Think Tank

Successful recruitment in a tough labour market

28th February 2019

The importance of hiring good staff.

Clients consistently tell us that one of the main challenges for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the South West is hiring good staff; they believe there just isn’t the talent pool available, and many owner-managers say they find it difficult to compete with the draw of large corporates.

So with unemployment rates at their lowest since the 1970s, and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit also in the mix, should businesses be panicking about recruitment?

Well, you could – and plenty of businesses are – or you could accept that the labour market is tough, and arm yourself appropriately to make sure that you can secure good people.

To help business owners tackle this issue, Old Mill’s recruitment team has put together some actionable tips and advice on what you can do to stand out from the crowd and attract the top talent the region has to offer.

Recruitment should be thought of as marketing

At Old Mill, we look at recruitment as a marketing function. Yes, we sit within human resources – we bring people to the business after all – but we must think about our candidates like we think about our clients to truly understand how we should treat them, attract them and sell our business to them. We must nurture the candidate market place, we must appeal to them, and be prepared to use a number of different channels to speak to them.

That makes it sound simple – so where do you start?

Time to think long term

You need to accept that recruitment in today’s market is going to take longer, and that the era of 30-day ‘time to hire’ is slipping away from us, especially in areas where there are serious skill gaps or geographically limiting factors.

Acceptance alone won’t help you of course; you need to incorporate this into your planning. “Well how can that help me if I don’t know when someone will resign?” we hear you cry. We’re not suggesting you get out your crystal ball, but you will need to be proactive wherever you can. Think about where your risk areas are; who are the most sought after individuals in your organisation, and what are their notice periods?

Building the talent pipeline

You need to begin building a talent pipeline. Start talking to people with the relevant skills across social media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn); you need to put yourself on their radar before they are looking for a job.

Start giving before you start asking – post relevant and interesting content across the various social media platforms. The only time people hear from you shouldn’t be when you’re asking them to work with you.

Consider building a social media content calendar, and ask people in your business to contribute and write articles. Begin to open up the curtains and let people take a peak into your business, so that they can get a feel of what it would be like to work there before they are looking for a job. Good candidates will be snapped up, so you need to make them want to work for you.

Understand your USP

A unique selling point (USP) is probably something you have considered when marketing your business, but what does it mean for your employer brand? If you stood in a line alongside your three major competitors for talent, why should the best candidate pick you? If you can’t answer that question yourself, why expect a candidate to be able to?

Maybe you already know your USP; if so, that’s great. Do your candidates know it? Are you shouting it loudly from the rooftops? If so, are they hearing it?

How can you tell? Ask them…ask your recent recruits, ask your agency contacts, and ask your network. In the same way you would use focus groups if you were launching a new product or service, you can use focus groups to understand people’s perception of you.

It could be that you offer amazing salaries, or a great flexible benefits package, or maybe a good work life balance. If you can understand what your ideal candidate is motivated by, you can use this as a focus when you promote your employer brand.

So what else should you have in your arsenal?


It’s likely that there will always be a place for recruitment agencies and, despite them getting bad press sometimes, there are some really good companies out there providing a fantastic service. As with all suppliers though, you need to pick wisely. Meet with a few, and think about how you feel when talking to them. The chances are that if you feel like you’re talking to a used-car salesperson then your candidates will too. You want to work with agencies who will treat your candidates as well as you do – and if possible, even better.

Using agencies comes at cost, and if you go down this route there’s little point trying to drive down their fees – if you pay 10% you will get a 10% service. If you are committing to the budget for agency fees you should be paying 15-20%, to ensure that the agency put their best people on the job, and give you first refusal on good candidates. If your competitor is paying 20% but you are paying the same agency 10%, where will they send the good candidate to first?

At Old Mill we have created a preferred supplier list for our agencies, and now work well together with fewer agencies. As a result they talk about our business more confidently; they know they will be treated fairly, and that we will look after their candidates. So if you are going to use agencies, use them wisely – the good ones could be a great source of strong candidates.


LinkedIn can be a really good way to get in touch with candidates, and also very economical. You can purchase a Recruiter Lite subscription (you can take a free one month trial first) and pay less than £100 a month, so it’s particularly good if you’re on a tight budget – although whatever your recruitment spend, it’s worth using more than one approach to attract candidates.

The subscription will allow you to search for people by their job role and location, and contact them directly even if they are outside of your network. Simply send them a friendly message to ask if they are interested in a new role (keep it short and sweet), open up some communication and hopefully convert them into a candidate.

Job boards

You may not feel confident approaching people directly on LinkedIn, or you may not have a huge amount of time to do so. Another option is to purchase credits for job boards and post some adverts yourself, rather than using an agency to do so. Some job boards will charge you (Total Jobs, Reed, Monster, Jobsite etc.) while others will be free (Indeed, Job Centre Plus). You should also be aware that some are aggregator sites (LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Google Jobs) that will automatically pull any jobs advertised on the internet into their search engine. But having job board credits is useless if your adverts are boring.

Good advert copy

The way you put together a job advert is becoming more and more important. You need to separate the terms ‘job description’ and ‘job advert’ in your mind.A job description is a detailed list of all the essential and desirable requirements of the job itself. The advert should be shorter, speak directly to the candidate and talk about what’s important to them, rather than you.If you get chance, look up Mitch Sullivan on LinkedIn; he isn’t particularly ‘vanilla’ in the way he writes his blogs, but he does have some great ideas around recruitment advertising copy. Better still, he even runs courses on how to write job adverts, if you’re so inclined.

And remember, always make applying for the role as easy as possible – avoid lengthy application forms or extra paperwork unless it is absolutely necessary.

So there you have it.

Recruiting the right staff is a complex challenge – particularly in a tough labour market – and one that can’t be met with just a single, simple approach. But by understanding that it’s a candidate’s market, recognising the importance of planning and being proactive, and making the best use of the platforms and approaches available, you stand a much better chance of building a successful and committed team for your business.