The Post-Covid Candidate

Written by: Louise Bickley is a Research Consultant within GatenbySanderson’s Local Government Practice
Published on: 31 Aug 2023

There is no denying the recruitment market shifted during and after the pandemic. It impacted how businesses operated, gave candidates new freedoms and, in some respects, gave employees more choice.

Everyone embraced a more remote and hybrid way of working, adopting the technology and adjusted their ways of working. While the dust settled and we moved into the ‘post covid’ working pattern, the employment landscape has continued to shift with the onset of other global and local disrupters.

In the UK, we have seen more movement at the top than ever before with chief executive turnover in local government at the highest of any sector. Change and transformation programmes along with core skills shortages, have led to a very tight, candidate-led market.

This now combines with a nervous economy, inflation and a more general level of uncertainty, making candidates far more cautious in their decisions to uproot and perhaps opt for stability. So, what will make the difference? What specifics do candidates want to see in a role that makes it attractive and encourages them to not only apply but stay in a process?

As a research team we are on the frontline when it comes to attracting candidates to local government roles. We hear the nuance of what can make or break a role’s attractiveness. Beyond the actual role, we build insight into the employer brand and perceptions within the market.

So, what have we recently been hearing from the market? What elements are needed within the remit of your particular opportunity that will attract the best candidates, set you apart from the competition, and what can we do to ‘sell’ your organisation to ensure we can attract and engage the best out there?

Flexibility of working pattern certainly remains a top priority, although there is an understanding that this is role dependent. If the requirement is service transformation with a substantial people/culture element then there is of course an expectation that you cannot influence change 200 miles away from behind a computer screen.

If there is an opportunity to work at home with some travel, then the role will be seriously considered. That said, there is still a reluctance, even with few days required in an office, to travel too far; individual family situations increasingly influence what it is, exactly, people are looking for.

This is definitely one legacy of the Covid era where candidates are more rigid in putting family first. On the flipside, candidates with grown up families are now considering roles that are more mobile and are embracing the variety and opportunity to step away from the sedentary work-life balance, travel around for a role and adopting different patterns.

The breadth of the role on offer and autonomy is more a core factor, again perhaps with the experience of Covid: candidates want to know the scale of impact they can make. The roles that offer the widest scope of change and influence are particularly attractive. One good example is place shaping and neighbourhoods where appointees can make a tangible and long-term difference to the communities.

Financial stability of councils is something we are increasingly discussing. With the high number of financial notices being issued, candidates are increasingly performing their own due diligence and digging deeply into the financial backgrounds of councils. If they are going to make a move, do they really want to move from somewhere that is stable into one that is on the verge of bankruptcy?

The leadership of the council is a big attraction and will be a large part of our ongoing conversations. Who are the ‘great’ leaders? Which teams have the best vision for the future? Who is thinking differently? Who can shape future careers? Do they speak from the heart about the communities they serve? Proven authenticity is a value much sought by current candidates and certainly contributes to the attraction of a role.

The organisational culture and employer brand is now being questioned and critiqued. Authenticity goes beyond individual leaders and candidates want to know that organisations live up to their inclusive commitments and genuinely represent, or are working towards, greater representation of their communities.

Candidates also want to hear more meaningfully about organisational aspirations and how this translates to leadership. Organisations which lack a greater purpose or have yet to identify the path to reach their vision will fall behind in winning candidate commitment.

The reporting line and access to the board/chief executive is very important to candidates, particularly when the role has a broad corporate remit i.e. the chief finance officer or director of transformation and increasingly technology or customer led roles. If there is no clear reporting line to the chief executive, then candidates will turn down opportunities on that basis.

Finally, salary still is a factor. Very often we hear that, despite a role being considered a next step or a broader remit, the package on offer doesn’t quite stack up. It’s not a sole reason if some or all the above boxes are ticked, candidates will take a cut or move sideways, but if the void is just too big you won’t get them over the line.

While candidates remain very open to discussing new roles, the transition from considering applying to making an application is more demanding. Time investment in supporting and engaging candidates end to end has increased significantly.

Many remain loyal to their current posts and remits, wishing to complete on their longer-term goals and commitments. Positively influencing candidates in this environment requires a more nuanced and considered approach and a good starting point is to sense check that you can deliver against each of these core criteria.

Louise Bickley is a Research Consultant within GatenbySanderson’s Local Government Practice