The new virtual reality of recruiting

12 October, 2020

Julia Lamm
Global Workforce Strategy Leader
Rod Adams
Talent Acquisition & Onboarding Leader

How to find, attract, and integrate talent in a world of hybrid work

When we look into the future of work, we know this much: it will never look like it did in the pre-COVID-19 world. In our June Remote Work Survey, executives and office workers both signaled support for hybrid workforce arrangements. Most office workers (83%) want to work from home at least one day a week, and half of employers (55%) anticipate that most of their workers will do so long after COVID-19 is not a concern. But if recruits—and recruiters—are working remotely at least part of the time, traditional talent acquisition processes just won’t cut it for firms that want to attract the best talent. Companies should digitize the way they recruit talent end to end: find talent, attract them, show them the ropes and make them feel part of the team.

This shift is good news—if you adapt. Virtual recruiting and onboarding expands the geographical range of talent you can source. It allows you to hyper-personalize recruiting and onboarding. And it opens up a new toolkit for communicating your culture and building engagement.

PwC’s Future of Recruiting survey found that 49% of candidates had turned down a job offer because of a poor recruiting experience. To avoid that fate when conducting recruiting and onboarding virtually, you can’t just move old strategies online. You need a new, digital-first approach. Success will set your company up to be an employer of choice in a world of hybrid work.

No boundaries: virtual recruiting’s new playing field

If an employee is working remotely, it doesn’t matter whether she’s around the corner from your headquarters—or on the other side of the country. You should make remote work and recruiting your go-to option for roles that permit it. Then you can seek workers with the skills you need, including highly specialized ones, to fulfill your strategy, without letting geography constrain you.

Remote recruiting also offers a wider field to find the diversity that so many companies crave. That diversity isn’t always available next to one of your office buildings.


  • Adjust operating models and adapt new sourcing tools: empower human resources and talent acquisition models to tap a broader set of geographies and timezones.
  • Align compensation strategy to remote needs. Rethink the mix of location- and position-based compensation and consider variable benefits for remote workers, to create a more compelling value proposition.
  • Diversify employment types for a freelancing world. Since remote work allows employees to have multiple employers, consider which full-time roles could be part time, seasonal or project based.
  • Expand skills boundaries for roles, by looking beyond traditional requirements such as formal degrees. Consider recruits (and current employees) who can build the skills you need. Work with the business on sourcing talent with new or non-traditional skills, including employees within your current workforce.

Personalization on steroids: virtual recruiting that excites

Allow job candidates to become masters of their own recruitment. At PwC, for example, the introduction to our firm for candidates is structured as a mobile-enabled “choose your own adventure” experience. It’s designed to give candidates a deeper connection with PwC and the unexpected opportunities they’ll have as an employee.

Organizations can also use machine learning to enrich candidate insights, and find patterns in candidate behavior to continually refine and create ever-more personalized options. Career sites that serve up content specific to candidates’ interest is one example.

Virtual reality (VR) can further excite: in our Future of Recruiting Survey, 65% of candidates said they would be more likely to take a role if they first experienced it through technology. Virtual focus groups with other candidates and virtual meetings with their potential team are other ways to digitally assess, excite and learn from candidates.


  • Give candidates control over their virtual recruiting journey, including self-scheduling and a choice of interviewers.
  • Invest in chatbots and tools for scheduling and to answer questions—and consider machine learning to personalize the experience.
  • Deploy new digital tools for initial candidate outreach, video interviews, and virtual assessments to support interviews. Digital tools and automation can also help you pre-screen large numbers of applications.
  • Mobilize a candidate portal in your applicant tracking system to offer candidates full transparency on their status.
  • Offer a high touch, highly personalized virtual experience for top talent, with one-on-one phone or video calls and virtual reality tours for key roles.

The recruiter of the future: new skills to help win the virtual war for talent

To successfully execute in a world of hybrid work, recruiters should become experts at virtual collaboration and digital communications. They should know enough to help support recruits in using your digital tools. They’ll need to up their branding and marketing skills, communicating your company’s purpose and giving a taste of its culture at every opportunity—all from afar.

Most of all, recruiters will need to be digital storytellers, continually communicating the candidate and employee journey. To be successful, they’ll need to convey why someone should join your team, even if they may never set foot in an actual office or meet coworkers face to face. All that requires a new mix of skills, which you will have to identify, develop and potentially source.

At PwC, COVID-19 compelled our recruiters to quickly up their digital game. Some now record videos to introduce themselves. Others host virtual DJ parties to help build excitement about the brand. Of course, some of our recruiters are more digitally savvy than others. For many, it’s been extra challenging (and extra work!) to communicate culture and understand candidates’ motivations and doubts when you can’t meet face to face. It’s sometimes been a bumpy road, but we’ve made progress and learned plenty of lessons.


  • Coach recruiters and the business on digital skills and engaging with candidates virtually.
  • Prioritize branding and marketing skills (such as social media training) so recruiters can better communicate the employee value proposition.
  • Coach the business to be talent scouts so they can help identify and consider talent with non-traditional skills, backgrounds and locations.
  • Leverage recruiters as “culture ambassadors” and use “culture sessions” (such as virtual happy hours and roundtables enabled by VR) to show what it’s like to work at your organization. Actions like these help show that you care about integrating remote workers.
  • Conduct a market analysis to understand how candidates perceive your culture and employment value proposition, and adjust if necessary.
  • Empower recruiters to offer access to company leaders, who can speak to larger talent pools virtually than in person.

Integrate and engage: virtual onboarding for productivity and community

A new hire’s experience during the first 30 days is critical to onboarding success and preventing buyers’ remorse. Onboarding should be more than integrating new hires into the organizational flow chart. It’s your chance to make them believe in your company’s purpose, start to live its culture and feel part of the team. Using personalized digital tools and a deliberate approach to building community, you can quickly establish engagement.

At PwC, for example, we offer our new hires small-group digital welcome sessions and gamified goals and tasks. To help with technology issues, we provide one-on-one IT support and set up virtual Q&A sessions. To help new hires build their network and feel at home quickly, we’ve established coffee chats with partners, other new joiners and dedicated onboarding contacts.

Looking at our data as recently as August 2020, we were surprised to find that new joiners who were virtually onboarded had a better experience. Compared to those who were onboarded in-person, they were more likely to say that their overall onboarding experience was positive, that they felt connected to the firm, that they received the coaching they needed, and that they felt welcome by the end of the first week. What started as a strategy to adapt to an unexpected situation turned out to be a better experience for everyone.


  • Digitize and personalize onboarding to guide new hires remotely through pre-defined activities—and allow them to both track and manage their own progress.
  • Connect new recruits quickly to each other and their teams and formalize programs that will make them feel part of an “onboarding class”.
  • Coach managers to support and enable virtual onboarding, offering (for example) guidance on how to reach out virtually to new hires.
  • Listen to new hires through programs that virtually gather and incorporate regular feedback. Offer new hires transparency on the results, and use them to refine the onboarding process.

Remote work is here to stay, and that means that virtual recruiting and onboarding are too. To attract and integrate top talent remotely, you’ll have to rethink the skills you need and where to find them, hyper-personalize digital recruiting, arm recruiters with new digital skills, and transform the virtual onboarding experience for new hires. As you look to the future, balance virtual experiences with appropriate in-person touch points, such as socially distanced coffee chats. With a digital-first approach, virtual recruiting and onboarding can be more than a necessary adaptation to a world of hybrid work. Done right, it can be your edge in the global war for talent.

Contributions from Bhushan Sethi and Carmelina Lalley.

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