Applicants, applicants, wherefore art thou?

We’re not telling you anything you don’t already know by saying that it’s a tough recruitment market out there for employers. From the ONS April Labour Market Overview report, vacancies remain high at 1.3 million. And that’s just advertised vacancies. That figure doesn’t include those roles that haven’t been advertised for whatever reason. The high vacancy rate does appear to reducing the unemployment rate, but not by as much as you would hope. In Scotland, permanent job starts increased again in March to a 9 month high, which was combined with increased output across the Scottish economy, primarily driven by the service sector.

So if staff shortages are affecting your business, what can you do about it?


Firstly, do you know who your target future employees are? In sales and marketing, the message is to focus on your target market and ensure that your communication and engagement with them if focused on their needs. The same applies in recruitment. In this candidate driven market, you need to sell your vacancies and your organization to prospective employees. So the first step is to identify who your target audience is and ensure you write your job ads in a way that will appeal to that audience. That might mean that you focus on different aspects of the job and reward package depending on the roles you’re advertising.

Linked to that is reach. Is your message reaching the people you need it too? Your target employees could be members of lots of different social groups. Therefore you need to advertise widely but keep your messaging focused. If recruiting direct, are you spreading the word on job boards, social media and via your existing employee networks? More widely, are you capitalising on the expertise of recruitment agencies to both ensure what your offering is realistic and competitive and to help you reach a diverse candidate base outside of your normal networks.

Keep it simple

Secondly, is it easy for people to apply to work for you? How many “clicks” for example does someone have to go through to send you an application? Do you need a long application form filled in or a CV and covering letter? Does the technology you use maximise user experience and simplify things through tools such as CV parsing?

In e-commerce terms, the more clicks someone needs to take in order to buy, the more chances there are that they will fall off the sales journey and not conclude the purchase. You may be finding the same in recruitment. This is a particularly critical aspect if you use job advertising that charges you for clicks on the advert. You may have a great headline that draws applicants in and be great at selling the benefits of working for your organization. But if you make applicants go through an arduous obstacle course to apply, your application rates will be disproportionately low.


Thirdly, what is your recruitment process like? In a candidate driven market, job applicants will have lots of options to chose from and speed of process can be critical to you gaining the advantage over your competitors. In the Armed Forces, we talk about seizing the initiative and gaining momentum. You need to do the same when competing for top talent. If it takes you weeks to respond to candidate applications, some will drop off. If you haven’t got a plan for the selection process and it ends up being repetitive, you look incoherent and disorganized to applicants.

Apply the same rules that you apply to your sales process. What is the expected response times to client/customer/prospect enquiries? You should be responding to applicants equally as quickly. Before you even advertise a job, you should have a rough timeline in place, ideally with placeholders booked for application review, interviews etc for those involved internally. You should know exactly how many stages will be involved and what you will be assessing at each stage. In exactly the same way you have a sales “journey”/funnel etc, so should your recruitment activities.

If you think you’ve got a star candidate, move quickly. Because if you think they’re a star, so will another employer. If you can get that applicant to commit and start in your job, then your competitors will miss out.

Maximise the investment

Once you’ve got that commitment, then the onboarding process starts and will take months to complete. Changing jobs is a huge upheaval, even for those who love change. If you want to maximise the potential of your new start, you must ensure you make that change as smooth as you can. Keep in contact over the notice period to keep your new start “warm”. You may even be able to invite them to a social event if you’re hosting them.

Ensure you have a thorough induction process ready for when they start too. This should involve an introduction to the organisation’s mission, strategy, values and vision so that your new employee knows how they fit into, and contribute to, the bigger picture. Provide them with familiarization on systems, equipment and stakeholders that are key to their success. It should include training on both statutory elements like health and safety but also on software & the job itself. If you invested in a new piece of machinery for your organization, you wouldn’t simply drop it into your facility and tell your team to crack on. You would have it’s integration planned into your operations. It’s the same for a new employee.

Yes, you’d be right to say that this all involves a huge investment of time. But it you want to recruit and retain the best people, you need to invest in the process to make it successful.


Everything we’ve mentioned above, applies regardless of whether you’re employing a school leaver, graduate, Armed Forces leaver or career progressor.