A Conversation with Newland Associates’ Executive Search Team on COVID-19

HR Executive Interviewing a Candidate
Heather Barrett
Director of Executive Recruiting

How has COVID-19 changed sourcing for top talent both for clients and search firms?

I think COVID-19 has dramatically changed sourcing for recruiters and companies alike.  This pertains more to national searches or searches that reach outside of a drivable distance. There are two parts to this answer. 

  1. Candidates are more resistant to change when our world is in crisis. I think candidates are reluctant to move especially to areas where the media has painted COVID rampant. Questions are being asked daily about schools for children and what that looks like, are we face to face or are we virtual? I have a spouse that will need to find another job if we move, are people in that area hiring? What about the housing market, is it a good time for me to sell where I am and what does the market look like it is doing where the role is located? In a time of uncertainty people are more likely to resist a major job change and major relocation. I would say replies to sourcing efforts are down significantly.
  2. On the flip side, many companies are going through potential mergers and acquisitions, major layoffs and some companies closing completely. I have seen an uptick in quality candidates replying when they may not have seven or eight months ago at the executive level. They are worried about their current employment and wanting to be proactive. With this, they are looking for more stability. It is crucial that you can portray that new company as such in all correspondence.

Michelle Epstein

Director of Recruitment

How has COVID-19 changed sourcing for top talent both for clients and search firms?

COVID-19 has had an impact on everything in our world and recruiting for top talent has not been immune to this devastating disease. Before COVID-19, sourcing for a position for both the client and a search firm revolved around finding candidates that were a match for the position and were open to a new adventure. Convincing a candidate to relocate or even fly for an onsite interview involved their schedule and whether their family wanted and could relocate.

Since COVID-19, sourcing for the right candidates is no longer just about whether they are great fit for the position and if they are open to new opportunities. We now must take into consideration:

  1. Does the new location have a COVID spike?
  2. What is the candidates risk level?
  3. Are they willing to relocate during a pandemic?
  4. And how do we get them onsite for an interview?

Another major shift since COVID has been the passive versus active candidates. Throughout the country we have seen massive lay-offs and furloughs due to the economy and uncertainty in relation to COVID. This has changed the landscape of sourcing for search firms and clients. We are now seeing more active candidates which puts the pressure on organizations to increase the speed of the interview process. If they do not make the interview process a priority and push through it in a timely fashion, they are now losing great candidates because another organization will swoop in and offer the candidate a position.



Jeremy Fondren

Vice-President, Executive Search Division

What competencies are required now of executives that are different from before from COVID-19?

I would say that the core competencies that are required of executives have minimally changed due to COVID-19. I think it has allowed executives to showcase their ability to be flexible, adaptable, and strategically respond to unforeseen challenges that this pandemic brings. The pandemic has also highlighted the inability of some executives to handle these changes, which leads to more opportunities for other leaders to prove themselves and be able to step into these executive roles.

How has the interviewing process changed and the overall selection process?

  • Initial interviews – This step is the least impacted step in the interview process. The vast majority of initial interviews have historically entailed a phone interview. This vehicle for interviewing has not been impacted much.
  • Second interviews – This step has been impacted in some ways. For some of our clients, this step was an in-person interview (depending on location of candidate), but with travel limitations and availability of key stakeholders being in the office, due to remote work, most of our clients have chosen to do virtual interviews for this step in the process.
  • Panel interviews – This step has changed significantly. In the past, most of our clients would bring in the top 2-4 candidates for onsite panel interviews, but with the aforementioned impact with second interviews, these clients have expanded the virtual interviews to include the panelists to drill down deeper into the candidates’ background. This additional virtual step has lowered the number of candidates being brought in for a face-to-face panel interview to the top 1 or 2 finalists for most of our clients.
  • Socializing candidates with leaders in the organization – With many leaders being tasked with attending frequent COVID-19 update meetings, on top of their normal responsibilities, it has lessened the ability to have the candidates socialized with as many leaders as usual. We support our clients with behavioral assessment that shed light into the team dynamics between candidates and their prospective future team.


Robert Newland


Robert Newland

Do you think this will become the new normal, or are we going back to the old normal, and when?

I think we are in a “transition state” to the new normal, which will be a combination of past practices and what recruiting teams and hiring authorities have learned they can do more efficiently during this time. For example, we are certain that organizations will prefer to have more finalists come in for socialization of candidates to see how they interact with other executives. However, many have realized that there was perhaps an overkill of in-person interviews earlier on.

The use of predictive analytics tools combined with great sourcing strategies can also narrow down the actual number of candidates you bring further along in the process. These create a savings of time spent by hiring authorities interviewing candidates that are not a great fit. This isn’t just a time saver, but if you add the time cost of executives to the equation, it is also a great money saver.

We understand that most of these techniques aren’t new, but what has happened is that COVID-19 has left us no choice but to put them into practice, and along they way, we’ve learned better ways to recruit.