COVID Changed How We, Recruiters, Work. It Is Changing How And Who We Hire Too.

April 22, 2021

At the end of last year, I searched for a new Head of HR for a global client based in Germany. I sourced, screened, interviewed, and presented a short list. A very qualified female candidate was selected by the client. Throughout the entire process I did not physically meet with any of the candidates nor with the client! I still have yet to meet this wonderful woman who started last month.

This is weird for an exec search professional as we claim to (and I modestly think we do) add value by meeting people on both sides of the hiring process. We dive deep into the culture, the business and the informal processes of our client. We scrutinize candidate’ behaviours, temperament and values; in addition to qualifications. Then, we present a thoughtfully vetted panel of candidates to our client. For the German client, I did none of these very personal things face to face. 

I carried out the same process earlier this year for a US client looking for a European Director or also for a top management consulting firm recruiting a Global Head of Industry. I never met the hired candidates face to face! 

This is obviously an adaptation for keeping business going during COVID, and I hope it will soon come to an end as I do not feel I deliver the quality of service I should. Alas, I should be thankful because business continues to come in the door. 

Virtual interaction is the norm for now

I was curious about this experience from the perspective of my clients and those seeking leadership transitions. So, I asked them about it! And here is what I have learned.


What I am hearing from executive hiring managers

Face time is still a top priority. While worker trends are demonstrating to corporates that remote work is a win-win for employees, C-suite executives are still expected to come to the office. In some cases, executives are permitted to put their feet on the ground in business hubs closer to home with less frequent trips to HQ.

The preferred executive skills profile has shifted significantly. I would not say that hiring managers are reading CV’s upside down quite yet, but there is a larger emphasis on the interpersonal skills of leadership candidates. When managing remote workers, leaders must be able to make quick personal connections, demonstrate genuine empathy, and be able to build and maintain the team dynamic without all the un-measurables that are lost in remote work.

The seasoned leaders are seeing their day again. The experience needed to make the right decisions quickly and without a lot of consultation is valued more now than ever. The leader of the remote team must be gritty; able to persevere when there may not be all of the data needed to make an informed decision.


What I am hearing from candidates

Perception is reality. More frequently, candidates are making decisions based on the press generated about a company and this includes social media. More than ever a company’s reputation – as generated by all media – weighs heavily on a candidate’s decision. Prior to COVID we had been seeing a trend among candidates who were concerned about the social and environmental responsibility of the company they were evaluating. This has deepened during the transitions happening in the time of remote work.

Short term metrics. With office politics minimized, candidates want easily and crystal-clear measurable targets. Why? Without the conversations between meetings, transparency rules. The Executives I could talk to have quickly learned that results trump all and they want short cycle feedback to make adjustments when necessary.

While this may seem less humane, it is looking like it is a boon for female and diverse candidates who may have been less valued in the past for reasons of legacy.


An agile future for recruiting with new opportunities

COVID forced the corporate world to adapt – immediately. Some are describing this shift as a movement toward agile team organization; inspired by the way some software teams iterate as they learn.

Being agile means for us, amongst other new recruiting services we are building up, that we have been getting more requests here at Robertson Associates for onboarding services: mentoring, coaching, and training candidates on the nuances of managing people in the virtual workplace.

I am thankful for these new opportunities for growth and just like you, I will have to keep working hard to do my best without meeting my associates, clients and candidates face to face…for now.

See you soon? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯



Pierre Collowald is a Senior Partner at Robertson Associates.