Is Anyone Hiring Executives Right Now?

April 24, 2020 Carilu Dietrich

With the economic chaos unleashed by the coronavirus, stories of layoffs, furloughs and hiring freezes are dominating the news. It’s enough to make us all depressed. Yet new hiring continues, especially at the executive level. Carilu Dietrich is a coach for marketing executives and in the last few weeks has had several clients secure amazing roles within great companies. Kate Bullis, co-founder and leader of the Marketing/Growth Practice at SEBA International Executive Search, has similarly seen most searches continue in this unprecedented time. We wrote this piece to share with companies and candidates the continued opportunity we’re hearing about from CEOs, CMOs and colleagues in executive search.

Over the last week we informally surveyed more than twenty search firm owners and practice leaders across the country. They confirmed that at the executive level, approximately 70% of searches are moving ahead. Some searches have gone on hold, but few have been cancelled. Most firms are seeing a slower pace of new searches, but half of those surveyed have opened new searches since March 15th. The majority of executive searches continue as critical business needs remain and in some cases have accelerated. 

What General Trends are We Seeing? 

Among the recruiting firms’ observations, B2C companies have been hit harder and faster than B2B, especially real estate, travel, retail and consumer services. Startups have been hit harder relative to larger companies. For startups, burn rates and cash-on-hand quickly became an urgent focus; they slowed hiring earlier than larger companies and were quicker to make adjustments in existing teams. 

How are Companies Planning for Recovery?

Many leaders are focused on their opportunity to build toward more growth and resilience coming out of the economic uncertainty. A relevant analysis of more than 4,700 companies over the last three recessions showed that 9% of companies emerge even STRONGER from recession, by "orchestrating a delicate balance of cutting costs to survive today and investing to grow tomorrow." McKinsey identified 20% of companies they call “Resilients” that emerged from the last recession with a small lead that they extended over the following 10 years. Their strategies included smart cuts to operations that allowed them to invest in more critical areas of their businesses. 

One consumer tech company made drastic moves to emerge on the other side of coronavirus with growth. In the first week of quarantine the company furloughed some employees, instituted pay cuts for others (including the entire C-suite) and laid off others. These moves allowed them to quickly move ahead with a key growth strategy that had been planned for 2021. The tough decisions in March saved millions of dollars that they invested in a new path to growth. This pivot increased their need to hire a key leader. Their search remains in full swing.

Whether a company has plenty of cash on hand, is cost cutting and low on cash, experiencing slow-down or acceleration, the need for key leaders to institute new strategies or fill an existing gap remains high at many companies.  

What is the Mindset of Candidates? 

Are any good candidates available? Are they all hiding in their roles, waiting out the storm and unwilling to move amidst the uncertainty? Yes and no, say recruiters. Some candidates are less interested in moving, but others may be seeing new weaknesses in their own companies or industries. Others are keeping an open mind - appreciating the strength of a company that is willing and able to prioritize a hire in this market.

One recruiter we spoke to said the current market had created clarity by removing a host of passive, unlikely candidates. She shared “candidates that are reasonably happy and stable may be taking fewer calls. Others are seeing big changes at their current company or industry and are taking more calls. I'm talking to fewer fence-sitters, but lots of great candidates open to the right opportunity.” 

For executives on the hunt, maintain a confident and connected mindset knowing that there are still valuable opportunities to pursue. Companies with fortitude, focus, financial stability, or superior products are the companies still hiring. Even companies under a hiring freeze are often hiring for critical senior-level roles, and may be poised for post-crisis growth. What’s more, any conversations that stall today may create opportunity down the road. 

What should you do next? 

If you’re a leader considering a hire, it’s valid to re-prioritize your hires and keep overall spending in mind. It’s also worthwhile to revisit the specifications of any role and decide if the most important skills for the next 1-2 years are covered versus the ideal 3-5 year candidate you may have considered before. As CMO Janice Le points out, now is the time for wartime leadership. Be sure you’re hiring someone capable of leading through the good and the bad. If you’ve done all this and have still a critical role to fill, keep moving. Great people are out there and many are still open-minded to opportunities. 

If you’re a candidate looking, keep looking! There are still interesting roles, great chances to connect with influential people and opportunities to expand your knowledge and perspective. The interview process gives you inside access to other companies’ strategies and how they are adapting to the current market - items that may even make you more impactful in your current role.

Whether you’re a hiring manager or potential candidate, timeless wisdom still applies: 

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” ~ Nietzsche 

“Wherever there is change and uncertainty, there is opportunity” ~ Mark Cuban 

“What you seek is seeking you” ~ Rumi

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