Thrive’s Q2 executive search report analyzes executive searches across various industries and functions. The data focuses on how Q2 2020 performed within the following four KPIs: opened, held, canceled, and completed executive searches. These metrics can be adapted to both external and in-house executive recruiting functions. To download the full report, click here.

What executive roles are most essential?

What industries are pandemic-resilient?

These are the questions many executive recruiters have been asking themselves since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. Unfortunately, some have found answers the hard way over the past few months.

While the entire executive recruiting industry has experienced the social and economic pitfalls of the pandemic, certain functions and industries have been less impacted than others. In fact, some have performed better in the wake of COVID-19 compared to last year.

In this post, we’ll examine how specific executive functions and industries fared in terms of opened and completed searches, as well as the average length of search cycles.

Function front-runner: Investment professionals dominate

In Q2, the overall drop in opened and completed searches (-22% and -29% YoY) was not evenly distributed among all functions. 

Investment professionals and board roles not only outperformed the quarterly average, but improved YoY in both categories. COO/operations roles landed flat with 2019 data, with a 0% change YoY for opened and completed searches. It’s not too surprising that these positions outperformed the average as companies needed to focus on budgets and restructure their operations in response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

On the other end of the spectrum, HR, CEO, sales, and CIO/IT positions suffered. All of these roles underperformed compared to the quarterly average for both opened and completed searches. 

Here’s our full ranking of function performance for opened and completed searches in Q2:

  • High performers: Board, Investment Professionals, COO/Operations, 
  • Mid performers: Engineering/R&D, CFO/Finance, and Product 
  • Low performers: HR, Sales/Business Development, CIO/IT, and CEO/President/GM
  • Outliers: Services and Marketing

Among the outliers, there were fewer searches opened for services and marketing roles (-46% and -37% YoY, respectively). The number of completed searches for both, however, outperformed the Q2 average by 21% and 14%, respectively. Since completed search volume relies on the number of opened searches, this represents a strange disconnect, but could be explained by employers’ pre-COVID-19 plans. 

“In a time like this, marketing and services roles are less essential. A company wouldn’t need to hire these functions unless they were already planning to,” says Ken Vancini, founder and CEO of Innova International and cofounder of ZRG Partners. “These are roles that were likely already budgeted for, and companies might be more willing to hire them remotely.”

Investment, services, and finance roles had incredibly fast search cycles in Q2, decreasing time-to-close by 39%, 28%, and 15% YoY, respectively. It would seem that these positions were critical roles that companies urgently needed to fill, regardless of social distancing and other obstacles.

Product, marketing, and HR roles took 28%, 22%, and 13% longer to close compared to Q2 2019. That could be a combination of deprioritizing searches for less essential hires, such as marketing executives, while also finding it harder to pry away product leaders and CHROs who seem to have become more essential to their employers during the pandemic. 

Here’s how all functions fared in search velocity:

  • High performers: CFO/Finance, Services, and Investment Professionals
  • Mid performers: Engineering/R&D, CEO/President/GM, Sales/Business Development, Board, and CIO/IT
  • Low performers: COO/Operations, Product, Marketing, and HR

Based on all key performance indicators, investment professionals emerged as the clear front-runner for executive search in Q2. The function significantly outperformed both 2019 and 2020 Q2 averages in opened searches, completed searches, and velocity. 

Board roles were a close runner-up and also outperformed in those categories, but did not overwhelmingly exceed search velocity averages.

Financial services: Most well-rounded industry in Q2

The COVID-19 crisis wreaked havoc on certain industries, like travel and hospitality, but presented unique opportunities for others.

Compared to the quarterly average, financial services, healthcare, and business services outperformed in both opened and completed searches. Financial services was the least affected industry in completed searches—dropping just 6% YoY—and improved 3% YoY for opened searches.

While performance was bleak across the board, travel and hospitality really plummeted. Year-over-year, the industry saw 65% and 50% fewer opened and completed searches, respectively. On the bright side, opened searches were down just 22% for the month of June—landing right at the quarterly average.

Outliers (entertainment and retail) saw more opened searches in Q2 but significantly less searches completed. It’s likely, due to average search cycles, this metric might level out as the influx of opened searches are eventually completed.

If faster search cycles weren’t surprising as is, executive searches for hard-hit travel and hospitality completed 38% faster compared to 2019. For some companies in this space, a quicker search cycle may have been a crisis-mode reaction to quickly secure critical leadership to navigate through this downturn.

Technology, financial services, and telecommunications all saw faster search cycles compared to both 2019 and 2020 Q2 quarterly averages. 

Entertainment, business services, and retail industries had 6%, 8%, and 9% longer search cycles than in 2019, respectively. It’s possible that many of these slower searches were opened before the onset of COVID-19. After the crisis hit, search cycles were delayed as these industries (possibly more than the others) focused on revenue opportunities and/or business restructuring.

No particular industry dominated in every key performance indicator we analyzed in Q2. When looking at the big picture, financial services proved to have the most well-rounded performance. The industry claimed top spots in opened and completed search performance, and outperformed 2019 and 2020 Q2 averages for velocity. Technology didn’t fall too far behind, placing 2nd in our industry rankings.

High performers fuel high hopes for continued recovery

Despite an overall decline in searches during Q2, a closer examination shows that some functions and industries persisted, regardless of hiring obstacles.

Of course, all hope is not lost for those that performed poorly. Operations, product, services, and IT roles all posted YoY gains in June, which indicated a top-of-funnel rebound that bodes well for their immediate future. The same can be said for retail, business services, and healthcare. All three of those industries had disappointing levels of opened searches in April and May, but saw promising upticks in June.

Armed with this knowledge, executive search firms might consider reallocating resources (without fully pivoting) to these high-performing areas that seem to be more pandemic-resilient than others. In-house teams can also leverage the data taken from Q2 to anticipate hiring needs and start proactively pipelining for certain roles within their organizations.

For Thrive’s full Q2 recap, download our Executive Search Quarterly Report for a more in-depth analysis. As executive search professionals navigate the road to recovery, we’ll continue sharing this data on a quarterly basis to provide the industry with actionable insights.