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Welcome to the Post-COVID Candidate's Market


LAST UPDATED: April 7, 2023

It might come as a surprise to some that – as we ease out of lockdown in the UK – we now find ourselves in a candidate-led market. That means that there’s a general skills shortage, meaning that highly skilled candidates can take their pick when it comes to the roles they want to apply for and, most importantly, the companies they decide to work for.

Despite being inundated with applications, recruitment isn’t quite as easy as you might have thought. You can cast a wide net and catch plenty of fish, but if the one you decide is perfect doesn’t like the look of you – they’ll jump straight back in the water. What that means for anybody hiring right now is that, if you want the best candidates, you’ll have to overhaul the familiar processes for a leaner and sleeker recruitment system. Before covering exactly what you need to improve on, it’s worthwhile understanding what is making candidates decline offers so freely – particularly at such a tumultuous point in time. 

As many as triple the number of candidates are turning down an offer in 2020/21, compared to 2019/20. One of the most common shifts is away from the freedom of contract work (and IR35 complications) to the security of permanent opportunities – potentially in an effort to nail down some certainty when other parts of life seem a little up in the air. On the theme of security, employed candidates exploring their options elsewhere are also especially reluctant to take a chance without being completely sold on the company soliciting them.

Similarly, those who faced redundancy or long-term furlough during the UK’s lockdown(s) are behaving differently than in previous job searches. Many are being careful not to get caught out again, opting for an opportunity that will make them feel valued. Others are applying for every available relevant role – a behaviour unfortunately encouraged by businesses who fail to follow up with unsuccessful candidates, and also one that can lead to multiple rejected offers by talent. It’s worth considering that some people’s values have shifted slightly in the wake of a pandemic, meaning that they’re less likely to settle and far more focused on an opportunity that truly excites.

So what does that mean for a company looking to hire in a candidate’s market? 

Recruit Efficiently

If you’re handling your hiring process internally, you need to really up your game – even if you think you’re doing a bang-up job. There are three key aspects to the recruitment process that need to be as streamlined as possible:

  1. Application – A poor application process can lose you the most qualified applicants at the first hurdle. If you’re managing it via your email or website, make sure the process is clearly sign-posted and send confirmation of receipt of application. If you’re using a third-party portal, make sure it actually works!

  2. Update – Keep ALL applicants in the loop. Give them an idea of time frames for responses, answer their questions in a timely manner, and update everyone involved if you end up behind schedule.

  3. Offer/Rejection – If you’re making a job offer, outline what you’re expecting moving forward (you can’t assume they’ll take it just because you offered it) and be accommodating in how long you give the candidate to reply. If you’re rejecting a candidate, have the decency to send them an email to let them know – at any stage of the application process.

All of this needs to happen quickly. A candidate market means that top talent you’re after is going to get picked up by somebody else unless you can get into interviewing quickly. Of course, to save yourself the trouble you could use a recruitment agency…

Be Flexible

Pre-pandemic conversation surrounding flexible working suggested it was the next “big thing” but I don’t think anybody thought it would get forced through by the UK government! Now that most candidates (and businesses) know that remote working and flexible hours won’t sink the ship, it’s a big part of negotiations. Offering some flexibility – particularly when we can return to a physical workspace – could be the difference between you and a competing job offer.

Sell Yourselves

You’ve grown accustomed to hearing what candidates can bring to the table, but now the tables have turned – they want to know why they should choose you. You’ll want your recruitment process and interview(s) to showcase your company culture and make it clear that you value your staff. In conversation you’ll want to share what benefits you offer, and what career progression might look like. You’ll also need to make time for questions from your candidates – and that may mean preparing some answers about what the near future looks like for your business.

At the end of the day, the best way to secure your perfect perm candidate is to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Anything above and beyond the norm will help you sell your role and your company and help you stand out.

Are you currently hunting for your perfect permanent hire? We can help! Get in touch today and one of our agents will be happy to help.