Bridging Social Distancing to Make Key Hires 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way executive search firms works with clients and candidates. A new report from Catalyst Advisors shares some of the practices it is using to ensure clients make hiring decisions with confidence during this unusual time. 

September 28, 2020 – Senior executives and business leaders are navigating through contingency plans, employee safety measures and remote work set-ups all while making key recruitments without face-to-face interviews. A new report from Catalyst Advisors’ Amy Bottoms and Borjana Fermaud says that this is all far from what we previously considered ideal.

Yet, the current environment brings an important question to the forefront of strategy discussions: Can and should companies continue to move forward and make critical hiring decisions based on virtual interviews? The Catalyst Advisors report concludes unequivocally that for competitive players who cannot afford to sit on the sidelines, the answer is a resounding yes.

“As we all acknowledge and accept the additional hurdles that have altered our landscape, we must adapt, change and forge ahead,” the report said. “Social distancing will continue for the foreseeable future, and the new ideas and techniques that evolve from this pandemic will undoubtedly re-shape recruitment practices moving forward. At Catalyst Advisors, we are utilizing the following best in class practices to ensure our clients make hiring decisions with confidence during this pivotal time, further strengthening their market positions for the future.”

Reimaging the Traditional Interview Process

While phone and video interviews have always been part of the recruitment process, final decisions on candidates have traditionally hinged upon the impressions made during in-person meetings.

“The benefits of face-to-face meetings cannot be denied, both in work and personal settings,” the Catalyst report said. “We all assess people based on a variety of subconscious signals, verbal and nonverbal cues.” Science confirms that first impressions happen quickly and are difficult to change. According to research published in the journal Psychological Science, our brain forms an impression of people in a 10th of a second based on exposure to facial appearance alone.

Catalyst Advisors said that when we interact through the lens of a camera, the lack of physical proximity can make it feel harder to connect if we rely on the cues we previously looked for in person. “This may cause frustration and unfairly create a negative first impression, resulting in less effective communication thereafter,” the firm said. “Instead, as we positively embrace video conferencing technologies, we are developing new signals, skills and ways to engage, enabling us to fully leverage this powerful tool.”

Related: Adapting to a New Normal

In addition, with so many working from home, there are technical barriers, familial and personal distractions all around. Network bandwidth is being challenged. Children and pets are running around. These issues can unintentionally detract from an interview. “Flexibility, advance planning and a sense of humor are the best ways to mitigate or move on from such problems,” the report said. “Resources like video presence training, professional IT assessments and technical support are worthwhile investments. Communicating via video may strike us as less rich physically and emotionally than in-person meetings, yet as the demand and need continue, video conferencing experiences will improve along with our attitudes about it.”

Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

Current circumstances may not change anytime soon, and the impact of the pandemic will have lasting effects beyond the virus. Adapting and creating innovative solutions now will not only have obvious short-term benefits but will also create new standards for the future, said the report.

Getting on with Hiring in the Face of a Crisis
Even during a pandemic, companies are finding that they simply have to proceed with business: Processes and functions must be changed or improved. New talent must be brought in. A new report by Richard Slayton of Slayton Search Partners addresses some of the key challenges that businesses must grapple with in these uncertain times.

“Understandably, hiring exclusively through a virtual process may feel uncomfortable,” the Catalyst Advisors report said. “For leaders to feel confident in their assessment of candidates, enriching the overall experience of phone and video interviewing is imperative.”

Hand-in-hand with its clients, the firm has developed various initiatives to precisely address this, and based on their recent experiences, the most successful hiring processes have shared a combination or all of the characteristics below:

  • Visual cues: Those who are more animated, expressive and energetic on video are perceived to be more engaged and interested. Whether one-on-one or presenting to a group, distinct physical cues and signs help keep attention focused. Clear facial signals (such as a big smile or a questioning raised eyebrow) help reinforce the intended context and meaning of the points being discussed.
  • Increased communication with the candidate throughout the hiring process: Ask more questions and be more responsive than usual. Keep candidates informed and engaged. Proactively share details about your company and culture. Our most innovative clients anticipate what conversations are needed to actively recruit and engage hesitant candidates. These additional discussions greatly help executive leaders visualize themselves in a new role, even though it was all communicated virtually.
  • Virtual team meeting: After the initial one-on-one interviews, have the candidate participate in a virtual meeting with the team to give insights into team dynamics and interactions among colleagues.

Related: Conducting a Job Search During a Global Pandemic

  • Online tour: Offer an online tour, as many colleges are now doing, to give prospects a sense of what their new surroundings will look, sound and feel like.
  • Case study: Consider case study interviews to further assess how a candidate may handle a given scenario.
  • Video trailers: Consider adding video trailers for new roles as a more personalized, yet highly efficient, way to introduce the organization and the future team to candidates for various roles. It can be compelling to hear and see a leader describe the company’s mission, and how this role will impact an organization. (It could be useful for marketing or internal communications purposes as well.)
  • 360 references: Referencing is more critical than ever. Along with the number of references required, the quality of references must also increase. Experienced, skilled interviewers elicit true insights about, and evidence of, the leadership competencies required for success. Begin informal referencing early in the process and ensure that full 360-degree references are completed before an offer is made.

 New Ways to Retain and Hire Talent in the Midst of a Crisis
Many of you are gathering around your management table (virtually), grappling with how to get through these next few months and trying to imagine what is ahead. As you do, your organization may be faced with difficult decisions about cutting budgets, hiring freezes, furloughs and potentially letting people go. A new report by Aspen Leadership Group’s senior consultant Don Hasseltine offers fresh ways to assess, rethink and reset during these challenging times.

“These actions are imperative as we all learn to maximize the value of our virtual interactions,” the Catalyst Advisors report said. “By embracing this shift, companies are able to assess leaders more thoroughly, while also providing candidates with a better understanding of a company’s people, mission and culture.”

Giving Your Company an Edge

Some companies will want to wait for restrictions to end before making a final decision. “But in crisis times, leaders need to weigh the distinct possibility of losing a desirable candidate in this highly competitive biopharma talent market,” Catalyst said. “Innovation in the therapeutics industry is accelerating and the demand for new leaders only continues to increase. In ‘normal’ times, companies typically had one chance to recruit a particular individual for a key executive position. Today, decisive action is paramount.”

The ripple effect of COVID-19 will forever change the way we conduct business. Virtual hiring methods are here to stay, in one form or another, and knowing how to effectively connect, communicate and execute sound decisions remotely is essential. “With some enhancements to the virtual hiring process, and help from experienced advisors, leaders do not, and should not, have to wait for the return of normalcy to confidently fill critical roles,” the Catalyst Advisors report said. “Techniques learned and implemented during this time will serve you and your organization well in the future.”

Related: Conducting Executive Searches During a Pandemic

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor  – Hunt Scanlon Media

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