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Rethinking Recruitment and Retention in Professional Services

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​Much has been made of ‘the great resignation’ in recent months.

It is predicted that waves of employees will leave their current jobs in search of roles offering more opportunities for progression and firms that concentrate on culture and well-being.

Demand for work is so high that the top job now advertised on LinkedIn is for recruiters to find candidates to fill the high number of vacancies.

There has been a significant increase in work and revenues amongst professional services since the end of lockdown restrictions, coupled with growth in areas such as M&A and forensic accounting which has put more pressure on available talent.

The supply of potential candidates for jobs has been hit by both Brexit and the pandemic, with many overseas workers previously based in the UK returning to their home countries.

Candidates are in high demand and short supply

​The Professional Services sector is currently experiencing a labour short market, with many firms fighting it out to recruit and retain talent amid the economic recovery. Attempts by firms to recruit staff from competitors has seen sharp pay rises across the industry.

Your employees are being headhunted by your competition and are receiving multiple offers. With higher salaries and benefits and we are increasingly seeing signing on bonuses being offered.

Employee expectations have changed

In the wake of the pandemic, the intensity of expectations from people about what they want from their employer has increased.

At the forefront of workers minds now is how they are being treated.

This is measured by multiple metrics including salary, benefits and security, opportunities for progression and commitment to diversity and equality.

How you implement long-term change to the workplace culture will determine the course of the future of retention and candidate attraction. When people leave, it costs in terms of turnover and lost productivity and it takes 6 to 9 months to onboard someone to be fully effective.

​A recent survey showed that around 1 in 5 workers have either left or are considering leaving their current roles. However, these figures quickly grow to 1 in 3 within the youngest cohort of workers. The reasons given by over half this cohort was they wanted their employers to offer more training and career development opportunities in 2022 and that they would prioritise firms who offered a strong training and upskilling programme.

To grow your business you need to focus on retaining your talent

Every Professional Services firm is currently in growth mode and headcount is the single most important thing in ensuring your firm is positioned to take advantage of the growth. Aggressive hiring is needed to meet customer demand and deliver on client expectations to deliver projects and support their transformation and growth.

  • Review talent across the firm.

  • Look at how you are incentivising performance and work winning, could this be part of your bonus scheme?

  • Consider offering enhanced maternity and paternity packages, pay a competitive salary aligned with current market expectations.

People don’t leave a firm due to salary alone but if they aren’t being paid fairly, they will begin to look for other push factors.

Key things to consider when attracting and retaining talent:

Employee Value Proposition (EVP)

People care about the culture of a firm. They are passionate about doing their job well and providing the best service levels as a business to clients. They want to be part of a firm which is known to have high standards and to be the best.

  • Praise and recognition are an important part of this, especially for the younger workforce, and it is important to bring your company values to life and as a firm to live and breathe them. Recognition for work enhances job satisfaction as does investing in employee engagement with forums and social events.

  • Look at building a rewards scheme around the firm's values or positive client feedback. Involve the team where possible in setting the vision and values of the firm and their team.

  • If your employees feel they are contributing and know where they sit in the firm, they feel an even stronger connection. By giving your team opportunities to learn and do interesting pieces of work, you will keep them engaged and help to stretch their minds.

  • Timely feedback is importantas is connecting and aligning them with the clients’ needs and business goals.

  • Ensure everyone has a PDP and regular appraisalsto give clarity about what they need to do to be recognised as performing well in their role.

​Diversity and Inclusion

Do you have a diverse leadership team with role models that your employees can connect with and believe that they too can achieve Partner status?

Don’t just say you are inclusive, show that you are inclusive.If you don’t feel you have the diversity you would like at the senior level, acknowledge it and get your employees involved in a discussion about what needs to be done to move the agenda forward.

Consider reverse mentoring and feedback from internal groups/networks so people feel that they have a voice.


Candidates are asking where firms stand on these issues when deciding which firms they would like to be considered for. Many Top 20 firms are making this a priority as clients are firmly putting this on their agendas when looking to engage with a professional services firm.

​​The working environment

Particularly after employees have been used to working from home and wearing more casual attire to work in, it is important to create an environment which remains professional but has a more relaxed feel. Of course, if your clients are still in professional working attire and your people are client facing, they need to dress appropriately.

Mental health and wellbeing

Recent research suggests that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion a year – combined with the fact that Professional Services firms are renowned for having pressurised work environments, there is increased pressure on employees.

Many firms started to embrace mental health training, introduced mental health first aiders and encouraged their leaders to share their own stories around mental health. They hosted events on well-being, discussed ways to manage stress and offered counselling support.

Then along came COVID and the switch to everyone working from home. Many employees experienced a drop in the quality of their mental health from which they haven't recovered.

More work needs to continue, to ensure support is available for all employees and to make people aware that is ok to not be ok.

​International opportunities

Global mobility is increasingly on the agenda to retain talent. More people want to have the experience of living and working in another country.

It does bring challenges but offering secondments within your international offices would be a selling point and could prevent you from losing talent.

A positive exit process

As strange as it may seem, if you do end up with a resignation, make the leaving experience as positive as possible for the individual. Your alumni network is a great hunting ground for talent

​Hybrid working

We have had a number of candidates contacting Ambition saying they have been told to go back to the office 5 days a week but don’t want to do that and want to look for a new opportunity.

Hybrid working is here to stay for the foreseeable future and you need to work a balance between the firm’s needs, your client requirements and what that means with regards to days/hours in an office environment.

In our recent market trends survey, the majority of employees indicated they would prefer to work 2 days a week from the office, whereas the majority of employers were asking people to come in at least 3 days a week.

How to attract new talent to your firm:

Start talent pipelining younger

  • Look at getting involved with schools, particularly those that have a higher percentage of students that come from a range of backgrounds or from disadvantaged backgrounds. Encourage your Senior Managers/Junior Partners to get involved with mentoring charities to ensure exposure to talent from different backgrounds and networks.

  • Look at the Migrant Leaders programme or the Career Ready network, a national charity at the heart of a network of employers and educators who all believe that every young person, regardless of background, deserves the opportunity to kick-start a rewarding future which works exclusively with schools.

  • Do you have platforms on your website to enable and promote accessibility such as recite me or a go optimal which gender neutralises adverts?

  • What unconscious bias and inclusivity training to do you have firm wide?

​​Train your people to conduct interviews well

In this current market, you need to use every part of the interview to sell and impress a candidate.

Build relationships with your candidates, talk about projects or clients they could be working on and build an emotional attachment to how they see themselves working with the firm.

Don't delay hiring decisions

Recently a Top 10 firm offered a role to a Senior Manager, the candidate accepted but it took 2 weeks for the firm to issue the contract. Within that time the candidate had emotionally disengaged with the firm and felt it was a reflection on how slow internal decisions and processes would be. They subsequently withdrew their acceptance leaving a frustrated Partner.

When you have had an offer accepted, keep in touch with the candidate during their notice period.Introduce them to the team, involve them in the firm's updates.

Consider how you make your firm look attractive to young talent. Make it an attractive proposition, invest in training, culture and values and celebrate these.

In summary

​The consequences of the pandemic has significantly shifted candidate priorities. With the current talent short market but high demand for work, it is important to consider these factors in establishing an attractive work place environment to retain your top talent.

2022 is an integral year for ensuring that training programmes are in place, opportunities for career development are achievable and a concern for EVP, D&I and employee wellbeing is implemented into firms' agendas.