Pandemic Hiring Trends & Valerie’s Top Tips on How to Adapt


Author’s note: I was delighted to interview Valerie Gaeta Phillips as a part of the Municipal Management of Northern California’s ‘Webinar Wednesday’ series in June. Valerie is President of Bob Murray & Associates, a firm that provides executive recruitment services to cities, counties, special districts, nonprofits and other governmental organizations. Valerie and her husband have been longtime sponsors and supporters of the MMANC and MMASC. Our interview was fun and informative; but, more importantly, Valerie was open, honest and gave direct insights about video interviewing and recruiting trends amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the landscape of hiring and recruiting; and, let’s face it, if you were interested in advancing your career or changing jobs before the pandemic, you will now need to work smarter (and harder) than you did before. But, getting placed in your next job during the pandemic is not impossible. Valerie Gaeta-Phillips, President of Bob Murray & Associates, shared her insights about what has changed and how job seekers can adapt their skills.

Valerie’s Insights about the Current ‘Public Sector’ Job Market

Before the pandemic, Valerie’s firm was facilitating 20 recruitments for cities and other public sector and non-profit organizations. When the shelter-in-place took effect in March, half of those recruitments were delayed or cancelled as organizations turned their attention to the public health emergency. Valerie noted that the devastating blow to local economies and city budgets has significantly capped most agency’s’ ability to fill positions. However, despite the pandemic’s unpredictability, Valerie says we shouldn’t lose hope as she believes that there will still be a critical need to fill positions in local government. Afterall, we need talented leadership that can help lift us through these hard times. She shared that, for now, job opportunities remain limited, which means competition will increase and job seekers must bring their “A” game.

Valerie’s Tips on Video Interviews

Valerie suggested that organizations will find the switch to video interviews, which her firm had already done prior to the pandemic, to be cost-effective and the right thing to do at this moment since the pandemic will remain with us far into the future. However, she noted that there are growing pains with it and that face to face interviews will still be required for most final candidate interviews. Here are Valerie’s top tips when it comes to navigating the recruitment and hiring process during the pandemic – and beyond:

  1. Look your best – from head to toe. Do not take a casual approach to a video interview and avoid the tendency to wear those comfortable pants or shorts just because you think nobody can see. Valerie shared that her firm once interviewed someone who was found to be wearing only boxers on the bottom half, which were accidentally revealed in the video interview (A BIG NO NO).
  2. Pick a neutral background. Try different spaces in your house to see what makes the most sense. Make sure items in the background do not become a turnoff to the recruiter or panelists. If you are using a virtual background, make it a simple one.
  3. Practice utilizing the technology in advance. Do not let the interview be your first experience with utilizing video interview technology. Valerie suggested practicing in advance with Zoom, or any other teleconferencing programs (or even your iPhone), to ensure you get a good feel for how it works.

Valerie’s General Advice on What to Expect in Your Interview

COVID-19 is top of mind for every City Council, Board and organization, so Valerie advised to anticipate a question about the pandemic, which could be related to finances, change management or meeting community needs. She also advised that most interviews will include these top three questions:

• What do you know about the organization and the community it serves?
• Why are you interested in this position?
• Give an example of a failure and what you learned from it.

Thinking through in advance how to answer these questions is key to making a strong impression on the panel.

Valerie strongly urged to do as much homework as possible on the organization and the community it serves before your interview. Reading the budget and watching City Council meetings is a good way to understand organizational and community priorities.

Also, she encourages candidates to call the recruiter or Human Resources Department and ask for complete information about the position, the organization’s culture and the ideal candidate. This will help guide those essential preparation steps before the interview. It will also help a candidate to know whether the position and the organization is a fit for them.

For those of you seriously thinking about taking that next step to an executive-level position, Valerie encouraged that you reach out to Bob Murray & Associates and other recruitment firms for opportunities and advice.


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