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The outbreak of COVID-19 and the restrictions imposed have effectively ripped up the executive search rulebook. That might not be a bad thing. While technology advancements in the last decade have propelled the recruitment industry, executive search has generally not evolved and instead stayed truer to its roots – depending on extensive networks, specialised industry knowledge and building relationships face to face.  

All that looks set to change – finally – as the pandemic forced the focus for many organisations away from the slow speed, high cost and lack of transparency and control of the traditional executive search model. With businesses commonly spending as much or more on executive search as on the rest of recruitment, procurement operations must reduce costs and cultivate a higher ROI. To achieve this, the HR or Talent Acquisition (TA) team should get full control of the process.

One area where internal TA teams will need outside help is data. We see a trend towards organisations seeking research and insight services to gain visibility to the senior talent landscape. Unfortunately, traditional search firms do not provide this type of research support without bundling it together with more services like the shortlisting of candidates and hiring for an end-to-end service. Meanwhile, the methodologies of pure play research companies lack sophistication and often use outdated data. Organisations want these types of services unbundled to focus on upfront research and insight to map talent, build pipelines and inform business decisions.

To reach the desired ROI, organisations and search firms need to make senior placements quicker. The process should offer the same benefits of recruitment process outsourcing, including ownership with flexibility, control and data provision. It means search firms will need to rethink their value proposition or become obsolete. The outsourcing model is a more attractive proposition as we navigate the changes caused by the pandemic. An executive search partner with RPO experience can offer the type of services and capabilities to deliver the results businesses need.

The leadership environment has also changed considerably over the last three months. We are seeing a spike in demand for HR leaders who have rightsizing experience, particularly across multiple countries. Companies are looking for infrastructure leaders across finance, audit and compliance who can help protect businesses over the coming months and procurement leaders with a track record of reducing spend without impacting quality of vendor provision. Redundancies are already happening at all levels and there will be more as organisations seek these different skillsets as the economy contracts.

The skills and experience organisations look for in executives are changing as a result. Previous achievements and experience outlined on CVs were not achieved in today’s environment and so demonstrable successes during the current period of pandemic-enforced remote leadership will become increasingly essential. Organisations will be looking for a different and diverse skillset that fits their new organisational landscape and their plans for the future.

Executive-level talent also might be exercising caution when considering a career move in today’s climate, which compounds recruiting challenges. From a recruiter point of view, candidate care is more important than ever in convincing executives to make a move at this turbulent time. Employer brand is critical for companies to move forward successfully to both retain and attract the right leaders who can help take them forward and out of the crisis.

Organisations should consider working with an executive search RPO partner at this time to incorporate the flex and scale that is unavailable in in-house teams, while also benefiting from the greater speed, agility, data and efficiency they offer. Employers are managing an unprecedented amount of challenges this year. But the change to executive search is long overdue – and it should usher in a new and improved era.

Craig Pointon, EVP & Global Head of Executive Search – Cielo

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