Even with a continuous flow of attractive roles, recruiters are finding it harder than ever to unearth skilled people who are keen to move.

This shortage of talent is, in my opinion, the greatest business challenge we face and, regardless of sector, has been the case for some time.

It is a sentiment reflected in March’s KPMG / REC report on jobs. Following a survey of over 400 UK recruitment consultancies, it cites that as hiring activity continues to markedly increase, permanent appointments are expanding at the softest rate for 11 months due to candidate shortages restricting companies’ ability to fill roles.

With vacancy growth picking up, the combination of robust demand for workers and low supply has added even more upward pressure on starting salaries, which are now rising at the second-fastest rate in 24 years of data collection.

Firms succeeding against this backdrop are those who collaborate with recruiters to get their offers to candidates right but, the good news is that there are also changes you can make within your business to tackle the talent shortage and avoid entering into salary bidding wars:

Re-skill your team
One of the greatest opportunities is to retrain your existing workforce, especially if you have people in the business who have the right attitude and the softer skills needed for a role.
By identifying the competencies required in your team and up-skilling the right people, you will not only give someone the tools to help you grow the business, but you are also developing them as individuals and offering new opportunities, all of which will discourage them from looking for a new challenge elsewhere.

Apprenticeship schemes
By expanding – or starting – an apprenticeship scheme and inviting more trainees into your business each year, over time, you will find resourcing much easier. While it may not solve immediate issues, scarcity of talent is a long-term problem, and a stream of new shapeable talent will ease the burden of recruitment in the years to come.

Build your employer brand
Great people are never short of job offers, so the way your company is seen by prospective employees, and how a job opportunity is sold to a potential recruit, is crucial to attracting them.
Start by thinking carefully about what it is that you do and do not want to be known for. Next, make sure that everyone involved in the recruitment process sees it as a two-way interview. They must always show your business in the best possible light at every touchpoint, proving what it is that makes you stand out from your competitors.

Re-evaluate your offer
Following COVID, people’s attitude toward work-life balance and what they need from an employer has changed. There are more variables to consider when changing jobs: can they work from home; do they need to be in the office every day; can they work flexibly or run with part-time hours.
To recruit the best, you need to be clear about what makes your offer stand out. It doesn’t need to be as revolutionary as a 4-day working week or unlimited holidays, but flexibility is important and the option to work non-core hours is generally welcomed.

Act fast
From receipt of their CV to making an offer, you must move quickly and prioritise recruitment as once they decide to move, talented people receive job offers very quickly. If you find the right person, be prepared to act fast as it will not be long before one of your competitors attempts to steal them away.

Get help from an expert
At a time when niche consultancies are replacing generalist recruiters, it pays to build strong relationships with experts in your field. Not only do they have access to wider talent pools, but they can also source the hard to fill vacancies non-specialists and in-house teams simply cannot do.

At this time of the year, the most common question we get asked is whether we can support people with independent salary advice.

To be truthful, this is almost always on the minds of people looking for a new job but in February and March, as part of the annual planning cycle, the tables turn, and employers become very keen to understand how competitive they are.

While we would never breach the confidentiality of our clients and candidates, with over 20 years of experience working with public practices across the Northeast, we have the privilege of gaining extensive insight into average salaries across all levels of the industry. It’s this broader picture that enables us to help firms determine whether or not they are paying the market rate.

Market insight

Echoing our experience, the most recent KPMG and REC report on jobs found that easing pandemic restrictions have improved market confidence and given rise to a historically sharp uplift in recruitment activity.

With a scarcity of candidates, the knock-on effect is more upward pressure on starting rates of pay, which is now increasing at the third-fastest pace since records began, behind only October and November of last year.

Couple this with sky-high household bills and rocketing inflation and it’s easy to see why having an understanding of where your company’s offer sits amongst your competitive set has never been so important. You simply cannot afford to get this wrong.

Specifically in the North-East, while we continue to see employees re-evaluating their work-life balance in the wake of Covid, there has also been a distinct rise in people searching for new roles purely for monetary reasons.

In a recent poll of business owners, 30% are planning no salary inflation rise for their teams this year, in contrast to 63% offering more than the standard 2%. However, with starting salaries rising between 10 and 15%, whether people are feeling underpaid and undervalued, want to work permanently from home, or have seen friends receive multiple job offers and move on to do the same role for more, people who are feeling the pinch are getting tired of it.

What to consider

Right now, a standard inflationary increase applied to everyone in the business at the start of the new fiscal year is a good start, but it is only good enough if your salaries are on, or ahead of, the market rate.

When speaking to our clients, we encourage them to set aside time to review salaries quarterly. While it may sound like overkill, the market is changing at such speed, it will be time well spent.

In the world of accountancy, while professional qualifications have a benefit to your business, often practical experience is more valuable so, please, never base salaries on professional qualifications alone.

Of course, not everyone gets blinded by money. Each candidate is unique and there are more factors to consider but, if you are recruiting and think the person is right for you, we would urge you to offer your best salary first. This is not the time to scrimp and save and you don’t want to be the one that falls at the last hurdle.

Regarding your existing team, making sure they know you value them is critical. When reviewing their salary, try asking yourself what life would be like if they were gone. Would they be easy to replace? Are they worth the top end of your salary range? If the answers are no and yes, it’s probably a good time to up the ante as it’s a competitive market out there.

The good news for business is that rising salaries won’t keep increasing exponentially. And, when they do plateau, being in line with the market rate will make it much easier to not only recruit but is far less likely to upset anyone when a new team member joins on a higher salary.

