Ksenia Zheltoukhova
Research Associate at CIPD

Despite high unemployment it is still the employers who are hunting qualified talent. The latest CIPD/Hays Resourcing and Talent Planning survey – an annual benchmarking instrument recording the views of HR professionals on attracting and retaining talent – highlights that the proportion of organisations reporting an increase in competition for well-qualified staff has tripled since 2009. In a bid to secure the best candidates fast, employers are getting smarter in diversifying their recruitment practices.

In this day and age it is difficult to imagine an organisation that would bet 100% of its recruitment strategy on a physical job board, waiting patiently for handwritten and posted letters of application from potential candidates. Clearly conventional methods of recruitment have shown to be time-consuming, limiting and, ultimately, costly, as they delayed the introduction of a new employee into business as usual.

Moreover, the required skills do not seem to be readily available. As in previous years, in 2013 the main reason for recruitment difficulties faced by employers was a lack of specialist or technical skills among job candidates; managerial and professional roles were the hardest ones to fill. Despite high unemployment, one in six organisations in the survey reported that an absence of applicants caused, or contributed to, their recruitment difficulties. This is against an average of 45 applicants for each low-skilled job, as demonstrated by the CIPD’s Labour Market Outlook.

Attracting candidates

Fortunately, recruiters are able to draw on multiple alternative ways of attracting and selecting candidates. As the CIPD/Hays Resourcing and Talent Planning survey shows, in 2013 organisations were spending less on national newspaper advertisements and specialist journals/trade press, and invested more into social and professional networking sites, commercial job boards and apprenticeships. More than two-thirds of organisations, regardless of size or sector, conduct recruitment activity in-house (69%). Only a very small minority (3%) outsource all recruitment activity, whilst just over a quarter (28%) combine in-house and outsourcing approaches.

The most effective methods for attracting candidates were corporate websites and recruitment agencies. However, the proportion of organisations quoting recruitment agencies to be effective has decreased slightly since 2010, across all sectors and sizes of organisation (although more so in the public and not-for-profit sectors). The current focus on costs may be driving organisations to seek cheaper attraction methods or use recruitment agencies more selectively.

The methods viewed as most effective in attracting candidates differed by organisational sector. For example, public sector and not-for-profit organisations rarely favour employee referral schemes and speculative applications, but still rely on methods such as newspaper advertising. They are also less likely to use professional and social networking websites.

The use of social media

Each year about one-third of organisations in the CIPD/Hays survey report losing potential recruits due to the length of their recruitment process, rising to three-fifths of organisations with more than 5,000 employees . In a bid to reduce time and to reach out to a wider pool of job candidates, many organisations are exploring the potential of social media in attracting talent.

Over half of organisations report using social media in resourcing, with private sector organisations leading the way at 63%. In comparison, only 43% of public sector employers used social media in recruitment, although a further 41% thought it would benefit their resourcing practices. Overall, only a fifth report they don’t use social media and don’t feel it is necessary, although this was more common in manufacturing and production organisations and in smaller organisations (30% of those with less than 50 employees).

Social and professional networks (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook) are considered to be a subset of e-recruitment practices, attractive for the substantial reduction on costs these media can offer. For example, according to the CIPD/Hays Resourcing and Talent Planning survey, nearly three-quarters of organisations using social media report that this has reduced their resourcing costs. More than four-fifths report that using social media has increased the strength of their employer brand and increased their potential selection pool.

Social media is most commonly used for attracting candidates (86%) and brand building (74%). Just under half (46%) of organisations that use it also do so to keep in touch with potential future candidates, whilst a fifth (21%) use it to keep in touch with alumni. Only a minority (6%) use social media for screening candidates (previewing online profiles).

At the same time, some risks can be associated with the use of social media too. For example, 19% of respondents said the use of social media decreases the quality of candidates – potentially as wider reach dilutes the calibre of applications. In addition, 22% said it increased the time to hire – contrary to the assumption that social media use accelerates the process; again this may be due to the higher volume of candidates. There is also a danger that ad hoc use of social networking accounts would not have the desired effect of attracting the right talent, if the users of those media are not engaged with the brand prior to seeing a job posting.

It appears that not all recruiters are trained in the strategic use of social media in resourcing. Only 19% of organisations using social media report they have a dedicated social media strategy, and only 44% had someone in their resourcing team that has been trained in using social media for recruitment. A smaller proportion (25%) have a dedicated role for it, although this is more common in the public and not-for-profit sectors (public sector: 38%; not-for-profits: 33%; private sector: 19%).

Lessons to learn

CIPD’s research and anecdotal evidence from employers suggests that many recruiters are aiming to be ahead of the game in competing for talent by following a few key principles:

  • Talent planning starts with attracting job candidates. Targeting the right audience is likely to improve the calibre of applications, without adding to the quantity of candidates to sift through.
  • Candidate experience is crucial. Qualified talent is sought after, so the organisations cannot afford to lose a potential recruit by treating them poorly during the selection process. This includes outsourced agents representing the hiring employer.
  • Be courageous to keep looking for the right recruits for the values your company stands for. The attitude and value alignment are at least as important as prior work experience.
  • Reaching out to recruitment channels and markets requires a clear strategy. Considering alternative job sectors to draw candidates from and communicating with multiple audiences via appropriate channels (including social media) is likely to add value to your organisation’s pool of skills.