July 15, 2020 – Much like everything else having to do with hiring and recruiting, executive search is changing. The inability to meet face to face has had a big impact on every organization’s ability to effectively assess the quality of senior-level candidates, according to a new report from Rhys Metler of IQ Partners. But there’s more: The search firm says that with a constantly changing landscape, the entire process for how one looks for and evaluates executive talent is changing — perhaps forever.
Mr. Metler outlined some of the ways executive search has changed amid COVID-19. “Some organizations have made the difficult decision to put their executive search on hold temporarily,” Mr. Metler said. “With so much changing, including company culture and what operations will look like in the future, your criteria with executive talent is shifting.”
“The type of candidate who may have been a good fit only a few short months ago may no longer be an ideal candidate today,” he said. “Some companies are holding off to hire until they have a better grasp of what the economy and new way of operating looks like.”
The IQ Partners’ report said that “even though you may have put hiring on hold, it’s important to remain active in your search. Continue to network, work with executive recruiters, and look for candidates who fit your new ideal candidate profile.”
The Shift to Virtual Recruiting
Like almost everything else today, executive recruiting has made the shift online. “Recruiting, interviewing, candidate selection and onboarding is all happening online,” said Mr. Metler. “Video recruitment has quickly become the primary interviewing tool. While you cannot interview in person, you can easily interview candidates from virtually anywhere.”
Given the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, the type of person wanted in an executive role is changing. “More credence is given to candidates with experience managing remote employees and those with technology skills,” Mr. Metler said. “You also need people who are compassionate, are agile and have exceptional change management skills.”
Rhys Metler is director, client services of IQ Partners sales practice and leads the SalesForce Search recruitment team. He specializes in prospecting new business relationships, client retention and renewals, and building top performing sales teams in even the most challenging environments.
“You can expect things to continue to change for the foreseeable future,” he said. “You need people at the top of your company who can handle the evolving landscape.”
More Internal Candidates
“You may also see companies start to look internally more frequently to fill executive roles,” Mr. Metler said. “Hiring is challenging anytime, but COVID-19 has added another dimension.”
The inability to meet in person and with companies in the process of updating their hiring practices presents a lot of hurdles. “Internal candidates, a familiar face and someone who knows the company may be a viable option right now,” said Mr. Metler. “As things normalize, expect companies to start looking outside the company as they did before.”
Veteran Recruiters Weigh In
“The talent game has not only changed recently,” said Bernd Prasuhn, managing partner and chairman of the global board at Ward Howell. “Several years ago LinkedIn changed the rules of the game significantly. The knowledge of who is where, which was a significant know-how of search firms and gave them their edge, became to a large degree common knowledge.”
“What’s more, the world – at least outside the U.S. – has grown together and language/country boundaries no longer have the importance they used to have, said Mr. Prasuhn. “Modern search firms need to find and interview candidates for senior roles across several geographies and this cannot be dealt with the claim ‘we have offices everywhere,’” he said. “Fact is, a senior executive will be judged differently if consultants with different professional backgrounds, different seniorities/experience and different cultural backgrounds are involved.”
“It should be obvious that even if a search firm has 100 offices and puts a lot of emphasis on the selection of their consultants, it is basically impossible to ensure that a candidate is being evaluated/ranked in the same way if several consultants are involved,” Mr. Prasuhn said. “This calls for a new and very international type of consultant who is able not only to manage searches – which is standard practice in most large firms – but to conduct the interviews for a senior role even if candidates (and client managers) from several countries are involved.”
“In my practice, I see only two types of companies: those who are wringing their hands and those who choose not to participate in this recession,” said Steve Kohn, president of Affinity Executive Search. “The first I can’t really help. The second sees the global calamity of COVID19 as a wake-up call and an opportunity to accomplish several things, often simultaneously.”
The most important is how they frame the work at home situation, he said. “Done properly, the work/life barrier ceases to exist and makes for happier and more productive employees who perceive their employer as a more integral part of their life than they did before. This translates into far better talent retention and devotion. On that note, I also see companies taking the opportunity to upgrade their existing talent and diversify their supply chain to be less dependent on a single pathway.”
