Recruitment market changes across the property and construction sector over the last three years

Roberta Barlow

Being a recruiter that has worked within the property market for more years than I care to remember, I have read many articles about market conditions, candidate availability and employee retention. Too many to remember! More recently, candidates or lack of them, seems prevalent across most markets but it's been especially challenging to find top quartile talent within the property and construction sector.
When I started working in London in the early 2000’s we were experiencing a booming market where the norm would be interviews over “long lunches” in the familiar haunts. Thursday nights in the West End were akin to a dubbed down version of MIPIM and all was well with many deals signed sealed and delivered with a handshake outside of the office. 
Everyone was making money and it was a good place to be. However, candidate availability in the industry was much like it is now, we were never overrun with applications and more often than not, we had to head hunt and work through networks for referrals in order to fulfil the needs of our clients, who at the time, were a cross section of consultancy and client side firms within the private sector. Across many sectors, 0-5 year PQE professionals were difficult to come by and it seemed that all of our clients wanted exactly the same type of profile.
When the tide changed in 2008 and the market crashed it was a dark time with redundancies, pay cuts and people out of work. During the downturn numerous property professionals chose to either go abroad, start up their own consultancies or leave the industry completely. The phone did not stop ringing with candidates looking for work (any type of work) and for want of a better phrase “lowering their own expectations on salary and package” dramatically. If clients were recruiting it was likely to be in the asset, maintenance, insolvency and FM spaces, where there was a plethora of choice, and in most cases clients were able to secure a high calibre candidate very much below what we would have deemed to be “normal” market rates and highly discounted recruitment fees.

Brighter times

When the green shoots of recovery started to emerge in late 2012 early 2013 and positivity in the market was bubbling, words such as “re-hiring” “growth” and “re-building” came into conversations and at last, the wheels of recruitment thankfully began to turn again. However, with one difference. 
It became clearly evident that employers were hiring in a different way - using caution, strategy and following a more rigorous hiring process than in previous years. There were no longer job offers over long lunches, it was more likely to be an early morning meeting with a coffee, or an hour slot at desk in the office to discuss business. 
Questions once again began to surface around candidate availability as the best in the market had been retained throughout the recession. With that came a certain amount of loyalty to their employer, along with apprehension of jumping ship. Clients however, became slow on the uptake and, having been used to picking a top quartile from a shortlist of six, were not moving with market conditions. Their expectations hadn't changed. Offers became underwhelming, candidates were no longer moving for parity and the number of candidates expected on a shortlist never seemed to be enough. 
However, over the last three years the market has returned and employers are hiring with a number of interesting opportunities available to those that are tempted to entertain the idea of a move. For the first time in some years universities are seeing an increase in student numbers applying for, and beginning property and construction related degree courses. In time the dearth of more junior surveyors and property professionals will hopefully improve as a result of this which will be great for the industry.               
Overriding observations as a recruiter from an employer and candidate perspective, are relatively simplistic but they ring true in current market trends and conditions.

Considerations as an employer when looking to recruit

  • Exceptional candidates are now accessible – with the use of social media, online platforms and available data –to a wider audience, creating more competition in the market place. 
  • Engaging candidates exclusively with firm commitment is difficult.
  • Candidates who are considering a new role will have a number of opportunities and will rarely only interview for one role. 
  • A small number of employers are still not up to speed with market conditions and are not mindful that getting one or two fantastic candidates is enough. Offers should be made if potentially the “right person” has been found and this should be done in a timely manner in order to secure and hire. 
  • Candidate experience from initial contact to offer stage is crucial. At times this can be over looked and can often affect the decision making process of a candidate. 
  • Counter offers are rife. Do expect current employers to come back to the table with an uplift on salary, additional bonus and/or a promotion. But underwhelming first offers really do set the wrong tone and could potentially lose the candidate altogether.
  • Sell the opportunity; long-term development and prospects is still very important. Understanding how you can fulfil a candidate’s key drivers will keep them engaged throughout the recruitment process. You need to sell a career, not simply a role.
  • Being open minded and flexible will enhance the quality of shortlist you are likely to receive.
  • Considerations for candidates looking for a new role
  • There are fantastic opportunities out in the market currently and for some, multiple options will become available.
  • Even though the market is candidate driven, it is a misconception that a candidate does not have to sell themselves at interview. Preparation and interview technique is still key.
  • If multiple options are available then time needs to be taken to understand the values and business objectives of an organisation. Synergy is key in making the right decision to join a new employer.
  • Time to hire has extended and employers are adding additional layers into the interview process. At least two if not three meetings, plus assessment centres, profiling and presentations are becoming routine. Expect this process to take up to six weeks if not longer at a senior level. 
  • Be prepared for counter offer meetings, and uncomfortable conversations when handing in a notice. It is likely that all levels of management will be involved with an exit. 
  • Client experience should not be overlooked. Be Professional at all times. Leaving a client with a good impression is extremely important especially if you are turning down an offer of employment, you may cross paths with them in the future. 
Roberta Barlow
T: +44 115 934 8686