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Signs of confidence returning to the jobs market?

Over half of employers in the legal, tax and accountancy sectors are recruiting or planning to recruit within the next six months.


Ever since the UK plunged into lockdown, it has been hard to find positive news about the jobs market. Millions have been furloughed and many have lost their jobs. The most recent figures reveal 649,000 fewer people are on the UK company payrolls since the start of the pandemic.

It’s not easy to feel optimistic when being bombarded by worrying economic news on a daily basis, but not everyone is fearful of the future.

The team at Harvey John wanted to find out how robust the recruitment landscape actually is during this time of uncertainty. And the consensus was that the best way to get a realistic snapshot of the market was to actually ask the employers and the job candidates.

The results of the Harvey John survey reveal a far more positive outlook for the accountancy, tax and legal jobs markets than the headlines suggest. 

It is reassuring to see that 52% of businesses interviewed are either already recruiting or are planning to recruit over the next six months.

David Waddell, Managing Director of Harvey John commented: “The start of lockdown and the panic of late March / early April seems like a long time ago now and it does feel like we’ve all gone through a period of adjustment, reflection and consolidation. 

“The recruitment landscape has, of course, changed, but we’re reassured that there are pockets of business and optimism out there. With more people in the employment market due to a change in their circumstances, candidates are going to have to bring their A game to the interview process. 

“The requirement for businesses to hire top talent will not have changed and they, perhaps, should see that this is the time to recruit, due to a wider candidate pool. There are candidates on the market who would not typically have been open to a new opportunity. This looks to be reflected in the findings from our survey.” 

“We’re reassured that there are pockets of business and optimism out there.”  David Waddell

Why such optimism expressed in the survey when so many businesses are fearing the worst? Perhaps it is because the accountancy, tax and legal sectors have fared comparatively well in previous challenging economic times. 

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2007/08, Mark Protherough, executive director of learning and professional development at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) told the Financial Times: “Accountancy is not recession-proof, but I do think accountants are uniquely well placed to cope and survive.”

This has been the experience of Claire Jones, a Principal Resourcing Consultant at Harvey John, focusing on the Accountancy sector: “The results of the survey have confirmed what I have found while working over the past four months – after a couple of very quiet months, week by week things are improving in terms of the number of active vacancies and clients hiring. 

“While inevitably some accountancy firms have lost clients and are starting to make redundancies, others are busier than ever and are feeling confident enough to bring in new hires. There are clearly going to be difficult times ahead, there are jobs out there and we are definitely in a position to assist candidates in finding the right role for them

“There are clearly going to be difficult times ahead, there are jobs out there and we are definitely in a position to assist candidates in finding the right role for them.”  Claire Jones

The Taxation sector survey also offered reasons to be hopeful – the survey of employers showed 58% looking to be active in job market in the next six months. 

Alex Mann, Associate Director Indirect Tax & Tax Technology, has witnessed an inevitable drop in activity, but he is seeing green shoots: “Whilst there are glimmers of activity across commerce and industry, the levels of hiring unsurprisingly do not reflect the volumes we were seeing in Q4 2019 and Q1 2020. With that said, new opportunities are creeping onto the job market each week and – having spoken to many in-house tax leaders over recent weeks – it’s clear that the need for tax talent remains. 

“The challenge that tax leaders face is quite simply the justification of hiring in an increasingly cautious business environment. It’s the same caution which has stunted growth in professional services (a traditionally buoyant market for tax professionals).”

“It’s clear that the need for tax talent remains.” Alex Mann  

The legal profession has undoubtedly been impacted by the pandemic, but, again, it has not all been bad news., notes that: “Corporate lawyers have reported a 25% increase in calls and client queries following the outbreak. The profession has stood the test of time and is widely considered recession-proof.” 

The Harvey John survey found that an impressive 61% of employers in the Legal sector are actively planning for recruitment over the following half year.

This was welcome news for Hayley Rose, Harvey John’s Legal Associate Director, who observed that, “It’s definitely a far more cautious recruitment market at the moment, with some sectors being hit far more than others, but it was so reassuring to hear clients say they still have plans / the budget to recruit in the foreseeable future.”

“It was so reassuring to hear clients say they still have plans / the budget to recruit in the foreseeable future.” Hayley Rose


If the survey of clients offers much need positivity, the opposite applies to the survey of current candidates. The glass half full view of employers is in stark contrast to the deflated confidence of candidates, with 62% reporting that there are finding very limited opportunities.

There is a marked disparity in confidence between employers and candidates. It can, perhaps, be explained by the fact when businesses are making recruitment plans for the future, candidates will be unaware of this fact. The candidates are faced with the reality that the job search is intensely difficult during a lockdown, especially when you are deprived of human interaction and have no industry networks to support you.

It has been bleak for candidates, but the intentions of employers expressed in the survey will be a source of hope for those actively seeking work.

Alex Mann concludes, “My advice to job seekers is simple: remain proactive. Pick up the phone to your recruiters on a fortnightly basis and keep yourself on the radar.”


The survey results are based on 329 telephone interviews with clients and candidates in the accountancy, tax and legal sectors. The survey period was 23rd-30th June 2020 

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