Recruiting during a pandemic – is it possible? The answer is yes.


18 May 2020

Recruiting during a pandemic – is it possible? The answer is yes.

Helen Anderson, Consultant in our Executive Search team, has had plenty of experience recruiting during COVID-19. Here's how she has made processes work for her clients - from shortlisting, to sifting, to final panels. It's all possible. 

‘Uncertainty’ has been a watch-word recently. Uncertainty about the future of the world, the country and crucially, the UK’s economy and our businesses. But we have risen to the challenge, developed new ways of working and are adapting to “the new normal” (another buzzword there).

Our clients have been asking, is it possible to recruit to senior levels at this time?

The answer is yes. Our local authorities play a most critical role in supporting communities and vulnerable people. So, the need for great leaders has never been more important to keep vital services running and to help plan for the country’s future, post-lockdown.

Penna has always promoted the use of technology and new ways of working. But just seven weeks ago even I would’ve struggled to imagine the possibility of councils recruiting new leaders remotely, through Zoom and Teams. However, fast-forward to May 2020 and here we are.

At Penna, we are proud to have already supported the recruitment of over 30 end-to-end virtual processes.

Our experience delivering for our clients tells us almost anything is possible through the use of technology.

We’ve distilled the advice we’re giving to current clients to keep their recruitment processes running. Here are our top tips for running a virtual appointment process in the current climate. 

Find the best technology platform

We all have our preferred software, be it Skype, Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts. And, in some instances, council systems are only authorised to use certain platforms. Whatever the context, it’s always important to explore the best kind of technology at the beginning and use it throughout the entire recruitment process for consistency and ease of use.

Train new users

Another tip is to ensure all stakeholders are comfortable with the tech before key recruitment milestones – like final panels. 

For many, working virtually is the start of a brand new (and sometimes daunting) era. Whoever will be involved in the recruitment – from Members and Councillors through to residents in your community – ensure a training guide or 1:1 training is offered to all panel members to make sure they feel confident using the technology and understand their roles in the recruitment.

Invite as many stakeholders as possible

As practised in a face-to-face recruitment process, candidates are expected to meet key stakeholders and partners from the local area to inform the council’s decision-making. This is just as important in virtual recruitment practice and should therefore be factored in as an important assessment stage. Virtual “rooms” can be created to involve up to 10 stakeholders, giving candidates a chance to meet as many people as possible in the process.

Host 1:1 video chats with the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council

Relationships with the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council are crucial at a senior level – if they don’t work, it just won’t work. Hold as many 1:1 video meetings as possible to ensure all parties are confident that the relationship will work and the “fit” is right.

Pre-record candidate videos

A huge part of getting executive recruitment right is finding someone that will live and breathe the values and culture of your organisation. A great way of doing this is for candidates to record a 5-10 minute video of themselves explaining why they’re motivated to join your organisation, what their top priorities would be in the role and why they think they’re the best candidate. Interview panel members can play these videos back at their own pace and assess one of the most important parts of recruiting any new leader – their motivations and commitment to the role.

Run tests with your recruiter

Always have a practice run with your recruiter to ensure the technology works and that everyone feels collectively comfortable ahead of the final interviews. It gives a great opportunity to iron out any technical issues and for panel members to practice the dynamics of a virtual panel. 

Sometimes technology does fail – don’t panic!

If this is the case, keep calm. Often, the simplest fix is to pause for a few moments, or to end or re-join the meeting. With that said, always have a back-up plan in mind, i.e. conference call facilities, in the event of a technical glitch that can’t be resolved.

Thanks, from Penna 

Wherever you are working at this difficult time, we wish you all the very best of luck and please stay safe. Your efforts and dedication are hugely acknowledged.


Want to take things virtual?


Senior recruitment is still very much possible during this pandemic, and in our experience, we are finding that now is quite a fruitful time to attract new talent into local authorities.


If we can help you now to get ready for the future, please get in touch at