We share our experiences and insights into recruitment activity through Covid-19 and what it tells us about the future for business services teams in professional services firms.

Since we started working from home due to Covid-19, the team here at Totum has spent a lot of time talking to business services professionals, whether individually or via our many virtual networking meetings. In that time, we have been amazed by how many people from all types of firm have wanted to get together to compare experiences and share ideas for the future. We have also been hugely touched by how many expressions of care and concern we have received for how we are coping as a recruitment business – the perception being that hiring must have pretty much died overnight.

But is that perception correct?

In this piece, which is based on a podcast you can listen to by clicking here, we thought we would use this opportunity to answer this question and to explain what the market is really like out there.

Well there is no getting away from the fact that the market has been tough, particularly at the junior end of recruitment where firms have decided to pause recruitment. But that is not to say that nothing is happening at all. 

The good news is that there is still recruitment going on across most functions at mid to senior level. And we’re now seeing things gently getting better as lockdown eases. There’s a feeling that firms have got used to remote working – and, as many firms are not planning any return to the office before September, they’re getting on with things. And they’re successfully recruiting via Zoom.

Some data for you…

Between 20 March when we closed our Totum offices and today (11 August), we have made 28 placements. This includes some roles that were going on before lockdown that were carried on to completion, but also roles that have become live since. This number is higher than we expected and may surprise you too.

The market is quieter and flatter, but things are still happening.

You can see some of the job titles in the word cloud above. But in more general terms, we have worked on several roles in technology – these were increasing before lockdown and it doesn’t surprise us that they have remained critical in these strange times since. Many IT functions have done a fantastic job through lockdown and have only further proved their pivotal role in the functioning of the modern business.

The majority of placements have been in BD and marketing. Interestingly in this area and others, we are seeing a high volume of good candidates as well. It might be assumed that people wouldn’t be interested in seeking new jobs in this environment, but we’ve been pleased to see candidates still looking as well as some others coming onto the market due to redundancy, albeit in certain sectors. A number of firms have also told us that this might be an opportunity to scoop up some great candidates who would not be available in more buoyant times – certainly, our experience is that candidates on our shortlists just now are very good.

We have had a number of placements in finance, with an uptick in fairly obvious areas such as credit and cash control – vital skills in these uncertain times. The remaining positions have been in general management – in operations and business management, etc.

We’re also beginning to see a few more interim and project roles – these small numbers are not yet sufficient to be significant, but we are expecting the numbers of shorter term roles to increase as firms scale their requirements up and down through changing marketing conditions.

Looking ahead

We hope this activity continues and increases as we head back towards some level of normality. The market isn’t great but it’s okay and things are moving on. We’ve also had the opportunity to learn some really important things that we want to take into the future – we’ve noticed how much communication has become less corporate and more human, a shift that we hope long outlives Covid.

This links into the fact that health and wellbeing have risen up the agenda for all firms. It feels like the physical distance between employees has made firms shift up a gear in terms of reaching out and ensuring staff members are okay. We’ve seen too how projects in, say, digital or technology, are now getting done, having been on a backburner in more busy periods pre-Covid. These are all positive signs for the future.

Reflecting on where recruitment activity is still happening gives us a clue to where firms might put their future recruitment focus. In the long-term, we expect more roles around innovation and technology, digital marketing, data analysis and project management, as well as in areas like pricing, revenue control and working capital management.

More broadly, our experiences through lockdown suggest that business services may finally have found their place. In previous downturns, business services have always been the ones first under the microscope. But we’re no longer convinced this is the case.

Over the years, business service professionals have become so much more influential and integral to the running of successful firms. Firms seem far more aware of their importance through the tough times and we think there will be far more reluctance to let such good people go if it comes to such discussions.

Of course, we can still only speculate on this and on other details of how the future may unfold. But as time moves on things will become clearer. Until then, we are staying positive and we will continue to share our findings and experiences with you.

If you would like to chat further about the market, current recruitment opportunities, or our current virtual networking groups, contact [email protected]

You may also be interested in listening to our podcasts on the current market: ‘Recruitment is quieter but not dead’, or ‘What has been happening in professional services recruitment?’ , recorded by our Directors Gary Jones, Tim Skipper and Deborah Gray.