

By Adela Schoolderman of Talent Board, written on July 27th, 2020

The world has born witness to a tipping point: The moment when a global pandemic paused work as we know it and the health and wellbeing of each employee began to, at least momentarily, outweigh the bottom line of the organization.

Organizations that remained open and continued business operations during the pandemic made quick, sweeping changes, trying to react as the world shifted hour by hour. Some of these changes were government mandated, but many changes occurred because we collectively feared the unknown.

We were instructed to stay home to stay healthy and we began the shift to virtual work. While some of us were already tech-savvy and made the transition just fine, many of us spent the month of April in a midst of a steep technology learning curve and knowledge transfer. For the first time ever, we were setting up home workstations and learning video chat and collaboration platforms. We did it! By May, we were functioning.

It was revolutionary – and revelatory.

In June, we grew accustomed to a new routine. For the most part, work continued even when employees did not commute to a central workplace from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. Business continued when workers stepped away from their computer to tend to a restless child, run an errand, or exercise. Dare we say, employees did just fine without being in the office.

Now it is late July and we are watching a resurgence of positive COVID-19 cases amidst businesses reopening and workers returning to the office. We read debates about the efficacy of masks, whether it is wise to return, and whether productivity and workplace culture are impacted positively or negatively. And we are forming opinions based on what is best for the health and safety of ourselves and our family members – whether we are employed at home, essential workers, furloughed, or unemployed.

Meanwhile, we have heard the whispers, the question being asked:

Will it be a buyers’ market when companies start hiring again? Is the war for talent over? With so many people unemployed, we will be able to hire whoever we want, right?


To some, it makes sense that with 45+ million people in the United States currently receiving some form of unemployment benefits, companies will be able to dictate terms and rates of employment. That candidate will lose negotiating power. Companies will acquire top talent with ease; a welcome notion after the War for Talent that we experienced during the bull market of the past decade.

In 2016, most of the bargaining was over employment terms like salary, title, and vacation time. In my experience within technology and management consulting, some telework/remote work was possible but it was usually one or two days per week, but employees were mostly required to report to a centralized hub unless they had a role in the field or traveled.

To some, it makes sense that the pendulum would shift from a candidates’ market to an employers’ market. For example, on the professional gig side, over the past couple of years, the rise of independent workers caused many companies to adopt stricter policies around subcontractors in an attempt to standardize (and lower) rates and regain more control over contract terms. The economic downturn halted virtually all non-essential projects and negatively impacted all those gig workers. At the same time, we saw a sharp rate dip for projects that continued. I believe that some of that rate reduction was necessitated by slashed budgets, but I also think some of the rate cuts were an attempt to test the market and get a bargain. But you get what you pay for.

The pandemic has been a sort of reckoning:

  • There are some skilled and technical roles that remain in high demand. Those candidates will continue to have high bargaining power over salary, vacation, and other benefits.
  • There are low skilled and entry level positions remaining vacant due to pay. These workers can make just as much money on unemployment and have no interest in returning to work at this time (we will see how economic aid continues beyond 7/31/2020 and how this is affected).
  • Others in the middle realize rate concessions may be necessary right now to remain employed. They are willing to take a small salary hit for a desirable position. However, in return, their bargaining power is over whether they must physically report to an office and what protection they will have to stay safe.

My answer is: No, it will not become a buyers’ market. I predict it will be just as challenging – if not more – to hire desired talent into our organizations. The negotiating and bargaining power will remain on the candidate side, but it will shift.

Employers are accountable for a strong post-Covid Return to Work strategy and communications program and must accept the fact that workers may not be comfortable returning. Is being in the office a bona fide occupational qualification? We will see. Employers will also be held accountable for a perceived willingness and effort to build robust diversity and inclusion into your organization.

There is so much more to uncover and report on this topic. For now, I strongly advise that neither side enter a relationship making demands.  Let us collaborate to meet our biggest objective: Getting people back to work safely. Together we can find collaborative ways to forge a new path post-COVID.

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