How Covid Changed Executive Recruiting

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High turnover is expected post-Covid, and hiring for the C-suite is not what it used to be. Boards and management should be prepared.

Covid-19 has taken its toll on the workplace; by some accounts, 7 out of 10 workers believe the Covid era has been the most challenging period of their professional lives. In healthcare—the industry in which I serve—I believe that ratio to be much higher.

The workplace disruption has translated into tremendous uncertainty in the executive job market. Candidates throughout the pandemic have been skittish though not shy about searching for new work. In a WittKieffer survey conducted last fall, 95% of executives indicated that they were at least open to a new role. Covid has given leaders a greater sense of prioritization about what’s important for them personally and professionally—and often this means a job or career change.

What has also changed is the way that executive recruiting is playing out. My colleagues and I have adopted new practices and habits in order to meet candidate expectations and serve clients better. What follows are executive hiring trends that I am witnessing:

• The hybrid search model is here to stay.

Covid-19 initiated the possibility of doing entire executive recruitments virtually via videoconferencing technologies. Organizations found cost and time savings in that candidates did not have to travel to be evaluated and vetted by hiring managers and search committees.

Virtual search processes have become normalized. Still, now that Covid is on the wane, few clients with whom I speak want the all-virtual search model to stick. They prefer a hybrid scenario where the first-round interviews can be done online, but further stages require in-person interviewing.

Candidates miss in-person interviews as well. In the survey my company conducted last fall, more than 70% of executive job candidates said that face-to-face meetings with potential employers were important or extremely important.

While the efficiency of virtual interviewing will stick, thankfully, it turns out that actually meeting with people still matters.

• Hiring for remote leadership positions is no longer just a remote option.

In the aforementioned survey conducted by my firm at the height of the pandemic, about 60% of client representatives said they are open to hiring executives to lead remotely (i.e., without coming into an office). This is a seismic shift. Think of what it means to recruiting. While it can depend on the role and requires defining parameters, organizations that I would characterize as more “traditional” are hiring executives agnostic about location or relocation. The world has opened up for candidate sourcing.

In turn, executives will need to figure out how best to lead from afar. Many will employ a hybrid leadership style—part virtual, part in-person.

• “Are you serious?” Candidates need greater scrutiny.

In the old days (i.e., pre-Covid), candidates demonstrated a serious commitment to a recruitment by booking a flight to first-round interviews and staring potential employers in the eye. Now that interviews often entail “grabbing a Zoom,” far less investment is required on the part of candidates, which means it’s easier for them to get into, and out of, the candidate pool. Candidate attrition has increased. The onus is on the hiring manager and search consultants to prod candidates and explore their true motivations for wanting a new position. Hiring organizations need to work harder to judge whether candidates are truly serious in their interest in a new role.

• Candidates are being judged on their leadership performance during Covid.

The pandemic tapped into a set of interests and skills that existed in leaders but were not manifest and apparent. It stretched people in ways they could not have predicted and inspired the best in so many leaders: innovating new partnerships and solutions; building and caring for teams; demonstrating resiliency and focus. At the same time, some executives were stretched to the breaking point and struggled through the Covid era. For better or worse, companies are now gauging candidates on how they fared during Covid. They want to hire leaders who are battle-tested and thrive in a crisis, and the pandemic provided the proving ground.

• Across industries there is a premium on finding:

• Cybersecurity experts. The pandemic only seemed to bring out the worst in cybercriminals and online fraudsters. Organizations realize more than ever that they need top-notch cybersecurity experts, as the security risks and costs rise.

• Digital innovators. Individuals who can apply a digital-first template to their work and drive new processes are in great demand. For example, while chronic care and age demographics will continue to drive hospital admissions, the predicted growth in virtual health through the roaring 20s is staggering.

• Clinical leaders. While most of my work as a search consultant is within the healthcare industry, my colleagues and I have found that corporations outside of healthcare are in clear need of chief medical officers and other physician leaders who can take a big-picture, holistic approach to employee health, safety and well-being. Employee health, defined today, is about much more than meeting OSHA requirements and insurance spend. It requires a proactive, data-driven mindset to support the well-being of employees.

Hiring for executives is settling into a new routine. The rapid adoption of video interviewing has made it easier to connect employers with potential hires, though the new normal will be a hybrid scenario. People I speak with on a daily basis—hiring managers and executive candidates alike—look forward to again meeting face-to-face as an essential part of the hiring process.

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