State of the Bay Area Finance & Accounting Job Market: April 2020

Hands down, the number one question I’ve been asked over the last month is: What’s the current state of the Bay Area job market?  Our entire lives have shifted as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, so it’s understandable that candidates want to know what opportunities are available and what they should prepare for. Hiring managers want to know what other companies are experiencing and whether candidates are receptive to making a career move right now. It seems like there’s an adjustment in the market at least every two weeks, and a new phase emerges with new rules. So, while we don’t know what the future holds, hopefully this can bring you some insight into what we’ve observed at BVOH Search & Consulting about how we got here and how we can move forward.

Phase 1: March 11-20

Even before the NBA suspended the 2019-2020 season on March 11, companies like Google, Twitter and Microsoft were moving employees to remote work as early as March 6. But when two players on the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 and games were subsequently canceled, the reality of the pandemic hit close to home for many of us. After the March 13 executive order declaring a national emergency, the quickest shifts in the job market were seen with businesses that were directly impacted, such as hospitality, travel and real estate. By and large, these are the industries you read about early on in the news. Most of these companies took swift action by cutting costs and freezing hiring, plus furloughs, layoffs, and salary cuts. On March 16, San Francisco issued a shelter in place order, which was soon followed by a California-wide shelter in place order on March 20th. This is when many companies who hadn’t yet been directly affected transitioned employees, practically overnight, to working from home. At BVOH we saw our client companies transitioning not only their internal employees but also our consultants to full-time, work from home rather seamlessly. We attribute this to previous investments in technology and cultural norms that embraced remote work.

“It seems like there’s an adjustment in the market at least every two weeks, and a new phase emerges with new rules.”

During this time we also saw many companies moving forward with hiring. If they had an open requisition and a strong pipeline of candidates, they were motivated to make it happen. Candidates were also motivated to make a move, as both parties realized this opportunity could be fleeting given the current environment.

Phase 2: March 20 – April 3

As we ourselves were coming to terms with shelter in place, we were also busy wrapping up searches and projects that were previously in the works. Many companies in the San Francisco job market were not immediately impacted and were largely able to move forward with active candidate searches. These are the same companies that quickly adopted remote interviewing and onboarding, so their hiring process was not materially delayed. Having the right systems, processes and technology in place gave most Finance & Accounting departments the ability to embrace hiring without meeting candidates face to face. “Old school” industries, on the other hand, struggled more with this, especially when it came to onboarding as they were hesitant to rely solely on video to hire. Instead, they stalled hiring efforts and took a “wait and see” approach. These are the same companies that did not transition as painlessly to remote work with their internal teams because it wasn’t part of their culture. In this time of “wait and see,” we experienced clients stall their new consulting initiatives as the idea of remote onboarding a consultant was less amenable than a new permanent employee. Notably, even if companies were optimistic in the early stages of the pandemic, as time went on, they became more nervous about what the next phase would look like. Many companies found it better to wait it out and make do with available resources before hiring new talent, and thus more searches went on hold. Conversely, this is when active candidates—not just in the San Francisco job market—entered the market to look for new opportunities. The balance of power started to shift, which is a monumental change for candidates who have only known the robust job market of the last 8 years. This is also when jobless claims started to rise, even in previously strong local economies like the Bay Area job market. San Francisco unemployment rates held strong, at roughly 2% below the state average, for well over a year until March 2020. Even though jobless claims would continue to rise over the coming weeks, the tech sector remained strong, so San Francisco unemployment rates had a better chance to grow slowly during this phase, unlike other locations. Additionally, finance and accounting positions are a bit more layoff resistant, given the critical role these individuals perform, particularly in public companies or in any type of compliance work. As the waiting continued and new talent flooded the market, a strong mindset, for companies and candidates, became increasingly more important.

Phase 3: April 4th – Present

…And that brings us to now. Schools are out for the remainder of the school year, most states have implemented shelter in place and we’re adjusting to our “new normal”. For working parents, we certainly know now that working while homeschooling is tough. We’ve seen this as a particular challenge for working parents whose workloads haven’t changed, or if anything, have increased, like in Accounting, Finance, and Human Resources. Many parents suddenly have two very important jobs and conflicting priorities. This would be stressful at any time, but it is particularly trying now given the crisis we are all facing.

“Moving forward, this is an ever-evolving situation and one that changes quickly. So, while we don’t know what the next phase will look like, we do know that this has changed the future of work.”

As for the job market, if you were to randomly sample companies in the Bay Area, you would see hiring freezes more often than not. This is understandable in businesses directly impacted by COVID-19, but we are also seeing this in some companies whose businesses have not been impacted, or might even benefit in the current situation. While companies who are not negatively impacted early are continuing to hire, they are not all hiring as aggressively as planned. CFOs are busy with scenario planning and educating other department heads on the inherent risks of adding headcount during this time, due to the possibility of future layoffs if they experience an economic downturn in Q3 or Q4. Uncertainty prevails, and this uncertainty is stifling growth in finance and accounting job opportunities. That being said, many Bay Area companies are bullish on their future prospects and their recruiting reflects that. Candidates (even those gainfully employed) are selectively open to moving—albeit with more due diligence—for the right opportunity. Large employers like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook have increased hiring, as some of them also did during previous down markets. There are also many smaller Bay Area companies who are thriving in the current environment, and that growth will create a demand for talent. You can see a list of companies that are freezing hiring (and those that are still hiring!) created by Candor, here: [LIVE] Who’s freezing hiring from coronavirus This is one major difference I’ve noticed between now and the Financial Crisis. In 2009, very few Bay Area companies were thriving and growing their headcount. Now, you have a case of the “haves and have nots.” While no one wants to see any companies or individuals struggle, we are grateful to see the companies prospering by providing goods and services that are even more critical to our vitality than before. These companies will continue to bolster the economy and provide incredible opportunities for candidates fortunate enough to join them. The demand for talent in FP&A, specifically, remains high as companies need this expertise to help them navigate the new world. We are also starting to see companies consider bringing on interim resources to help with increased workload due to frozen headcount. As companies get more comfortable working from home, onboarding a remote consultant is feeling more palatable. This mentality has shifted quickly, even within a few weeks, proving the adaptability and resiliency of our Bay Area marketplace. Moving forward, this is an ever-evolving situation and one that changes quickly. So, while we don’t know what the next phase will look like, we do know that this has changed the future of work — especially where and how we do it. And we’ll continue to look for optimism and positivity wherever we can find it.  

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