Earlier this week I was kindly invited by Rick Harris to talk to APMP Members about what’s happening in the bid recruitment world and how job hunting has been affected by Covid-19. I enjoyed the discussion with Rick (link to the webinar is in the comments below) but there were many questions that we simply couldn’t squeeze in to the 30-minute session.
Much of what we discussed has implications for the entire profession (not just APMP members), and in the interests of helping as many people as possible secure new roles in challenging times, I wanted to share some of the key trends we are experiencing. I hope you can put this information to use when looking for your next role.
How have the job search rules changed because of the pandemic?
Competition for bid and proposal jobs is as fierce as we’ve ever seen it. The job market has completely flipped from a candidate driven market to a client driven one. Many candidates had the luxury of choice prior to Covid-19 and clients needed to work hard to secure their preferred candidates. Be warned, the tables have turned – we haven’t experienced this type of market since the global financial crisis of 2008.
The implications of this if you’re a candidate? You must be on your ‘A’ game at every stage of the process. Your CV needs to elevate you above the crowd and you absolutely must practice what you preach in our daily profession – any job application must be client focussed. Your CV shouldn’t be focussed on ‘I’, it should on focussed on ‘what I will do for you’.
We see the market requesting more specialist bid skills. Generalists need to be mindful of this shift. In many markets, it’s no longer enough to just be a good all-rounder – most employers want either industry niche or specialist bid, proposal or capture skills.
One positive throughout the pandemic has been the continued strength of the Contract / Freelance market. Whilst not at its peak, it certainly hasn’t been as badly affected as the permanent market. We are in regular contact with our 800 contractors and very few are struggling to find work.
Hiring companies now know they are in a position of strength when it comes to negotiating salary so be ready to fight your corner – have your numbers worked out ahead of any final interview so you can bring it back to a level playing field. As a recruiter, we typically act as a broker on salary negotiations, but such is the impact of the pandemic, we are seeing clients wanting to negotiate with candidates directly over salary in final interview.
With most interviews now conducted via video, there has been some confusion over formality. Some clients still expect formal dress and very structured interviews. Others are much more casual. Since it is difficult to reverse a first impression, I would always play it safe with a minimum of business-casual attire. If you are one of those people that believe your presence in the room is a key selling point, you need to think about how you recreate that with a video interface.
What can you do to prepare for your next search?
Be very clear on what you want from your next role – scatter gunning will simply not work in a client driven market.
You must start with a plan. Really think through what your ideal next role would be. Think about salary, industry, the type of manager you perform best with, location, working conditions, hours, the training you need. Many people only start to answer these questions by attending lots of unnecessary interviews.
Decide if you want to work with a team or organisation that follows APMP best practice and be aware that many organisations have alternative practices where you might need to adapt what you have learned.
Try not to get hung up on job titles – you need to look beyond them and really understand the roles and responsibilities. Our last salary survey reported 334 different job title variations so the chances are, you might be missing relevant opportunities.
Whilst some disagree with me, I don’t believe you should be afraid to change your current job title on your CV to match the job you are applying for, if the roles and responsibilities are a match. We are seeing good candidates rejected at the first hurdle because hiring teams skim read headers looking for an easy match. Just because your current employer has a particular naming convention for your role, it shouldn’t restrict your career.
Follow all your target employers via their social channels and get involved in their conversation. Showing a genuine interest really does make a difference. Connect with relevant people on LinkedIn and show a desire to work for an individual you respect and / or your company of choice. I often feel doing these basic things is the equivalent of an old-fashioned cover letter.
Do not be afraid to say you have been made redundant or have a gap on your CV because of COVID. There should be no stigma attached to this. Many people experience redundancy during their careers and it rarely reflects on an individual performing poorly, more that the organization got its market strategy wrong.
Strategies and steps to guide you along the way
Now, more than ever, people must be prepared for the unexpected. You must be able to deal with ambiguity at every stage of the recruitment process. Changing jobs involves getting out of your comfort zone. In a pandemic, it generally puts people straight into their stretch zone.
Why work with a recruitment firm?
We develop relationships with our candidates that last for years, if not decades. We get beneath the CV into what motivates someone, what culture they will succeed in and what else they want from their next move and longer career. We typically work with candidates multiple times and truly help them build their career. People trust us to approach them with a career move because we have developed a relationship.
We often play a pivotal role as a negotiator, brokering a deal that would otherwise be uncomfortable to agree with a prospective employer.
In terms of the day-to-day service we offer, we have been providing lots more coaching on CVs, and generally being a sympathetic ear – lots of our profession are really fearful right now and when you combine that with the isolation of lockdown, it can be a very difficult time for many people.