At Leighton Taylor we’ve spent the past turbulent 6 months talking consistently in depth to our clients and candidates across the legal, accountancy, consultancy, investment and property sectors. We’re frequently asked for a steer on how the recruitment market within the professional services sector has been through lockdown, what other firms doing, and how we see things are panning out in the future. As we move into autumn, we thought it would be helpful to share some information on the most common questions and concerns that we’ve had asked of us throughout this period.
What was the recruitment market like during lockdown? What’s happening in the market now?
At the beginning of the lockdown the majority of firms halted recruitment, until they could understandably assess the impact of the pandemic upon their businesses. Some put in place blanket recruitment freezes, but some (in particular, the larger Global firms) have continued to recruit throughout, for business critical roles only. Of course, the huge impact of such a global event has affected businesses across the board, and predictably, there’s been a notable slowdown in recruitment but since early September we’ve seen an increasing number of BD & marketing roles needing to be filled, across the sector but again, particularly the larger law, consultancy and accountancy practices. These are very varied and have included a number of contracts, brand new senior level BD, marketing and thought leadership roles, PR/Comms Managers and new and replacement BD Manager and Executive level positions. And within mid-tier and smaller practices, and the real estate sector, we’re seeing more impact of the pandemic, regionally and nationally, with less movement than before which is largely due to firms still having to contend with furloughing and redundancy processes.
Is it mainly replacement roles or new roles being recruited?
Currently many of the roles are replacements or ones that have returned to the market although we did still see some of the larger firms recruiting brand new positions throughout lockdown. Encouragingly, we’ve started work on some very senior positions (which might have been delayed), where firms are comfortable to press ahead.
What have most firm’s policies been on returning to the office?
This has taken a lot longer than anyone anticipated (for obvious reasons) to get back into the office since lockdown initially happened in March. Most firms thought that this would be a short-term situation, but once systems were in place already to support home working (if they weren’t already there), firms have had to change their expectations of a complete return to offices.
September saw the most movement, with a gradual return for some (staggered, with mainly one or two days a week in the office) but guideline changes at the end of the month meant that the vast majority of employees went back to working from home again. What we’ve gathered from this to and fro situation of office vs home working, is that most firms have learnt well from experience and adapt quickly, embracing a fluid way of working and are able to chop and change as required, depending on the guidelines and severity of the pandemic.
The general feeling is that at some stage, again, there will be a gradual return and we envisage that this will involve a mix of 2/3 days in the office and the rest working remotely for the foreseeable future.
Salary reviews / increases – still going ahead as usual?
Firm’s strategies towards salaries and salary reviews have been dependent upon the individual financial situations they find themselves in. There’s no blanket trend, and whereas many firms have delayed conducting salary reviews, and put them back to later in the year, some have scrapped them entirely for 2020, focusing on 2021 reviews instead.
Are candidates now generally moving for progression or because they’ve lost their jobs, or for other reasons?
We’ve seen a steady flow of candidates throughout lockdown and an increase over the past few weeks but reasons for searching are mixed. Some of those who were looking before March are looking for the same things that they were before – progression, financial gain, recognition. Others have been furloughed or made redundant and so are either lacking security or have lost their roles. This is more so in property, a handful of accountancy firms and mid-tier, regional and smaller legal firms.
Candidates are naturally going to enquire more about the security of future roles, and will be naturally more hesitant to move from a secure position into the unknown without strong reassurances. It’s clear from many of our candidates, that salary expectations haven’t altered and firms are going to have to work hard to secure the strongest talent, incentivising them financially to make the move. Recently we have seen some large salary increases in order to attract the right candidate and to ward off any potential counter-offers.
Those who may have been made redundant or whose roles are at risk due to the pandemic and who’ve been un-expectantly propelled into job searching are naturally being flexible and are happy to sidestep financially in order to regain employment.
Are candidates looking for anything new/different from an employer in a “remote world” than they were before?
The obvious one is that candidates are expecting working flexibility in a new role, however the pandemic implications play out. As we’re extremely unlikely to return to pre-March working patterns, the general feeling from candidates is that productivity from remote-working is just as good if not better than being office-based. There is also an understanding that there will need to be time spent in the office during the working week at some stage. So a mix is certainly expected in new roles.
Interestingly we’ve had a few candidates who were thinking about moving pre-March, but are now even more intent because of how their firms have treated them throughout this challenging time. For some, there’s been constant Zoom meetings and round the clock monitoring from bosses, which has not sat well. Equally firms who have tried to push a quicker, full return to the office are effectively putting major doubts into some of their employees, particularly as working from home has proven to be very effective.
Who is handling remote recruitment well? Any lessons to be learned? Any pitfalls to be avoided?
Recruiting the right person is never an easy challenge and Covid-19 has certainly exacerbated this as interviews have become virtual with no one being able to physically meet each other. Some professional services firms have embraced remote recruitment very well. Again, these tend to be the larger, global firms who’ve had previous experience conducting online interviews. Microsoft Teams and Zoom have certainly been invaluable tools to successful recruitment but firms need to be conscious not to overload the interviewees and systems with too many participants which can become both overwhelming for candidates and technically, also a bit sticky. Some firms have overcome this issue by recording interviews and sharing the recordings with other colleagues. Successful adaptation of virtual on-boarding too (generally feedback has been positive) means the firms that have embraced online team events, quizzes and regular zoom catch ups have succeeded in embedding new joiners more quickly. There’s no doubt that it can’t substitute going into the office and meeting people but firms have generally done a good job with the current restrictions in place.
And finally, how do you see the recruitment market in the near future?
The last quarter of the year is going to be very interesting. As we have noted, there was a definite rise in activity at the start of September but it is by no-means a normal autumn. We didn’t expect it to be, given that many firms are still navigating how they’re going to work, what they need to be doing, and structuring their teams to accommodate all the changes. The fact that a number recruitment freezes have been lifted and more roles are coming onto the market is a really positive sign, not just for recruitment, but for the financial success of the sector as a whole.