2015 – 2019 were crazy years for recruitment teams. The bounce back from the financial crash was well embedded, the world had become a huge ‘start up nation’ with founders surfing the waves of government and VC cash flowing down the streets of Shoreditch, and world war 3 had launched not with nuclear arms but, at least so it certainly seemed to those of us at the coal face, as ‘the war for talent’.

On stages at conferences all around the world, just like many of my peers, I was flown in and called upon to give my insights to awaiting audiences on the topics a la mode – typically a rotating play list of ‘candidate experience – how to make sure you can keep that hard to find talent engaged in your company’s process’, ‘branding & sourcing – how do you find that difficult to find talent and stand out in a crowded market’, and ‘cool tech – what are the latest gizmos and gadgets that, if you use them, might even get you – dear recruitment leader- your own place on this stage next year’.

All of these topics, with as many interesting facets as each does indeed have, have however always been a step away from my true, deep and – as it turned out for 2015-2019 at least -deeply unfashionable original passion areas in recruitment. 

How companies assess and select the right talent, how do you structure recruitment teams and roles effectively to partner the business as well as join hiring to the talent agenda, how do you build & embed hiring processes that can scale without impacting quality or efficiency on any front. 

None of these have been truly ‘in demand’ as keynotes – that telling silence on the phone from the event organiser when you suggest one of them as your topic is usually feedback enough to entice you to offer up ‘AI & Machine Learning in Sourcing’ as your alternative proposal.


For a few months the world largely holds its breath. Vacancies get frozen, recruitment teams go on furlough (or worse), the shelves on the job boards empty out to emergency rations only. 

Then the thaw starts. Slowly companies start cranking the wheels again, the job boards re-start their heartbeats, and the vacancies begin to flow. 

And what happens? 

For some roles, honestly, not that much. Jobs that were very hard to fill before are generally still pretty tough, and recruiters are working as hard as ever to now not only engage with the talent, but to convince them that considering jumping ship to a new company in choppy waters is actually a good idea.

For other roles – and these being the roles that usually get less attention on said conference stages – the non-techie, the arguably easier to find, the ‘could use transferable skills’ positions… flood gates open and the applications pour in.

restaurant in Manchester is shocked at getting nearly 1,000 applications in 24 hours for a receptionist job. A London pub calls closing time after less than 1 day of advertising after getting nearly 500 applications for 2 bar staff roles. Jobs website Indeed showed a 589% increase in the number of searches for ‘supermarket’ roles, maintenance job searches were up 440%, while warehouse roles were up 239%.

For ‘office roles’ the picture that emerges is pretty similar. 

One organisation reports over 1,400 applications for a HR role they would normally expect 60-70 candidates for. Recruiters who are well networked in their spaces for sales, marketing & HR roles report (to each other, not publicly) that they have started advising their businesses not to advertise roles for fear of a tsunami of applications and allow them to use their ‘networks only’ to find candidates.

This leaves businesses, and their HR teams, with a challenge. For the last few years most companies have – wittingly or not – been investing in building a speargun of a hiring function… both people & processes within the team bought and designed as heat seeking missiles with distinct capability in identifying and landing scarce talent.



Recruitment teams, so long built, trained and deployed in long-range drone warfare, are now faced with being overwhelmed by numbers, drawn into formerly unthinkable levels of ‘hand to hand’ skirmishes with stacks of applications, and sitting on top of processes and systems designed for maximising retention rather than skilfully and swiftly sifting for the gems in muddied & fast flowing waters. 

(side note: in researching this article I also discovered there is an actual mathematical equation to calculate the relative strength of miltary forces – I feel a new project coming on to formulate an equation that does the same for recruitment functions!)

All of a sudden my key passion areas of assessing & selecting the right talent, making decisions that play out to the right direction for both your internal talent strategy, and partnerships on your business’s wider needs on things like speed of hiring, diversity & budgetary position are, hey presto, back on the table as fashionable once again. 

So, what are your options? Can your team pivot, can they shapeshift into the new delivery engine your business needs? If so what do they need to make the transition?

