Change and innovation in the recruiting process

article Interview

Alexandra Ene, Signium - Stein & Partner Senior Consultant, interviewed by

I would like to talk first and foremost about creativity and innovation. That’s why my first question is about recruiting in the creative industries, namely in advertising, design, or architecture. Can we still talk about talent, native inclination, or the main qualities of a candidate, even in these fields? Are these are acquired through study and experience?

In any field, performance requires a combination of native inclination and effort. I see people who strive hard to be good in a particular industry or role because it seems like they are making a lot of money from “there” or that “there” is the future, but if things don’t also come naturally, the results won’t measure up to the mental and physical consumption. All the same, talent without work is also not enough, especially in such competitive times. Anyways, I’m a fan of the growth mentality – I think we should be guided by innate preferences and constantly build on them so that we can always improve. And we look for this feature in our candidates as well; more and more, we and our clients being wary of “fixed-minded” candidates, such as “this is me, this is what I can, this is good for me and this is not, take it or leave it”. We want to see people who, as I said, know their native abilities, but want to support them through study, experience, and effort, who are able and willing to adapt to unexpected situations, outside the comfort zone, and who can perform in different contexts, where predictability lacks.

How do you find an ideal candidate when innovation appears in the job description, regardless of the field of business? What qualities do you look for in a leader who brings innovation?

Innovation means much more than the classic “thinking outside the box”, for it implies transforming ideas into actions / strategies that are really useful for the company and create value, bring real improvements for the organisation and the business sector. Starting from this idea, we try to find out from the candidates concrete examples about situations in which they have identified better ways to do a certain thing in business, how they implemented it, but also how they presented and supported their ideas in front of all stakeholders (Board, teams, suppliers, etc.). Unfortunately, in many organisations we see massive resistance to change, so a leader who aims for innovation must be able to persuade others to follow suit.

On the other hand, we know that there can be no question of innovation in a field that you do not understand and without dedication, it is a false impression that people simply wake up with good ideas that change the face of the industry. Therefore, we check how well they know the sector in which they operate, how connected they are to trends, to consumers / customers, to their expressed and unexpressed needs, how they see the evolution and what external factors they consider will influence it.

We also want to see how the leader with whom we discuss the innovation process grasps the vision and approach, how he encourages creativity and innovation among the teams he leads, strategic steps in identifying new solutions, resources, opportunities, how he evaluates Potential ROI. Another point is how he aligns his innovation strategy with the business one. Usually, when we look at this topic, we find out if we are talking to someone who is really pushing things or is only innovative on a declarative, theoretical, aspirational level.

Artificial intelligence, digitisation, work from home: in recent years, the work environment has changed at a dizzying pace. How is the Executive Search market affected by these paradigm shifts?

Undeniably the Executive Search market has always been in constant dynamics because it is closely linked to both business and people. This is the beauty of the field, you can’t get bored, you always have to stay connected with everything that happens, you have to set and reset your speech and expectations, so that you can properly mediate the relationship between clients and candidates. We are in a permanent dialogue with both sides, we share perspectives, realities, and trends, because if we do not understand exactly what is happening in the work environment, we cannot make successful placements.

What is the biggest challenge for you, as a recruiter, in this difficult context? Has anything fundamentally changed in the recruitment process, in the way the candidate is approached?

Unfortunately, in the last year we have seen an increase in the lack of seriousness on the part of the candidates. We see absurd situations, they withdraw from the process without announcing, they do not appear at interviews, they give up after signing the job offers, things that did not happen so often before the pandemic. People are confused, they don’t know which way to go, they are afraid to make changes as they are mentally tired of this unfavourable context. More than ever, we spend hours in discussions and debates with candidates, as we care a lot about transparency and dialogue, and we want to keep them close and help them make the best professional decision. Even if this means that sometimes we advise them to not continue the recruiting process initially started with us.

How do you evaluate a candidate for a leadership role today, in unpredictable times?

Things have not changed considerably in this respect, we are looking for the same matters, namely the right capabilities for our client, depending on the context in which the business objectives are, and we evaluate the candidates according to the competency matrix set at the beginning of project. As before, we want to really get to know our candidates, to understand both what they can bring to an organisation and what would be a good step for them, what they like to do, what they want, what motivates them. In any case, assessing a candidate is difficult, but at the management level, the responsibility to place the right person is huge because a correct placement or not affects the future of the company, as well as that of all the people who work there.

Have new areas of interest and recruitment for CEOs emerged as a result of the pandemic? Accelerated growth in a particular sector? If so, which one? (maybe an area you didn’t have before the pandemic)

We have seen in the pandemic an increase in the demand for profiles oriented towards transformation, digitisation, because many companies obviously could not continue with the same business model they had before 2020 and then they needed leaders that could guide them to a new stage. Otherwise, things did not look much different, this year we had clients from production, FMCG, SSC, Energy, Oil & Gas, Transport & Logistics, Financial & Professional services, both top and middle management roles.

In the age of speed, how long does it take to research /document for a new project and what is the process? Does social media play an important role?

The documentation process for a new project is divided into several stages. In the first phase, we seek to understand as much as possible the company we recruit for, their business model and the industry, and we gather this information both from clients and through discussions with the connections we have in that field, brainstorming with colleagues or online research.

Even though we deal with a client we have worked with before, we do not rely on the information we had from the previous project, because things change very quickly, especially in the field in which I specialise, namely Consumer Goods & Retail, so we need to constantly check that we have up-to-date information. Then, we try to draw as well as possible the desired profile, responsibilities, objectives, competencies, interpersonal skills, and we calibrate with what the market offers, and this requires another in-depth documentation work. With all these details, we prepare a list of companies (competition or companies with business models similar to our client’s) and look for suitable candidates in these organisations. These steps, together with the administrative part (job descriptions, project briefs, etc.), take us about a week before we actually start contacting, but during a project, the work of documenting and searching for candidates is constant.

Social media, especially LinkedIn, plays a very important role because it is another channel where we can identify and contact candidates, but also where we can search for information about them and observe them in a less regulated environment than in interviews with us (for example, what and how they post and comment), to get a clearer picture of the profile.

In the almost 5 years of experience in Executive Search, how would you describe the evolution of the Executive Search market and what changes do you estimate will occur in the next period?

Although five years is not a long time (I have more years of experience in another industry in which I have previously worked), things have changed incredibly much. We are clearly witnessing a time when candidates have more power, and they know it, which is why they use all the leverage to position themselves better and get more. It is more difficult to bring good people to the discussion and keep them engaged in the recruitment process, because they receive many such requests, and in this context, they do not even bother to make changes before weighing them very, very well. It’s not easy for us, but I think things will balance out. The important thing is to stay in a setting where we respect each other, we are transparent and we all have the best intentions.

What do you think will be the main quality of a CEO in the future, let’s say, in 10 years?

Generally speaking, I think there are a lot of skills needed to be a good CEO, obviously depending on the maturity of the company, the development plans, etc. But, beyond vision, adaptability, growth mentality, ethics, etc., the most important quality is and will be the area of leadership and people management. Regardless of the industry, no matter how automated and digitised a business may be, the people are the ones who bring good results, and if the CEO does not know how to create an environment in which employees are raised, motivated, developed and involved in decisions, with autonomy and responsibilities that match their abilities and desires, then the commitment and productivity are low and things are just not going to get well.

And with the coming generations, the need for good managers is even more obvious, because they no longer want to be robots or to accept to be just a “workforce”, so clearly in 10 years managers will have to adapt to their expectations, not the other way around.

Read the full interview in Romanian here.