Job Searching During a Pandemic: Part 2 – The Direct Applicant

Welcome back to the musings of a Reward recruiter. Hopefully you found my last article on securing a role during a pandemic interesting, which has brought you back for part two! The first article looked into the experiences of a candidate who secured a role through our agency, whilst navigating that move during lockdown. The pandemic has turned our entire world upside down. Even something as mundane as going to the shops, or getting a haircut now needs to be navigated differently, so of course it has affected our job search.

This week I wanted to look into the direct search. People who get their next role from liaising directly with the company and internal recruitment team. Typically starting by applying to a job advert.

As a recruiter for a consultancy, I have come to peace with the fact that we are often thought of as a “necessary evil”. The truth is that a direct search is free for a business, and a placement from a consultancy will warrant a fee. More often than not, a company will look to run a direct search before reaching out for additional help. Either they feel they have the resources to take on the search themselves, or they simply do not have the budget to work with a consultancy. Take this information and combine it with the ease of applying on LinkedIn and other job sites, surely the direct search is at the top of each candidates list, right?

Not necessarily as it seems. As part of these series of articles, I wanted to speak to a candidate in my network who had recently secured a role directly, who had some really interesting insights.

*For the purpose of this interview, our candidate has asked to remain anonymous.

  • What was your motivation to look for a new position?

I was looking for a new challenge. I had been in the role for three years, and as reward is quite cyclical, I felt like I had learnt everything that I would within that role. I have also been working in the professional services sector for a long time, and so I wanted to try a new industry.

  • Did you need to have extra considerations to make a move during the pandemic?

I suppose the main thing on my mind was what I would do in the future. I decided to move from a permanent role into a 12 month fixed term contract. Initially, I was a bit worried about what the economy would look like at the end of that time. However, the market seems to have been picking up and so I am quite confident that in a year's time, I will be in a strong position to look for my next role.

  • How did you feel about moving during a pandemic?

A little nervous, mainly due to the reasons I just mentioned, because don’t know what will happen a year from now. But it feels like things are picking up, and I’m optimistic. Also, due to the new responsibilities and challenges (and pay increase) that this role will offer me, I think it's beneficial to have on my CV and will make progressing my career in my next move easier. My final decision was really thinking, I can stay here in this role for an undisclosed amount of time, waiting for the pandemic to end, with no pay increase or new challenges. Or I can make a proactive step into the role now, and be in a stronger position when the fixed term contract finishes.

  • The job market is very candidate heavy at the moment- did you find it hard to stand out from the crowd? Did you do anything to make yourself stand out from other applicants?

I don’t think I did anything different to what I normally do, but I did notice it was very candidate heavy. When applying directly, you can see on LinkedIn how many people have already applied for the role. Normally you would expect to see maybe 10-15 applicants for a reward role as it's quite niche. But there were times where I would see about 100 or more! It definitely made things more daunting. I was also working with a couple of agencies, and I do feel that I would use an agency exclusively next time. They are able to update you, and give feedback. It can be really disheartening when you send off applications and never hear anything back. With this role, I honestly feel like I just got lucky and was in the right place at the right time.

  • How did you approach your job search? Did you work with agencies /apply directly /were you headhunted?

I started my search directly, but after a month or so I joined with a couple of agencies, I got fed up with the high volumes of applications with no feedback.

  • What was your overall impression of these avenues? Pros and cons?

Working with an agency is definitely easier. Because they have a personal relationship with the business, you get a foot in the door. It’s that guarantee that your CV will be put in front of the right person, and not worry that its in a pile of 100 other CVs in someone’s inbox. Also I found that working with an agency I was able to hear about roles before they were advertised, which was definitely a bonus. A pro of going direct is that I do feel like I had more control over the process. However, it was definitely a longer process. I think there was about 2 weeks between me putting in my application, before I would have any feedback. For the role I was able to secure, I had actually forgotten I had applied to it at all before I got the interview request!

  • What was the interview process like – was it longer than normal? What was it like to interview via VC?

I actually really liked and prefer doing interviews by VC! You can have your notes out of view which I loved! I also didn’t have to worry about trains making me late, or having to worry about making excuses in the office to go to interviews. I could just block out the time in my diary. For the role I secured I did find the interview process very long. It was a four-stage interview, which considering the level of the role I was surprised by. However, I assume this was to make up for not being able to meet up in person.

  • What was the offer process like – what was important to you during this process – salary/variable pay/benefits/flex working? Was that different to considerations during previous moves?

Before the pandemic, I never really cared about working from home. I would maybe work from home once every couple of weeks? But now working from home is really important to me. I cannot imagine being in the office full time. Also a salary uplift was important to me. Luckily the offer process was relatively easy for me to manage directly. It was a new experience though, as this is the first job I have secured directly. I have always worked with agencies before.

  • What was your Remote onboarding experience like?

I found some of the admin a bit strange, as I don’t have a printer, I was unable to print my contract to return it. Luckily they were happy with an email confirmation! But otherwise, it has been pretty seamless. They sent out a laptop and a mobile, and we have regular Teams meetings and training, so despite working from home, I feel very “involved” in the business and team.

  •  Is there anything would you change in your search / approach if you were to move roles again?

I think I would probably prefer to work with agencies. Whilst I didn’t have any major problems with this role. It definitely took longer, and the lack of feedback can get you can get you down after a while. I do also feel that I was lucky at the way it worked out. I have friends who really struggled, and working with an agency does make you feel more supported in your search.

  •  What advice would you give someone looking for a job in reward at the moment?

I think you need to know that its time to move on, and not just “flirt” with the idea of leaving. There is a lot of competition out there at the moment, and interviewers can tell if you are serious or not.

Related articles

In the first of a three part series, Elizabeth Kerry asks a recently placed candidate to share their experience of looking for Reward jobs in a pandemic.

Simon Hunt, John O'Brien and Sam Clark look at heightened optimism in the HR, Payroll and Reward markets.

"I am delighted that we are once again featured, at number 39, proud especially that we are listed as the highest pure HR specialist."

Simon Hunt, Lauren Hewlett and Sarah Alexander feed back on a promising start to the Financial and Professional Services markets in 2021... long may it continue!

Simon Hunt, Lauren Hewlett and Sarah Alexander offer a very positive outlook on the Financial and Professional Services markets going into the new financial year.

Simon Hunt, John O'Brien and Sam Clark comment on the positivity reflected in our Specialist Markets businesses.

Ready to get in touch?


Contact us

Want to keep up-to-date with future events, job postings and all things Oakleaf?


See our privacy notice for more information on how we take care of your information.



Oakleaf Partnership Limited. Registered in England with no: 5396257