2019 has been anything but certain. With the lack of anything productive coming out of Parliament, it’s difficult to know when the right time is to start looking for your next contract or whether you should take the leap into the world of interim. What if no one is recruiting? What if my skillset isn’t what people are looking for at the moment? Should I just sit tight and see what happens?
Like any market, with interim recruitment there are peaks and troughs which can be dependent on several factors. The reason for contracts can hugely vary, ranging from a consultancy role where the client needs someone to come in and run a communications channel audit, through to a maternity cover or short-term contract to ‘plug the gap’ while undergoing a permanent recruitment process
New Trends in the Interim Sector
Yes, the PR and communications market is uncertain at the best of times, but there are always pockets of activity out there. We’ve seen a number of growing trends within interim over the last six months:
- Content content content: the most common demand we have found across all levels and disciplines of communications is content generation. It’s not about volume, it’s all about the quality of message – and a strong grasp of creative writing is becoming increasingly essential as the core focus of many interim roles.
- Day-rate contracts: there has been a distinct rise in corporate sector clients asking for contractors to be paid on daily rates rather than pro rata salaries – which is the opposite to what we’ve seen within the public sector as a result of changing IR35 restrictions. This gives both sides more flexibility in contract length, candidates get paid slightly more (to balance out the fact you aren’t entitled to the benefits of a permanent contract), and any turnaround time is much quicker. This will be an interesting one to watch in 2020 as IR35 hits the private sector….
- Broader remits: reducing workforce numbers has meant there has been an increase in converging disciplines that were previously separate. Remits combining marketing and communications for example, particularly within the public, NFP & FMCG sectors, are commonplace. “Communications consultant” roles involve many strands of communications in one, rather than being specialist.
- Processes take longer: with the current political climate so unknown, clients and candidates have become more risk averse. Clients want to ensure they have the right person for the role, so opt to conduct more interviews stages involving multiple stakeholders to spread the risk. They’re also more likely to include practical tests as part of the standard process. Candidates need more reassurance during processes and are more likely to withdraw from a role at offer stage in order to stay where they are, purely because that can feel like the ‘safer option’ in an uncertain market. Always ask the recruitment contact you have (whether it’s a line manager or the recruitment consultant working with you) what the interview process entails, when they need someone by and when they expect to have feedback. This way you’re on the same page and you can help to manage your own expectations!
Sectors that were once quiet are now seeing movement. There has been an increase in activity in the fintech and institutional financial services, which has been quiet for the last four years but has taken on a new lease of life. Law firms are busy, regularly looking to expand teams or take on communications professionals in order to help upskill the function. The energy sector is going through its challenges now, as is clear from share prices, – but this can also lead to a demand in interim internal comms support to help manage change. Teams are being restructured and potentially downsized in some areas but there is always a demand for change-specific project support.
Are you looking to change roles or to move into the world of interim? Are you interviewing but always ending up second choice? Here are some tips on how to stand out in a competitive market and how to add value to your CV:
- Network more: build relationships within your network and use those relationships to increase skills, share ideas and seek advice. A large number of interim contracts are secured via personal referrals.
- Make sure you’ve honed your pitch: Are you clear about your USP? Is your CV and LinkedIn profile ‘selling’ you in a clear and consistent way?
- Expand on your softer skills: more and more line managers now look at ‘team-fit’ as a huge factor, as well as ability to do a role. Someone that can demonstrate gravitas in a face-to-face interview is much more likely to be appointed. There are numerous TED talks and free training events that concentrate on building professional impact.
- Career-developing events: attend talks and thought-leadership events that enhance your industry knowledge. The PRCA, CIPR, IOIC and IABC hold workshops, networking events and conferences dedicated to the comms industry. There are also specific events for women in the communications field, including Women in PR, Women Leaders in Communications (WLiC) and WiPA (Women in Public Affairs).
- Persevere: It’s a busy market, but it’s a competitive market for candidates. More people are applying to roles and clients can be increasingly particular with their criteria. Therefore, your search for roles shouldn’t be too specific. Be open to opportunities that are a little outside of your comfort zone and make sure you tailor your approach for each role.
What to Expect
Looking ahead, we expect the increase in content-generation roles to grow. More clients are requiring candidates with a writing or journalism background. A sound understanding of digital communications & social media is also now seen as standard. This won’t change.
We expect the coming months to be busy. The summer period often means a time for people to go on holiday and reflect, which leads to movement in jobs, in teams and in organisations – both interim and permanent.
Not sure if interim is the right way to go for you or your team? Olivia Freeman, Head of Interim Practice at Ellwood Atfield asked two professional interims their thoughts.