7 Ways to Shake up Your Executive Hiring Methods in 2021

It’s safe to say it’s been an unconventional year—and, in many ways, an unprecedented one. With this in mind, why do things the way you always have? If there’s one thing this last year has taught us, it’s that the same approaches to challenges don’t always work. Trying new methods can result in better outcomes, and for private equity firms, considering trying something different may be the key to better-quality hires, shorter time to hire and bigger successes in 2021—a year which will no doubt be another unconventional one.

Here are 7 ways to view your hiring through a new lens this year.

1. Specialized executive search firms —> General executive search firms.

A firm’s first hunch may be to turn to industry-specific, specialized executive firms for a few reasons: 1) They always have, 2) They’re limited on time and need to quickly target top candidates in their industry for a very specific executive role, and 3) Only a specialized firm knows their industry inside and out and can find that “niche candidate.”

We’ve already mentioned why the first reason may be an uninspired one. The second reason involves a widely misunderstood idea about specialized firms. Rather than zoning in on the right candidate, you may actually be limiting your pool of available talent, and over-saturating the niche market you’re hoping to target. This is because when a firm is concurrently engaging multiple clients in the same narrow space as yours, some of the best candidates will be shared with the other firms first. Due to “off-limits” terms, if yours is the sixth search they are conducting for the same pool of candidates, you’ll never get access to candidates from the first five ongoing searches. In addition, the firm only searches for candidates in your industry, leaving out a lot of highly qualified candidates who could bring a fresh set of eyes and skills to your role.

The third reason no longer holds in today’s hiring environment: Once-slow search processes have been modernized due to robust technology, and executive search firms do not have exclusive access to “niche candidates.” The success of search firms today is about how they’re engaging the labor market. Generalist firms are experts in search, period. And the right generalist search firm will quickly determine the kind of candidate needed for a complex or niche position, regardless of the industry or specialty.

Try a different approach for 2021. Give your hiring an immediate advantage by seeking out a search firm that focuses on the quality of talent above all else. The right partner will complete a search for your specific candidate before taking on another candidate search with similar parameters for another private equity firm, so you can be confident you’re getting access to the best available talent.

2. Hard skills alone —> Hard and soft skills.

LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report found that 92 percent of hiring professionals consider soft skills to be just as important as hard skills, and that need has only intensified as organizations wrestle with unprecedented situations. New skill needs are coming to light in times of uncertainty, and hard skills alone just won’t cut it. Many organizations are seeking executives with empathy, adaptability, communication management, creativity and critical thinking, conflict resolution and the ability to lead in times of change in their day-to-day roles—and who, in a virtual interview situation, can demonstrate how they have supported their staff with these soft skills, particularly in a volatile year.

Consider a search partner who has helped clients successfully bring on executive candidates with the right blend of soft and hard skills, while guiding them through the unchartered territory of 2020.

3. Permanent/retained hiring —> Contract hiring.

Moving forward, nearly every company will need to adapt its workforce structure to both meet the current needs of their business and kickstart future growth—and with leaner resources. Many companies are finding that bringing on contract workers to work on critical initiatives is the safest and most cost-effective solution for this. Those who have never considered contract workers should give them a second look: They often have specialized technical or soft skills that meet very specific needs. As companies only pay for the hours a contractor works, contractors can also reduce a company’s fixed costs. They give companies flexibility in times of fluctuation, as those in charge of hiring can decide the length of the contractor’s assignment and scale up or down depending on their changing needs. And while hiring permanent staff can take a month or more, bringing on contractors can be almost immediate, especially if you are working with a search firm that knows its contract workers well and can quickly determine the best fit for your particular need.

Contractors can hit the ground running once on the job, and they usually have a strong and wide base of knowledge under their belt already.

4. Hiring locally —> Letting go of geographic barriers.

As hiring and working have largely shifted to a virtual, remote model, geographic limitations only exist in the literal physical sense of not working side by side. In every other sense, they don’t exist for a workforce that’s primarily connecting online. Many companies that previously focused only on local candidates are now expanding their focus to include candidates on a national or international scale, as candidates’ physical presence may no longer be a necessity for their role. Remote work gives employers the ability to cast a wider net and consider highly qualified executives they previously may not have had access to. Companies that are able to move quickly can round out their teams by bringing in fresh candidates who are well equipped to face today’s challenges—even if they’re across the globe.

