The recruitment of white collar professionals is embarking on a period of growth as the economic outlook has improved this year and employer confidence becomes more bullish and this rise is great news for both employers and employees. What employers now need to prepare for is the acceleration in job activity on the horizon that will require an even greater change in approach and process than that seen in 2008/09 when the market was in decline.

Recruitment markets in developed countries tend to come back faster than they shrink. In both the early nineties and the noughties we saw recruitment levels accelerate out of a previously troubled market. The reason for this is straightforward. Ten years ago, most CEOs and directors of large UK companies were running successful businesses, unaffected by the dotcom bubble bursting, and the same is true now. According to industry experts Recruitment & Employment Confederation, 81% of UK companies are leaning toward the talent acquisition trail.

So what can we expect to happen? 

If employer attraction strategies and recruitment processes don’t change then employers can expect to face a far tougher future.

The truth is that it is highly unlikely that enough good candidates are out there to meet demand. Taking accountants for example, consider the fact that the most significant minority of high calibre accountants are still trained by the ‘Big 4’ and then take a look at the graduate trainee hiring these firms did between 2008 and 2011, relative to levels before (or since). This is replicated across much of UK plc, and most of our disciplines in PageGroup are currently reporting skill shortages.

In a hotter market than this these shortages will become more severe; because as employers find hiring more difficult, it becomes more tempting to simply invest in current resources. The buyback, where an employer tries to entice a current employee to stay at the point of resignation, was a rarity 12 months ago but is commonplace once more.

To get ahead of a rapidly rising market, employers are going to need to alter their ethos significantly and be prepared to make big changes to their attraction, selection and on boarding processes.

What does the changing landscape look like? 

Job boards and social media outlets, such as LinkedIn, have significantly changed candidate attraction strategies; yet most employers aren’t prepared for what happens when these becomes less effective for luring the best talent. Just as print media has all but disappeared, apart from in a few markets such as the law, the recruitment of white collared professionals through job boards and large social media platforms is already suffering from the improvement in candidate employment prospects.

High calibre candidates are looking for employers to come to them. To sell to them. Even if that initial sell which draws them into the process is persuasive, most employers’ recruitment processes are reminiscent of a recessionary mentality and have the bureaucracy to match. If an employer really thinks it can win the war for talent by asking prospective candidates to fill in forms, wait for weeks for feedback, attend lengthy assessment centres and then accept lowball offers, they are mistaken.

Employers need to be more agile. Having processes which attract and select the best talent is clearly an absolute priority, not least because many candidates realise how they are treated through the interview process is a strong indicator of how they’ll be treated as an employee. UK employers need to be quicker, more decisive and more flexible if they want to get the best candidates on board. It is much better to focus on the one superb candidate and put them in front of the CEO after a first meeting, rather than gear up expectations, both internal and external, to a lengthy ‘robust’ process with many interview stages and paperwork only to obtain a mediocre hire at the end of it.

Recruitment requires more senior sponsorship in organisations and I think it will become a significant KPI for all senior managers, if it isn’t already. In part, this will arise from the overheating market, but also reflects the changing needs and expectations of the next generation of candidates. ‘BigCo is recruiting – big money and prospects’ might have worked in the old days, but candidates are now looking to engage with their employer in a very different way than they did previously and are expecting a relationship which is more personal, flexible and equal than ever before. A big advertising budget, slick processes and improved technology will all help, however if an employer can successfully engage with its potential employees, then they can look forward to a brighter future.

Oliver Watson, Managing Director, PageGroup