Hiring in the time of COVID-19. Part 1

I found myself in a very strange situation for the first time in 25-years of doing this thing we call, “search”.  Suddenly I had candidates, and I had a search committee, but the two were separated by both distance and the mandate to stay home.  The option to fly out to meet with my search committee and just have the candidates come to us was not the right option for these new and challenging COVID times – so what was the right option?  

I have always been keen to find creative ways to achieve success for the clients and candidates I have served and supported over the years, and this new reality would be no different. It was simply about meeting the goals of the client by finding them a new CAO in a timely manner, and meeting the needs of the candidate by finding them a new and challenging role, but keeping them both safe in the process. Like many, I turned to the use of technology to create a virtual option for the personable aspects of the executive search process. 

Here a few lessons learned that might help those who are looking to do the same:

1. Maximize the use of online tools that are available.   With the use of video conferencing apps and platforms like FaceTime or Zoom, you can host a ‘face to face’ meeting with your search committee, and conduct interviews, right from the comfort of your home office. Choose a platform that will provide you with a variety of options to enhance your interview process such as dial-in audio to help maximize internet bandwidth, multiple video participants, a chat feature, and the ability to send quick links so others can easily join your online meeting.

2. Be flexible and adaptable. While technology can be incredibly useful, it can also be incredibly unpredictable. Remember to be flexible and adaptable when links to the video conference platform don’t work for candidates, or when the internet connection becomes unstable and someone freezes. Such issues may even mean re-scheduling an interview at the last minutes to allow time to troubleshoot issues. Try to remain patient in these moments and put everyone in the interview at ease.

3. Remember to smile.  Remember to be personable during an online interview by using engaging in body language that encourages discussion and puts people at ease. While the virtual environment feels a little less formal, realize that the stakes are high for both the client and the candidate and both parties may be nervous. Offer a smile to re

4. Ease people into the online environment. Provide an opportunity for your candidates to familiarize themselves with using the online platform or app to participate in an interview process. Set up a time to test the technology and their equipment so they can get used to the environment. Ask them a few prep questions while you’re online together and assess how they might answer a question. Coach candidates with tips about looking at the camera when they talk and how to best use a microphone and headphones.  This will also help you become comfortable with the online setting as well.

5. Minimize distractions.  I tend to forget that my taste in art isn’t necessarily the same as everyone. There is one canvas in particular that hangs behind me on the wall in my home office that might easily distract someone during an interview  Knowing this, I will take it down before I login to FaceTime or Zoom to ensure that it does not distract others during an interview, nor become the point of focus.  Be aware of what others may be seeing in your background and minimize distractions as much as possible.

These five elements, when combined with the use of technology, maintained the personable aspects of the interview process even though we were engaging in a virtual environment. In Part 2, I’ll elaborate more on how technology can be effectively used in other aspects of an executive search to ensure a timely and successful hire of leadership talent.

Philip JW Smith is President of Smith Search.