Financial hiring gets tougher in never-meet-in-person era

(PHOTO: Getty Creative)

By Tom Metcalf, Suzanne Woolley and Felipe Marques

(Bloomberg) -- Quentin Marshall hired three people over the past two months. He filled the roles without meeting any of them in person.

Recruiting during a pandemic requires “breaking down a lot of prejudices about how to do things,” said Marshall, head of private banking at U.K. lender Weatherbys. “Once you get over this idea you must be sharing the same oxygen molecules as them, you just get on with it.”

Others are doing the same. Felipe Guerra, chief investment officer at Sao Paulo-based hedge fund Legacy Capital, made four recent hires through Zoom, though he had met the candidates before the lockdown. Jeanne Branthover, managing partner and global head of the financial-services practice at DHR International, recently completed four executive searches where the clients and candidates never met, though in one case they did have lunch together -- virtually.

Coronavirus-related closures have put millions out of work globally and caused many companies to freeze hiring. About 60% of firms responding to an April survey by organisational consultant Korn Ferry said they were delaying hires.

Still, some financial-services companies are using the disruption to fill key roles and bolster businesses. Fidelity Investments and Fifth Third Bancorp have been on “hiring sprees” in recent weeks, according to Korn Ferry. More than 100 people have started at Izzy Englander’s Millennium Management hedge fund since March, while Michael Gelband’s ExodusPoint Capital has added 20 portfolio managers this year.

The companies’ recruitment methods vary, but they offer a glimpse at the ways the pandemic could overturn long-established workplace traditions and practices when it comes to looking for new employees. It may not necessarily make things quicker. For new recruits, a remote hiring process is typically more exhaustive.

‘More Now’

“Everything is more now —- more virtual meetings than there would have been in person, more reference-checking, more use of assessment tools,” said Branthover, whose day now often stretches from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. She has to prep people more for interviews and help the client make the process work virtually.

Assessment tools like the Hogan Personality Inventory test -- which evaluates how someone gets along with others -- are becoming more critical when employers can’t meet face-to-face with potential hires, she said. “It’s giving the client another validation that this is the right person,” she said. “It gives an idea of do they fit your culture, do they handle stress well.”

Some clients are using video interviews to create short lists of candidates for when they might be able to meet in person, said Paul Westall, co-founder of family office recruiting firm Agreus Group. Employers in central London and New York are considering using outdoor spaces where they can sit and meet with candidates while maintaining social distancing, he said.

Still, remote recruiting remains the exception. Search firm FPIA Partners, which hires analysts and portfolio managers for long-only equity funds, was enjoying its busiest month at the start of March before the lockdowns took effect.

Damaging Hires

“We had 31 mandates,” said Dominic Freud, FPIA’s New York-based managing partner. “The vast bulk of those searches have either been put on hold, in some cases canceled, and in one particular case, the client itself has closed down.”

Many of those still looking to recruit are wary of relying exclusively on virtual meetings when it comes to adding employees. “Making a bad hire is really damaging,” Freud said.

One of his clients favours a six-step hiring process, with the final round involving a candidate being assessed over a two-day period that includes a dinner with their spouse. “It’s tough to get that comfort level over video,” Freud said.

Such reserve cuts both ways. Branthover said she’s found it harder to persuade candidates to take a job without an in-person meeting, because they don’t know the company’s culture and may never have been to the office.

Broader Pool

The current environment may make some elements of recruiting easier. Guerra previously avoided having lunches with candidates in Sao Paulo’s financial district to ensure they weren’t spotted by their current employers. Video-conferencing eliminated that worry.

Weatherbys’s Marshall said the right phone interview can often be more detached and focused than an in-person meeting, and interviewing remotely may broaden the pool of prospective candidates.

Still, filling a position remotely may be just the start of the challenge.

“Hiring people through Zoom isn’t necessarily the weirdest part,” Guerra said. “What’s different is that you start working with someone without actually seeing the person, or taking the person to the office.”


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