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Managing Your Executive Hiring in a Virtual Environment

I was speaking with a candidate on March 12th as he was coming out of an interview with a client. While he had a great experience meeting with the panel of executives at our client’s office, we both remarked that he might have participated in the last face-to-face interview in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future. Just a few days later, the city shut down all non-essential businesses.

The current world health situation is unprecedented in its impact on society and business. Most of our clients are struggling to keep up with the pace of changing events and the impact on their current workforce. Executive hiring is not exactly at the top of their current priority list. But, they also most likely had searches underway at the point the evolving COVID-19 situation began to take over their lives. 

 How then, do you handle an executive hiring process in this current environment? The following suggestions and advice are not meant to be universal in their application, but are questions to answer and guidelines to consider.

Should I stop the search?

Our default position is that if it is not a mission-critical role, then you should at least discuss pressing the pause button. Your leaders are concentrating on other issues and getting their attention on anything other than coronavirus-related matters will be nearly impossible. If you can even sub-optimally live without the position being filled over a short period of time, then it may be worth doing so until things settle down.

If the position is mission-critical, then how do I move forward?

Even a week into the real business impact of the crisis in the United States, it is becoming clear to us that the recruiting process will be much different. The first step in operating in this new environment would be a meeting with all stakeholders to agree upon a recruitment plan that should include revised timelines, interview protocols, candidate communication, and onboarding processes. Do not, I repeat, do not move forward until everyone agrees on a plan of action.

How will I interview candidates?

Most of us have been utilizing video conferencing technology for many years. While conducting interviews using this medium, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Because panel interviews take practice and skill to manage well on video; we encourage one-to-one communication in this setting.
  • Be sure that everyone captures their thoughts and feedback in one place. A feedback form/tool gathers input in a consistent manner and better facilitates sharing information with key stakeholders.
  • If you have an IT desk, have them help set up the connection so you don’t have any unforeseen challenges at the time of the interview. They will also have recommendations on the best ways to connect and how to continue if things don’t go quite as planned.
  • If you are multi-tasking during a video interview, the candidate will be able to tell so avoid the temptation (really). No matter how “skilled” you are at this, the candidate will notice. If, however, you are taking notes be sure to verbally acknowledge that you’ll be doing so. This will avoid any misreading of those actions.

If I make a hire, how will I onboard a new executive if we are working virtually?

Onboarding in this new environment will most likely suffer and timing of start date is important to consider.

  • If it is a mission-critical position that requires an immediate start date, it may make sense to onboard in a non-conventional way and have a solid plan for circling back around on some of the less imperative onboarding items.
  • For non-critical positions consider being flexible regarding start date. Can you create a tentative start date and adjust as conditions dictate to allow for a more comprehensive onboarding process?
  • Understanding and compassion will go a long way to ensuring that you keep the talented leader you have found engaged and connected. If you’ve decided to push out a start date are there materials or information you can share remotely with the new hire to keep them engaged?
  • If you are moving forward with a modified onboarding plan, be sure you still have a solid plan that touches on any items that are vital to the leader’s short- and long-term success. Transition during normal times has a direct impact on culture and performance. This impact is only heightened during uncertainty.
  • Video chats are again probably the best medium by which to introduce the new executive to their colleagues and their team. Be sure to offer pointers and ideas on how to engage their new team in this remote environment.

We are all feeling our way through this, but there will be life and business after COVID-19. A thoughtful and authentic approach to current recruitment in this time of crisis will prepare your new executive to better integrate into your company.

On a positive note, uncertainty and crisis often bring innovative thinking and solutions to the forefront. Even if you can’t embrace the chaos, there may be ways to leverage it to implement new ideas. 

I’m sure necessity has generated some interesting ideas already; In the spirit of collaboration and community, I hope you will join me in continuing this conversation (and others) over the coming days and weeks.  

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