5. Large executive search firms —> Small search firms.

A massive, household-name search firm can be tempting. After all, their size must mean they have access to the most candidates, right? Not so fast. Some of the biggest executive search firm conglomerates end up having limited capacity to serve their clients well and give them personalized service, because they’re simply spread too thin. As a huge firm overextends itself and makes promises it can’t keep, you don’t get the attention you need and deserve. And with a large search firm, you’ll likely be working with very green and junior-level search associates, rather than seasoned search experts. There are just too many clients for everyone to get the level of expertise they may expect, and too many candidates to form a personal relationship with each person.

At very large search firms, placing candidates frequently becomes a numbers game, and this results in an impersonal and transaction-based experience. On top of, and sometimes because of that, a large conglomerate often presents the wrong fit. This either ends up slowing down a client’s process, or rushing them and persuading candidates into interviews or companies they aren’t interested in, due to time constraints. The result? A mismatch and waste of time for the client and the candidate.

A small search firm, however, is able to establish personal relationships and a level of trust that deepens through time, honest conversations and proven placement success. In fact, at Madison Gunn, personal relationships are an integral part of finding the best possible job fit for both parties, and we pride ourselves on it. To us, every client and candidate we partner with is a true priority—and they will be supported in that capacity. Because we’ve built up strong relationships with our candidates and clients, we’ll likely already know someone perfect for the job when a client approaches us about an executive hiring need. Clients can go to anyone on our team, and that team member can pick right up where someone else left off. We’re familiar with a candidate’s fit for various types of clients, and we communicate with our executive network frequently to understand any changes in their job status or skill set.

In addition, a small search firm works with very few clients at a time, which gives them much more flexibility in terms of clients’ and candidates’ needs. Small firms can be flexible on pricing and fee structures, while large firms will generally not budge from their standard 30 percent (1/3 – 1/3 – 1/3). This makes it riskier to engage in a search when, considering the other reasons listed above, you could find yourself in a “bad” search and are hard-pressed to get the search back on track.

6. Poach employed executives —> Hire laid-off executives.

It’s no secret that more C-suite executives are keeping their options open, whether by choice or necessity. The influx of recently unemployed workers is a consequence of the hardships the pandemic has brought to the labor market on a national—and international—scale. It is not, however, an indication of workers being unsuccessful at their jobs. Many organizations that are no longer able to afford their staffing levels have been forced to make impossible choices. As a result, the market is currently flooded with talented C-suite executives who were laid off purely as a result of hard choices during a pandemic.

While the talent market is in a unique state of flux, an especially high number of talented people who aren’t regularly on the hunt for a job are now open to or actively searching for one. If you’re in a position to hire, now is the time to consider seeking them. Fair warning, though: They likely won’t be around for very long.

7. In-person interviews —> Virtual interviews.

Because of the pandemic, there will be no “going back to the way we once did things” in many aspects of our lives. With all the workplace changes we have seen comes a necessary shift in the way firms are hiring candidates. The good news? Virtual hiring, which is becoming more and more prevalent in executive hiring, is a much more efficient and cost-effective process for clients. With Zoom taking the place of time-intensive, in-person interviews, clients are able to quickly find out whether or not a candidate is a good fit. It’s helpful for candidates, too: Many candidates now prefer the process because it’s much more convenient without the schedule juggling, travel and extended timeframe that used to be required. (Get more granular on Madison Gunn’s virtual hiring timeline here.)

In this streamlined experience, the Madison Gunn team can meet with several candidates in the same amount of time it used to take to meet just one person, and give clients a larger slate of candidates to review in a much shorter timeframe. Clients have access to new kinds of talent, because more executives have the time and availability to consider new opportunities.

With both parties on the same turf (likely in their home offices, talking through a computer screen) the virtual process also offers new ways for clients and candidates to peel away the usual stuffiness of interviews and really get to know one another. Virtual interviewing has filled in gaps that existed in an in-person environment, widened the pool of highly qualified available talent and significantly sped up time to hire.

For employers and candidates alike, however, virtual interviewing can be uncharted territory. That’s why working with a staffing firm that’s experienced and effective at virtual interviewing, and that can confidently lead both parties through the process, is a key element of successful hiring both now and as we move into the future.

While the path you take to hire may change in 2021, the need for top-notch executives won’t. Now is the time to get ahead of next year’s needs. Take advantage of increased access to highly qualified talent, and consider filling emerging skill gaps before they become urgent ones.

Not sure where to start? Contact us today to chat with one of our executive search experts about your talent needs for 2021.

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