How do I persuade a key hire to move to my organisation in the midst of a pandemic?

04 May 2020

How do I persuade a key hire to move to my organisation in the midst of a pandemic?

In a transformed hiring situation, there are steps you can take to de-risk the process and secure the right leadership talent.

These are uncertain times and we understand that organisations are naturally nervous about making appointments in the current environment, but key hires may still need to be made in your business.

If you have a valid business case for that appointment, then there are certain advantages to running a search process right now.

Fewer organisations will be hiring, so you will stand-out as one of the more resilient firms in your sector. There is less competition for talent. And you will be able to access exceptional people who might not have been available in ‘normal’ circumstances.

Naturally, you will want to de-risk the appointment as much as possible.

Firstly, you’ll need to get comfortable with the idea of potentially hiring someone without meeting them.

There is a lot you can do to get comfortable.

To start with, it pays to engage a wider selection of stakeholders in your business (where internal confidentiality allows) about the role to confirm agreement on the skill-set, culture-fit and outcomes attached to the position. 

“This is clearly a fundamentally-important stage if there is uncertainty about future operating models and therefore some serious thinking and discussion is required about what roles or types of leaders are required,” says Tim Sleep, Managing Director, Odgers Berndtson Australia and New Zealand.

What is the person there to do? Is everyone agreed on this?

“We are working with a client that wants us to speak to the entire board. We have done one-to-one video conferences with each, and really got their perspective on the role, the future of the organisation and what the new candidate needs to do for them,” says Chris Hamilton, Global Head of Life Sciences Practice.

Why should they choose you?

You’ll also need to explore how best to present your business at this time. What is it about your business model that makes you more resilient than other businesses?

Why is your organisation a good long-term option for candidates? What is your post-Covid-19 plan? These are all questions that will need answering before any excellent candidate will contemplate a pandemic-era career move.

Video interviewing

Video interviewing has become key to any recruitment process. It offers a flexibility that you can use in your favour as you overcome the lack of the regular cues of a face-to-face encounter.

But as Tim Sleep notes, “Do be prepared for 1-2 extra interviews in the process, it’s something many of us have noticed. This serves as doing more due diligence (both for the client and the candidates) and is again more possible because video  interviews are easier to organise than face-to-face ones  with travel and so on.”

Connect early and often

Remember, you may need to ‘sell’ more to convince someone to leave their current company.

“Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes – you need to give them as much exposure to your business as possible, and you need to get as many people in your team to meet the candidate. The more you see of each other, the more you will trust your judgement. Make the formal and the informal connections early on,” observes Chris Hamilton.

For example, why not start the interview process with an informal discussion, instead of a formal interview.

Finding the culture fit

Discussions with key people across your business will help the candidate better assess the organisation’s culture. Make some of these informal too.

A coffee on Zoom won’t quite match a coffee and tour of your office, but it will help the candidate get a feel for what makes your company tick.

Somewhere along the way, it is good to include at least one 15-20 min presentation based on a topic or set of questions that are relatable for all candidates. 

It should go without saying, in all of this, being positive is key. Emphasise the importance of the hire to your business, explain why your business is resilient in the current climate and how your culture allows your firm to adapt as you plan for the future.

Leadership team calls

Ensure all relevant stakeholders meet the preferred final candidates at least once one-on-one online, and then in a group session, so the candidate can gauge the dynamics of your leadership team as a group.

Consider a ‘team panel’ event. Ask candidates to chair a mock internal meeting to see how they engage with the team. Clearly, this is especially important during remote working.

Well-informed decision-makers

Give your internal decision-makers the maximum of data, like online psychometric evaluation and assessment on all the candidates, before interviews begin.

Do make sure that the soft referencing is thorough in order to test the style and fit of the candidate with your culture.

Who might have met you and have a view on whether you can work together, given your respective styles?

Stay in touch

If the candidate is happy to join your firm without face-to-face meetings (and in our experience this is certainly happening) then do stay in touch. Schedule regular calls throughout their notice period to answer any questions. And be there with support through their resignation process too (with our help, if required).

Virtual onboarding

Onboarding in a socially-distant world is clearly a challenge. It will have to be robust, detailed and take into account the challenges of remote working and how this will impact the newcomer’s ability to engage with the business quickly and build trust with colleagues and their own team/reportees.

Chris Hamilton cites a recently- placed candidate who was appointed, and started work during the lockdown. “His employer couriered all his technology to him and set up an extensive schedule of video conferences for the UK and global teams that he will interact with. And I know he has already started important tasks. The advice is not to forget about the informal interactions that also help people get on board. You can’t take a new joiner to lunch, so you have to set up calls and video calls that are just to chat and get to know each other, so they form the personal connections as well as the professional ones.”

Hiring managers need to take personal ownership for engaging regularly with the candidate to ensure virtual onboarding is successful.

In our experience, critical hires are being made without face-to-face meetings, providing the necessary steps to de-risk the appointment have been taken. 

Despite this, your chosen candidate may prefer to wait until social distancing restrictions have been removed and you can meet face-to-face. It goes without saying, that staying in touch with them during this time is essential.

We hope this advice has been of use as we adapt to the evolving COVID-19 situation. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any queries about this subject, or any other aspect of talent or leadership. We are here to help, now, and in the future.