The most challenging market ever – or is it?

Posted on Sunday, October 1, 2023 by Alison Humphreys - Award winning NED and strategic advisor

Every day my inbox is chockful of new bits of “news” for recruiters – cataclysmic labour shortages, unhappy employees, “revenge resignations”, the skills/jobs mismatch, the rising costs of running a business… the list goes on. One recruitment business owner, of 5 years, told me yesterday that he “had never known a tougher market”.

This guy clearly has a very short memory.

I have a message for recruitment leaders out there:


First, there have always been imbalances in the labour market. When there is a shortage of jobs and a surfeit of candidates, we provide the tools to find and engage the very best. We diversify into new sectors or even new service propositions.

When there is a surfeit of jobs, we get more inventive about finding and engaging candidates. The best recruiters get much, much better at managing clients; so those clients improve their processes, think clearly about more diverse hiring, and commit to the recruiter. More recruiters in my network than ever before are winning retained assignments.

Second, some recruitment businesses just haven’t made that connection. Yes, they know that it has become harder to find candidates and harder to keep them engaged in the process – according to a recent REC report, 97% of respondents say it now takes considerably longer to fill jobs than previously. They may even have invested in new marketing, tech and resourcers.

But what they haven’t done is changed their own behaviours. Some businesses are still taking on and working every vacancy, with poor briefs, no timetable and no attempt to enlighten the client about what he/she can do to improve their chances. They may even be working at the same rates as they did in March 2020.

Recruiters have to be adaptable.

A market is “difficult” in the short term because the market conditions have changed.

In the long term, it’s only difficult if we can’t adapt to it.

So, at the very least, do these things:

• Review your terms of business. Are they appropriate for where we are now?
• Review your reward system internally. Does the money follow the behaviours that drive success now?
• Look at your existing clients. Which ones understand their role in the candidate experience, and the need to prioritise a frictionless selection process?
• Observe your own staff. How good are they at asserting credible control with clients and candidates? Or are they the equivalent of a doctor who accepts the patient’s “Dr Google says” diagnosis and asks the patient what to prescribe?
• Think about long-term investment in candidate sources. And I don’t mean upgrading your LI licences.

Remember, change is a constant in recruitment. Change makes your services valuable to customers. Change is your friend, if you can adapt to it.


Alison Humphries is a highly experienced MD and NED, with 35 years at the top of the recruitment sector.

She advises directors and owners of recruitment businesses on strategy, finance, sales and management to maximise performance, enter new markets, prepare for sale and work more efficiently. 


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