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You cannot find a boss by video interview

In order to steer a clear course through the crisis, the central management positions of a company must also be filled during the Corona period. As Thomas Deininger explains, digital processes in executive search can certainly help in the search process. But when it comes to selection, according to the doyen of German headhunters, modern technology reaches its limits.

Mr. Deininger, the past quarter has brought dramatic change in the culture of meetings all over the world. Videoconferences have taken the place of face-to-face meetings, right up to the uppermost levels of business and politics. That must make pre-screening of candidates to place in a position much easier for you, right?

No, definitely not! When it comes to a management position, it’s true that formal qualifications count for something, but personal fit is much more important. It’s much easier and faster to gauge that if I can see how someone walks, how they come through the door, when I can observe their gestures and facial expressions. All that isn’t possible the same way with video chat. The authentic assessment gets lost.

Does that mean virtual meetings won’t become the new standard in recruiting?

I can’t imagine that they would, at least for the top level, for two reasons. First, a video conversation only provides about 40 to 50 percent of the necessary information. And second, when it comes to a top position, it isn’t so much about discussing a person’s résumé as finding joint perspectives for the future. That includes things like insight into a company’s confidential strategic plans, and those kinds of documents will never be shared by e-mail, not even in the future.
 

How many meetings does it take for you to place a candidate for a “C-level” position, meaning in the executive management, board of management, or supervisory board?

In executive search, it takes about 60 to 80 prior contacts to identify 12 to 15 possible candidates. Ideally, we then hold meetings on site in person with all of those candidates. That’s true of positions in the top management, but that’s not all. It also applies to finding a new head of sales, for example. We typically present three candidates to the client.
 

Has the coronavirus crisis made it easier or harder to select suitable applicants?

It’s easier in one way. If a potential CEO chooses to hold their Skype call from their gazebo at home, that’s a clear issue. That kind of attitude shows a lack of preparation and lack of respect for the seriousness of the application situation and the interests of the person at the other end of the call, meaning the possible future employer.

But on a fundamental level, the coronavirus has made search activities harder, at least in the medium term, since after all, we don’t deliberately seek out those who are just about to be let go, so they would be willing to make a change right away. Our focus is on people with high potential who believe they have better long-term career prospects at another company and are considering a move for that reason. And that group of people is more hesitant right now, since many of them can sense that there is a looming wave of layoffs due to hit the German economy starting in September, if not before.
 

With so much uncertainty surrounding the economy right now, are companies looking for new managers at all?

The personnel consulting business has been picking up again for the past six weeks. We’ve seen two trends there. In urgent cases in Germany, when someone is needed to step into a certain role due to illness or retirement, decisions and actions come swiftly. But if someone is looking for a local manager for an international branch, the search process is still stagnant. Due to travel restrictions, we can’t meet candidates locally, and many of them can’t travel to Germany, either.
 

With all this as background, what do you think lies ahead for top personnel consulting in Germany?

We will see a concentration of forces here. Smaller companies can only compete with the big international corporate groups if they forge close alliances or merge with each other. For DEININGER CONSULTING, I’m very optimistic, since our early strategic decision to cultivate a strong presence in Europe and Asia is paying off more and more. We set up four new teams in just the last few weeks, and a fifth is due to be added shortly. This is helping us to add depth in terms of industry.

Published in:
HR-Newsguide „Making Future“
Wirtschaftsmagazin „Der Handel“ (E-Paper free of charge, registration required)

The interview was conducted by
Björn P. Böer

Oct 2, 2020