Learnings from Australian Sports Foundation on handling high volumes of job applications

Australian Sports Foundation takes us behind the scenes of leading an organisation through significant change, off the back of natural disasters and COVID-19’s devastating impact on community sport and the subsequent impacts on the organisation’s team.

There are few organisations that receive the volumes of job applications that Australian Sports Foundation does when it’s on the hunt for new recruits, and the learnings from CEO Patrick Walker provided rich insights during the sixth live show for RESET 2020.

We knew this would be a helpful live show and recording for future viewing, as organisation leaders navigate the various talent and staffing challenges that occur during and post-COVID-19. Some of the additional remarks made around the experience of high volumes of applications was the mental health of applicants, and making sure that organisations have measures in place to be respectful and mindful to some of the nuances that are being brought about by this unprecedented level of sector change.

Patrick was able to share the impacts and changes brought about by the pandemic, such as no longer needing three offices and downsizing to one; being able to save significantly on a $150,000 annual travel budget; and celebrating that the organisation had launched and co-ordinated some of its most complicated projects ever, without a single face-to-face meeting.

Alongside the internal impacts and changes, Patrick was also able to reflect on the wider sector ramifications for sport, with 80 per cent of staff in professional sports being stood down, and new research by the Australian Sports Foundation indicating that a third of community sports clubs could close their doors in six months.

Watch the case study interview here.

You can also access the full recording here.

The live poll asked about the biggest challenge right now for organisations in the area of recruitment and staffing. Some standouts from the results include 30 per cent of organisations stating they don’t have the knowledge or skills to support decision making; 20 per cent saying they can’t afford to keep their staff; and 20 per cent saying they have a recruitment freeze.

Recruitment specialists Michelle Varcoe and Rachael McLennan – both business members of Benefolk – were able to share their observations about the impacts on recruitment and the talent market, including the wider sector aggregated experience that job applications have increased three-fold. Rachael and Michelle also reflected on the new demands in soft and hard skills and changes such as “upskilling/change-skilling and extended skilling”. They shared practical advice on successful recruitment and onboarding in a time of virtual workplaces, as well as considerations to recruit in uncertain times.



  • Reflecting on skills needed going forward: “We certainly need to invest more in technology resources, but also technology skills and skilled technology operators and digital specialists. I think that’s one thing that this change has definitely driven, but I think more flexibility, more adaptability and resilience are key skills we are going to be looking for whatever the core professional skill of the individual concerned.”
  • Creating advocates: “[You want] everyone who touches your organisation to leave that experience as an advocate for your organisation – whether it’s a member of staff who moves on, someone on the board, or someone who applies for a role. And 99 per cent of the applicants won’t get the role so you still want those 99 people to think good of you.”
  • Being ready and timely to cope with deluge: “When we first experienced it, we weren’t prepared and it took us longer to get back to applicants. So once bitten, twice shy. It’s now about having prepared communications because you know a lot of people won’t get the role. So having a nice email and it’s personally sent out from me to the applicants. I’ve always made it my practice to personally call unsuccessful applicants and explain what we felt they did very well and why we selected another candidate, so they got some value out of it. You really need a strong process and system that enables you to be reasonably efficient.”
Julia Keady
18 June 2020

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