Continuing with a search during lockdown and remote working

Continuing with a search during lockdown and remote working
Published: 28 May 2020

After almost two months of ‘lockdown’, our new way of working seems to have settled; that’s certainly true in the Berwick Partners and Odgers Berndtson world. On week one, admittedly there was uncertainty as we sought to navigate around a new way of working. We were forced to swiftly adapt to face the world we are living in. Despite reassurance from leadership that the organisation had robust business continuance procedures in place, it was unchartered territory with our biggest question unanswered; could a search continue during lockdown and in a world of remote working? 

Fast forward 8 weeks and I have just completed another search remotely. My most recent placement is a role with a large multinational conglomerate seeking to appoint a senior director to replace an outgoing incumbent in their finance function. The search commenced just before lockdown, candidates had been approached and we were in the final part of the ‘research phase’.  Following Boris Johnson’s announcement back in March, our offices closed immediately. For me, this meant having to complete my assessments and candidate interviews remotely. At this stage my client was concerned about conducting interviews virtually and felt they would need to press pause. I provided reassurance around the use of virtual interviews. This was an essential hire; the current incumbent was moving to an internal role in July and if we pressed pause, particularly for an unknown period, they could be without this individual for many months.

We often need to conduct virtual interviews when a candidate has tight time constraints and I am accustomed to interviewing some of my candidates this way. My virtual interviews are always more thorough. I am conscious of ensuring I have a strong understanding of my candidates’ capabilities and invest time in developing a strong rapport and dialogue to glean the maximum amount of information from the session. This enables me to provide an accurate assessment of the candidates’ experience and skill set.

On presentation of the shortlist, the client felt reassured about the depth of information and detailed assessments conducted, enabling them to proceed confidently to first stage interviews. However, they still stipulated the second stage interviews needed to be conducted in person. As a strong ‘people’ business, they place significant emphasis on employee welfare and team morale. Cultural fit is extremely important, particularly at leadership level. Hence, the keenness to meet face-to-face.

Following the first stage online interviews, my client felt they had developed a strong rapport with the candidates. The interviews had been positive interactions for both parties. The candidates felt that enough time had been provided to develop a friendly rapport before the assessment part of the interview commenced. Most of the client’s inferences on the candidates mirrored my views, as detailed in the in-depth candidate reports I provided before the interviews commenced. My client felt reassured that there were very similar views on all the candidates from an independent individual and felt very confident in their assessments.

The Human Resources Director and Group Finance Director felt confident enough to proceed to the next stage interview, not wanting the current situation to hold up the recruitment process unnecessarily. Again, they stated that they would probably halt the process after the second stage and mooted several options:

  1. Waiting for lockdown restrictions to be lifted to allow a final meeting to take place with the two strongest candidates face to face, before proceeding to an offer.
  2. Making a verbal offer and agreeing terms in principle whilst we were in a lockdown situation. Once restrictions were lifted, they would arrange to meet the preferred candidate for a coffee before making a formal offer.

Interestingly, they were quite clear that, as a business they would not want to hire anyone at the level of seniority they were recruiting before any physical interaction had taken place. A face to face meeting was deemed essential.

The second stage interview involved a presentation to the Group HR Director and Group FD. They also included the interviewers from the first stage to ensure there was consistency and to understand whether any opinions had changed in between the two stages. Prior to the second stage I had further, in-depth conversations with both the client and the candidates. I ensured I was aware of any areas either party wanted to explore further and to make any concerns known to the relevant parties.

The outcome was extremely positive. The Group Finance Director felt he could work with any one of the three candidates he interviewed and, between himself and the HR Director, they had developed enough confidence in the preferred candidate and process to proceed to an offer. It was felt that the process had been robust. They felt confident about my understanding of their business and the candidates through the detailed reporting and analysis produced to supplement the decision-making process. Progressing to an offer was a natural conclusion and the business was very happy to make a generous, permanent offer of employment.

The candidate had felt equally engaged in the process and concluded he didn’t need to visit the ‘bricks and mortar’ offices to make this important career decision. He felt very positive following the interactions he had with the business and felt enough time had been invested for him to get to know the business and vice versa. He had more time with the business than perhaps he would have done ordinarily and took comfort from the detail all parties had provided. He happily accepted the offer and has subsequently resigned from his current employer.

For me, this does very much seem to be the norm now and I am delighted that so many of my clients and candidates have adjusted so quickly to a new way of working. Interestingly, at a recent event my colleague Amy Parkinson, held with Jonathan Geldart, Director General of the Institute of Directors, he advised that businesses which were agile and quick to adapt to the current situation would emerge strongly from this crisis. Unfortunately, those reluctant to change would likely be left behind.

There is a need for more inclusive decision making particularly around recruitment, to facilitate strong business decisions. Search can continue and I have seen how excellent hires can be made by allowing ourselves to adapt to new working conditions. As a search specialist, I have to ensure the quality of my assessment and process is exceptional.  My clients and candidates need to engage fully in the process to ensure everyone is able to reach the best outcome.

This is very much a journey, and mindset shift needs to occur for us to adapt to a new ‘norm.’

Categories: Finance Recruitment

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