Hans Schumann, Career & Life Coach to London’s Square Mile, asks whether we need to park our career ambitions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As labour markets are in deep freeze, what’s still possible for those of us longing for greener pastures?
Last week I had a perfect client sitting in front of me, and yet I hesitated to work with him. Adam ticked all the boxes of the type of person my coaching services are designed for. As a successful senior lawyer he had seen the legal profession from many angles, but now felt unfulfilled in his job. Like many of my clients, he wondered whether there could be a better life out there for him in a different career; but he had no idea where to start exploring alternatives as he had been defining himself as a lawyer all his adult life.
I wrote an entire career coaching book to attract exactly this type of client and I have worked with people like Adam successfully for years.
So why was I hesitating to work with him?
Because the world is going through a major crisis, and I have to ask myself: is my message about striving for your “dream job” still realistic? What’s possible now that labour markets have collapsed globally because of the COVID 19 pandemic?
The sobering facts about the current labour market
The world may well be facing a wave of bankruptcies and redundancies at a historic scale. John Bolton, Marketing Executive at recruitment company Onrec, describes the UK labour market as in “deep freeze”. Many industries, like hospitality, have had to shut down completely. Others have lost significant amounts of business. As a result, recruitment agencies report a 70% drop in job vacancies. As dismal as this figure sounds, there is more: The pool of candidates competing for the reduced number of vacancies will be increasing rapidly over the coming months.
Ben de Grouchy, founder of recruitment provider ecruit, explains that stopping recruitment is the first thing companies do during an economic crisis. Although he expects a spike in recruitment once the lockdown is lifted, it’s still “gonna be a tough year”.
So far, the UK government has been able to fend off the worst through the furloughing scheme by which they guaranteed to pay 80% of the salary of furloughed staff in the UK up to £2,500 per month. But what will happen when the scheme ends? Unless the government extends it, it’s likely that companies will have to make significant redundancies. The recent announcement by British Airways that it will make up to 12,000 of its 42,000 staff redundant in response to the coronavirus pandemic is just a taster of what is to come.
What does this mean for job seekers?
With more people fighting for a heavily shrunk pool of vacancies, it will be much tougher to compete. Go back just a few months and millennials enjoyed a buoyant market in which employers had to show why a candidate should work for them. Vandana Dass, employment lawyer and managing director of Davenport Solicitors, explains that the tables have turned. We have moved from a candidate market to an employer market. Employers will have the upper hand in negotiations, and Vandana expects that job packages will be less favourable in the future.
Is now the time to sit still and wait?
When I wrote my career coaching book Falling in Love With Your Job, it was against a very different backdrop. The UK enjoyed almost full employment, and London seemed a place of unlimited opportunities.
If you still have a job, there is definitely a case for sitting still and weathering out the storm. Moving now could be risky. Two of my clients, who landed their dream job of working for a start-up, are back on the job market because their employer went insolvent just a few months after they joined the company.
Maybe it’s time to be grateful for the job you have, even if it doesn’t tick all the boxes of your dream job. Maybe this crisis can even help you re-engage with a job that you had taken for granted. I can certainly see a new spirit of solidarity in companies across all industries.
What is still possible?
Whilst caution would be prudent, at least for the rest of this year, I definitely don’t advocate giving up on your dream of fulfilment and career progression. So what’s still possible?
Onrec quotes a report created by software provider Access, according to which the current top employers in the UK are in the healthcare sector, followed by some retailers like Amazon and Iceland. Most common job roles on the market include support workers, nurses, teachers, software engineers, drivers and cleaners. If you are after one of those roles or industries, you will be in a better position than others.
If you still have a job, it may be worth exploring how you can pursue your career ambitions in your current organisation, at least for the time being. Maybe this crisis will create new opportunities for you to step up into leadership and increase your visibility. Rather than recruiting, many companies will be switching to redeploying, and this may give you more opportunities to create a different career path in the same organisation.
On the upside, The Firm, a forum for in-house recruitment managers, reports that 34% of those hiring are finding it more difficult to attract talent due to high levels of candidate uncertainty and anxiety. Presumably, the connection here is that the more uncertain the job market is, the less confident will employees be to make a move. This creates opportunities for highly skilled job candidates.
How can you stand out from a crowded market?
Sean Maher, CEO of recruitment agency Hireful, explains that job seekers will need to make extra efforts to stand out from the crowd in the current labour market. There are still jobs out there, but it will be tougher to compete. He advises that now, more than ever, your CV must be to the point and persuasive. It may be much tougher to persuade an employer to hire you for a role if you do not yet have the right experience or qualifications, so Sean recommends spending this year on learning and upskilling. There are plenty of high-quality learning resources available online. Many are even free; for example, The Open University has a large library of free online courses.
I have heard on the grapevine that a new LinkedIn feature is being tested globally that could help you stand out in the job market. It’s a video intro feature that allows talent professionals find and hire quality candidates faster. Job applicants will be able to post their video answers to pre-defined interview questions. Janine Chamberlin, Director, LinkedIn Talent Solutions UK, was quoted as saying: “By inviting candidates to complete a quick recorded video or respond to written questions, recruiters can get a better sense of candidates’ soft skills earlier in the hiring process.” Ben de Grouchy of ecruit voiced valid concerns that this new feature could lead to more discrimination in the recruitment process; yet, if you are a job seeker, you probably want to use it to your advantage once it is launched formally.
Speaking of soft skills, LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends report that 92% of UK talent professionals say that soft skills are equally or more important than hard skills when hiring talent. This creates great opportunities for you to shine in an interview even if your hard skills are not a perfect match. According to LinkedIn, the top five soft skills to learn in 2020 are creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and emotional intelligence. Your coach will be able to help you grow these skills and create strategies for demonstrating them.
What does the future hold?
We are in uncertain times and it is difficult to predict how the future will look. To a large extent it will depend on how quickly the world manages to end the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, we can’t say for sure when this will happen.
None of us knows what the world will look like when the pandemic ends, yet I have no doubt that we will get through this and fully recover. The question is just how quickly.
Daniel Osmer, founder of executive search consultants Spectrum, envisages that working remotely will become more of the norm in companies and that some offices will shrink into meeting hubs. With remote working will come a stronger focus on communication skills and the ability to engage teams remotely. As people will no longer see you sitting in an office, you will have to find other ways to increase your visibility and evidence your value: you need to demonstrate your ability to deliver tangible results.
What does this mean for your career planning?
Remember the “perfect client”, Adam, I mentioned at the beginning of this article? I discussed the status of the current job market with him in detail. We then agreed that it would make sense for him to review his career anyway. At the end of the day, he was not even sure yet whether he actually wanted to change his job or career. He just wanted to use this quiet business period to take a step back from his life, look at it from a bird’s eye perspective and explore whether it was still the life he wanted to live.
We agreed to “park” the question about what’s possible and, for now, focus only on what he really wants from his career and life generally. Once he knows what he wants, it will become much easier to explore whether changes are possible or advisable right now.
Maybe it is indeed time to sit still; maybe it is time to aim for a move within your current organisation; or maybe it’s time to start preparing for a career change further down the line. Depending on the type of change you desire, it may not be something that you can execute immediately anyway. Often a career change requires long-term planning. You may need to gain additional skills and work experience before you are ready for the next move, or increase your network in your new chosen industry. By the time you have done this, the job market may already have improved.
I still believe that we all deserve a job that brings us excitement and fulfilment. We may just have to be more creative, and possibly a bit more patient, over the coming year.