Concept Onyx Recruitment

1 year on – examining the impacts of COVID-19 on recruitment

Who remembers where they were on March 23rd, 2020, lockdown day 1.0? Simultaneously the fastest and slowest passing year ever is now behind us, and it’s time to take stock and discuss how these events are shaping the recruitment industry. Having spent much of the year looking at our own data regarding the effects of the pandemic, we were inspired to take another look by a WaveTrackR report stating that the total number of job posts in March 2021 grew by more than 50% month on month, a huge result!

As always, we’ll be discussing this through the lens of our core sectors, Digital, Creative and Marketing. The data used here is a combination of WaveTrackR’s Annual Recruitment Trends Report (2021)* and data from our own Recruitment Industry Health Check reports from June¹ and September²

What happened?
WaveTrackR reports May 2020 as the low point for recruitment across all industries with job listings down 331% and applications down 115%. Activity peaked in October coinciding with the proposed ending of the original furlough scheme that was then extended at the last minute. Since October 2020 activity has been steadily high until March 2021 – a new high point for both applications (up 137%) and job postings (up 179%) since the pandemic began, and significantly higher than the early months of 2020 (pre-pandemic).

This data takes into account all industries and is therefore significantly swayed by certain areas such as hospitality and travel which were particularly affected. Our data specifically focussed on Digital, Creative and Marketing reflects this trend, albeit around a month ahead of the curve.

How has all this affected candidate behaviour?
Every sector in which we operate (Digital, IT, Marketing & Creative) saw more than 100% increase in applicants per job in August 2020, compared to before lockdown began. In some cases this was off the chart, with Marketing applicants peaking in April/May at around 10x their pre-pandemic levels, and Creatives peaking in August around 90x. Due to home-working, candidates were also more contactable than ever before – we saw a 152% uplift in candidate response rates during this period.

Generally speaking, finding candidates has never been easier. But it depends on the role, and we’re assuming you have the time to manage the influx of applications to filter through and find the gems, which is where recruitment agencies can potentially prove invaluable.

  • Increased concern for job security
    We surveyed our candidates and discovered that across the board, there is now far greater attention paid to the security of a job. Our data shows 80% of candidates agree that COVID-19 has made job security more important to them – consistent also with the results found in a recent survey by Talent Nexus³. We also found a greater resistance from passive candidates to change roles. Both of these factors may explain why our consultants have reported that retaining candidates through a lengthy recruitment process is particularly tough at the moment and businesses that move quickly on hiring decisions have seen greater success in the current market.
  • Expectation that remote working and remote hiring will continue
    60% of those we surveyed said they expect remote working to continue into the future. This was particularly true of Digital candidates (72%). Permanent shifts to flexible working are anticipated for many businesses and so we’re likely to see remote hiring practices such as video interviewing as well as psychometric and tech testing remain an important part of the recruitment toolkit. From a HR perspective, attention will have to remain on how to keep a remote workforce motivated and engaged. Supporting this argument, in a survey of in-house recruitment teams, Talent Nexus found that 61% stated their key priority for 2021 was to improve candidate experience.
  • Greater focus on company culture
    Candidates want to see how organisations supported their staff through the pandemic, with 75% telling us they’d place great value on a company’s response to COVID-19 when looking for a new role. Candidates want to know that they’ll be secure and supported through any further turmoil, and that a company has procedures in place to properly manage and integrate new staff members into their teams whilst everyone is operating remotely. The challenge for hiring managers therefore is how best to communicate and instil their company culture remotely to prospective employees, something we’ll be exploring more going forward.

Wider industry changes
As well as the above, we’ve noticed a levelling of the salary playing field from region to region and a reduction in the pull of the capital. Remote working allows companies to fish outside of their usual ponds which means a greater talent pool when recruiting for roles that would traditionally experience skills shortages. Other observations have cited an increase in preference for expanded skillsets as employers place greater value on being agile. We’ve also noted an increase in social media hiring particularly via LinkedIn (making up 40% of hires according to our latest data) and a marked shift in focus towards employee wellbeing as well as an expectation that diversity and inclusion should be front and centre of our consciousness at all times.

Closing thoughts
It’s clear then that the tumultuous nature of the past year has led to a great deal of upheaval and accelerated change in the industry, particularly in terms of candidate expectations and the balance of power in the recruitment landscape. Particularly noticeable in areas such as Digital and IT that previously experienced large-scale skills shortages. Not a great surprise but as the ship steadies it will be important for recruiters and hiring managers to take heed and adapt to these key shifts in the industry in order to succeed in this rapidly changing landscape.

*WaveTrackr’s Annual Recruitment Trends Report – 2021
¹Concept’s Recruitment Industry Healthcheck – June 2020
²Concept’s Recruitment Industry Healthcheck – September 2020
³Talent Nexus Survey – 2021 


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