2020 proved a challenging period to make a career move. Many executives choosing to put their transition plans on hold as organisations grappled with navigating remote working, creating new target operating models, adapting to rapidly changing customer behaviour, and new views about society impact. As we move into Q2 of 2021 with over a quarter of UK adults already fully vaccinated and the lockdown roadmap proposing a full lifting of restrictions ready for Q3, the remainder of 2021 promises a more optimistic outlook.
Many will now be contemplating whether this is the right time to reignite career plans that have been put on hold and invest some serious effort into career planning. With the furlough scheme due to end at the end of September, there is also a recognition by many that they will need to be match fit to be offered a new executive career challenge whether that’s internal to their current organisations or their role is placed at risk and in the worst scenarios they find themselves in need of executive outplacement.
According to the latest data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the UK’s overall employment rate is at 75.1%, which is 1.4% lower than it was at this time last year, and 0.1% lower than it was in Q4 of 2020. The unemployment rate is approximately 4.9%. This figure is higher than it was at the start of the pandemic, but lower than it was when the second wave of the pandemic began last autumn. Businesses have become better at coping with lockdowns, and the government has invested heavily in supporting jobs in order to keep this figure low.
That said, there were some in small shifts in employment opportunities in Q1 2021. Since the start of the pandemic in March, a total of 813,000 payroll jobs have disappeared. According to the ONS data, 56,000 fewer people were on the payroll between March 2021 and February 2021 alone. It is not just existing jobs that are disappearing, but also new opportunities. There were an estimated 607,000 job vacancies in January to March 2021, which is a 22.7% fall compared to the previous year. However, this number increased month on month in Q1, rising nearly 16% between February and March alone. Things continue to look up as reopening plans provide businesses with more optimistic outlooks.
According to data from two latest labour market trends reports, the biggest gains in active Q1 job postings in the UK were found in a variety of professional functions. The number of active Executive Management job postings climbed an impressive 14% between January and February 2021 alone, and a further 3.2% between February and March for a total rise of 17.2% across the quarter. Marketing and PR postings increased by a total of 28.4% between January and March. Other Q1 gains include Sales/Business Development by 27.6%, Finance/Accounting by 23.2%, Administration by 21.8%, IT by 22.1%. HR by 17%, and Operations/Logistics by 15.7%. This signals a positive step forward for businesses and is encouraging news for executives looking for their next role.
For those executives considering a career transition or in the midst of a job search, our research reveals that after technical capability to do a job, the capabilities that businesses will be most looking for in executives to lead the future include:
Digital transformation and next gen technology adoption are rapidly accelerating worldwide and will continue to do so. With hybrid work models becoming the norm, a basic knowledge of video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Webex, Teams, and Google Meet, and the ability to use collaboration platforms like Slack, have become the bare minimum baseline. However, employers are going to expect much more than that from candidates in the future workplace. In general, executives should focus on gaining an understanding of new tools and their impacts, uses, and risks. Artificial intelligence (AI) and the importance of data are excellent and very valuable places to focus one’s attention. Adoption of disruptive technologies such as AI, Blockchain, IoT, 3D printing, and so on is accelerating in every industry across the world. An understanding of these tools and the necessary skills to employ them successfully will be a crucial requirement for executives moving forward.
With this rise in new technology, various functions of executive roles will undoubtedly change. It’s likely that AI will pick up some of the more mundane or routinised tasks, freeing up time for higher value business activities. Future executives will be expected to be able to provide value in the human intelligence areas that technology does not currently have the ability to replicate. While tech can derive some incredible insights from data, it takes human intelligence and experience to translate those insights into strategy and actionable plans for the organisation. Similarly, while AI can write great copy or even music, its capabilities have yet to match human creativity. Executives may be able to find valuable niches in these areas to enhance their desirability in the future workforce.
The challenges presented by COVID-19 and the digital revolution have made rapid change a regular fixture of professional life. The ability to pivot to these changes, keep an open mind, and experiment will be one of the most valuable assets an executive can bring to their team. As a Agile leaders you should be able to demonstrate that you can align actions to thinking. For example, to gain competitive edge it may be necessary to quickly get a beta product to customers and then refine it with feedback rather than undergo prolonged research and development cycles. Show you are prepared to take risks and capitalise and learn from failures rather than fear them. Success as an agile leader also depends on learning new skills and acquiring knowledge and tools that allow you to determine how working practices can evolve.
We have seen a rise in the prioritisation of basic soft skills as technology and the pandemic reshape and redefine the world of work. Communications, listening, and teamwork skills will be imperative for successfully navigating hybrid work models and collaborating with dispersed teams. Time management and accountability are also necessary for keeping on track when working this way. Empathy is essential as organisations place higher importance on wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion and begin to actively champion social causes.
