Early in the global pandemic, executive searches slowed down significantly with the exception of the tech sector, which remained active. With 2021 already begun, hiring is already back to pre-pandemic levels. In this Q&A, RGP Head of Executive Search Maria Martindale outlines what she sees ahead.
What major changes have you seen in executive search since the pandemic began almost a year ago? Do you think they’ll become permanent features or will we go back to the way things used to be—or maybe a hybrid?
The initial reaction was conservative hiring at the beginning of the pandemic with the exception of the technology sector. It’s moved quickly without slowing down. As we moved through the summer months of 2020, however, activity began to accelerate. Now, with 2021 begun, hiring is back to pre-pandemic levels.
In terms of other changes, we’ve seen people more willing to accept fully remote roles and greater flexibility in work schedules, as well as an increase in counter offers to keep teams intact. From a candidate perspective, we’ve seen fewer people willing to make a change. Mostly that’s due to not wanting to be the last one hired and risking being the first one laid off if the organization struggles as the result of the pandemic.
With 2021 now beginning, what sectors are seeing the biggest demand in executive search?
The technology sector is the fastest-moving vertical, with automation and cloud solutions being important areas for helping companies achieve performance.
What skills and experience are in the highest demand?
Again, we’re seeing unprecedented demand for skills needed in the tech sector, including data analytics, systems administrators and developers. Not far behind are financial managers for cash flow forecasting, liquidity analysis and banking relations. Healthcare professionals are also in high demand, especially for patient care and revenue cycle management, as healthcare organizations deal with the special demands that have been placed on their organizations during the pandemic.
Are executive searches really team searches since new C-suite executives often bring people with them? Can you elaborate?
Executive searches are typically for one to five key roles simultaneously. We’ve seen an increase over the past few years of private equity groups replacing entire teams post-acquisition. That trend is primarily driven by decisions made through due diligence and recommendations of the transaction services team.
I’ve heard you mention that C-suite retirements increased in 2020, creating new openings. Can you give more details? What sectors saw the biggest number of retirements and why?
There’s now a prevailing theme that fresh ideas are needed, including transformative leaders with an automation mindset. The status quo and standards of the past are rapidly changing. Adaptability to change and progressive thought as well as bringing value from different perspectives are also paramount.
People had been interviewing online before the pandemic, but now it’s clearly a permanent feature. What are the plusses and minuses? Any surprises?
Online interviews have certainly accelerated the interview process as well as hiring and onboarding. The pros of the process have been flexibility and the ability to analyze communication and presentation competencies for enterprise leadership roles. The downside is the inability to see the campuses and feel the culture in person. It’s not always easy to replicate that online.
Tell me how executive search fits into RGP’s overall value proposition for clients?
Executive Search is a nice complement to our consulting solutions. We’re an advisory practice that adds key leaders to organizations. We’re able to present a holistic solution to our client for people, processes and technology. By knowing the client so well through our advisory work, we’re better able to quickly identify talent that not only brings the functional and technical skills to the organization, but also the intangible and leadership skills to make an immediate impact for the organization.
Finally, is there anything that you’d like to add?
While this has been an unprecedented year of change for all organizations, we have partnered with our clients to provide guidance on identifying, interviewing and onboarding virtually and quickly to meet demand for their internal initiatives.