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What do you do when there are less jobs than applicants for them?

Covid-19 and the intellectual property and accountancy sectors, 21st April 2020.

For both sectors that the Fellows group of companies operate in (accountancy - Fellows Finance; and IP Law - Fellows and Associates) for the most part they have been candidate driven for quite some time. There have been more vacancies than candidates to fill them, which means that quite a few positions have remained unfilled for months, if not years. As a consequence, whilst certainly for trainee patent and trade mark attorneys it has been difficult to enter the profession in the first place; for qualified accountants and experienced IP professionals moving jobs has been relatively straightforward.

There are exceptions of course, moving specialisms for accountants within private practice has been tough (particularly from audit into to corporate finance) and then the number of available trade mark attorney positions tend to be cyclical and not consistent. But for the majority of the last few years, if you have wanted a job and you were prepared to compromise at least a little then there has been an abundance of opportunity. Quite often you didn't have to compromise at all. For example, Patent Attorneys with an electronics background and qualified accountants looking for new audit roles have been spoilt for choice.

This may now change.

Or it may not at all. No one knows, I certainly don't. After the next couple of months if market conditions return to their previous position then you may have nothing at all to worry about. However it is best to prepare for contingencies and a change in mindset may become necessary.

What might a change in mindset entail if jobs a scarce? Well I think you will need to have a better understanding of what you have and what you wish to change. Moving positions will be riskier as there will be less of a fallback position, so you really should think what the drivers for change are. You also need to manage the risks as much as possible and assess any opportunity in greater detail. Compromise may become essential, if you improve your position in one area is that enough to overcome obstacles in others? Can a new job get you where you want to be ultimately, even if it can't get you there now? Can you take a shorter term view, moving now is not a job for the very long term but an interim measure until market conditions change in the next couple of years?

You may have to compromise to a much greater extent than you currently realise or have accepted. It does depend on your circumstances but if you face the threat of losing your job or worse have lost it already as a result of the virus (or any other reason over the next few months) then what you hope to find may not be possible in the time frame that you have. You might need to consider relocation, or working in a practice area you find less interesting or accepting a lower salary than you feel you merit.

You will also need to grab at something that's suitable quickly and not second guess yourself. Deciding on the criteria for change and where you are willing to compromise will be essential, you will not be choosing between a range of options you may have only one to consider. The question will be to accept a new role or not, not to choose it over another opportunity. Waiting it out for a better position to come along could be incredibly risky or even foolhardy in certain circumstances.

How will recruiters fit into this? Whilst the best recruiters should always be willing to give you time, even if they can't help you directly, priorities will change. Trust will become essential. If you contact lots of recruiters without informing each one that you are doing so it could mean that, if this becomes apparent, none may wish to work with you. But you should demand an honest assessment from a recruiter of what they can and can't do so you can determine whether or not you should contact others. But bear in mind that, if a market has very limited options most recruiters may be aware of all vacancies. This is particularly true in a relatively small market like IP but is also true to an extent in accountancy too, particularly where there are regional limitations (i.e. available positions for FC's in Yorkshire). Therefore, when opportunities arise, in circumstances where candidates are relatively abundant, alongside best fit, recruiters will also prioritise candidates that work with them exclusively as it makes generating a recruitment fee much more likely.

For now, most recruitment is on pause in most sectors. Right at the moment is a terrible time to look for a position but I would imagine that the majority of recruiters in markets that were candidate scarce in January this year continue to act as if they are scarce now, in respect to how they will relate to you. It could therefore be a good time to make yourself known to recruiters for when conditions change. They have much more time on their hands and you will be first in their thinking when positions do arise. If markets then continue to be candidate scarce and job rich after lock down, you've not lost anything. If the opposite is true you have given yourself a good chance of being best placed to find the best result for you as you have already begun a dialogue with a recruiter.

Also consider that many recruiters haven't experienced a recession before (assuming that's what we're heading for). A lot of experienced recruiters left the industry in 2008/9 and people who have begun their career in recruitment since then may not be well prepared to deal with very different market conditions. Many of the methodologies they have been using to generate income will be less effective or will not work at all and they may not have a firm idea on how to change that. Cut them some slack but also do your research and partner with a recruiter who has the tools to give you the best outcome that is possible and who you trust enough to be sure that the best outcome right now might not be the job you hoped for. (This is my third(?) or fourth(?) economic crisis of some description I think, I've honestly lost count. I've been through it so can help us both get through this one too.)

Finally if you would like a chat about any of this then send me message, I'm always glad of a conversation.

Pete Fellows.

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