A company is only as good as the people it keeps and they will ultimately determine its success. In my mind, that makes recruitment the single most important business decision you will ever make and yet I regularly see firms leaving the entire process down to human interpretation.

As an interviewer, your goal is to match the candidate’s ambition, personality, and experience to the requirements of the job and business. The key is being able to tell the great people from the great talkers.

Every interviewer goes into a meeting with the best intentions, hoping to find the ideal person, but, in my experience, the most common mistakes are made when there is a lack of structure and consistency in the process.

One way to avoid this is to plan interviews so all candidates receive the same questions. Eliminating the likelihood of the conversation straying too far from the agenda is a proven way to increase reliability and compare candidates evenly. This will help you to be more accurate in your prediction of future job success.

When interviewing, the best candidates will be well prepared and trying to make a good impression. With their guard up, it’s your job to get under their skin and find out what they’re like.

Build a strong rapport from the start. If candidates trust you, they’ll relax and that will make it easier for you to dig into the detail of their answers and flow into topics they haven’t previously rehearsed.

This not only helps you to get a feel for their communication skills, but it uncovers potentially unseen aspects of their personality and behaviour, which is crucial to making sure they are the right fit for your business.

Try opening with a request for their personal and professional goals; and how they see the role fitting in with these.

Ask them to tell you about a situation that has brought out the best in them; giving examples and sharing the experience they feel makes them ideal for your company. Other behavioural questions could be: What attracted you to this role? What are your motivations? What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Whatever you opt for, make sure you ask for details within the answers, as this is the best way to separate people who like to embellish the truth. Liars don’t like to get into specifics as they know they are more likely to get caught out. People telling the truth will be happy to drill deep as they are answering the questions honestly.

Once you’re happy that someone can do the job, move into uncharted waters. Ask about any mistakes they’ve made. This is a great test of self-awareness and will show the scope of which someone is willing to take ownership of their actions; and whether they learn from their errors.

I like to ask who the smartest person they know is (and why). By getting people to explain this you’ll not only find out about their networks, but also the values and personality traits they aspire towards.

Find out what it is that gets them out of bed on a weekend. People’s passions outside of work are critical to fitting in well to any team environment.

Are they entrepreneurial? Examples of innovative ideas they’ve put into practice will help you measure whether they’re a self-starter, commercially-minded, or have a healthy attitude towards calculated risk.

Of course, these are just a few examples to try and help you, but whatever you discuss, don’t forget that interviews are a chance to find out more for both parties. While you aim to work out what makes someone tick, they will most likely be doing the same to you, so make sure you give a good impression of your business.

Right now, the accountancy job market is active. It’s moving fast, employers know the skills they want, and those in search of a new role have – in the main – made up their mind to move quickly.

It sounds idyllic; and you’d be forgiven for thinking it is easy to find the right hire but, with high demand for niche skills, it is only those who are adaptable and can move quickly that are thriving.

Increased competition for talented people, by its nature, puts job seekers in the driving seat. If someone with the right skill set becomes available, they can very quickly have several opportunities to consider and, for a recruiting firm, this creates a problem.

Delayed decision-making, the need to seek authorisation, or a lack of time devoted to moving the stages of recruitment forward means you are highly likely to miss out on the best people. They won’t wait to see what ‘might’ happen.

If you want your recruitment to be more successful, you need to ensure your processes are robust and fit for today’s purpose:

Plan ahead

Avoid reactionary recruitment wherever possible by future planning. For example, in 2020, we understandably saw a reduction in trainee recruitment. Fast-forward three years and you can expect to see a black hole in the number of qualified accountants available. It pays to keep a constant eye on the market and to regularly review staffing risks against your business goals. I’d suggest starting by mapping out your team and their skills versus your needs now and in the medium-term. You’ll soon be able to build a plan that gets you ahead of the game.

Adapt your style

Different situations call for different approaches, so make sure your methods stay fit for purpose. Simply offering video interviews in a pandemic isn’t enough. You need to modify the way you build a rapport and demonstrate the culture of your business. Have you adapted the job specification to reflect home-working? How do you plan to induct new employees and integrate them into your team without the opportunity to meet people face-to-face? These are questions that need to be answered before you start recruiting and employers doing this will reap the benefits.

Communicate clearly

A regular flow of clear and honest information is crucial to building trust. Show respect to each applicant by keeping them up-to-date with timings and progress and providing useful feedback. Every communication counts as you are effectively demonstrating the level of care your organisation has for its staff. Communicate consistently throughout the process and – regardless of the outcome – you will create positive advocates for your business.

Remember it is a partnership

People become valuable and loyal to a company because they’ve developed a mutually beneficial alliance. Whether the motivation is future progression, support with study or an increased salary, if you’re helping employees to fulfil their career dreams they will work hard for you to achieve yours and, over time, you will build a reputation as a highly attractive place for aspirational and talented people to work.

Act quickly

In a candidate-led market, you need to be decisive. Good people will vanish as quickly as they appear, so make sure it’s to join you. There’s nothing more disengaging than attending an interview, being impressed and then not hearing back for days. If you like someone, tell them before someone else does.

When times change, the way you recruit needs to change but, ultimately, good recruitment comes down to being prepared, proactive and treating people the right way.

Being fleet of foot is very important right now, but you must also remain honest and genuine in your attempts to help people achieve their ambitions in tandem with reaching your goals. That’s how you can truly build a trusting relationship, as well as a reputation as a great employer and place to work.

Bryony Gibson shares the trends she believes will help you to improve your recruitment strategy in 2019.

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