The outbreak of COVID-19 at the outset of 2020 left the global economy at a standstill with dozens of countries combatting economic, health care, and educational collapse. As the virus spiraled into an unprecedented pandemic, hundreds of companies halted operations, resorted to layoffs and furloughs, and attempted to stave off financial ruin. While suspending operations and quarantining proved to be an effective method of eliminating the virus for some countries, that has not held for the United States. With six months of limited economic activity behind us and COVID-19 cases continuing to surge, companies are steadily emerging from hibernation and resuming daily operations with recovery and reinvention in mind.
Although the country has experienced higher unemployment rates than those of the Great Depression and the Great Recession, unemployment rates for senior-level executives have remained low. Why? Because the value proposition of strong leadership, innovative problem-solving, and a wealth of technical knowledge has never been higher. Employees crave unified management to redefine and reignite commerce, save the bottom line, and cultivate a sense of renewed longevity and stability in the marketplace.
The virus has instigated unparalleled economic disruption and market volatility that has wreaked havoc within every industry and sector — and there has never been a more critical or pivotal moment to invest in recruitment and hiring. A cornerstone of every recovery process, regardless of the organization, will be game-changing top-level executives with resumes and leadership abilities tailor-made to navigating unpredictable economic terrain within each market niche.
Identifying and bringing the right people to the table has become a much more ambiguous process, though. In the midst of a public health crisis, the hiring process has changed drastically. Shawn Cole, President of Cowen Partners Executive Search has broken down the four most critical facets of the hiring process to consider and adopt in order to bring in critical new leadership and redefine the new normal.
Here are four pillars of a results-driven, adaptable, and successful hiring process in a post-COVID-19 economy.
Active recruiting efforts remain paramount in hiring strategies. Leveraging upper-level management hires to alleviate company-specific pain points is one of the most effective COVID-19 recovery strategies. Doing so successfully entails a level of precision akin to finding a needle in a haystack.
Given the pervasive and permanent impact the virus has had on our American and global economies, the time to reexamine long term company plans, goals, and management is now. Post-pandemic conditions have left companies with vastly different needs, strategic approaches, and priorities than they had before. The key to setting organizations up for success, regaining ground in the marketplace, and establishing strong, cohesive upper-level management will be identifying and recruiting the specific executives who have the skills and qualities necessary to fulfill such radically changed and evolving company needs.
The notion of filling positions based on company culture has long been considered an ineffective and obsolete method of hiring, particularly when filling high-level executive positions. In a pre-COVID-19 hiring and recruitment climate, though, impressions of candidates made during in-person meetings and interviews undoubtedly contributed to the final decision, despite any preexisting structures steps of the hiring process. In a digitally-driven post-pandemic world, however, in-person communication has been reduced to almost nothing. Whatever remnants of culture-minded or impression-based hiring have dissipated and the importance of a structured hiring process has increased exponentially.
To make informed, successful hires throughout COVID-19 and beyond, approach hiring in a clinical, consistent, and precise format. Understanding the nuances and responsibilities of a position and how those responsibilities contribute to the areas within company operations that need the most innovation is vital. Utilize that information to create interview guides and candidate scorecards that align with the specific needs and constraints of the position in question.
Have a clear path of progression for candidates, from the start of the interview process to the end and ensure that each interviewer possesses those documents as they speak with candidates. We recommend having only one or two interviewers in each round of the hiring process, as connecting virtually with candidates can be much more difficult than traditional in-person settings.
A company hiring structure should be individualized to the specific position within the company and reflective of the broader organization’s operations. There is no hiring process without a structure, and the structure of the hiring process almost always determines how successful an upper-level management hire is.
At Cowen Partners we use the 10/5/2 philosophy that outlines an interview process for all upper-level management and executive positions. Narrow the pool of candidates down to ten qualified, vetted, and screened contenders, at the minimum. Creating a comprehensive list of contenders is in the organization’s best interest. Then, conduct five phone screens, hold two finalist interviews with team members, and conclude the search with one offer. We recommend that all of our clients utilize this approach.
Integrate the 10/5/2 method into a preexisting or newly developed hiring process. This is one hiring strategy that can and should be applied to all executive searches as it fosters precision and diversity throughout the hiring process. It will also reinforce the objectivity, consistency, and informed evaluations established throughout the development of your company’s hiring structure.
Used by top executive search firms and Fortune 500 companies, the 10/5/2 method of hiring provides professionals with the due diligence needed to make an informed hiring decision. The bottom line, it drives results. And, in such an uncertain economy, there is no doubt that results-oriented organizations will be the ones to thrive.
Hiring and onboarding top executives in a post-pandemic economic landscape demands that the recruitment process prioritize the candidate experience. Many companies have struggled to navigate hiring upper-level management virtually — a risky and highly unusual proposition at best— or conducting in-person interviews with their final candidates in a modified format.
COVID-19 is unique in that there are hugely varying levels of fear and discomfort surrounding its spread and select individuals are at much higher risk than others. Consider your current company operations and protocols when electing to hold in-person or virtual interviews. Should an organization decide to move forward with in-person meetings for their final two candidates, ensure that both contenders’ consent. To protect interview objectivity and prevent bias, only move forward with in-person interviews if all candidates agree to meet in-person. Implement safety protocols into the experience that ensure the safety of those being interviewed: masks, offices and spaces with appropriate social distancing guidelines, and sanitizer.
Establishing an open and transparent line of communication with candidates and considering their experience, safety, and comfort throughout the interview process in a post-COVID era will be pivotal in finding the right hire.
Shawn Cole is President and Founding Partner of Cowen Partners