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Nick Stevens

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Finding and filling senior roles


It might seem like a recruiter’s market, but actually it can be as tough recruiting as applying, says Nick Stevens.

In many ways, the current outlook for senior people looking for a career move and employers with roles to fill is not exactly what most people would expect. Issues which you wouldn’t instinctively associate with a recession, such as lack of candidates and unfilled job opportunities are a very real part of the employment landscape right now.

It’s a tough time to be a candidate for more than the obvious reasons. For senior and executive management, it can be difficult to keep up-to-date with the available job opportunities out there as the higher up the ladder you rise, the greater the need for discretion in talking about and acting on job opportunities. Senior people can also remain within the same role or organisation for prolonged periods – it’s very easy to lose contact with the employment ‘scene’ even in your own industry.

Senior roles are often not advertised at all often for competitive, financial or commercial reasons when employers do not want to make a public announcement about a particular opening they have available.  The result can be a certain level of isolation for candidates who may miss that dream job opportunity, and create problems for employers who may be targeting a very precise candidate profile with far fewer options than they would like.

For employees this underlines the importance of developing a good relationship with an intermediary consultant or firm who understand your industry and can at least keep you appraised of the opportunities at any given time.  Even if you don’t act on any opportunity presented to you, there is certainly no disadvantage to remaining informed. 

As long as your preferred recruitment experts clearly understand how you want them to work with you, chances are you can strike a balance between being offered to few career ideas and too many.

That’s a long-standing approach for senior people to follow. But as with many aspects of modern commerce, recruitment has been radically changed by the role of the internet. This is true at all levels of the career ladder, with online services such as LinkedIn adding a very useful dimension for people who want to publicise their experience and skills on their own terms, but without the obvious backdrop placing themselves on the jobs market. 

Recruitment experts increasingly rely on this kind of information to find potential candidates. They can very effectively begin to search and qualify potential candidates for the roles they have on offer, and contact them discreetly to assess interest. But they can only find those people who have created and, crucially, maintained an online profile. Whichever service you prefer to use, it’s wise to make a commitment to keeping any information current. There is no harm in providing very brief detail, but if you can imagine a situation where you might want to be found by a recruiter, creating a career profile of some kind online should be something every ambitious person takes care of.

The employer perspective
Strange as it may seem, candidate quality and volume is an issue for employers at the moment. The recession has meant there are generally a large number of candidates available across the board, but this does make it more of a challenge to identify the top quality performers. Many people are also playing safe and staying put, which has put the brakes on the candidate pool at the senior levels. As there are far fewer people at the top of the tree from the outset, we have the somewhat ironic situation where some senior positions are currently a real challenge for employers to fill.

This is not helped by the constraints placed on senior recruitment by the larger agencies, where conflicts of interest prevent them from accessing the full cross section of potential candidates. For instance, in the legal profession the biggest recruiters often work across multiple major law firms or corporate legal departments simultaneously – the result is that they simply cannot move senior employees between rivals, with an obvious impact on success rates.

The economy has also created other unexpected problems for employers, which many would associate with more prosperous times. Taking the banking industry, for instance, where employers cut jobs back quite severely in the early days of the financial crisis and recession. As the outlook begins to look a little more positive, banks and financial institutions are finding that they can no longer afford to let senior people go – there is no slack in the system. So the buy-back has returned as a vital tactic for employers to keep vital job roles filled. If a senior employee presents their resignation, the employer is matching or even bettering the new job offer, with many potential moves falling through at the last minute.

For employers, the best advice is not to make any assumptions about how easy it will be to fill a particular role at the moment. Specialist advice and experience is a must, and recruitment partners need to be extremely flexible and well connected to help get top level vacancies filled. Employers want to be ready to make the most of the recovery and senior vacancies being filled now could have a major say in their ability to do so.

Nick Stevens is Group Director,
Eximius Group


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