Facing up to uncertainty

The UK is sailing unchartered waters. Following on from the banking crisis, where some areas are still struggling to pick up, to Brexit, elections across Europe and the first 100 days of President Trump, I think most people will agree, this is a market that is difficult predict. 

In our experience, however, the professional services market is holding steady after an initial jerk reaction to the referendum result from a small number of firms. Indeed, in talking to clients, we have found that Brexit is proving to be an opportunity for law and accountancy – certainly in the short term. There is of course some nervousness and anticipation now that Article 50 has been triggered, but firms are continuing to recruit, both into new and replacement roles.

Corporate clients continue to focus on value for money and are less prone to long term loyalty. They expect their providers to really understand the many issues and opportunities their businesses face from a commercial standpoint. It is a sophisticated buyer’s market and professional services firms rely on their BD and marketing teams to ensure they have the right client focus.

Technology, including artificial intelligence, is also being extensively deployed to improve efficiency and new ways of working. This, in turn, is having an effect on how professional services firms market and differentiate themselves. There appears to be a clear shift as firms adopt more commercially-oriented approaches to running their businesses, including looking at much more innovative ways to deliver legal services with the right pricing models for clients. 

How does this affect you and your career?

 

There are obvious implications of this for BD and marketing professionals. In larger/international firms, teams are only growing in sophistication and requirements are always high for specialist/sector expertise, often encompassing a more global remit. But the search for cost-efficiencies has also brought about new opportunities in other areas too. More firms are moving their business services teams outside of London to Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol, Belfast and Scotland. There is a huge variety of roles offering quite different opportunities across all locations.

So, in this ever-evolving market, how do you decide how you want to build your career and what you want to do?

The direction you want your career to take

 

One of those interview questions that everyone dreads, but you can apply to yourself (it’s okay to be completely honest with yourself!) is where do you want to be in five years’ time: a BD manager, a PR or comms specialist, a ‘head of’ or director of a team, or a client relationship/pitch specialist? Do you want to focus on a particular industry sector?  Do you want to be in the professional services sector at all?

Add to this considerations about your existing role: how well does it sit with your long-term aspirations? If you could change something what would it be? Together, this will help you fine-tune your job requirements. But remember, irrespective of how long (or not) you’ve been with a firm, you don’t necessarily have to look externally to change things. Sometimes it can be easy to miss the opportunities to move your job in the desired direction via the right internal conversations.

Steps to achieving this include understanding the internal career structure in your firm, using appraisals to your advantage to set your career goals, networking internally, taking on extra responsibilities and being willing to consider specialising if you haven’t already done so. Carving yourself out a niche in a particular area can be a strong driver for faster career progression at a time when specialists are in high demand.

Also explore if there are any opportunities for internal secondments or training that could add to your skill base. Go the extra mile to secure work that would help advance your goals – for example, if you see a gap in the market or in your team for a particular project/initiative, discuss it with your manager and put a business case forwards for it.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to ask. Management may be facing issues that are beyond your control to fix. But at the same time, you can’t really blame the leadership for lack of progression if you don’t tell them the direction you want your career to take.

The decision to move on

 

If all of this only convinces you that your existing role cannot meet your career goals – then it is time to seek a new challenge elsewhere. This is when you need to know how to stand out from the crowd to secure the right role in the best firm for you.

There are several steps that we would advise candidates follow to secure a great new job:

  1. Build the right platform for success. Use social media to create an online brand. Share updates on LinkedIn, follow relevant groups (you should find plenty of groups in specialist areas such as pitching/bids, account management, PR/communications, or for BD managers and directors), comment on interesting pieces that have caught your attention, share good stories about your firm or success pieces that you’ve been involved with. Don’t post anything, anywhere, that you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see.
  2. Link in with peers and counterparts, and build your network. You’ll be amazed at how receptive people are at being contacted via LinkedIn if you work in the same industry. You’ll also be impressed by how much you can learn. Not only will this present potential employers with a more impressive profile, but you may well make contacts that will help you in your job search.
  3. Join industry groups, if you haven’t already done so. Are you a member of PM Forum, PSMG, LSN, the Junior Chamber of Commerce or UKTI? Are there any others you can join? All of this will help you build your knowledge and network – which will also help lay the right foundations for getting that new job.
  4. If you lack the skills to secure the job you want, and you can’t get training within your existing firm, consider now whether it’ll be worth sourcing some external training. PM Forum, PSMG and LSN run regular sessions tailored to different areas. Look at industry events, social media training, and diplomas that might add value to your existing qualifications (for example, CIM, CIPR, specialist bids/digital marketing qualifications).
  5. Stay relevant.  Keep up to date with what’s affecting the macro and micro environments. Read the FT and the Nationals. Be in a position to have an opinion.
  6. Talk to recruiters. Good ones should be able to support you with relevant advice, market insights and genuine help on roles/firms that would be a good fit for your next career move. Expect honesty, and a real willingness to support your personal goals.
  7. Spend time on your CV, and then some more time besides. Effort here is never wasted. If you work across several areas, typical in a smaller firm, it can be hard to make this document stand out. But think about areas where you might have excelled, or projects that were particularly successful, and highlight these, explaining your achievements.
  8. Be confident, and don’t undersell yourself, either in your CV or in any of those interviews that you secure.

Taking control

 

The future may be uncertain. But this only makes it more important that you take the initiative where you can, so that you can seize opportunities that come from change as they arise. Clarifying your career goals and maximising the potential of your existing role, while developing your personal brand and building your networkare all ways that will positively impact your career, no matter how external forces may shift.

This published article is a condensed version of a more detailed three-part blog. Click here to see Part I of that series.

LC

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