Today’s Hottest Job? The HR Executive

Postings for a once humble job have soared more than 50% since the pandemic, as firms begin to rely on a critical people-related role.

Software engineers, data scientists, or one of the myriad healthcare professions. Each of these roles is in hot demand these days. But that’s nothing compared to the frantic search to fill a much different job: the human resources executive.

Indeed, in a move that reflects how the pandemic has reshaped a role that was once more administrative than leadership, the demand for HR executives has reached near-epic proportions. According to one survey, postings for HR managers have surged nearly 53% from pre-pandemic levels. Just last year, in late 2020, postings for the same role were half what they were in 2019.

In some cases, salaries for top HR talent are 30–40% higher than pre-pandemic levels. At the executive level, companies have brought in HR professionals from far-flung industries in the hopes of managing the ever-increasing challenges of a large workforce. “The demand for chief human resources officers is at historic levels,” says Dan Kaplan, a Korn Ferry senior partner in the firm’s Human Resource Officers practice.

Experts say the many challenges brought on by COVID—from helping employees deal with health concerns to massive layoffs to formulating return-to-office plans—have forced organizations to realize HR people are more strategic professionals than just job interviewers. “HR needs to help the CEO and leadership to make tough calls,” Kaplan says, “but also needs to be the health monitor, the company psychologist, the one who looks after all employees’ well-being.”

Historically, HR professionals are usually in demand when economic times are tough, since they oversee layoffs. That isn’t the case now, but there is still a serious shortage of talent for talent finders. In response, many companies have recruited in unrelated fields to find HR pros, a shift in how these professionals were once groomed. The concept now, experts say, is that a good strategist and leader in one sector can transfer those skills to another.

At the highest level, chief human resources officers are being asked to be counselors to CEOs and work with boards. They are being asked to help shape the firm’s culture, talent strategies, and in some cases, business opportunities. Bradford Frank, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Technology practice, says the shift couldn’t be greater in his sector. “Most CEOs are looking for someone who can be a business partner,” he says.