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Rob McKay

Sherrington Associates

Managing Director

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How recruitment can adapt to turbulent times


Historically low rates of unemployment and growing global economic uncertainty are making life harder for recruiters. Candidates can be more selective about the jobs they take but they are also less likely to take any significant risks. 

Recruitment is rarely a straightforward task. Even filling temporary, unskilled positions requires perusing CVs, holding interviews, assessing attitudes and whittling down candidates.

As the prestige and status of a position rises, so too does the level of complexity involved in filling that position with the ideal applicant. When we get to high-level, executive positions, the process of recruitment can present as a key business challenge.

A poll taken at a recent reception we hosted revealed that 72% of attendees believed the year ahead was going to be a particularly difficult time for executive recruitment.

In this piece, we take a look at where these concerns are coming from and what businesses can do to mitigate any additional challenges to their own executive recruitment that the next 12 months might bring.

Interesting times?

“May you live in interesting times.” Though not immediately obvious, this old Chinese idiom is intended as a curse. The insinuation being that uninteresting times are marked by peace and tranquillity, whereas interesting times are conversely marked by uncertainty and worry.

As the geo-political order quakes beneath rising populism and economic turbulence, the accompanying tremors unsettle the ground upon which the business world seeks to operate.

Specifically in terms of executive recruitment, the various emerging challenges are being likened by many to those that surfaced in 2008 with the global economic crash.

Few will argue to the contrary that we are indeed living in the most interesting of times.

What’s causing recruitment uncertainty?

It’s impossible to explore the origins of current economic and commercial anxieties without mentioning the ‘B-word’. However, Brexit (as yet still undefined) is unsettling the marketplace.

Other factors, such as global trade conflicts and the re-awakening of old international tensions appear to be combining to elicit a recalcitrance amongst executives to explore new opportunities.

Employment rates sitting at highs not seen since 1975, with only 4% of the working population presently jobless.

The reason, quite simply, is that if executives perceive the market to be unstable, they are less willing to gamble their current (often comfortable) positions to pursue other opportunities.

Adding to the complexity is employment rates sitting at highs not seen since 1975, with only 4% of the working population presently jobless. Such an employment landscape creates a candidate-led job market – meaning workers can afford to be choosy.

Organisations looking to recruit top executive talent can no longer rely on traditional methods to acquire the best people.

How can corporations adapt?

A common mistake organisations make when looking to acquire talent in a challenging recruitment environment, is to limit their adaptation to their recruitment methodology only.

Naturally, the channels through which they normally access talent must be diversified and augmented, but there are other powerful endeavours which can help attract and keep the right executives.


To attract great people, you must offer them a great place to work. Truly successful working environments are cultivated by having the right mix of personalities and skillsets. No pool table, free vending machine, or retro arcade console can substitute a culture built on mutual respect, and shared ambitions.

Truly successful working environments are cultivated by having the right mix of personalities and skillsets.

Your employees are ambassadors of your organisation and if they are unhappy, it shows. By working hard towards and investing in the development of a strong, supportive culture, their enthusiasm and contentment becomes a more potent advert than anything published online or in print.

Maintaining expectations

It’s vital to remember that however challenging it is recruiting the right executive, it is nothing compared to the challenges that come when it becomes apparent an executive is a poor fit for your organisation.

It is therefore imperative that you do not compromise on your expectations as a means of filling a position more quickly.

When interviewing a candidate, share with them your expectations and your designs for the future. If they appear disengaged or intimidated by your vision, don’t be afraid to withhold an offer, regardless of how impressive their CV might be.

Your quest to fill a position might be delayed but you are side-stepping a whole host of potential problems further down the line.

Broader outlook

How an organisation recruits top executives can often be restrictive. A picture of the perfect executive is constructed and there is seldom room for manoeuvre. At times of market stability, this is an understandable and generally productive tactic, but these are not the times we live in.

Organisations must instead look at broadening their search criteria and methodology. For example, by exploring sectors and industries outside of their own for talent.

They must also look at alternative means of filling positions by opening up a ‘buy, build, or rent’ conversation. Though bringing in a new and permanent executive might be the preferred option, ‘buying’ someone in this way might not be feasible.

Instead, an organisation could look to investing in a current employee and ‘building’ them up to competently assume the role. Otherwise, another option is to ‘rent’ and bring in an experienced, proven executive on an interim basis.

Role of executive search

The more difficult a task, the more time-consuming, frustrating and expensive it can become. With recruitment of top executives predicted to become especially demanding over the next 12 months, the involvement of organisations with search partners who specialise in top-level positions is likely to grow.

Such specialist firms are not only able to deploy an array of novel search methods to unearth the right candidates, but they also implement a suite of sophisticated tools to analyse behaviours, personalities and skillsets to ensure clients are matched with executives who easily and successfully slot into the fabric of an organisation.

If the predictions of some of the most decorated senior executives and HR managers are to materialise, recruitment of top-level professionals is likely to become more difficult in the foreseeable future. Exactly how difficult though, will depend on business leaders and how willing they are to expose themselves to new ideas, approaches, and practices.

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Rob McKay

Managing Director

Read more from Rob McKay

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