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Widen your net

The recruitment market in financial services has suffered from a shortage of good quality candidates in the past few years, which has caused real problems. There has been demand for certain skills that the market has been unable to supply in enough quantity. Paraplanners, IFAs, sales support staff with the right qualifications or specialist IT knowledge – the list goes on.

The result is that jobs have remained vacant for longer and salaries have gone up as a result of intense competition for candidates with the desired skills. The good news is that there are some signs that this is beginning to change and I believe that specialist recruitment consultancies have played a major part in causing this change.

In the face of the shortage of candidates, consultants have encouraged their clients to be more flexible and widen their net. In the main, clients have stuck to their initial criteria, but now we are seeing a lot more flexibility and a shift in attitudes. Recruitment consultants can justifiably take the a big chunk of the credit for this.

By encouraging a client to be flexible, it does not mean we are asking them to drop their standards. Rather, it means focusing on basic talents rather than specific skills. It’s a case of buying in the skills that you cannot train for and training on the skills that you can.

By way of an example, we recently had two clients with pretty much identical jobs. We sent the same candidate’s CV to both. One loved the CV, interviewed him and made an offer. The other called up and tore us off a strip for not sticking to the criteria. One company has filled its role and can move on with training and meeting their business objectives, the other is still spending time recruiting, getting frustrated and not meeting business objectives.

The candidate shortage has naturally affected candidates and clients in different ways. For the candidates who do have the right skills and background it’s been bonus time. Salaries have gone up and they are receiving plenty of attention and offers. But candidates without “in demand” skills and experience have had to wait longer to find the right role.

There is, however, a potential downside to all this. Employers paying top-dollar salaries will expect a lot of return. Also, in the scramble for candidates with relevant skills, the basics can be overlooked – such as can the candidate actually do the job? Expectations are often not met, which causes problems on both sides.

As clients widen their criteria, the balance of competition could also change. There will be more competition for the jobs rather than the other way round. This is great if you have been finding it difficult getting in front of the plum jobs, not so great if you have been relying solely on having an “in demand” background.

Two jobs that we filled this week, and which I would consider to be top of class, were taken by individuals with no UK experience at all. And both clients interviewed a lot of people with relevant experience.

My advice to all candidates is to continually review your qualifications and technical knowledge. This is vital to get that prime job, whether or not it is a perfect match to your current skills set. Don’t become overpaid and underqualified and don’t start making demands on your future employer until you have proved yourself. And if you have been used to being in demand, keep an eye on the competition because that could all change.

It is natural that an evolving industry such as financial services will have different staffing demands at each stage of its evolution. Requirements will change and whether an employer or a job hunter, it is important that you have the right recruitment firm representing you. One that is open to change, willing to listen and is up to date with market trends.

Simon Benstead is a partner at James Associates

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