Three key tips for you to mull over are:


Like the 2003 movie title says ‘Something’s Gotta Give’. If you have invested in building an F1 race car but now find that your primary need is mass transport then you’ve either got to change the vehicle, or else swallow the fuel costs and strap a tow-bar and a trailer on that baby. 

In recruitment terms that translates to either you are going to invest in quickly changing your processes, your KPI’s and – potentially- some of the roles & skills in your team to match the new requirements, or else you stick with what you’ve got but accept you are either going to reduce what you advertise (and face the potential talent loss, diversity & inclusion impacts of that) or pump extra resources into headcount to deal with the volume. 

Fail to do either of these and wave goodbye to your employer brand reputation as desperate candidates receiving slow (or even no) service from your hiring team take to social media to voice their complaints.

This is in effect your trade off. What is more important to you – stability of the current hiring team, your budget, or your reputation as an employer. 

The balance you find will be unique to your business, but it is one you should be finding through deliberate consideration rather than through sleep-walking into it.


There is rarely an easy route that isn’t littered with a few stumbling blocks, and this is no exception. 

Choosing to reduce what you advertise, or even if you advertise, might sound like a simple solution – and honestly who can blame a beleaguered recruiter for suggesting it – but closing off a large number of your opportunities to all but a closed network is – and lets be honest here folks – kinda one of the things we have spent about 100 years of tearing down the patriarchy to stop. 

Contrary to the bizarre beliefs I’ve heard expressed by some hiring managers, candidates who are actively looking for work are not ‘lesser’ or ‘lower performers’. Those views are personal pet peeves of mine, they reek like over-ripe brie of archetypal middle-class privilege.

Candidates who are actively seeking work are people who are motivated to come and work for your company. They could be employed but have been long awaiting the right opportunity to enable them to apply to join your team as they have been wow-ed by your employer brand. They could be highly skilled and talented individuals who, as so many have been, found themselves unexpectedly catapulted into the open job market as a result of 2020’s antics. They could be highly skilled and talented individuals who took a career break expecting to waltz back into a role a year later, not forecasting that a year later and the job market would have momentarily descended into some Mad Max-esque dystopia.

Unless you are very comfortable with shutting the door (or rather not opening the door) to what could be your best person for the role, and equally comfortable with taking a potential hit on the diversity of your candidate pipelines, then think carefully about using a cull of your vacancy advertising strategy as a lever to ‘reduce applications’.


Science and data remove emotion and bias from the hiring process. While instincts and gut feelings may sometimes pan out, wouldn’t it be good to back them up with rationale? You may find out that your gut feeling about that candidate actually turned out to be the 2-day old sushi you had for lunch.

The market is awash with ‘front of funnel’ options that would enable you to intelligently score and rank your applicants – taking on the majority share of the workload required in panning for those gems. Consider this approach deeply and carefully.

The best employees are those who want to do valuable work and contribute. Typical job descriptions & CV screening processes are worse than useless, they have no impact on aiding quality of hire.  [Hirebrain]

This is not an approach for the enthusiastic amateur, nor is it one to enter into if your only (albeit short sighted) consideration is slashing costs. 

To be able to create an implement an effective assessment methodology requires 4 important things:

  1. An understanding of what good actually looks like for your role(s)
  2. A methodology (usually a tool or platform) which has been scientifically validated to not create bias and also fully calibrated to select for your chosen requirements
  3. UI (user interface) that is going to work for your target candidates – and this needs to be tested 
  4. The buy in of your hiring community. If folks are second guessing and undermining the approach then that will, in all honesty, probably create just as much work as the much less effective and less accurate approach of manual sifting.

Done right however, this is a monumental game changer. Not only for your hiring team and the skills and processes you need in your recruitment function, but also for the business more broadly. De-risking your ability to sort the wheat from the chaff, having reliability in your approach to identifying both talent and even culture fits, can not only result in better hires and increased productivity it can also improve the diversity of your hires – a bit like ‘The Voice’ but for hiring rather than Saturday night TV warbling.

No matter what you choose to do, always remember to think about the skills you have in your team to define, lead and support the changes needed. 

A few pennies in the grand scheme of things spent on getting the right support to design & deliver your changes will be investments well made compared to getting yourself – and your potential talent – lost in the mire of a cumbersome and/or unsuccessful attempt to transform.