Though the worst of COVID-19 is hopefully behind us, the executive search industry is still settling into its new normal. 

According to Thrive’s data, the last week of March represented the lowest point, as canceled searches soared and new searches cratered. Though both metrics subsequently stabilized, the number of new searches and closed searches in April were still down 36% and 32%, respectively, from the trailing 12 month average.

In-house executive recruiting teams are likely finding themselves grappling with a change in pace. Some industries (e.g., gaming, communication tech) haven’t skipped a beat, as social distancing is yielding record returns. Others, like travel and hospitality, haven’t been so lucky and are struggling daily to stay afloat.

For both ends of the spectrum, executive hiring has likely taken a back seat. Those industries flourishing in this environment are laser-focused on operations and capitalizing on revenue opportunities. Those hit the hardest have made extreme cuts to budgets and hiring.

If you’re like the majority, though, your company probably falls somewhere between boom and bust. Net business is likely down overall, but not completely devastated. Your company’s leaders may have shifted priorities and focus, making mostly proactive cuts as they prepare for the worst but hope for the best. And executive hiring is probably delayed as company’s cautiously approach the future with uncertainty. This scenario puts some in-house executive recruiting teams in a tough position—struggling to convey their value.

Thrive is launching a three-part impact study to help in-house executive recruiters guide their teams through the current economic crisis. With a new approach, in-house teams can add value and ultimately grow out of this situation, regardless of how their industry has been impacted.

Using our own proprietary data and insights gleaned from industry leaders, we’ll reveal how COVID-19 is impacting and evolving executive recruiting. This series will dive deep into the following trio of tactical topics:

1. Aligning with your company’s COVID-19 Strategy

Though a select few companies are thriving, the overall trend is downward. Budgets are being cut, recruiting is slowing down, and companies are finding themselves in a hold pattern. While this has had a huge impact on hiring, executive recruiting teams can still be productive. 

It’s important to understand exactly how your business has been impacted by COVID-19, where leadership now sees opportunity, and how they’re tracking and monitoring performance as it relates to their new plan. Your company has likely set up dashboards and regular reporting that track how well it’s performing against various scenario-based plans for 2020. Executive recruiting teams should use this information to determine where to spend your team’s time, energy, and budget. 

For instance, a first obvious step would be to focus on global regions of your business that are rebounding faster than others, or divisions that have overall been less impacted. You may be able to reallocate recruiter resources from struggling divisions to assist with hiring in those areas.

Beyond imminent hiring opportunities, you might decide to invest time in market mapping and beefing up your candidate pipeline for recently furloughed or retired execs. When your company starts on an upward trend and is ready to backfill those roles, your team will have a head start and a handful of qualified candidates armed and ready.

And lastly, maybe the data is revealing weaknesses in current executives’ performance, or gaps in leadership all together. Some industry leaders propose creating new positions, specifically geared towards the current environment, such as Chief Restructuring Officer or Chief Health and Wellbeing Officer. 

Regardless of which scenario-based plan ultimately plays out, internal executive recruiting teams need to be ready to look for new opportunities to add value. Get aligned with your company’s game plan and start strategizing on executive hiring related to all possible scenarios.

2. Recruiting during a pandemic

Whether your team is actively hiring or not, candidate sourcing is also looking a lot different these days. 

In one sense, now is a great opportunity to engage candidates you otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach. At the same time, it’s very difficult to convince truly great leaders to abandon their posts during this moment of crisis. Many executive recruiters are taking a strategic, long-term approach by building rapport and relationships now, and waiting to pitch them later. 

And if your team is actively reaching out to candidates, managing brand perception is more critical now than before. The way your company treats its employees and handles its response to this crisis will speak volumes about its culture and values. This could be the differentiator, or barrier, between your and a candidate’s current company. 

Similarly, hiring during a pandemic is a bold move that says something about your company, positively impacts your employer brand, and could ultimately help recruit leaders from struggling spaces. Be sure to level-set with your team on messaging and answers to tough candidate questions in order to capitalize on this opportunity.

Beyond sourcing challenges, teams are also contending with search management and hiring in a newly virtual world. Though some companies have been reticent to hire executives without the ability to conduct in-person interviews, many of them are softening to the idea, particularly for critical roles. 

“I think some clients are starting to accept that this might be our new normal for a while, and that it’s time to seriously consider conceding in-person interviews if they want to fill a role. Those that are getting more comfortable with this option, I think will have a lot of opportunity to grab high quality talent and be ready for the recovery,” said Tim Gordon, founder and managing partner at Thrive customer Aequitas Partners

Onboarding execs has also proved challenging, as businesses either make peace with the idea of starting an exec role virtually, or defer start dates and then figure out how to keep candidates engaged while they wait.

3. Make the most of downtime

For the majority — those situated between boom and bust — business has slowed down in one way or another. Executive recruiting teams are finding themselves with an unusual amount of downtime. Those that take this time to prepare for tomorrow’s reality are setting their teams up for long-term wins.

Industry leaders in executive search overwhelmingly report using downtime to focus on the projects that are never given enough attention in our normal hustle and bustle. 

Jim Jonassen, founder of JJA Venture Search and a Thrive customer, recommends, “It’s time to do some real domestic housekeeping—invest time in infrastructure, data migration and enrichment.”

Now is the time to lean into digital transformation throughout the recruiting process. Improve your team’s operational efficiency in important areas like candidate outreach, search management, candidate assessment, reporting and analytics. Prioritize data enrichment, market mapping for target accounts, and candidate pipelining for roles you know you’ll be filling once business picks back up.

Upgrading key processes will also add more legitimacy to your team’s role as in-house recruiters, allowing you to prove your value to your company even while you’re not actively hiring.

Preparing for the evolution of in-house executive recruiting

You may have more or less time to kill as a result of COVID-19, but for good or ill, every business has been impacted by this crisis. How your team acts now will show how critical you and your function are for the future of your company. In-house recruiters claim that their connection to the business, brand, and culture provide a competitive advantage. Now is the perfect time to demonstrate that value. 

The executive talent pool may never be this fruitful again in our lifetime, so approaching this crisis with a well-thought out, data-driven strategy will pay dividends. There’s still plenty of work to be done and opportunities await for executive recruiters if you can focus on the right areas.

In the weeks to come, Thrive will be diving into more strategies that your team can utilize to come out of this crisis more valuable than ever. If you would like to join our community of in-house executive recruiters and participate in roundtable discussions with peers, send an email to