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2021 Recruiting Kickoff: 8 Trends to Watch

OK – 2020 was crazy for all of us and happy to have that in the rear-view mirror and looking with more optimism and potential with business growth in 2021.

As the top retained executive search firm in the Northwest for the last 20 years, we have a unique front-row seat with our clients and often a leading indicator of what is coming up since we are looking at executive hiring.

Here are 8 trends we are seeing with hiring kicking off in 2021:

1) Companies are hiring leaders again – Not sure if it’s a new calendar year and looking ahead to 2021 goals, moving on past election/COVID fatigue, shifting gears from cost-cutting to sales/growth again or rethinking if you have the right team after the COVID business stress test…hiring seems to back on again across a mix of verticals. As a firm we have already seen a 250% increase in new executive searches and activity already in 2021 (~1 new search a day) which is a good leading indicator.  A rough breakdown of new searches includes: 33% are backfilling people that left, 33% are upgrading talent they realize didn’t do well during the COVID stress-test and figured it was time to pull the trigger to get a stronger leader in that function, and 33% are new positions hired due to growth or new market opportunities.

2) COVID has changed recruiting forever – What started out as a temporary accommodation has led to a major rethink in business and hiring. Over 80% of our clients tell us they will have only HALF of the same employees work at HQ again and keep roles remote as it has been working for many and a preference. After the “Great 2020 Work From Home Experiment” – companies are open to hiring virtually (video interviews only) and roles working remotely. This also opens up talent pool options and takes the friction out of the hiring process.  Today, you can expect any candidate has the ability to video interview which changes the expectations in the recruiting workflow.  50% of our hires in 2020 for VP/C-level roles were done where the executive never met in-person which was unthinkable a year ago.  Employees are now empowered to choose where they live and not deal with a painful hour-long commute.  This is unbundling employees from the corporate HQ office and recruiting needs to adapt.

3) Shift away from Activities to Outcomes – With the shift to more remote work, savvy hiring managers are getting out of the “hours worked” mindset of thinking of role as just the activities which keeps someone busy. This is being replaced by outcomes – “What do I get for the salary I am paying for?”  Companies realize if a role can be done remotely, there needs to be an effective way to track results that matter.  If you can code software, handle financials or make sales quota outcomes – companies don’t care where you live, what hours you get things done, or what you wear to work.   If you haven’t focused on outcomes yet with your job descriptions, this can be a quick win in 2021.

4) Rethinking “vacation days/PTO” – With the shift to Outcomes (vs. Activities) as mention prior, companies are also rethinking corporate “vacation days”. If you are paying people to get certain results each month/quarter – how do you know if someone is even taking a day off anyway?  Does it even matter?  Many professional service clients we know are moving to an “Unlimited PTO” approach.  Just get the job done and take the time off you need.  Ironically, when companies offer Unlimited PTO employees end up taking fewer days off as they don’t feel a “Use it or lose it” mindset.

5) Companies get creative on culture – So, how do you keep up a company culture if you are not in the same place and virtual? A great question many CEO and team leaders are asking right now.  While some teams can definitely feel “Zoom burnout”, don’t give up on trying to continue making social connections and maintaining a winning culture.  Some creative ideas we have seen include: Social evening events with spouses (cooking class with drinks or games/trivia), movie nights and related trivia/discussion during a team meeting, Masterclass membership (and talk about it).  Sometimes it is as easy as taking 15 minutes at the start of your weekly team meeting to ask about weekend updates which would normally happen at the office over coffee.  As company leaders, we have a responsibility to continue making our company a great place to work and put the culture into action during tough times. When employees feel known and cared for personally, they bring that to their work performance.

6) Investment in online recruiting presence – Many companies have found this is a great time to upgrade your company’s website, careers page, job descriptions, recruiting videos, Linkedin profiles, and recruiting technology platforms for efficiency. With so much of a candidate’s first impression online – this is more important than ever. When you realize that 50% of your new hires in 2021 might not actually meet someone on your team in-person, this is worth the upgrade investment to stand out from the pack and hire the best.

7) Upgrading team video chat setup – All of us gave grace to people working from home and making their laptop video chat setup work in their kitchen, bedroom or back porch.  Most people now have video camera quality that is good enough from doing a bunch of video conversations after 2020. But video conversations (and video interviews) will be part of the norm for most people so it’s a good time to consider upgrading your video chat backdrop, sound (better podcast USB microphone), sit/stand desk (standing comes across more engaging over video chat), and lighting upgrades. These small investments can make a big difference in your team’s professional perception and first impression.

8) Health first – When employees are healthy at home, they bring this to work. We all got through COVID, but often at the expense of our personal health and discipline as we were out of our normal work routine, homeschooling, and “coping” with more carbs/alcohol/coffee and Netflix.  While New Year’s is a classic time for getting healthy again, making health a priority for your team is a win at home and at work.  Some ideas include sharing your healthy morning routines, workout challenge/contests, reading books (or interesting speaker/videos).  Detox off FaceBook & news for a few weeks and you’ll feel better as they literally get paid to make you angry (they call it “engagement”).  Make 2021 a year to celebrate personal discipline and health while stop blaming things outside your control and just own it.

May you have a strong start to your 2021 recruiting and hiring goals for the year.  Go time.

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