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Executive Search In The Time Of Coronavirus

March 2020
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Canceled. Postponed. Held. This is what my schedule looked like this week, reflecting the full effect of the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe. Gone were the client intake meetings, candidate screenings, and coffee conversations about new search assignments that signaled business as usual until just a few days ago.

Monday morning revealed an inbox flooded with uncertainty. Companies are banning meetings  with outside people, prospects aren’t traveling, and candidates are now reluctant to change jobs.

It was potentially a devastating start to the week, both for my short-term goals and my retained search pipeline.

As an executive search firm, we deal in people: prospects, candidates, referrals, consultants. We help organizations find new leaders. Regardless of sector, all of our clients have one thing in common: people. So a crisis on the scale of coronavirus affecting that entire chain of people requires a critical response.

* * *

On Tuesday morning, I sat down with my team to discuss the role of search firms and recruiters in times of crisis. Together we came up with six elements that can buoy our search game.



As non-essential travel dwindles worldwide, videoconferencing has become the new essential tool. There are both free and paid versions available, and platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts — among others — also offer options that can be tailored to each company’s needs.

Executive search firms that are successful are those that are in touch with many potential candidates at the same time on active searches, which means a considerable amount of face-to-face meetings with domestic and international candidates. We at Stanton Chase have found that videoconferencing is often a suitable replacement. We are now utilizing it for early-round screenings, which helps keep candidates safe and minimizes travel.



Times of crisis are an opportunity for firms to reassess their recruitment workflow. For instance, one could expand on referencing as a way to vet first-round candidates to create a broader profile. The client can then decide, based on the profile, whether they wish to proceed.



With restricted travel reducing the number of interactions between candidates and the company, shortlisted candidates can make the most of the chance to submit “homework” assessments, draft plans, and slide decks.

Less travel translates into more in-office or remote time to prepare candidate presentations, pitches, and research. The research team should still be working near full strength thanks to their ability to work remotely, without suffering any loss to quality of research.



The unexpected pandemic is also an opportunity to assess the productivity levels of meetings. Essential in-person meetings must be kept to a minimum both in duration and frequency. All documents should be sent out virtually in advance, confirming access to avoid the necessity of paper copies being passed around.


Virtual Teams

A virtual project team can bring on diverse consultants from various geographic and practice areas of the firm to help with active searches: all virtually. Schedules, travel, and outside meetings normally render this a challenge, but in the current environment it’s an ideal way to collaborate on consulting, insights, and other perspectives while keeping people safe. Global firms like Stanton Chase can also interview global candidates in local offices if travel restrictions or safety concerns prevent international travel.

An online project management system involves the global project team and cuts down on in-person update and feedback meetings between clients and firms. It encourages transparency of both process and expectations and highlights the timeline for each project.



Of course, there comes a time when the client and top candidates have to meet. Responsibly approaching these meetings in a way that ensures the safety of clients, recruiters, and candidates must be discussed and agreed upon as a priority.

If offices are closed or not allowing outside meetings, it may be necessary to to go elsewhere for  interviews. It’s best to look for places that aren’t overly crowded, and make sure the candidates are expensed for a cab or other transport that allows them to skip public transportation. Try to avoid peak hours at places like coffeeshops and restaurants. Shaking hands shouldn’t be required, but make sure everyone knows about it beforehand, so nobody is caught off-guard.

If interviews must be held in-house, think about scheduling an Interview Day, where candidates are able to choose a time that works best for them and the internal recruiting team can prepare ahead of time for safety and wellness.

Look for a firm that is willing to go out of their way to help in a tough time, knowing that your company could be facing industry-related challenges and hurdles. If they are only looking at profits and bottom lines, now probably isn’t a great time to work with them – even if it could save you money.

* * *

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen that many candidates are still interested in meetings and clients still have important roles to fill. While the office environment is certainly different, there’s still work to be done, and leaders are waiting to be placed.

Stanton Chase is encouraging clients to assess their business and executive search needs over the next two to three months. Companies can leverage internal teams by identifying potential talent for key roles that will need to be filled later in the year. We are already working with several clients to support their internal teams in building mapping studies for key roles they anticipate once the market settles. This is how we prepare for shifting talent needs.

As always, we encourage clients to plan their executive searches in advance so that they have a clear timeline allowing for flexibility. Stanton Chase lets clients customize their payments in times of crisis — one of the many ways we stay flexible for clients, as well.

If you have any questions or comments on this topic or about partnering with an executive search firm during the coronavirus pandemic or other times of crisis, feel free to contact me at [email protected].

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