In-person interviews with executive search consultants are suddenly out of step with the times, but they have been out of step with the research for far longer. Years of research illustrates why this type of interviewing is far more likely to introduce bias than to predict success on the job. (See The Case for Evidence-Based Interviewing.)
The public health earthquake left behind a digital divide between people who can do their work remotely and others who cannot. We’re seeing massive unemployment rates for people who need to be somewhere specific to work, and a far smaller employment impact on people who can work from home. It’s likely to be a year or more until we can all go to our offices without periodic disruptions. Consequently, a digital divide is slicing through employers in the workplace--if you can achieve your mission with a predominantly remote workforce, you are far better positioned than a restaurant or retailer who cannot. But it's not always a binary choice. What about business models that blend location-dependent work with virtual work?
Executive search firms are only one example, but a familiar one to both candidates and the client organizations who engage them. The finding of candidates (sourcing and recruiting) has been almost effortlessly virtual for decades. But the interviewing process has remained stubbornly location-dependent for most search firms. Until a month ago, most executive search firms proudly continued a clubby tradition of interviewing candidates face-to-face in posh, expensive offices. This (flawed) approach has deep roots in the industry. And despite mountains of emerging research that the practice is counterproductive, the clients of search firms mostly accepted it as an integral part of the service. (Hint: it's not.) And while employers accepted it, I suspect very few candidates will mourn the end of face-to-face interviewing with search firms. They are notoriously difficult to schedule, rarely enlightening, and can occasionally lapse into the truly superficial.
Of course, face-to-face interviewing during a pandemic is next to impossible to deliver. So search firms who relied on it must reexamine that part of their service offering. Ideally, this change would entail moving away from relying on the personal opinion of the search consultant, and migrating to a more evidence-based approach to interviewing. To place their search firms on a stronger virtual foundation, the value of an in-person interview must be delivered in other ways, and there are far more effective approaches. Organizations with deeper expertise in remote work will simply be more effective now. But that sort of business model innovation is incredibly difficult work in the best of times.
As someone who has spent the better part of two decades reinventing the business model for executive search, I do not envy those who are just beginning the journey. It's difficult to challenge the conventional wisdom in any field of endeavor. It is supremely difficult to rethink the entire basis for how you create value for your clients, and then go on to hire the people, build the process, and implement the technology to support it.