What the hell’s happening in the pre-Brexit job market… and what you can do to still land your dream job / candidate
Whether I’m meeting with a new contact, or catching up with someone I’ve known for years, I know that, at some point in the conversation, I’m always going to get the same question – “so what’s happening in the current market?”
Typically, we see the same ebb and flow year-in-year out: a rush of vacancies in Q2 when budgets are signed off and resignations are submitted; a dip in June through August when decision makers go on their holidays; a sudden flurry in September when people get back to their desks and realise they need to get on with the recruitment they’ve put off; and a natural winding down when budgets have been spent and Xmas parties kick in to gear.
Of course, Brexit is a phenomenon unlike any other, and needless to say it’s had a profound impact on shaping the market. In truth, I don’t think I’ve ever known a market quite like it.
If you search on job sites for vacancies, it won’t be hard to find a stack of exciting new opportunities. The challenge has been trying to work out: which vacancies hit a dead end; and which will turn in to a job offer.
These are hugely uncertain times – and uncertainty breeds indecision. Over the last 6 months, we’ve seen a sharp spike in previously committed line managers getting the heeby-jeebys at the 1st or 2nd stage of interview: the role goes on hold whilst the business needs to rethink the position; an internal candidate joins the party; or the business decides to restructure the department. I’m sure the hiring manager entered the process with the best of intentions – but it’s often the case that the idea of making a hire is very different to the decision itself, particularly knowing the cost of making a wrong decision.
This effect is accentuated by the swarm of new-to-market, fast growing challenger brands that have sprung up over the last 5 – 10 years. Say what you want about a ‘considered’ recruitment processes, but a lot of the younger companies are diving in to the deep end and interviewing candidates before they truly understand what capability they need. I’m a big fan of the recruitment process being an exploratory journey (for both parties), but a lot of people are having their time wasted. Remember: brand reputation can be damaged far quicker than it can be built.
On the flip side, with all this market uncertainty, is it a favourable time to attract passive talent? Is it the right time to go and get people who are relatively content in their current role, well looked after, but who might make a move if the right opportunity presented itself. The honest answer is… probably not.
This makes the recruitment process extremely difficult to navigate. A line manager might have a cracking pool of five candidates to interview – but one might go AWOL, one might take an internal opportunity, and two might not cut the mustard. When a hiring decision is under scrutiny, choice (even if it’s just the illusion of choice) can bring a lot of comfort.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad market by any stretch of the imagination. We’re working with some unbelievable talent and there are some amazing opportunities out there. However, the ratio of vacancies to job offers / candidates to hires is wider than I’ve ever known it – and so both parties need to kiss a few more frogs to find their princes.
So – with all that in mind, what can you do to wrestle back an advantage?
Advice for job seekers
Make an amazing impression on your CV – link for top tips is below, but worth noting: your CV is the top of the funnel – you won’t get an offer if you don’t secure interviews and you won’t secure interviews if you haven’t submitted a great application. Before you get trigger happy with that ‘apply now’ button, take the time to make sure your CV looks as good as it can. Of course, if you want an opinion, send it my way and I’ll be happy to help.
Diversify your job hunting channels – each business will approach recruitment differently, and so you need to reach them in different ways:
· Whilst it’s got the lowest return on investment, you’ll need to make some direct applications – particularly with big, global businesses that will do most of their recruitment directly. Acknowledge that you might be one of hundreds, so don’t sweat it if they don’t pick you.
· Leverage your existing network – a lot of opportunities won’t even make it to the job market.
· Use a range of recruiters – unfortunately we don’t cover the entire market! Personally, I’d recommend speaking to a few smaller, more boutique agencies (who tend to work with SMEs and challenger brands, and who’ll acquire new vacancies through reputation) and some larger brands (who tend to business partner with bigger companies, and who’ll pick up vacancies through their brand and marketing).
