After experiencing a rapid period of change in hiring processes across the Legal Business Development & Marketing landscape since the pandemic, are we now going full circle and reverting to our old ways?
Lockdowns, remote working, candidate expectations and hiring challenges all forced hiring managers’ hands in the way firms undertook recruitment.
But now a feeling of anxiety is working its way throughout the hiring process.
Candidates are more nervous about job security, hiring managers have been burned by rapid decision making, and old, slower recruitment processes are on the rise.
Forgetting everything we’ve learned over the past three years and ignoring candidates' expectations will only make things worse. It’s not just hiring processes that have changed in that time and going backwards will only make it harder for firms to successfully hire the talent they need.
A necessary shift
When lockdown came into force in March 2020 everything changed. What followed was 18-months of uncertainty, changing rules and fear. That meant that hiring practices had to change too.
It wasn’t a shift because people wanted the change, it was purely based on necessity.
Working from home, video interviews, flexible working - they were all necessary adjustments so that we could mentally cope with what was happening. But over time they stuck.
Then when we were back to “normal”, there was another necessary shift.
Employees were excited by the flexibility they’d had when working from home and their expectations shifted again. Firms were struggling to fill vacancies, there were more roles than candidates and hiring managers had to become lightning fast to secure the candidates they really wanted.
By 2022, for many firms, their hiring practices were wildly different from their pre-pandemic ones.
The danger of changing out of necessity and reacting to wider situations is there’s no time to think it through.
Decisions were made at haste potentially without mid-long term consideration, and it’s only now that we’re far enough away from the memories of the pandemic that hiring managers and firms are starting to reassess their practices and whether they want to stick with their new ways of working.
Spot the differences
So, what’s changed? Here are a few of my observations, in no particular order
Faster and more flexible interview processes
The pandemic fundamentally changed the interview process. Pre-pandemic, regular in person interviews were the norm but the pandemic changed this.
Through 2022 nearly every hiring process was conducted virtually, a huge change to what we had become accustomed to and one that sped up the hiring process significantly.
This was also the same for candidates, rather than selecting 2-3 interview processes to enter, due to having to take time off to attend interviews, individuals were able to engage in more processes than normal.
More generous salary offers
A competitive market led to firms needing to increase their salary offers to secure the right talent for them.
Within the Legal sector we saw average pay rises at 10-20% for lots of people, particularly those at BD & Marketing Management level. This created an issue with firms retaining staff and has redrawn the lines on salary bandings comparative to pre pandemic levels.
Firms had to sell themselves more
With so much competition, law firms needed to differentiate themselves. Many found themselves in a position of having to market themselves as an employer of choice, rather than just focusing on their brand.
An awareness emerged that employee relations and brand awareness were two keys areas that needed more thought, strategy and action.
Greater focus on culture and DEI
Employee and candidate expectations also shifted, with a firm’s culture, flexible working, DEI strategy and overall package becoming far more important to candidates than a job title. Firms had to start looking at their overall attractiveness as an employer and the holistic package on offer for new starters.
Whose market is it now?
If you’d asked us this question back in 2021/early 2022 the answer would have been clear cut - a candidate’s market.
But now, the answer is a bit more complicated.
Coming out of the pandemic there was a shortage of high quality candidates to fill the vast number of positions that had appeared. If you were looking for a new role you could take your pick.
Right now there are certainly less vacancies to go round in the market and firms are less pressured to fill a position than in 2022. As a result, many firms feel like they can afford to be more picky, which is driving a shift back to old recruiting practices.
But that’s not the reality.
We’re still in a candidate-lite market.
The cost of living crisis is making people nervous about moving, worried about being the last in the door in case they’re the first out of it. Post-pandemic there was a confidence in those candidates looking to make a move, but that’s quickly disappearing.
Then you’ve got hiring managers who are worried about making the right hiring decisions.
Maybe they hired too quickly before and chose the wrong person, or they got caught up in the panic and overpaid when the war for talent was at its peak. So you’ve got anxiety on that side too.
The lack of confidence that exists on both sides right now is holding back decision making, returning to the typical 4+ interview stages for senior roles, and everyone is agonizing over the right decision.
Whilst I appreciate there is more internal scrutiny on headcount numbers this year, In short, it feels like we’ve gone back in time.
What can we learn from the past?
Now is the time for firms and hiring managers to analyze their hiring practices and make informed, practical decisions about what works for them and their firms instead of reacting and panicking.
The one thing that’s clear to us is that we can’t go back to the cookie cutter, copy and paste recruitment process of the past.
There has to be a middle ground where flexibility and speed is incorporated while still retaining some basic steps. Otherwise you’re going to lose out on quality candidates because the process is too slow and clunky compared to your competitors.
Firms that also embrace and can make a hybrid working pattern a success will be at a massive advantage.
Yes, certain politicians and ‘big business leaders’ might be claiming that workers are less creative at home, big tech companies might be mandating people to come back to the office but that’s not what I feel individuals want.
If we look back to the Great Resignation and what people wanted, it was flexibility, security and values. That hasn’t changed, if anything it’s more entrenched in people’s expectations as it’s been their norm for over 3 years.
It’s time to start afresh.
Instead of fully reverting back to previous ways of working, and repeating past mistakes when it comes to hiring, stop and evaluate what new practices do work, seek feedback from candidates on your recruitment process and what attracted them to work for you and embrace some level of hybrid working.
So much has changed in the way we recruit that it’s impossible to fully go backwards, so let’s consciously forge a new way instead.
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