Lockdown sends executive hiring into virtual world

Networking, mentoring and onboarding over video calls the new norm

New approaches to recruitment under lockdown include virtual onboarding. Photograph: iStock

In 2008, the recession pushed recruitment off a cliff. Twelve years on and the Coronavirus is doing much the same, although not quite as dramatically so far at C-suite level according to Mark O'Donnell, managing partner of executive search company, Odgers Berndston.

“Executive search is not dead,” he says. “Companies are still filling critical roles and we had assignments coming in during April. This is different to the recession when everything stopped dead.

“The last 18 months have been very busy so we’re currently finishing out pre-Covid roles and companies still want to talk about their future requirements. For candidates, this is a good time to take stock, think about where you want to be career wise and use the opportunity to talk to search firms.”

Odgers Berndston has roughly 2,000 candidates on its books and they are the target audience for its newly launched series of webinars designed to get people ready for a job move. The sessions will cover areas such as CV preparation, what’s happening in the jobs market and salary negotiation.


O’Donnell also reminds people to keep their networks alive. “You may not be able to meet people, but you can still have a virtual coffee,” he says.

Demand-led market

Despite the slowdown, hiring is continuing in a number of sectors, including fintech and financial services. Facebook has 50 jobs on offer in fraud, compliance, workforce management and customer care at its Calibra subsidiary, while Stripe is looking for people to fill roles in business operations, commercial law, risk, engineering, enterprise support, credit underwriting and data science.

"We're seeing a mixed jobs market that is very much demand led," says Paul McArdle, joint managing partner at the long established Irish-owned recruiter, The Panel. "Some roles have been filled, others are in purgatory, others have been pulled because of a fall-off in business. Unless a role is deemed essential, it's being cancelled or put on hold."

McArdle says his company’s busiest sector since the Covid crisis has been IT and business change, while other segments, such as accountancy roles in industry, have gone quiet. “The impact on our business has been quicker and deeper than in 2008, but the recession taught us a lesson in resilience,” he says. “These are challenging times but we have to focus on actively planning for coming out of this.”

Bryan Hyland is operations director with Cork-based recruiters Morgan McKinley. The company has been around for 30 years and has more than 800 staff spread across offices in Shanghai (just reopened after lockdown), Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney, Toronto, London, Dublin and Cork.

Hyland says that fast-moving consumer goods, food, IT, fintech, pharma, engineering, supply chain and healthcare have all remained busy and, with May 18th now etched in people’s minds as a lockdown milestone, there has been a discernible shift in mood.

“We’re seeing a lift in confidence and companies are starting to think about planning and strategy and what their talent requirements will be,” he says. “We’ve seen three hiring approaches emerging among our clients: no hiring whatsoever, hiring but not completing until they can meet the candidate face-to-face; and a third group who are quite happy doing everything virtually.

“Virtual onboarding requires more effort and we’re seeing companies making concerted efforts to get people comfortable with their teams,” he adds. “This is taking the form of daily calls from line managers, the appointment of mentors to new staff and events such as virtual lunches, where companies send out food and the teams can hang out together on a video call.

“Our advice to companies going virtual is to make it as easy as possible for new hires. This includes ensuring that all the information they need is accessible in one place and setting very clear objectives so they know what’s expected and don’t feel anxious about performance.”

Boarding processes

The CRM software solutions company Salesforce, which employs more than 2,000 people in Ireland, closed its doors on March 13th. However, recruitment is continuing and the company has used virtual onboarding with over 100 people since then.

The company's head of talent management, Terri Moloney, says it has been going smoothly with well mapped-out pre- and post-boarding processes and a lot of one-to-one communication with managers playing a key role in easing people into their new roles.

New recruits are given a “trail guide” or a buddy to help them navigate their new environment and the company is also using webinars and video conferencing to communicate with new staff.

All Salesforce staff have been given an allowance equivalent to $250 to buy home office equipment and the company is also footing the bill for noise-cancelling headphones. When the return to work begins, Salesforce is providing employees with an additional 20 days of paid childcare to ease the transition.

The company is now encouraging employees to cut back on unnecessary video calls to avoid camera fatigue and to take part in its morning and evening online wellness events to stop work and home life blending together.

“Our focus is on maintaining customer service and that means supporting our people to be as successful as they can be in the circumstances,” Moloney says. “We are now planning for how to reopen safely when the time comes and are looking at various options for physical distancing and scheduling such as having people come in at different times or days.”