Keep an open mind and, if a role looks interesting, apply to it – knowing that you’re unlikely to interview for most roles you apply for; and knowing that most of the roles you interview for won’t convert to an offer, it’s important to keep your options open. Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes and you can only derive so much from a job description. Nothing puts a role in to context like a face-to-face meeting – and you should expect that you’ll leave some interviews with a very different opinion than your preconception – be that positive or negative. Oh, and remember – you definitely won’t get the job if you don’t submit an application!
Unless it’s very specifically requested, don’t bother with a coversheet – perhaps a controversial topic, but I think a coversheet is an extremely poor return on your investment of time. I’ve NEVER read a coversheet – everything I need to know can be found on your CV. If the recruitment portal requests a coversheet, write up a generic one, something like the below:
To whom it may concern,
I’d like to express my interest in this vacancy. I’ve attached my CV – hopefully you feel like I have a range of interesting skills that suit the opportunity. If you’d like any more information, please don’t hesitate to call me on X or send me an email at Y.
Stay positive! As a recruiter, it’s tough to see processes hit dead ends – but we completely appreciate that our frustration is only a fraction of the job seeker’s. There are some fantastic roles out there and, with the right application, getting an amazing offer is completely achievable. Don’t sell yourself short and remember that a lot of this uncertainty will pass. In 2016, in the months leading up to the referendum, we had the lowest flow of new vacancies we’d ever known. Immediately after the result, the opportunities came flooding through. It was clear that a lot of that uncertainty was just for uncertainty’s sake. Without getting too political, I remain optimistic that a final decision will open the floodgates again. Let’s just hope it happens soon!
Advice for hiring managers
Make a list of pre-requisites, but keep it as short as possible – before you start engaging with the market, get a clear sense of the role’s deliverables. Challenge your preconceptions – even if the vacancy is backfilling an outgoing employee, don’t assume that you need to hire in their image… a lot will have changed since they joined, even if it was 6 months ago. Once you’ve defined the pre-requisites, stick to them fiercely… but keep an open mind about everything else. Each candidacy is a new opportunity for the business – and, even if a candidate doesn’t make the cut, it’ll allow you to confirm or adjust your assumptions accordingly. It’s not only great interview practice and a good example of thinking slow to move fast, but it’s a very positive message to take to the market – no one will feel like they’ve had their time wasted.
Acknowledge the investment of time each candidate puts in to the process – factoring time for preparation, coordination, travel and the interview itself, the candidate will have invested a minimum of 5 hours, not to mention the emotional investment, costs and potentially annual leave. At the very least, volunteer as much information as you can about the business in the interview (they shouldn’t have to ask for it); and provide some constructive feedback either way.
Make a commitment to turnaround feedback within 48 hours and complete an interview process in two weeks – there’s a huge competitive advantage to be gained through moving decisively and quickly. Whilst your competition pontificates, you can show the candidates how committed you are to the hiring process. The average recruitment process lasts 4 weeks. If you can reduce that to two, you’re automatically going to circumnavigate the majority of the competition. Worth noting – this is particularly effective now we’re coming in to summer.
When you find the right candidate, go for it – Our job (and the job of an internal recruiter) is to pick and choose the best people in the market for you – and there’s plenty of good, bad and ugly that won’t make a final shortlist. I can completely appreciate that, in uncertain times, choice can be a great comfort. But trust your instincts and, if you need some assurance or a business case to take to a line manager, ask us to give a breakdown of what’s been going on behind the scenes.
And here’s one for the ages… make an interview a brilliant experience – Here’s a snapshot from Patty McCord, the former head of recruitment at Netflix:
“Recruiting was so important that interviews trumped any meeting a hiring manager was scheduled for, and they were the only reason people could miss our executive staff meetings. Candidates are evaluating you, just as you’re evaluating them. People forget that. Our goal was to have every person who came for an interview walk away wanting the job. Even if we hated candidates, we wanted them to think, Wow, that was an incredible experience. It was efficient, it was effective, it was on time, the questions were relevant, everyone was smart, and I was treated with dignity. I would tell people, “Even if this person isn’t the right fit, we might love his next-door neighbour.””