Covid-19: Timing your executive recruitment

20th May, 2020

As many third sector chief officers, senior managers and administrative staff locked their office doors behind them in March and learned a whole new language of videoconferencing and remote team working, many put their recruitment plans on hold.  Apart from wondering about the logistics of how they could conduct interviews effectively, they had understandable anxieties about the effect that lockdown would have on the potential pool of candidates.

At Engage, we’ve definitely seen a shift in appetite from senior public sector staff to switch sectors.  With all the uncertainty that Covid-19 entails, it’s entirely rational for them to stay put in jobs that are perceived to have more job security.  For candidates already in the third sector, priorities are different.  Generalising, I know, but they tend to be more resilient when it comes to threats to job security.  There’s a greater appreciation in that sector that while an employment contract may be stamped ‘Permanent’ and ‘Full Time’, the funding environment effectively means there’s no such thing as true job security there.  Same goes with private sector candidates who are more used to feeling the pressures of market fluctuations on their security.

So should third sector employers who, pre-Covid-19, had identified changes they needed at the top of their organisations just hunker down and see if they can weather the storm, or is there a case for adapting the recruitment process and ploughing ahead?  The answer, as always, is ‘it depends’.  If an incumbent has agreed to delay their departure, that might be the right decision, although their motivation might be tested if they were already on a descending glide-path to being demobbed.  If the organisation is definitely losing the incumbent during or in the aftermath of Covid-19, then there’s no longer any reason why plans should be delayed. Organisations need more leadership during Covid-19, not less. After a headless chicken phase in March, everyone has settled in to the new normal.  If you can run a team meeting effectively online, and most organisations can, then the logistics of interviewing and selection is no more complex.  Sure – there are some techniques to learn to help replicate the ebb and flow of a more natural conversation in a videoconference, but these are not rocket surgery.  (You can read my tips for videoconferenced interviews elsewhere on this site).

The induction phase for a new candidate is a more complex issue.  Organisations can replicate the meet-and-greet walkaround to new staff by videoconference or webinar too, but sometimes it’s essential for a new manager to get a feel for front-line service delivery areas.  Again, by now there is sufficient guidance and practice around social distancing to allow a physical meeting to take place, but the organisation needs to take a view on whether or not it constitutes an essential journey.

Northern Ireland already has a roadmap and targets for the easing of restrictions, so it’s time to start planning your recruitment processes for these now.  At Engage, thanks to the deployment of our existing online platforms long before Covid-19, we’ve been recruiting at Senior Management and Chief Officer level throughout the pandemic.  And we’ll be proud to assist other third sector organisations to do the same.

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