Senior recruitment in the social sector: what to expect

As we emerge from the crisis phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations are once again starting to think about the future. 

For many, May and June 2020 will present the first opportunity to take stock and assess the impact of the coronavirus response, while starting to plan different scenarios for the remainder of the year. For others, the remaining Spring months offer the opportunity to progress recruitment to critical roles that was originally planned for February and March. 

We have continued to support our clients throughout the lockdown period. Our three key messages for organisations who are considering recruitment to non-executive, Director and CEO appointments in the months of May, June and July are:

If you are a talented executive director looking for your first CEO job, this is your moment. CEO appointments in mainstream sectors or subject areas are still attracting a strong response. Expect to see fewer serving CEOs in the field; unless these candidates had planned a move for themselves in 2020 and were already open-minded to it, they may be less likely to engage with the idea of a move at the moment. 

Many leaders we have spoken to feel a duty to their current Board and are loyal to their teams. With fewer experienced competitors in the field, this is the time for talented executive directors to shine. If your organisation is open to a first-time CEO, you may have exceptional choice.

Expect higher numbers of applicants for senior executive roles. Although it is still too early for many organisations to count the true cost of COVID-19, uncertainty and nervousness within the workforce is nonetheless reflected in significantly higher applicant numbers. 

If you are advertising a role that has a mainstream role title, expect to receive a higher than normal level of interest. It is likely that this response will be drawn from a variety of sectors. 

While this may sound appealing to those seeking a cost-effective approach to recruitment, beware: within the higher numbers, we have experienced a much higher volume of candidates who have not given consideration to the organisation or context. 

While overall numbers are up, focused search is still producing the top contenders for jobs; effective and thorough screening is also essential. We anticipate further increases as we enter the Summer period, once it becomes clear that organisations are unable to continue employing the same numbers of staff.  

Searches for particular Chair and Board member appointments will take longer to complete. Overall, the market of suitable and available non-executives has contracted. This is because high calibre applicants who are already serving on boards are now being asked to increase their time commitment significantly, in order to help those organisations through the transition phase. For many, this will make it impossible to commit to a new role for the time being.  

The lockdown period has presented an unrivalled opportunity to access very senior people without the usual structure and boundaries of the working week. Paid non-executive Chair posts are continuing to attract a good response, subject to the usual considerations (financial health of the organisation, reputation and strategic priorities). 

Voluntary chair roles where the organisation is funded through contracts, membership or another comparatively stable source, are also continuing to attract high quality applicants in smaller numbers. 

All Chair candidates are taking their time to carry out additional due diligence and may require greater access to detailed information. Mainstream charities with a historical reliance on fundraising, for example, may appear to present a more mixed opportunity, especially while the impact on future income is yet to be understood. For this reason, our role as advisers and brokers on these appointments has become more fundamental. 


All organisations will need effective leadership and governance if they are to transition successfully out of the current period. They must have the right skills, experiences and perspectives at the top to make confident choices about the ‘new normal’, and to begin the process of planning for a new future. 

These appointments continue to require outstanding people with the vision, commitment and tenacity needed to take organisations, and possibly parts of the sector, forward. While current conditions mean there may be additional questions for candidates to ask, these roles remain outstanding opportunities to restore, revive, and deliver positive change for good.