How has the turmoil in the job markets impacted candidates' commitment to their workplace? Are career breaks, emigration, contract work and freelancing becoming more or less attractive and are these considerations impacting how HR directors approach their candidate selection?
Commitment to work is a complex issue, which has without question been impacted by the recent recession and the UK's ongoing economic uncertainty. How people select who they want to work for has certainly changed. People have recalibrated their expectations. With so few assurances in the marketplace, candidates have become more analytical throughout the whole process of managing their career. Today's candidates, for example, often try to meet more people in their prospective new team before accepting a position, or want more detail on the customers and clients of their potential new employer. There has also been a noticeable increase in candidates looking to establish independent references from their own contacts - chatting to other employees they may know, for example, or seeking testimonials from people who engage with the company in some other capacity.
The recession has opened candidates' eyes to the need to adopt a more active role in qualifying and assessing career opportunities. If they are going to move, they now want to make absolutely sure that the move is right for them.
Just as candidates are approaching career opportunities with greater caution, so too are employers. With austerity now firmly embedded in business consciousness, employers recognise that errors in recruitment can be costly. HR directors, for example, are doing more contract hiring than before the recession began, driven by the desire for greater flexibility and control over resources. For permanent positions, the entire recruitment process has extended as employers spend longer vetting their shortlist of candidates. Even for today's junior positions, it is not uncommon for the firm's MD to get involved in the interview process - a practice that just a few years ago was almost unheard of. Among both candidates and employers, then, it is fair to say that there is a much greater focus on getting recruitment right first time.
With this in mind, HR directors are also increasingly looking to up skill internally, often by hiring ex-agency recruiters to help them build a reliable talent pipeline. This practice is almost certainly the product of a period during the recession when recruitment agency staff were made redundant and HR directors saw an opportunity to take some aspects of using an agency in house.
In times of recession and flat economic growth it stands to reason that the number of candidates that opt to emigrate or take a career break will rise. Interestingly however, Hasson Associates has seen no evidence of this at all. It may be that in times of difficult market conditions individuals want to control their own destiny and would rather take a career break at their own volition, rather to having one forced upon them through redundancy or lack of available work.
Moreover, emigration, despite offering significant benefits, is still viewed by many as too complicated. Again, driven by austerity, foreign companies are much less likely to provide the necessary sponsorship that will unlock long term work visas for UK candidates. Many countries have also tightened their immigration policies. Both these factors make the prospect of working abroad much less attractive to candidates; it can be a lot of upheaval for a short amount of time. As a result, Hasson Associates has actually witnessed a drop in the number of people actively seeking jobs overseas.
There has been a definite rise in the numbers of candidates trying their hand at freelance and contract work. The 'no strings' approach that comes with contract and freelance work seems to work both for employers and candidates at the present time and has alleviated the traditional stigma that was so often attached to 'independent consultants'. Evidently, the adage 'there is no longer a job for life' is now well routed in today's employment culture, but that's not to say the long-term view has disappeared with it. Many candidates approach their next move thinking in terms of what doors that role may open for them further down the line.
Overall, the tough economic conditions have matured the relationship between candidate and employer. Hard commercial lessons have been learned and have driven greater caution, diligence and care by those on both sides of the recruitment process. Fortunately, the attributes which make employers and candidates attractive to the market are the same as they have always been. What has changed is their appetite to risk and their determination to find the right fit, first time.
Sinead Hasson, MD, Hasson Associates, a boutique recruitment consultancy
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