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The War for Talent: Tips on How to Succeed in a Candidate Drought

  • June 25, 2021

The job market in 2020 was undeniably challenging with across-the-board hiring freezes, redundancies, and re-structures that hit many professional sectors; Legal being no exception. And, whilst much has been documented about the inferred bounce-back this year (ourselves included with our Regional Analysis of Private Practice Vacancies back in April), the still-present backdrop of the global pandemic, and ongoing economic support measures such as the Job Retention Scheme masking the true impact of COVID on the sector, it’s clear that it’s not plain sailing just yet for those in the hiring seat.

The legal market in hiring terms is certainly buoyant as we near the second half of 2021 following a real step-change in vacancies advertised from February when volumes far surpassed the hiring activity of 2019. Yet, the wide range of choice for Candidates – real golden opportunities across all practice areas – is coupled with market uncertainty and jobseekers that are cautious about a move in the current climate. Whilst this competitive landscape certainly creates strategic organisational challenges, there are steps that Firms can take to ensure they tap into active and passive talent pools and focus firmly on their retention strategies to ensure their existing talent is not being lost to competitors.

Don’t discount the cost of employee retention

While there is certainly a renewed appetite for hiring and recruitment of new talent across the sector, it goes without saying that Firms should keep a keen eye on staff retention and attrition particularly those operating in practice areas or regions that have a short supply of qualified professionals. We highlighted only last year how firms can retain their talent during a skills shortage, and whilst generally speaking we’re not seeing illimitable job-hopping (at the moment at least), the commercial cost of losing A-grade employees can be significant as well as impacting team productivity, and the loss of knowledge and skill from the business. To rely solely on recruitment would be unwise; instead, concomitantly focusing on employee engagement, remuneration and rewards, clear progression, and staff development as part of a wider retention strategy is essential in the current climate.

Be aware that your reputation (and brand) will precede you

A strong employer brand undoubtedly aids recruitment strategies to attract top-tier candidates, especially in competitive markets where a candidate may have multiple opportunities, and offers, on the table. Jobseekers will always be mindful of your brand, market position and reputation as well as prestige amongst their professional networks.

Employees, perhaps more so in the last decade, are engaged by laser-sharp Corporate and Social Responsibility programmes that give the organisation (and their work) purpose, a sense of worth and impact on the wider society – so it’s imperative that jobs advertised go above and beyond the basic role profile. Successful hiring campaigns should focus on what the candidate can expect as an employee of that business – there should be an element of ‘selling’ the benefits, the culture, and the development opportunities available.

Savvy jobseekers will no doubt do their research and lift the bonnet on the inner workings of your Firm – so ensuring your employer brand is reflected well across review sites (Glassdoor, Google Reviews) and across your own social channels will help to bring advocates within your existing workforce to the fore, and really add to the credibility and authenticity of your brand. Directing jobseekers to internal success stories and case studies on your site, or a vibrant ‘Work for Us’ section will really help to bring the role to life and give creative insight that allows candidates to visualise themselves working for you and being part of the fabric of your business.

Don’t discount re-train contracts

We often speak to candidates who are considering a move to another branch of law. And, whether that catalyst is redundancy, a change in personal circumstances or because of a prolonged career break – we do advise that it is indeed possible – although not always easy or straightforward.

It is often par for the course that Partners and Hiring Managers will primarily look to attract candidates with proven track records, specific sector-experience, and demonstrable evidence of suitability for the role – but offering re-train opportunities if you are able could really open the door to candidates that are a great fit culturally, and willing to upskill.

At a recent panel event organized by Legal Cheek and The University of Law (ULaw), attendees heard from Lawyers who had made the leap into the sector from other industries altogether, illustrating that certain skills and strengths are transferrable especially across professional services.

The onus may not necessarily be on the end Hirer to provide or run the retraining course – organisations such as CLT (Central Law Training) offer conversion courses and certification for practitioners wishing to change specialisms so as hirers, being receptive to candidate profiles that indicate more recent training, or discernible industry knowledge could pay dividends.

Casting the net wider…consider home/remote/hybrid options

The pandemic has certainly brought about a lot of change for the legal sector, not least the urgent acceleration in technical solutions to support homeworking en masse. And, after arguably a shaky start, the sector has on the whole embraced the advancement of systems development to support everything from case load management to internal communications channels to drive business forward across a fragmented workforce.

We are still, even over 15 months on from the first national lockdown, inundated with headlines focused on what the perceived ‘end’ to the pandemic will look like, especially on how (and where) we work. Hybrid working certainly seems to dominate and seen by many as the most likely future state across many professional sectors. In a recent survey we conducted within our networks, nearly 70% stated a preference for hybrid once restrictions are lifted, although only three quarters of these respondents predict that this will actually be the case. Interestingly 8% of respondents envisage working exclusively from home. We are already seeing a marked increase in home- and hybrid-contracts being offered, especially for Firms who are looking potentially outside of their locality or where options may have already been exhausted. Whilst this solution may not work for every business and does come with much-documented challenges on a longer-term basis, it does mean that traditional recruitment based on commutability is cast aside and can really open up opportunities to a much bigger pool of legal professionals.

