Recruitment, a barometer for the economy
What’s been gratifying about the last four years (and it’s often difficult to see the positives!) is how corporate communications has grown in professional standing with both businesses and the general public. References to “spin” are becoming a distant memory as the requirement for effective reputation management grows.
However, Corporate Communications has been no more immune to the impact of the downturn than other professions and it’s a widely acknowledged fact that recruitment tends to be a good barometer for the economy generally. When business is booming, companies employ more people and individuals are confident enough to look at improving their situation – financial, status or location – by moving freely between jobs. When the economy is going through difficult times, recruitment and the search for talent gets put on the back burner until things “return to normal”.
But the last few years have seen the rule book rewritten with a more entrenched downturn than many of us had experienced before. So, is this now the “new normal”?
Not only is this sluggish recruitment market of concern for all involved, but it also has potentially serious and more far reaching consequences. If talent is not brought on, nurtured and developed, where are the leaders of the future to come from? If people don’t move roles, how are best practice and new approaches passed on? If teams aren’t growing, how can individuals develop their strategic skills and take time to actually think about what they are doing? Pressure on each team member often means that their time is spent fire fighting or concentrating on the tactical requirements of the role.
When recruitment is taking place, the one notable trend is the length of time the process now takes. Of course companies should exercise due diligence when employing a new team member. Mistakes are costly and distressing for both the employer and the employee but there is a lot to be said for taking greater control over the timing of the process and trusting your instincts more.
When I first moved into recruitment from Comms 13 years ago, an assignment from brief to the candidate starting could be measured in weeks – often about 6 weeks taking into account notice periods. Today, we’re talking months. The delay is often caused by a long wait between taking the brief and the first interview and then between subsequent interviews. This has a number of negative side effects. Firstly, there is a natural momentum to recruitment that is lost if the process is too slow. There’s also the message that long delays send out to potential employees, as well as any current employees involved in the process. Is this a company that is naturally indecisive? Is this what I would experience if I joined the company? Are they serious about making this appointment and committed to building the team / replacing the colleague?
But the most serious consequence is potentially losing the right candidate because they have been offered something else or have become put off the company as a result of the whole process.
It’s a hard learned fact of life that the best candidates don’t hang around forever waiting for various diaries to be coordinated!
In this era of increased caution and accountability, one important element of the recruitment process is often disregarded and that’s gut-feel. Following your instincts may not be a qualified skill but it remains one of the most effective recruitment tools an individual can employ. It is the best way of gauging culture fit and this particular requirement has shot to the top of the list of requirements over the past few years, as employing someone who will “fit” has become more vital. After all, skills can be learnt, whereas personality is inherent.
Movement within sectors has waxed and waned over the past four years. We’ve seen the financial sector decimated, only to be built back up again and then encounter further pressures recently. The brakes were well and truly put on the Public and Third Sectors but we are now starting to see some positive signs as teams rebuild under increased scrutiny. And social media skills are still viewed as something quite separate and often akin to witchcraft!
The one key area that has weathered the storm and continued to develop is internal communications. The need to communicate effectively with employees has never been more vital and the discipline is growing both in the UK and abroad. We’re also starting to see the appointment of Corp Comms Directors from an IC background, rather than broader Corporate Communications, as their strategic skills are more widely acknowledged.
With the number of Communications roles pretty static in the UK, more opportunities, particularly at the senior end, are emerging overseas. Over the last two years we’ve seen an increased demand for experienced professionals – both in-house and agency – in mainland Europe and AsiaPac. Naturally, in mainland Europe, language skills are a requirement but less so in Asia for senior professionals.
It seems that everyone is waiting for a recovery in the economy to herald resurgence in employment but perhaps that’s the wrong approach. Employing great people, in clearly defined roles with set goals and accountabilities, can add greatly to a business’s success.
To achieve this you need the right person for the right job and they are not always the obvious ones. Finding the best people remains a skill in itself – and that’s where recruiters can step in!”
Group Managing Director
This article is also available to read at Communicate Magazine online
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