Recruiting Executive Candidates During COVID-19 | Interview with Steve Judge

Hopefully, we've been able to share some interesting insights from our last couple posts on looking for a job in this new, challenging environment.  In case you haven’t seen them yet, please check them out:

  • The basics behind every job search (including finding, and working with, recruiters)
  • The current environment’s impact on mid-career job searches

Business man with Knack Pack

Next up in our Job Search series is an interview with Steve Judge, President at Management Search Inc.  Founded in 1983, Management Search Inc. has over 30 years of experience recruiting in a variety of economic climates, and is also one of the few recruiting firms to have an ISO certification.  Based in New England, 70% of the firm’s clients are based in other parts of the country, and approximately 80% of their searches are national.  

 In today’s post, Steve shares his insights into executive level recruiting, as well as how COVID-19 has impacted senior recruiting in different industries.  (Be sure to join the Knack email list to be alerted to future posts!  Join here.)

How Executive Recruiting is Different: Role of Search Firms

Finding candidates for key leadership and c-suite positions usually involves an executive search firm, like Management Search Inc.  Explains Steve, “While many of our client companies have recruiting staff in-house, search firms are brought in to find candidates with specific skill sets or niche knowledge of specific industries.  Companies know that it’s more effective and efficient for firms like ours to find the proverbial ‘needle in the haystack’ required during executive searches, as we have more experience and the systems in-place to find the right candidate."

“Once a search firm fully understands the company’s culture, needs and the job position, their consultants begin looking for candidates,” says Steve.  “Firms like ours have an internal database that keeps track of candidates, and LinkedIn is, of course, a valuable tool to find c-level and management candidates.  At Management Search Inc., we’re constantly keeping in touch with strong candidates, being sure to note whether these people are open to discussing moving to a new organization.”

How executive hiring searches have changed

Difference 2: Identifying Open Positions

Unlike recruiting for other levels, oftentimes a company will not publicly post a job for an open or newly created senior position.  Networking and reputation are key for recruiting at this level.  Senior and executive searches can also take more time than other levels, as there are fewer people with the necessary skills and experience.

Since executive jobs are not publicly listed, Steve noted that people at senior levels will proactively reach out to recruiters.   “Oftentimes, past candidates will recommend us to their contacts who are looking for a new position.  I also get phone calls from individuals who say, ‘I am looking for a new position, can you keep me in mind for opportunities you’re working on.’”

Using an external recruiter for your executive job search.png

Difference 3: Non-Compete Agreements

At the executive level, non-compete and non-solicitation agreements are pretty standard. Steve explains, “One of the initial questions we ask a candidate is, ‘Are you subject to any non-compete agreements?’ Typically if we’re conducting a search for a client, and we know that non-competes could be prevalent, then we would ask to see that documentation at the start of our discussions with a candidate.  Either the candidate’s individual lawyer or the client’s legal team may have to review the documents before we proceed.”

Not all non-compete agreements are enforceable, and they vary with industries. “Enforcing a non-compete happens on a case-by-case basis,” shares Steve.  “Some companies are not willing to risk litigation at all.  Other companies are a little bit more bold, because they realize most states have right-to-work laws and that non-compete agreements are difficult to uphold.”

Steve continues, “It is very difficult to restrict people from working for another company, but you can restrict them around trade secrets and non-solicitation.  For example, if a company recruits a president, she may be legally prohibited from recruiting employees from her previous employer.”

Working with a recruiter to land your next role

Difference 4: Executive Job Search Timeline

Finding an executive candidate with the specific skill set needed often takes longer than searches for other positions, simply because there are fewer qualified candidates at this level..

“Of course every job search has a different timeline,” shares Steve.  “But the overall timeline from search start to offer letter acceptance for a position is about 8-12 weeks.”

Preparing for an executive search job hunt

Phase 1:  Syncing with the Client Company (1 Week)

“This phase has the most timing variation,” shares Steve, “as it’s really dependent on the priorities of the client.  Usually executive search firms make sure to fully sync with the client to understand the type of candidate they’re looking for, their company culture, and what measurable impact they expect the candidate to have on their organization.”

Steve’s firm will meet with key stakeholders and current executives, as well as technical staff at the client company to help get help sync up with client expectations.  “We do a lot of work in technology and manufacturing,” says Steve, “so our team members get fully up-to-speed on the industry, the company’s products and relevant job specs.”