Business Agility Critical to Post-Pandemic Workforce, Economic Recovery
Human capital leaders are playing a critical role in their companies’ survival and growth during this time of crisis, according to the latest Talent Trends report by Randstad Sourceright. These days, HR and procurement leaders are meeting needs like safely operating in a pandemic, preparing their business for new waves or a sudden spike of the virus, and more.
“Challenging times always provide unparalleled opportunity to do things better,” Mr. Kohn said. “As a recruiter, this means the value of advertising decreases and the value of true recruiting increases. Many companies are adding/upgrading talent at the same time that they are eliminating other jobs so I’m seeing a big uptick in confidential searches.”
“Naughtin Group has found some aspects of recruiting more streamlined during the COVID pandemic,” said Terri Naughtin, CEO of Naughtin Group. “Because high performing, passive candidates are our chief targets, they are typically the most challenging to reach and engage. However, during the pandemic these executives have not been traveling which has led to higher response rates to our outreach and we have moved them through our recruiting process more quickly.”
Additionally, as companies become more comfortable hiring executives without a face to face meeting, valuable time has been saved by eliminating coordination of travel schedules between busy candidates and clients, Ms. Naughtin said. “As an example, we recently completed an SVP sales search for a large food company in 30 days, which is highly irregular. So, in our experience, the recruiting process during the pandemic has, in some ways, been more efficient and simplified.”
“As in any industry, we have found a real need to change our ways of working, as it was just not possible to remain the same,” said Nina Ariluoma, managing partner at Horton International. “The acceleration of finding new and more effective and flexible ways of working within executive search is absolutely a positive thing. Through the crisis, businesses realized that their ability to detect changes in the market and react fast was critical and will be even more critical in the future. They will need to re-evaluate their operational models and leadership requirements,” she said. “That has a fundamental impact on executive search and client expectation towards us. Companies are considering what their future leadership profile is and what type of ways of working are the most effective now, and in the future.”
Ms. Ariluoma said that she sees immediate and more long-term impacts on business. “The leadership paradigm and profile is changing and we can help our clients to make that shift. What used to work, does not work anymore,” she said. “We have to challenge the old assumptions together with our clients. Digitalization and a business that is not tied to a physical location takes major leaps forward. The same applies to executive search. For us, remote working has created new ways of working that brings us together with clients more effectively and faster. I expect this to mean that those players in the market that already operate globally have a great advantage for large scale growth.”
“The digitalization of our business means that our capabilities to assess individuals virtually has become more vital,” Ms. Ariluoma said. “Meaning that the industry will develop more effective assessment methods but at the same time, the real assessment competence of an executive search consultant becomes more critical. Old performance and references are not necessarily applicable anymore and we have to find those other ways of assessing capabilities and environmental match. Overall, I believe we will have to be more data driven in our process in the future and will have to help our clients in this also. Just the fact that someone feels right and has the right chemistry and CV will not be enough. Those biases that we all have need to be challenged with data.”
“I see a lot of positive progress within our industry due to the crisis and we just have to be very careful not to fall back to our old habits,” Ms. Ariluoma noted.
“There’s a certain leadership style – empathetic, highly communicative, develops trust, high EQ – which has been particularly effective during the COVID-19 crisis and its subsequent impact on working patterns,” said Erin Callaghan, partner at Wilton & Bain. “Measuring these traits along with other indicators like adaptability, relationship-building skills and collaboration have already become more important to the executive hiring process and will continue to be so. It’s also going to be crucially important to find ways to keep their teams connected and reinforcing the bond that holds them together as the risk is that this becomes eroded over time.”
“Those who have cash and a balance sheet, don’t have to cut the team back,” Clark Beecher, managing partner of Beecher Reagan, concludes. “They will be well positioned for the hockey stick to come. Most ground is made up in the first five percent or the next run. Unfortunately, there will be winners and losers in our industry like before.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor, and Erik Boender, Senior Research Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media