Insights from the Headhunters: Projections for 2021

By J. James O’Malley, Andersen Alumnus and Managing Director at Comhar Partners

COVID-19 and all that it brought in 2020 took a toll on the economy worldwide. While the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has downgraded their expected world economic growth in 2021 from 5.4 percent to 5.2 percent, I still see hiring as being a key area of focus for companies in the new year.

Looking at the trends I’ve seen in 2020 and the projected growth among various industries, here are the areas where I project hiring to be most active in 2021.

CFOs Will be In Demand

As businesses struggle to keep up and recover in the coming year, I expect to see the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) role grow in demand. Organizations need smart and agile financial management as they scramble to rebuild and maintain profits.

A 2020 Euler Hermes report found that more than 90 percent of CFOs and their direct reports believe COVID-19 has impacted their organization. The report also found that more than 2 in 5 report significant cash flow disruptions as a result of COVID-19. Financial executives will continue leading the way out of the COVID slump many businesses have experienced.

The CISO Will No Longer Be a Nice-to-Have

Our world has become more digital than ever before in 2020 as companies shifted to remote work and our personal lives moved online. As a result, hackers and scammers have taken advantage, increasing the cyber risk for all businesses. TrendMicro’s mid-year roundup report found 9 million COVID-19-related cyber threats globally, more than 8 million of which were email-related.

As other aspects of our lives continue to shift online, and technologies like AI and IoT continue to grow in popularity, companies will need to invest more heavily in minimizing their risk landscape. As a result, I expect to see the CISO role, and the roles that support it, increase in demand in 2021.

More Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Roles Will Open Up

The world watched as the Black Lives Matter movement played out and picked up support in 2020 and I don’t think that will slow down in 2021. In fact, in 2020, nearly one-third of Fortune 1000 companies made a public statement on racial equity, which was followed by a tangible commitment, internally or externally, according to 2020 McKinsey data.

McKinsey also reports that 57 percent of companies publicly announced their commitment to racial justice with a total of $66 billion pledged. Looking to 2021, I anticipate seeing organizations making good on their commitments and expanding as the movement continues. Doing so will require more Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) positions to manage both internal and external initiatives.

Technology Companies Will Need to Hire to Keep Up

Not only has technology become a critical aspect of our personal and professional lives, but every industry is also built on technology. Companies are integrating it more and more in the shift to remote and in the race to keep up with consumer expectations.

IDC projects that, from 2021 through 2023, we’ll see the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry grow by at least 5 percent annually thanks to the continued development of new technologies. To keep up with demand, and outgrow competitors, these organizations will need to put a heavy focus on recruiting and hiring for new roles.

Private Equity Firms Will be…

The Private Equity industry cannot be ignored as we look to recruiting growth in 2021. These firms will be leveraging their resources to invest in companies with high growth potential. Recent data from BDO confirms this, with 46.5 percent of fund managers saying that “investing in distressed businesses will be a key driver of deal flow.”

Extensive hiring is common among private equity firms after an acquisition has been made. It stands to reason that as PE firms continue investing in businesses that need financial support, hiring in this area will increase as well.

Projected Hiring in 2021

COVID-19 changed the way we live, work, and do business, but looking to 2021, I am optimistic that hiring will be on the rise in these areas and many others. A new administration also means we can expect to see changes that may positively impact the American economy, leading to further growth and expansion—and hiring will be needed as many companies look to rebound from what has been a challenging year for many.

By J. James O’Malley, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Comhar Partners. Comhar Partners is a recognized national leader in retained executive search, professional recruiting, and talent advisory services. Comhar, derived from the Gaelic word meaning "collaboration,” was formed with the intention of providing recruiting expertise in deep partnership with the client in order to solve talent management challenges. Comhar Partners is headquartered in Chicago with specialized recruiting consultants based in 6 offices across the United States. Jim has been developing HR and talent acquisition solutions for corporate CFO’s, audit, tax, advisory and global consulting firms (including Huron Consulting Group, Arthur Andersen, Deloitte and Lante) since the mid-90s. Jim has seen firsthand why leaders are frustrated by and don’t “get” recruiting. He can be reached