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What to do when you can't fill your vacancy

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We’ve all heard “you can’t get the staff” or “good (insert job title) people just aren’t out there at the moment” before.  In fact, phrases like these are becoming more commonplace as HR and recruiters talk about candidate-driven markets, the skills shortage, and the war for talent. 

However, the truth of the matter is that those people ARE out there.  They are working for somebody else.  Possibly your biggest competitor.  Possibly in a completely different industry. 

How much an unfilled vacancy is costing you will depend on the role, the length of time it’s been open, and a variety of other factors (see our blog Candidate Shortage - how much is it costing you?) - but it will be costing you. 

If we distil things down to the simplest explanations, there will be one of three reasons why your vacancy remains unfilled:

1.  Your offering isn’t good enough
This might feel a little harsh, but employers can sometimes be a little oblivious about how they compare in the market.  If candidates are not applying for the role, or are declining job offers, then something is lacking in either the role, working conditions, future prospects, mission / values / reputation of the company, recruitment process, or package and perks.

2.  Your expectations are unrealistic
If your offering is not attractive to your ideal candidates, you need to rethink what your ideal candidate looks like.  You will need to be more flexible on skills and experience, or some other factors, and be prepared to train and develop in the areas that are weaker.  If you’re not willing, or able, to compromise on what the candidate can offer, you need to improve your offering!

3.  Your proposition isn’t reaching the right people
If you have a genuinely good career proposition for somebody and your expectations are realistic, then not enough of the right people are hearing about it in the right way.

“But we’ve tried everything.” I hear you cry.  “Everything?” is my response.

When you have advertised on all the job boards and social media available to you, put the vacancy on the company website, advertised in local and national press, and exploited all of your industry contacts, where do you go?  You’ve put it with several agencies and still aren’t having any joy.  What do you do then?

In my experience, most clients then resign themselves to the fact that they are just going to have to sit back and wait for a change in luck or a miracle, regardless of the cost and potential longer-term damage to the business.

Well it doesn’t have to be like this.  There are some long proven, tried and tested, techniques that have enabled companies across the globe to position precisely the person they want and need within their organisation.  By changing how you recruit, you can pinpoint the skills and expertise you need to engage and have useful dialogue with the people that posses them, resulting in a successful hire.

If candidates are not responding to adverts, why are you still advertising roles (whether directly or via an agency) and hoping this time will be different?  And, thinking logically, are any stray applicants the best people for the role?  Take a proactive sales or BDM role – one of the basic traits of the most successful sales people, the ones you want on your team not somebody else’s, is the ability to create opportunities.  Simply seeing an advert and responding to it isn’t a behavioural style associated with this trait.  Likewise, a successful sales person will generally be earning well and will be looked after by an organisation that wouldn’t want to lose them.  They are not going to be spending their time looking at vacancies.  They will be using their time to continue generating profit for their employer and enjoying the spoils of their rewards.  This does not mean that they wouldn’t consider a career move if the opportunity was presented in the right way.

It simply means that they are not proactively seeking a move.  So, if the candidates you want aren’t looking for you, you need to find them.  This is where a retained search may come in.  Long the preserve of executive and senior level roles, where having a post vacant long-term is not really an option, the same methodologies can work in any sector or skills category.

So, why will retained search deliver the results when contingency recruitment can’t?

This is largely due to how services are paid for.  With a retained package the placement fee is paid in three instalments:


i)    upon instruction of agency to search
ii)   upon submission of candidate shortlist
iii)  upon commencement of employment of successful candidate.


This enables your selected search partner to do the leg-work required in a sustainable way.  Retained search involves a lot of work. You can do it yourself if you have the time, skills and inclination.  It includes:

  • Advertising campaigns (same as contingent recruitment but include industry and specialist media)
  • Research and market mapping of competition and industry sector
  • Research and market mapping of associated industries
  • Research and market mapping of individuals with right skill sets outside of your market
  • Finding the best talent to approach
  • Collating longlists of potential candidates and obtaining contact details
  • Calling and meeting with targeted individuals
  • Interviewing and ensuring match
  • Presenting the value proposition in such a way that candidates listen to the whole offering before saying “I’m not looking”.
  • Establishing what would motivate a move and presenting client with opportunity to entice best talent by amending proposition.

With contingent search the agency has no guarantee of making a placement and their focus may be distracted by other easier to fill roles coming in.  If you have important roles that need filling it may be worth considering engaging a search specialist to work on a retained basis.  The total cost will not be significantly more, if at all, than the cost of a contingent placement.  In fact, it will often be less in real terms as you have enabled the recruiter to devote time and attention to working the role through to placement. 

The current market demands better searching to find the right people, so we’re introducing retained search services:

1.  Regular Retained 

    • professional search services to find the talent you need, in areas essential to your business success, and under £50k salary
    • 15% of annual starting salary, paid in three instalments, with full rebate guarantee period.

2.  Premium Retained

    • executive roles in excess of £50k per annum
    • 20% of annual starting salary

Retained search is for:

i)    when an unfilled vacancy is negatively impacting the business
ii)   hiring managers, directors and business owners committed to finding the best talent for their team
iii)  when contingent recruiting hasn’t worked for you.

Please contact Sarah on 01902 763006 or sarah@recruitrecruit.co.uk for more details.

If you’d like to find out how to do it yourself, Sarah is currently writing an eBook that will be available by the end of October 2018.  Simply sign up here for notification of availability.  The first 50 sign-ups will receive a free copy.

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