Whilst reporting around ways of working rumble on, including a leak from Whitehall on a new Government flexible working taskforce that is considering legislation to make homeworking a default option, business lobby groups have argued that it is ultimately down to the firms themselves to decide where that work is done. Whatever the outcome, the work-from-home guidance is likely to end next month, and businesses will be left with three choices – ‘home, hybrid, or hub’ – a mantra coined by Lloyds Banking Group who have shared their model and how they believe it will allow their people to work more effectively. Whilst there are some business owners that ultimately may wish to return to ‘normal’, casting the net wider by reviewing the feasibility of home- and hybrid- contracts may be a wise commercial move – especially as, put simply, it is what many employees want.

Make them an offer that’s hard to refuse

We see time and time again the recruitment process fall down at the final hurdle – when the interviews have taken place, the Candidate ticks all of the boxes in relation to the role, and the offer is put together…. only it just doesn’t quite hit the mark. Taking time to consider an offer that is compelling is vital, although equally it’s important that the individual in question is not left waiting unduly; particularly if there are other Firms, (your competitors) in the side lines also vying for attention.

The Financial Reporter recently recounted research conducted by analytics company, Visier where over half of financial employees in the UK are reported to be actively looking for a new role in the next 6 months. And, akin to the sector research we conduct each year in our Salary Survey, the reasons for moving are mirrored to those we see amongst legal professionals – namely a role that addresses work/life balance, progression and career development opportunities, training and upskilling programs, and fair remuneration. It is also good practice to review salaries and wider benefits packages across your own competitors for benchmarking purposes. After all, what may seem like a compelling offer may turn out to be a damp squib if some due diligence on market rates isn’t conducted at regular intervals.

Only this week, HR Professionals from Forbes Human Resources Council defined what makes a successful job offer including the following pointers:

  1. Start conversations around salary early so no one is left guessing.
  2. Be transparent about things like bonuses, benefits, and compensation.
  3. Build a relationship throughout the hiring process – building trust and having open and honest conversations from the get-go.
  4. Don’t compete solely on ‘the package’ – a holistic employee experience that is instilled in the culture is more of a focus than ever. Highlight this wherever possible.
  5. Do be open to special requests – understanding what is important to candidates and listening to the ‘whys’ is good practice and may offer competitive edge if taken on board.

For more detailed advice on how to make an irresistible offer, we’ve created an easy-to-follow guide – read HERE.

Don’t panic hire

Hiring during a skills shortage can sometimes instigate rushed or knee-jerk reactions particularly when recruitment projects have been running on longer than anticipated, and especially when the unfilled role is impacting the bottom line. Once hiring budgets have been approved and the job specifications are written and published, there is often, in our experience, an element of urgency to move through the process – yet moving too quickly and not taking due care and attention with a thorough review of candidate profiles can be costly in the long term.

In a survey from People Management, some 39% of hiring managers realized that they had made the wrong decision within two weeks of the new recruit starting. What they may not be aware of however is that in most cases* the true cost to the business of this decision is roughly 3.5 times their annual salary – which in the current climate will be difficult to absorb.

Working with recruitment specialists will allow Firms to enhance their search capabilities to get the right ‘fit’ first time, every time. With the rapid acceleration of video platforms and tech to support the likes of virtual onboarding, candidate screening, assessments and shortlisting can be further enriched and really add value to what can be a complex and difficult process. Being resolute around what type of individual or individuals are right for your business is still imperative and moving away from this or making compromises to get the role filled quicker may come back to bite you.

(Earlier this year we launched our True Cost of Hiring Calculator where you can quickly review and analyse the commercial cost of your recent hires, leavers, and financial impact of getting it wrong. It is well worth a look to inform and mitigate any further risks in your recruitment process).

Don’t go it alone – enlist the help of experts

Utilising a sector-specialist recruitment agency will undoubtedly give you a head start with your hiring campaigns – furnishing you not only with market insight and that helicopter view of the hiring landscape, but the inside track on movement and access to talent pools of active and passive legal professionals.

At Clayton Legal, our consultants can offer practical, honest advice on the fillability of roles, salary benchmarking and insight into requirements and drivers of jobseekers in the current climate.

Experienced, qualified legal professionals are often time-short and as such are increasingly approaching agencies to represent them in the market rather than go-it-alone. Skilled in ‘selling’ your Firm and elevating your roles through strategic marketing – it makes absolute commercial sense to bring in the experts when the hiring landscape remains complex, and the candidate, at least for now, is King.

It is certainly clear from conversations that we have daily with Law Firms across the country that many are actively rethinking their talent strategies at all stages of the employee lifecycle – to attract, engage and retain skilled professionals in a highly competitive job market.

If you are actively searching for legal talent, we’d love to speak to you. Click here to speak to one of our experienced Legal specialists or call 01772 259121 for more information on how our exceptional recruitment experience can enhance your hiring strategy.

What’s Next?

The legal industry is on the verge of a virtual hiring revolution. For some time now, recruitment has been growing increasingly virtual.

Before the pandemic, the Clayton group had already begun utilising video interviewing for our client and our candidate recruitment, with great results.

We have invested in the latest video technology that provides an unparalleled recruitment process for both our legal clients and jobseekers.

Contact the Clayton Legal team today if you would like support to develop your legal recruitment strategy or job search in the virtual age.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability during that time. We have made over 5,000 placements from Partners to Legal Executives, Solicitors to Paralegals and Legal I.T. personnel to Practice Managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

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