Recruiting | How executive search professionals are adapting to the 'new normal'

How executive search professionals are adapting to the 'new normal'

Peter Linas, EVP of Corporate Development & International, Bullhorn

At Bullhorn, as a part of our annual Global Recruitment Insights and Data (GRID) research, we reached out to 400 staffing professionals to learn more about the industry’s challenges, priorities and predictions.

Pre-coronavirus, executive search professionals were particularly concerned about the talent shortage and listed candidate acquisition as the top priority citing technology as the way to get there. But, because the year proceeded in an unexpected direction, we wanted to understand how COVID-19 has affected firms and what they expect in the future.

COVID’s impact on executive search firms

Unsurprisingly, only 19 percent of executive search professionals reported that their firm is currently doing as well or better as it was in Q2 2019, while 37 percent report that performance is down by more than 30 percent. Recruiters have already reacted, but 45 percent still believe that there is more they need to do on limiting spend, and 29 percent think further effort is needed to perfect remote work. Almost one-fifth of respondents reported that their firm was considering an overhaul of its business model to adapt to the new reality, perhaps turning more toward a consultancy model.

As we move beyond the initial reaction phase, businesses are beginning to settle into a new routine. Managing client relationships remains a top priority for 59 percent of executive search professionals, followed by brand development and marketing, which 52 percent listed among their near-term focuses. Optimising remote work and managing spend follow with 45 percent.

What comes next?

Fortunately, the majority of respondents believe that the worst is now behind us economically and that the economy will begin to improve in the year ahead, with 57 percent anticipating the beginning of the recovery by the end of 2020. A quarter of executive search professionals expect the recovery in the first half of 2021, a cautious 10 percent expect it by the latter half of next year, and just one percent anticipate the recovery beginning later than that. Interestingly, respondents who had been severely impacted by the pandemic and those who have thrived during it were equally optimistic about the recovery.

While many executive search firms had pre-existing remote capabilities, the coronavirus has forced everyone to move online full time, and many believe that remote recruiting here to stay. Almost three quarters (72 percent) think that placing candidates entirely remotely will become commonplace, while 39 percent expect online to become the norm for office operations and 29 percent think it is likely to be the future of onboarding. The largest impact of remote adoption, however, falls not to recruiters but to clients who will drive demand for remote roles.

The role of technology

The need to work remotely has driven technology adoption in a truly unprecedented way. There is now near-complete adoption of video interviewing and conferencing at 96 percent among executive search firms. Meanwhile, other forms of remote communication have also seen adoption increase. One in five (21 percent) of firms reported increased use of VoIP, while 15 percent reported using SMS more frequently.

Beyond communication, 17 percent of executive search professionals said their firm has increased its use of technology for analytics and reporting. This is likely to attempt to gain a better understanding of their performance and make improvements, given that so many firms are in dire economic straits. Almost one in ten (8 percent) reported greater reliance on automation and artificial intelligence (AI) since the pandemic began, probably as a means of freeing up time for human recruiters to focus on value-generating tasks.

The future according to executive recruiters

The pandemic has radically reshaped the way executive search professionals work, and some of these changes will be permanent. The shift online presents both opportunities and challenges, and the additional flexibility it affords will be invaluable as the near future remains uncertain. Although executive search firms have been severely impacted, those that are still standing at this point have a strong chance of pulling through, especially if – as many recruiters believe – an economic recovery is imminent. Ultimately, the data details the hurdles that the industry has overcome and an admirable optimism about taking on those that lie ahead.

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Invenias by Bullhorn is the world’s leading provider of software solutions to professionals responsible for executive search. Based on an enterprise scale, cloud-based platform, Invenias is used by more than 1,000 companies worldwide to transform the productivity of their search operations. Invenias operates within the Bullhorn family and serves thousands of users in over sixty countries across the globe. Invenias by Bullhorn is committed to advancing the executive search industry around the world, and is a global strategic partner of the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC). To learn more, please visit