Four weeks ago, we launched a series of articles looking at the response of in-house executive recruiters to the COVID-19 crisis. In our last article, we focused on ways that internal search teams could be better aligned with their company’s broader COVID-19 strategy. In this installment, we’ll introduce best practices for actively recruiting in the midst of a pandemic, according to in-house executive search leaders we’ve hosted in recent roundtable discussions. 

In our conversations, we’ve found that most teams have settled into the new normal, taken stock of their company’s financial situation, and prioritized the hires they think are both necessary and feasible. As they’ve ramped up recruitment, many have found that there are both unique challenges and unique advantages to sourcing and hiring candidates at this particular moment. 

Sell your company more in the recruitment process

The dynamic between recruitment and talent has flipped, with companies now having to sell themselves harder to candidates than ever before. Be prepared to pitch your company and answer questions about its financial stability early on in the recruitment process.

Think about the unique aspects of your employer brand that could sway an executive who is anxious about changing jobs. Get aligned with your team on messaging, and build a playbook for answering tough questions from candidates, such as:

  • How financially stable is the company in the wake of COVID-19?
  • How has the crisis changed your growth plans and projections?
  • How have your operations been affected by the workforce working from home?

Even big brand names are having to work harder than ever to woo candidates who are feeling understandably skittish right now.

“In the current climate, candidates are more cautious, and we’re finding it helps for them to have a better understanding of the company and who we are,” said Jeannette Cheng, executive recruiter at Airbnb. “We’ve been introducing them to senior leadership earlier on in the search process, so there’s more of a vested stake on the candidate side. They walk away with more knowledge of the company and excitement about the role.”

Do more qualitative research on candidates to figure out how you can make your company uniquely appealing to them. For example, look at the articles and social posts they’re sharing online, and find a way to connect your brand’s mission to candidates’ mind-set.

Source candidates more aggressively—they’re ready to hear from you

As recently as a few weeks ago, asking someone to leave their company and start a new position in the middle of a pandemic would have seemed insensitive or out of touch. But as the shock of the crisis lessens, internal search teams are once again increasing their talent sourcing efforts—and finding lots of executives who are open to engaging. 

Many recruiters feel the situation has inspired better candidate engagement because executives working from home are more easily able to take phone calls and meetings. On the other hand, some candidates are still reticent to change careers and move to a company or city they can’t visit in person.

The challenges are even greater for industries severely affected by the pandemic, such as hospitality. One international hospitality company reported that they’ve had difficulty luring talent away from more stable companies, but they’ve had success with candidates from startups.

If you’re sourcing more aggressively and still hitting dead ends, rethink your strategy and try some creative solutions:

  • Consider “reach” hires, especially if they are part of a succession plan and you can overlap them with the existing executive. 
  • Try breaking one senior role into two junior roles (for example, hiring two directors instead of one VP) if lower-level candidates are more accessible. 
  • Go outside of your industry—one international coffee chain recruited their head of diversity and inclusion from an NBA team. 
  • Look at businesses in less stable environments, where executives might feel uneasy about their company’s future.

“We have been keeping close tabs on the market and identifying talent that has been impacted by the pandemic,” said Deepti Shirsalkar, Director of Executive Search at Foundation Medicine. “As a result, we’ve had the opportunity to recruit professionals from companies with less stable environments for strategic searches.”

Get ahead of new normal search management obstacles

With the world partially reopened for business, in-house executive search teams need to balance the newly virtual elements of search management with the things that still need to be done in person.

In-person vs. virtual interviews

Some of the recruitment leaders we spoke to said that their companies are still conducting 100% virtual interviews in order to hire critical roles while pausing the process for less crucial positions. One international brand is willing to hire people without any face-to-face meetings, but only if both the candidate and the hiring manager are comfortable with the arrangement. 

Other companies have resumed in-person interviews for higher-level roles in more stable regions, while still making sure social distancing remains a top priority. One health care company that’s gone this route has made sure that candidates understand the interviews are entirely optional. They’re also taking appropriate measures, including keeping chairs six feet apart, allowing no more than five people in the room, and not giving candidates any close-quarters tours of the company’s facilities.

Relocation obstacles

Companies are also grappling with new challenges related to relocation. To start, many candidates rightfully don’t want to commit to a new city without first physically visiting it. Then there’s the question of when and how they can make the move.

“Relocation, particularly international relocation, comes with a lot of moving pieces even under normal circumstances,” said Tracy Robinson, global head of executive recruiting at Uber. “Since candidates can’t physically relocate right now, we have to weigh the implications of starting them remotely and prepare for a nontraditional onboarding process.”

Maintaining processes for your virtual team

For now, in-house executive search teams should get used to (and good at) operating virtually, since the HR function will likely be among the last to physically return to the office.

Fortunately, internal search teams seem to be adjusting well. One recruiter told us their search process is moving faster than anticipated because remote hiring teams now have more time to provide rich feedback and seem very engaged. Many in-house executive search teams are even entertaining the idea of adopting more flexible work-from-home policies moving forward. They’re also thinking of ways to make the recruitment process more efficient—like winnowing down the interview panel to streamline searches.

“Despite trying times, the core practice of providing exemplary customer service in executive search doesn’t change, and we’ve made modifications to maintain these standards,” Deepti Shirsalkar said of Foundation Medicine’s approach. “For example, we have streamlined our documentation and leveraged tech resources such as video chat and cloud sharing in order to bolster relationships with hiring managers and exceed the expectations of our executive candidates.”

In-house executive recruiters are finding creative solutions to unprecedented problems

Whether positively or negatively impacted by COVID-19, almost all in-house executive recruiters are staying busy right now. As they work hard to engage candidates and strengthen their employer brand, they’re proving they have strategic value and a lasting impact that’s independent of their company’s current hiring output.

In the face of challenges they’ve never seen before, internal search teams are coming up with new and creative ways to source, engage, and hire candidates—often without ever meeting face-to-face. As teams continue to work and recruit remotely, technology will be key to maintaining operational excellence and a level of white-glove customer service needed to attract top talent.

In the coming weeks, Thrive will cover more strategies that your in-house team can use to navigate this current crisis. If you would like to join our community of in-house executive recruiters and add your voice to the dialogue, send an email to And if you would like to read more insights related to COVID-19 and its impact on in-house executive recruiting, take a look at our most recent piece in this ongoing series.