This month Alumni Career Services Executive Director, Jen Coleman, speaks with Rebecca Wilson (MBA ’96) about current trends in the job market. Rebecca is managing director at 20/20 Foresight Executive Search.

Jen: Rebecca, thank you so much for speaking with me! Tell me a little bit about your firm and your practice areas.

Rebecca: 20/20 Foresight Executive Search is a retained search firm headquartered in Chicago. We’ve been around since the early ’90s and have about 50 people across the country. I head up our New York office, but we do searches across the country. Our company specializes in real estate across functions. I do real estate searches, as well as private equity and financial services.

Jen: What led you to the role?

Rebecca: I have a financial services and banking background. Coming out of Darden, I was at  Citibank in the credit card group. Then I moved to HSBC where I was in all different products across the retail bank. Then I moved to Lehman Brothers for a couple years before the global financial crisis. And then I ran my own consulting firm in Canada and Australia for about 10 years before returning to the United States, when I moved into executive search.

Jen: What are some significant trends that you’re seeing?

Rebecca: When you talk about trends, it’s the economy with the availability of funds and hybrid-versus-remote-versus-in-office. Those are the two big ones right now.

In real estate, with interest rates where they are, funding projects can be difficult. So some of our clients are waiting to launch projects because, as they say, they can’t get the numbers to pencil. Other companies have so much in the pipeline — and they have the funding locked in already — that they’re proceeding. There’s an interesting dichotomy right now in real estate.

As far as hiring goes, it comes up in every single conversation: “Is it 100% in the office?” The hiring companies want people in the office most of the time, except for certain types of roles. If you’re in a sales role, a capital raise role, or managing assets across the country, they may be more flexible because they know you’re going to be traveling. But there are certain positions where being in the office makes more sense. When we talk to candidates, one of the first questions they ask is, “Can the role be remote?” And what I say is, “That really should not be the first question that you’re asking me. Because you’re basically mapping out your career based on the ability to work from home, and you’re not going to be a part of the key discussions if you’re working from home.”

Jen: So, if we start with the initial trend of the economy, you mentioned that your real estate  clients think things are going to improve. Would you say the outlook is optimistic in general?

Rebecca: I talk to a lot of clients, particularly senior people whom I’ve placed over the years, and by and large, there is optimism. We still have plenty of searches coming in. Has it slowed a little bit? Of course. But it’s certainly not dire. And most of the people I talk to are planning for improvement — do the hiring now while they can get people for a more reasonable compensation package. Clients aren’t saying, “You know what? We’re just on hold. Call me in September.”

Jen: That’s great! I’m relieved to hear that. And then the second trend about return to work, hybrid work – from your client’s perspective, are they finding it challenging to find talent willing to be in-office?

Rebecca: You can always find talent. It’s consistency that really is a thorn in our clients’ sides. And many of our clients are hesitant to be firm about working in the office., “You have to be in the office.” The publicly held firms are afraid. Many of the big banks have said, “You have to be in the office,” but people end up not coming in. We had one company that said, “Everybody has to be here on Wednesday,” but they had reduced their office space and didn’t even have a desk for everybody. So employees just turned around and went home. Companies are having a problem returning to what they used to do, and if you allow remote or hybrid for one employee, you really have a hard time saying no to others. Companies need to decide what they want to do and how they’re going to execute that.

Jen: So put another way, where’s the balance of power right now when it comes to remote or hybrid scenarios? Is it with the employee or the employer?

Rebecca: I would say we’re in a transition period. Up until a couple months ago, it was with the employee. But it’s changing as the job market gets a bit tighter. Companies are going to take back the power.

Jen: I get this question all the time from alumni clients: “What role should executive search firms play in my approach to finding a job? Should I be proactively reaching out to search professionals?” What would you advise?

Rebecca: I think what people misunderstand about executive search consultants is that we are paid by a company. I’ll get an email from a candidate saying, “Oh, I really look forward to having you represent me and help me with my job search.” But at the end of the day, I get paid by the client.

The hardest part in working with executive search consultants, whether they be contingent or retained, is finding them, because there are literally thousands and thousands of tiny firms that have great searches. So, I always encourage people to be active on LinkedIn — comment on other people’s posts and post things periodically. If you are active on LinkedIn, when a recruiter is doing a search for people like you, your profile will go to the top. LinkedIn’s algorithm will know that you’re engaged and more likely to respond to a recruiter.

And anytime a recruiter calls you, take the time to interact with that person, even if you’re not actively looking, and help them out. Being friendly with the recruiter, having them know you, and you knowing them really does help, just like any networking scenario.