On Our Minds

Working with so many organizations across multiple issue areas gives us a unique view into what’s happening in the social sector. This is where we share our insights and ruminations.
Candidate interviewing virtually via video conferencing
Recruiting during a pandemic: Helpful data is in

by Omar Lopez (he/him)

When news of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns hit in March of 2020, our confidence in meeting the search metrics we had set in previous years was significantly shaken. Would search engagements be shorter or longer? Would we make enough placements? Would client satisfaction go down because we couldn’t do in-person processes? Having recently completed our 2020 data collection, the answers to these questions pleasantly surprised us.

Despite the year’s many challenges, our results for 2020 were pretty similar to 2019’s. 

  • Our median search duration remained roughly four months, consistent with prior years.
  • 95% of our traditional search engagements closed with a placement, compared to 99% in 2019.
  • To top it all off, 96% of respondents said we met or exceeded their expectations.

So what do On-Ramps’ internal data suggest about social sector hiring in general during the pandemic? Here are the key takeaways: 

  • The need to fill an executive role doesn’t go away. If organizations were at the point where they were working with a search firm like ours, that’s because they had an essential leadership role to fill as soon as possible. That work doesn’t stop during a pandemic. So while the spring witnessed a slowing down of work, by the summer our clients had a real appetite for getting back to what they were doing, to the best of their ability. Despite not being able to hold their usual programs or do all the work they usually could, the priority of filling these key spots in their organizations remained.
  • In a remote setting, it’s still possible—and important—to quickly build a slate of viable candidates. For every search, we have  numerical goals for the number of candidates we reach out to for each search. In 2020, 74% of our searches still hit that four-week goal—and closed, on average, a month faster than searches that did not meet that goal. Of course, factors like industry and the actual role being filled can influence this stage. But conducting this stage remotely did not appear to hinder our ability to meet the target numbers.
  • Whether in person or virtually, building relationships is still a deliberate process. Pre-Covid, our search process comprised a number of in-person activities: visiting a client to tour their organization and conducting numerous in-person interviews. With everything shifting to the virtual world, you’d think we’d have a bunch of time on our hands. But we didn't. That’s because we still had to build meaningful relationships. The in-person stuff got replaced with longer conversations—and more of them. Over Zoom, we spoke at length with clients on more focused, specific topics such as diversity, equity, and inclusion and approaches to background checks. We also worked deliberately with clients to find dynamic, interesting ways of showing candidates what the culture of their organization is like—whether that meant sharing videos of the office and team members or organizing socially distanced walks when the weather permitted. 

The Takeaway

Traditionally, our industry has had the outlook that in order to conduct a successful search, you need these in-person pieces to make thoughtful connections. That assumption turned out to not be as true as we once thought. I am heartened by the fact that, despite 2020’s challenges, our team was still able to take a genuine, thoughtful approach to the process—from discussing DEI, to being flexible with scheduling interviews, to making space to foster connections between clients and candidates. We were able to meet the moment remotely, and that’s worth noting as we start thinking about what returning to the office will look like.