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How to Recruit Executives in a Pandemic

How to Recruit Executives in a Pandemic

It’s a question you never thought you’d still be asking, “How do I recruit executives in a pandemic?” But more than a couple of years since COVID-19 arrived and despite vaccinations, there is no sign the virus is going away anytime soon.

Of course, we hope that the harm it can cause will decrease. This scenario is what many people think of when they hear the term “endemic”. But endemic doesn’t mean harmless. Tuberculosis is endemic. HIV is endemic. They cause millions of deaths each year around the world. Another endemic disease is influenza, the seasonal flu. It kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide every year, Worse, every now and then, it mutates into incredibly deadly pandemics like the 1918 Spanish influenza, which is estimated to have killed 50 million people.

We have to adjust how we recruit executives in a pandemic as the virus mutates. As it shape shifts, so must we. Early on in the pandemic, we were locked down. Today, businesses are trying to return to normal, but nothing is normal. We all have fundamentally changed. Executives have been stress-tested and traumatized by COVID-19. In 2022, mental disorders are among the leading causes of disability worldwide. Moreover, COVID-19 and its related stressors have increased this burden, particularly depression, anxiety, and stress-related conditions. If the pandemic has taught us anything, is that life is precious. Consequently, there has been a fundamental shift in how employees want to work.

What follows is a list of actions our clients are taking to recruit executives as COVID-19 circles the globe. 

Remote Work Is Normalized

Half of all employees cannot work now from home. So if you are an executive in retail or manufacturing or health care — or most service businesses — chances are you fall into this category. But that means the other half of the workforce can be fully or partially remote. Remote work doesn’t simply benefit the worker. It benefits the employer. But not in the way you might think. Research is mixed on whether remote work makes you more productive. However, remote work has other benefits. You’re less likely to quit, you’re more satisfied with work and happier with your work-life balance.

Candidate Pools Are Deeper

As more companies embrace working remotely, many executives can be based pretty much anywhere. That has grown the number of potential candidates exponentially. Many companies no longer required relocation to headquarters or other corporate offices. Removal of that relocation filter significantly deepens the candidate pool.

Diversity Matters More

Companies seem to be trying harder to ensure diverse candidate slates. While we still have considerable work to do, diversity is no longer an afterthought, but front-of-mind. During the pandemic, #BlackLivesMatter raised corporate consciousness about systemic racism as #MeToo did about systemic sexism in the years before. As a result of that activism, companies that fail to hire diverse candidates at the board and senior executive levels risk being called out on social media.

Senior executive teams are a reflection of the company. When those teams are diverse at the senior executive level, it suggests the company cares about equal opportunity in the workplace. They walk the walk. Companies that lack diversity risk public criticism for not doing enough to hire women, Black, Latinx, and BIPOC executives. If they are active on social media, they are a heartbeat away from being canceled.

Interviewing Happens Quicker

Companies continue to conduct virtual interviews. Doing so accelerates time to hire. If travel to headquarters is required at all, it often is limited to meeting the hiring executive face-to-face immediately prior to offer.

Interviews on Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams have reduced the interview phase of most executive searches to about a month. In the Before Times, traveling for face to face interviews made the interviewing stage last twice as long.

More Stakeholders Interview

Companies that interview their candidates virtually usually involve more stakeholders in the interviewing process — because they can. It gives candidates a greater understanding of the opportunity and a better feel for the company culture. It also gives the company a more comprehensive assessment of whether the candidate is right for the role.

Succession Planning is a Must

As long as COVID-19 remains a threat, companies should conduct succession planning to avoid disruption. If your corporation hasn’t done so already, now would be a good time to identify critical roles that are necessary for the company to function. During pandemics, companies should have a list of possible successors for critical roles at the ready. For example, the publication Human Resource Executive reports Goodyear has done just that:

“Each business unit or region was asked to identify critical roles. Next, the company organized those roles by category: essential, temporary suspension, and extended suspension (roles that could be suspended without undue harm to the business). Goodyear analyzed its talent bench to determine the difficulty of backfilling essential roles and made adjustments as necessary.”

For companies that are seeking assistance, search firms and recruiting research firms including Intellerati can help with succession planning. We build succession benches of executives as potential replacements. We also build org charts of competitors to enable clients to pick and choose which candidates they’d like to poach. Clearly, since the pandemic is not going away, our need to recruit differently remains a constant.

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Krista Bradford

Krista Bradford

Founder and CEO of Intellerati | The Good Search. Retained executive search headhunter. Former investigative journalist. Wife of saxman. Mama of MD. Co-worker of Hamlet the Corgi. TikTok addict.View Author posts

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