Senior business women in the executive recruiting process 

Phase 2:  Candidate Search (2-5 Weeks)

Once they understand the needs, the recruiting team will go out to find, interview and vet candidates for the position.  “Our job is to do all of the heavy lifting, so we can deliver a list of 4-5 highly qualified candidates to the client,” shares Steve. “During this phase, we will ask the candidate about their past job experiences, their openness to relocation, their compensation history and expectations, etc. Typically, we will have multiple phone calls and meetings with candidates during this phase.”

During this period, the team at Management Search Inc. also provides feedback to the client on how potential candidates are reacting to the position.  “We share what these candidates are saying about the reputation of the company, its products, leadership, etc.  This helps the company better understand their recruiting appeal, as compared to their competitors and other companies in the industry, and react accordingly.”

Executive and c-level recruiting during COVID-19 

Phase 3:  Internal Hiring (Dependent on Client Company)

“The last phase is entirely dependent on our clients,” says Steve.  “Their internal hiring process, such as number of candidate interviews with company personnel, references interviewed, etc, controls the last phase.”

Overall, Steve says that this phase can take around a month after the first interview between the company and the client.

Total Candidate Timeline: 2-3 Months

For the executive-level candidate, the process should take between 2-3 months from initial contact to receiving a formal offer letter.  Given current state and federal guidance around social distancing, and the prevalence of other senior executives working from home, Steve shares that this typical 2-3 month timeline could increase for the foreseeable future.  

The timeline for an executive candidate search - recruiting

Standing Out From The Competition

In February, the executive job market favored the candidate.  But since that time, it has become much more competitive.  As a result, today, it’s even more critical for people searching for senior positions to do their utmost to stand out.  And, there’s a key tactic that many executive candidates fail to execute.

“As I mentioned before, LinkedIn is one of the top resources for executive recruiters.  When a potential candidate reaches out to me, LinkedIn is often the first place I go to learn more about their work.  Candidates do themselves a huge disservice when they fail to fully describe each of their past positions!  A surprising number of executive candidates have very sparse LinkedIn profiles, with no description of accomplishments or the key initiatives they led.”

To be competitive in the job market, a candidate must have a fully completed profile. “I try to teach candidates that they should build a robust profile.  The more keywords and descriptions, the more likely it is that an executive recruiter will find their profile.” 

How COVID-19 has impacted executive recruiting

Are Companies Still Hiring Executive Candidates In The Midst Of COVID-19?

In the current uncertain environment, many companies have halted all recruiting efforts.

“There are two reasons for this,” explains Steve.  “First, most companies are not going to hire people, especially for executive level roles, sight unseen.  They’re going to want to spend time face-to-face with the candidate.  Likewise, most candidates would want to meet the team, see the site, feel the culture, etc, before making a decision to leave a job.  This is infinitely harder to do when corporate offices are closed and people are working from home.

Executive search for senior positions during COVID-19

Secondly, they’ve stopped recruiting completely because they’re not sure what the impact of this virus will be on their business.”

But not all companies are slowing their recruiting efforts.  “There are actually a number of companies that are moving forward,” shares Steve.  “Here at Management Search Inc., we began a few senior-level searches in April, and each client committed to moving forward because they have an acute need.  They’re going to use Microsoft Teams or Zoom to move candidates through the interview process.  Also, we just fully completed several searches where a candidate accepted an offer even though they couldn’t visit the company during the search.  Clearly, there are companies that are willing to cross the finish line without face-to-face time.”

How Has COVID-19 Impacted Executive Compensation?

Steve had some great insight on this topic.  “A key driver of any executive compensation package is whether the desired candidate is currently employed,” he explains.  These candidates currently have more leverage.  “While compensation packages may not be as large as they were 4 months ago, companies know that a candidate likely isn’t going to move to a new role where they make less money.”

Executive talent searches in 2020

For candidates that are currently between jobs, companies recognize that “a candidate may be willing to accept less in compensation, because they want the stability of a position.” 

Thank you, Steve!

On behalf of all Knackpackers, we want to thank Steve Judge and the team at Management Search Inc. for sharing their insights on the executive recruiting process. 

You can follow Steve on LinkedIn here, and visit Management Search Inc. online here.

 Steve Judge, Recruiting Industry Leader

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