Many of my everyday conversations are spent informing people about what is happening in the retail recruitment market. Many of the people I talk to ask me what the market is currently like for job opportunities which is interesting really, particularly given the adverse headlines that continue to hit the press. In fact it probably also reflects the conflicting signals that candidates seem to be picking up during their job search.

I think for most candidates when they first enter the market they are often pleasantly surprised by the volume of roles that appear to be available matching their skills and experience. However I think for the majority, this mild euphoria soon dissipates when they realise just how competitive it is in the market with a vast number of individuals chasing relatively lower job volumes.

So is it really as bad as people think it is? A recent report by retailchoice.com highlights some of the issues that our market is facing and I have to admit that on the whole it paints a fairly depressing picture.  Compared to last year, the number of roles advertised is down some 13% and whilst we are not down to the levels of 2009 yet, the trend unfortunately is definitely downwards. Whilst their website carries roles across a broad range of salaries, unsurprisingly it is the management roles that have been hit hardest with a fall of some 3000 roles.  This year has seen a number of large retailers go into administration such as Peacocks, Game, JJB etc. and fundamentally this has resulted in less retail stores trading and therefore the need for less management at both store and field level.

So where are people finding it toughest? Geographically there are some very different pictures. London continues to enjoy not only the highest volume of roles but also the least competition, where applications per job are at their lowest. This contrasts considerably with the North West, North East and Scotland who not only have to contend with fewer roles but much higher levels of competition.

Again, sector wise, there are quite wide disparities. Fashion has clearly been one of the hardest hit as consumers’ disposable income continues to be squeezed resulting in a 14% fall in vacancies, whilst the supermarkets have demonstrated resilience with an increase in job roles.

What is clear is that, in specialist area such as e-commerce, logistics etc. the demand and supply equation between roles and relevant candidates is nicely balanced with a good number of opportunities for people in that sector. This is further reflected across a number of other head office functions. For store and field managers the dynamics look a lot more challenging. Fewer stores mean fewer roles and the statistics show in some cases, applications are up as much as 50%.

The other interesting dynamic is the role of Linkedin; I recently read a survey conducted by Linkedin that suggested that although only 20% of candidates classed themselves as “active” , close to 80% of individuals would consider other opportunities. This was broken down as 20% “active”, 15% “tiptoer” (those candidates considering a move and reaching out to close associates) and then 44% “explorer” who are not actively looking for a job but would be willing to discuss new opportunities with recruiters. They classify the “tiptoer” and the “explorer” as being approachable.  The point here is that in reality, the 20% active candidate pool are actually competing with close to another 60% of the potential candidate pool who are also happy to be approached about job roles. Unfortunately, the increased accessibility of these individuals has only served to drive competition for roles even higher and it has been argued in a number of recent surveys that clients perceive passive candidates to be more attractive.

So what advice can we give? For most senior and middle managers the competition in the market means it is proving very difficult to move sector.  Most organisations are risk adverse when it comes to appointing positions and this is understandable given the very challenging economic environment.  My advice to people is to consider businesses where your skills and experience are going to be most marketable and transferable. I would also encourage candidates to use a broad strategy to access these roles, whether that is through their own network, agencies, Linkedin or their target Employer’s website.  With such fierce competition you will need to work smart and hard to beat the competition. Our website has some advice around these aspects should you want more information.

Without a shadow of doubt, for the vast majority of middle and senior management candidates the market out there remains tough. Whilst the number s are certainly negative, as I sit here and write, more positive economic data is being released and as we do come out of recession the market will inevitably pick up . In the meantime, I appreciate it is scant consolation but you are not the only one who is finding it tough…..

Russell Adams

LinkedIn

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