Understanding the UK Job Market

Having worked in and around the UK Labour Market since 2002 I’ve noticed some key changes in the way it operates. The 2008 Economic Recession proved a major turning point and has had a bewildering impact on those looking for work ever since.  Over time, on average, jobs now take longer to find and are lasting for less time. Most people are likely to return to the jobs market many times during their working lives.  I don’t consider my experience exceptional but I have had fourteen jobs since 1976 and four since 2008.

The rise of technology (and automation in particular) is transforming the nature of work in most fields.  In connection with this, one of the biggest changes for job searchers and career changers has been the increased use of the internet, and particularly social media, to advertise and recruit personnel. For those who are less computer savvy or who, for whatever reason, don’t have direct access to the internet, job search can be doubly stressful.

Employers have changed their recruiting tactics too.  Most businesses advertise through their websites and for some of the bigger employers that’s mostly all they do – the large retail and banking chains are good examples of this.  Smaller employers prefer methods that are lower risk and lower cost and research has shown that increasingly ‘word of mouth’ recommendations are the preferred method. Job Centre data suggests that 33% of men and 25% of women find jobs through people already employed in the organisations they target. (This has become known as the Hidden Jobs Market – jobs that are never advertised). For skilled, professional and managerial roles the percentage finding jobs through word of mouth is higher than the figures mentioned above, and for the highly competitive sectors such as Media and Publishing, the UK Commission Survey on Employer Perspectives suggests that the figure could be as high as 90% of jobs are filled in this way. I recently came across someone who worked for a Media company that was offering £500 to their staff if they found suitable people to recruit.

Before you get disheartened, other, more traditional methods are still used too – job fairs, local press, job boards (eg. Indeed/Reed) all still feature, as do the free public resources such as Universal Job Match (through JCP) and of course another growing feature – the reliance on private recruitment agencies to fill vacancies and skill shortages.  For all those who focus all their efforts on applying for on-line advertised positions though, there is a clear disadvantage – much more competition. If it’s visible to you, it’s visible to countless others and this has contributed to the unsatisfactory prevalence of employers/recruiters often failing to acknowledge applications or give feedback post-interview.  They are spoilt for choice in a ‘buyer’s market’.

If no one knows there is a position in an organisation, being in the right place at the right time therefore maximises the chance of being recruited.  There is growing evidence that carrying out ‘information interviewing’ is the proactive way to increase your own visibility in the job market, identify and even sometimes help create opportunities. Information interviews are all about researching  potential job areas and gaining new contacts.   They are short, timed encounters where you meet someone(ideally in their workplace)  who works in a job area that interests you and ask them  questions.

John Lees in his highly recommended book ‘ How to get a job you love’ (2015-16 edition) points out that this is not about cold calling.  It is about identifying people you know (or friends of friends) in your network who are working in a career field that interests you.  By asking if you can meet with them to talk about their job should be low risk.  You are not asking them for a job – just gathering information (positive and negative!).

Lees has developed what he calls the REVEAL method for making the most of these opportunities but basically after the fact finding, the most important question will be – ‘who else should I be talking to?’ in the hope that your contact will put you in touch with your next potential interviewees. And so your network grows in a career area that interests you. This approach can also help build confidence around interviewing generally. You may also find opportunities for work shadowing and experience.

The key to job search and career change in 2017 and beyond is to use a wide variety of methods but ensuring that you are also getting out there- physically exploring and finding out about potential employers/ organisations of all sizes and meeting those who work for them.



“How to get a Job you Love” by John Lees (2015-16 edition) McGraw Hill UK

“What Color is your Parachute 2017?” by Richard N Bolles ten Speed press USA

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