Impact Of The Pandemic On Executive Search

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The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic held many things worth forgetting – stock-piling toilet paper in a never-ending heap, hoping the black market would continue to supply booze and ciggies indefinitely, and standing at one’s gate crying over the social freedoms we all used to know.

The hiring and executive search market also saw many shifts: from formerly gunning for a senior executive who, for example, had “simply mastered the fundamentals of accounting; treasury; and operations” to desiring one who had “ideas about building virtual ties; stellar cash management abilities; was tech-savvy, and could orchestrate a virtual financial close”. No mean feat, we must add, for the candidates involved.

So: what are the executive search trends in this vibrant post-pandemic period, and what are the changes we’re likely to see as more companies look beyond recovery, and onwards towards growth – and prosperity – in 2022 and beyond?

Virtual assessment for the win

In the absence of social assessment opportunities, skilled recruiters have told the researchers at Deloitte, who put together the recent CFO Insights report, that they are “increasingly turning to cultural compatibility and psychometric assessment tools delivered digitally or online”, along with “simulation-based virtual interviews”, where candidates unpack – in detail – how they would deal with a work challenge via a platform such as Zoom.

Boards give input

If boards used to take a back foot in the hiring process, they’ve changed their tune post-pandemic and are making sure they’re involved; right from early on. What they want is candidates who can “strengthen balance sheets, develop policies to protect employees, and safeguard shareholder interests”. These inputs are all the more important when the economy is precariously placed.

Patience for internal applicants

Being in-house at a firm, in a junior role, no longer means you’ll be up for promotion any time soon. A senior, skilled external candidate is likely to be more appealing to a company that’s made it through the pandemic unscathed, than a junior from within their own ranks who has been relatively sheltered.

People skills trump all

You can communicate well and collaborate effectively with your team and other staff members? Yes, please. These “softer traits” – empathy, compassion, reflection, openness, and communication, say researchers, are likely to put an executive ahead in the future; even more than the traditional “dominance, risk-taking, and assertive take-charge style”. This is because staff members work well when they’re understood and heard; it’s a positive thing that the pandemic has left us with.

According to Jeremy Bossenger, director at BossJansen Executive Search: “We look for CFOs and other senior executives who are curious, energetic and keen to learn. There are many ways to do this, which certainly come out in interviews – investigating what other firms and nations are doing; listening to shareholders and stakeholders; analysing and sharing an opinion on data. It’s not easy to be a senior manager – you need to manage remotely, with both empathy and strategy.

And then there’s the need for a senior staff member, such as your new CFO, to be more tech-savvy than any up-and-coming junior. We’re here to put your firm ahead by eeking out these characteristics upfront,” he enthuses.