Many people don’t appreciate the unique challenges presented when seeking a new senior level role. From our experience working with Senior Executives over 29+ years, we have found that the key challenges include:
It’s only when you actually sit down and start thinking about your next challenge that you realise the process is a lot more complicated than you initially thought. You need to be clear on how your skills and experience translate to your target role’s required specifications, your target organisations and their challenges, areas where you can add value, and where you will find opportunities.
All of the above make it more important than ever to ensure you create a market winning strategy to differentiate yourself and position yourself as indispensable to prospective employers or customers. Focus on the following high-performance behaviours:
As the old saying goes, much of business is all about who you know and as a result many opportunities are secured through referrals from connections. Foster your existing relationships and let them know that you are open to new opportunities. The pandemic has given rise to more virtual networking opportunities, which makes it easy to meet and connect with others. That said, do not simply view networking as a potential gateway to your next job, though this may be the case. Identify peers that you admire, can learn from, or can engage with in thought-provoking and insightful discussions about industry issues or the landscape for your role or field. These discussions may highlight other areas you can improve on or skills you can champion in your search, helping you to become a more valuable executive overall. As one executive explained: “Following the trail of “breadcrumbs’ from one contact to the next and to the next until you land in front of someone that has a position, or is in a position to create one, is the key.”
Making a lasting impression as a senior executive is harder than ever, especially now that the entire process is much more digitally driven. If you have been out of the job market for a while and are now considering a transition, it’s worth reading up on the latest hiring trends in more depth to get an idea of how you need to be found digitally and how you may be assessed. A good place to start is by looking at the individual personal profiles of those in similar roles in order to understand how they present themselves. It’s fundamentally critical for leaders considering a transition to answer the question, “What makes you so great and what specifically can you achieve when you walk through the doors of your next employer?” Don’t underestimate the time it takes to do this nor leave it up to others to work out your story. Your positioning needs to be relevant and compelling. You also need to be crisp, succinct and articulate in your presentation and be ready to present with the same level of coherence regardless of the setting you might be in whether that’s online, at an interview, in a networking meeting, or with a colleague having coffee. Platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram provide an opportunity to build your credibility and brand to support this process through the creation of a digital trail that builds credibility, authority, and name recognition. You can read our advice for developing your personal digital brand in this blog and our tips for content creation here.
Online meetings have become the centrepiece of much of our lives, and this is no different when looking for a new executive position. Although we have been ‘practicing’ for the past year, many executives who have gravitas, presence, and confidence in person come across as stiff, unapproachable, or even uncomfortable during video meetings. Not all physical cues translate from in-person to video, which make the ones that do even more important. It takes time and practice to appear confident and show your true self, especially to people we don’t know. Unlike an in-person or phone meeting, you also need to remember that your first impression during an online meeting doesn’t always involve you. The first thing individuals see is your username and picture, followed by you and your chosen background. All these aspects could result in signals being misread even before you start to speak which doesn’t begin to take into consideration technology issues, lack of personal interaction, and the difficulty of being able to read people without social in person cues. Don’t just pitch up; prepare, practice and dress the part.
The world of work is changing more rapidly than ever. The skills sought by employers are evolving with it. An astounding 133 million global jobs are at risk of automation by 2030, and more than 10 million of those are in the UK alone. Companies are facing the challenge of not only hiring to enhance their teams but also finding candidates who have these newly in-demand skills. Successful executives are always iterating and adapting, and continuously learning. We have listed some areas to focus on, so if you find you are lacking in any of these areas, we recommend taking the time to invest in upskilling or reskilling. In our work with senior executives, we are finding that approximately 80% need to invest in personal development in order to increase their market value. You might consider a higher education course, short professional education programmes, masterclasses, or membership of professional initiatives such as the Rialto AI Leaders Programme. Whatever path you choose to pursue, you are very unlikely to ever regret investing in your own professional development and knowledge.
Making a career transition, especially amidst such a challenging economic climate and increasingly competitive executive-level marketplace, can be daunting and intimidating. Desirable roles are hard to come by and usually competed for by a large pool of qualified candidates. The data from Q1 provides some optimistic outlooks for the remainder of the year and suggests that there will be uplift in the job market. Executives in transition should take the time to assess their capabilities, strengths, and skills to best position themselves in the marketplace and prepare for future success.
To find out more about enhancing your value or to transition to a new executive role, do contact our team of professional career transition coaches. The Rialto Consultancy offers a range of career strategy services including Executive Outplacement, Executive Coaching, and Personal Branding.
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