Improving Executive Hiring Success In A Virtual World

Rob Greenhalgh

The economic impact of the COVID pandemic has been staggering, driven largely by the surge in unemployment. 20.5 million people lost their job in April, and the unemployment rate increased to almost 14.7%, a rate this country hasn’t seen since the Great Depression. Nobody can yet predict what the post-COVID economy will look like, but what is certain is that it will be an unprecedented opportunity to acquire strong talent displaced as a result of the crisis. Over 2 million corporate jobs have been lost due to the downturn and more are certain to occur. While most companies have chosen to slow down hiring for the time being, the opportunity exists to acquire strategic talent that probably wasn’t possible just two months ago when the unemployment rate was 3.5%.  There is a flood of great talent in the market today.

New Leadership Requirements

What we have learned from this year is that there is a new set of ‘mission-critical’ leadership skills that are more important than ever. Skills such as collaboration, influence, fostering inclusiveness, and even decision making are just a few of the capabilities that can prove more challenging in a virtual, work from home environment. The events of the last month demonstrated that personality traits such as empathy, self-awareness, and navigating ambiguity will be high on the list of “must-haves” when selecting and developing leaders moving forward. 2020 has taught us that leaders need to be prepared for the unexpected, and the unfamiliar, and leaders who possess these skills will be invaluable.

High Stakes in Executive Hiring

Hiring the right leaders has never been more important in terms of navigating the uncertain road ahead and keeping team members engaged and productive. In today’s environment, where most interviews occur virtually, the challenge of hiring the best talent has become even more difficult. Evaluating talent has always been complicated by the typical biases inherent in most people…halo/horn effect, similarity bias, intuition. But these have the potential to be exacerbated when interviewing is virtual. In the pre-COVID world, in-person interviews were often complemented by lunches or dinners that served as additional opportunities to learn about a candidate. The insights gained by observing non-verbal cues have also become more difficult when observing someone sitting on the other side of a monitor, or worse yet, on a phone call.

Evidence-based and psychometric talent assessments have become much more important to identify the leaders who are best prepared to succeed in our current environment. These assessments are used by decision-makers seeking to take a rigorous and systematic approach to predict the success of candidates. While critical incident, behavioral and chronological interviews have been around for a long time.  These assessments should be combined with psychometric tools such as personality, critical thinking, and decision making.  When you add in 360 stakeholder feedback, your decision-making success odds have increased significantly.  These are unprecedented times with dynamic leadership requirements and a surge of motivated candidates.  Acute assessment is critical to avoid significant costs and litigation resulting from a poor executive hire.

Can you Truly Assess Talent Remotely?

The good news is that talent assessments can be conducted entirely virtually. In fact, the only component that has really changed as a result of working virtually is the critical incidence interview (ex at Summit call our Leadership Journey Interview). Under normal circumstances, these typically occur live and last between three and four hours. But post-COVID, these interviews have moved online and are now often broken up into two separate calls, reducing the interview fatigue that can sometimes occur when the interview occurs in one sitting.  Maintaining a positive candidate experience is critical for our hiring managers and assessors.  It also provides useful insight into how a candidate connects with people through web conferencing, and their potential to engage colleagues using this medium if hired. Do not let our new virtual reality scare you from making objective, data-driven talent decisions.

Although the unemployment rate will likely continue in the teens for some time, a small wave of opportunistic hiring is fast approaching, if not already upon us. Taking a data-based approach to talent assessment is the single most effective way companies can significantly improve the odds that they are hiring leaders who will thrive in the new environment being shaped by current events. And with that process complicated by the lack of in-person opportunities to learn about a candidate, talent assessments serve as a valuable tool to ensure companies make the best decisions about their most valuable assets.