The first quarter was an impressive one for executive search, but perhaps the most impressive aspect wasn’t the continued growth in searches or the continued acceleration in completed searches. No; the most impressive part was the fact that even the hardest hit industries in 2020 seem to have rebounded.

In our latest quarterly report, we wrote that Q1 was a litmus test of sorts: We had spent much of 2020 analyzing the recovery from COVID and looking at early signals the impact digital transformation has had on the executive search process; but nowhere in 2020 had we reached a point when we could firmly say that an entire quarter’s worth of data was fully separated from the COVID dip.

Q1 was that time, especially as industries like business services, energy, telecommunications and travel/hositality.

In other words, the rising tide has now lifted all boats. 

Search Growth

In fact, the four industries that struggled the most to find momentum in 2020—business services, energy, telecommunications, travel/hospitality—had a very good quarter.

Those industries saw opens grow 33% YoY and 47% QoQ—still trailing the global quarterly YoY average for opens (53%), but an impressive turnaround nonetheless.

On the completed search front, business services, energy, telecommunications, and travel/hospitality saw completed searches grow 29% YoY—right in line with the global average. 

Accelerated Searches

They likewise saw similar efficiencies in terms of completed searches, finishing searches 9% faster in Q1 than they did in 2020. 

Though the numbers may not be as impressive as the overall market acceleration, we’ve now seen a steady improvement in search velocity, suggesting that these industries will continue in that direction as well, even if they may be trailing behind right now.

“Cycle time wise – our speed to placement has been impacted across the value chain – with much of this being impacted by virtually a 100% video-based search process – in many cases up to the point where final interviews are taking place,” Brian Clarke, managing partner at Kensington International, told us in our report. “The biggest question we are asking ourselves – will clients ever accept the candidate interview expense numbers – flying to see candidates again.  Not only has it shaved off days to close – but the average search expense is down substantially.”

Hiring Focus

The search focus for business services, energy, telecommunications, and travel/hospitality was similar to the overall market, as well, with nearly a third of all searches being directed for C-Suite and board positions (nearly identical to the overall average). Marketing and Sales/Business Development made up another 29% (slightly more than 26% overall average), while Product and Engineers made up 17% (slightly more than the 15% overall average).

Of note: In the four industries we’re focused on here, Engineering (13%) carried the bulk of the search share. Overall, however, the split between Product and Engineering was pretty evenly split.

All of this seems to suggest that the industries that got beat up the most by COVID are back in a way that’s worth paying attention to. Key to that assertion is the fact that, save for a few minor differences, this subset of industries looks much like the overall market. 

What to make of it?

If you subscribe to the belief that the market is only as strong as its weakest link, then this data should indicate to you that everyone is revving along. As such, we’re finding increased enthusiasm across the board.

Hiring, demand planning, and industry monitoring is critical to search firms looking for an advantage right now.

If the last year taught us anything, it’s that these can’t be gut calls anymore. In order to stay nimble, adjust to market trends, and paddle out ahead to catch the wave, firms need stronger insights into their business and the market, and more efficient operations. 

To get more insights into how other industries performed in Q1, download our latest report here.