Hiring of top executives likely to be delayed by a quarter due to coronavirus spread

Mumbai | Kolkata: CXO searches are likely to be delayed or pushed back by at least a quarter, as the Covid-19 pandemic forces companies to suspend projects and find immediate ways to cope with the situation, said executive search experts.

Usually, hiring of top executives such as chief executives, and operations and finance chiefs remains much less affected than others, because companies can’t hold off hiring for critical roles. But now, the next few weeks will be the deciding factor and even crucial roles will get impacted if the situation escalates, experts fear.

Several companies have already cancelled or postponed interviews and are turning to videocalls as they are unable to travel for face-to-face interactions, which is important in such senior hires, said experts.

“Several India entry projects are getting or likely to get postponed. Senior-level hiring, which is considered as critical hiring and usually remains insulated from various other factors, is likely to be pushed back by at least one quarter,” said Kamal Karanth, a cofounder of staffing solutions provider Xpheno. “Companies and senior executives are unable to travel. Interviews are getting pushed and indefinitely postponed. Senior-level hiring needs significant face-to-face interaction. There is a significant slowdown possibility,” he said.

K Sudarshan, the managing director at EMA Partners India, said it was not just about recruitment, but business sentiment had also taken a big hit. This in turn will dent senior level hiring plans, he said, adding: “It is not just about India but how rest of the world moves and how the next few weeks pan out, in bringing things under control.”

BTI Consultants managing director James Agrawal said at least four clients scheduled to fly down from the US, Germany and Singapore to meet CXO candidates had postponed travel plans, pushing the hiring process back in the bargain. This includes two GICs (Global In-house Centres), an engineering firm as well as one from the FMCG space. “They had completed the initial rounds through Skype calls, etc., and wanted to close the search after face-to-face meetings. But now, if there is no visibility on the situation over the next 7-10 days, they will have to fall back on the video calls option.”

So far, no CXO hiring plans have been put on hold, but things may change in the next few weeks if the number of cases escalate, he said.

R Suresh, the founder of boutique executive search firm Insist, said as of now none of his clients had withdrawn any project, but they were not sure how business would pan out. “This year January onwards senior-level hiring was looking better but now it seems there may be a lull for the next six months until some positive news comes,” he said.

Transearch India partner Ashish Sanganeria cited the example of an ecommerce major hiring for a senior vice-president role who had meetings scheduled this week, but now postponed. Similar is the case for some startups in Mumbai.

The real impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on hiring in India will take 3-4 weeks to gauge, said experts. For instance, in the startup ecosystem, hiring has been decided based on the growth plans they have. After the WeWork and other debacles in the startup industry, investors have started asking tough questions, so any hiring planned is of the critical variety. “However, we are seeing foodtech, travel companies, etc. getting affected now. If this goes on, over the next 2-3 months, we will see an impact on numbers,” Sanganeria said.

Fidius Advisory Companies managing partner Anuj Roy, however, is more hopeful than the rest.

“Crucial roles will not get postponed,” he said. “Non-essential futuristic growth-led hiring may be delayed as companies follow the Covid-19 impact over the next 3-4 weeks. However, if this problem explodes and a lot of people get affected, then it will become a big issue.”

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