Top tips to attract candidates to hard-to-fill vacancies

by in Recruitment

Hard-to-fill vacancies are one of the biggest challenges of 2023 – and will likely remain critical into 2024. When competition is fierce for certain positions, there are a number of things you could and should be doing to attract candidates, as Wave‘s Emily Buckley outlines.

Vacancies are falling and employment is rising but there remains a global labour shortage. Nearly every industry is experiencing skills gaps and it’s often the roles that have spiked in demand since the pandemic that are the hardest to fill. Take nurses, teachers, care workers, and a range of public sector jobs for example. The good news is that there are strategies to help source the right candidates for these jobs. Here we look at why some jobs are so hard to fill and what you can do to meet these challenges head-on.

What is a hard-to fill vacancy?

It’s fairly self-explanatory but hard-to-fill vacancies are those jobs that persistently take longer and/or more effort to fill than others. The reasons vary, from unsatisfactory compensation, to a lack of flexibility, to a scarcity of candidates with the requisite qualifications, experience and skillsets.

2023’s biggest challenge

In a recent survey, Wave asked recruiters and recruitment agency owners whether hard-to-fill vacancies are currently a challenge. The results confirmed what we see happening in the market – a huge 86% of respondents said that hard-to-fill vacancies are one of their biggest challenges and 14% said that they anticipate problems in filling vacancies over the year ahead.

When there are 500,000 fewer people in the UK workforce than there were before the pandemic (a result of the double blow of Brexit and COVID) and a record high number of people who have dropped out of the market due to long-term sickness, it’s perhaps unsurprising that hard-to-fill vacancies have become commonplace in the market. Add to that rapid advances in technology that means that many jobs didn’t even exist 15 years ago, creating huge skills gaps, plus a year of labour disputes and strike action, pointing at deep dissatisfaction in a number of industries, and the challenges are clear.

So what can recruiters do to meet these challenges and source quality candidates for hard-to-fill vacancies? We’ve outlined a number of tips to help you to find candidates for typically challenging roles:

Look to your CRM first

Always search your CRM and check your internal talent pool before you rush to advertise on multiple platforms. You may just have the candidate you need right there, saving you both time and money and edging you closer to filling that vacancy. In a recent Wave survey, we asked recruiters how they were addressing hard-to-fill vacancies and a huge 88% of respondents said that they are utilising CV search and/or internal talent pools, something that we wholly advocate as a way to keep costs down and speed up the process by going straight to the source.

Offer flexibility

When trying to attract candidates for hard-to-fill positions, it’s crucial to first think about and really understand what those candidates are looking for from a role and a company. One way of immediately setting your job ad apart from the competition is to offer some form of flexible working. This could take the form of remote working, hybrid, job sharing, part-time, compressed hours, flexitime, annualised hours, staggered hours, or phased retirement, dependent on the industry, the role and the candidate.

The Timewise Flexible Jobs Index 2022 found that 3 in 10 jobs in the UK offer some form of flex but 9 in 10 people want flex so the opportunity to attract candidates that want (or need) to work flexibly is huge. And the data proves it. Wave data has shown that, in the past 12 months, jobs offering flexible working received more applications than those that didn’t, with flexible jobs receiving an average of 16 applications per job and jobs with no flexibility advertised receiving an average of 14 applications per job. 

If you want more applications to your jobs and your jobs aren’t being advertised as flexible, it may be time to have a chat with your client. Remember, you’re the expert when it comes to the jobs market and recruitment so use that expertise to add value to your role as recruitment consultant. 

Include salary on the job ad

Omitting salary from your job ads might dissuade a range of candidates from applying. Salary transparency is crucial if you are struggling to attract candidates to a particular position. Research by has shown a 27% uplift in applications when salary details are published on job ads. Given the May 2023 LinkedIn United Kingdom Talent Trends report found that compensation is currently the number one motivator for both candidates and employees, it makes sense to disclose the salary of every job you advertise.

Widen your search

If you can’t find the candidates you need, look elsewhere. Join niche communities on social forums and offer advice, contribute to discussions, post interesting and relevant content that will engage the sort of people you are looking to attract. Even if you don’t find candidates there directly, you may be recommended to others in the industry.

Advertising on niche job boards is something that works for many recruiters in industries suffering from skills shortages. Wave data consistently reveals the average application per job number on niche sites such as catering and hospitality focused Caterer and secretarial, PAs and admin focused Secs in the City as being double or even triple that of most of the generalist job boards. Utilising a mix of (the right) job boards is a smart move that recruiters are beginning to adopt, with 12% of Wave survey respondents saying that they are using a mix of job boards, including niche boards. It’s a great way to open up the talent pool and, conversely, to be more targeted.

Look for bottlenecks in your process

How quickly are you getting jobs out there? Are you advertising on the right platforms? Are you posting at the right times? These early steps in the recruitment process are vital – get them wrong and qualified candidates will be interviewing for other jobs before they’ve even seen your ad. This is where technology and data can help, using AI to help you to write a great job ad, helping you to get your ad out to multiple platforms quickly, and advising you when and where to post jobs in order to reach and attract the right candidates for your job.

Following the job posting stages, are candidates dropping out of the process and if so, where? The initial candidate attraction is just the beginning. You need to ensure that you’re providing a positive candidate experience the entire way through the process, from application, to interview, to offer. In highly competitive industries, reducing your time to hire is key to ensure you don’t lose qualified candidates to competitors. Communication is everything.

Respond to applications and queries as quickly as possible. Inform candidates if and when they have made it to the interview stage and ensure they have all the relevant information ahead of the interview date. Contact candidates after the interview to talk it through with them and then again with interview feedback, whether or not they have progressed to the next stage or receive an offer. Again, tech can help with the candidate management stages by helping you to rank candidates, add status notes, and generally keep each job process on track. Use your tech stack to save you time on admin, freeing up valuable time to talk to candidates – never use your tech to replace the crucial human elements of recruitment.

Offer a referrals scheme

Who better to recommend candidates (whether active or passive) in the field in which you are trying to place than candidates on your books, especially those you have previously placed. They will know other people in the industry better than anyone and can be a highly valuable resource. Referrals are more likely to be qualified, ready to move and generally a good fit for the role as they have been pre-vetted by others in the industry.

Hard-to-fill vacancies will persist, as will the challenges they bring. Meeting those challenges often means thinking outside the box, searching for candidates in alternative places and being creative with how you advertise. But it also involves going back to basics and tightening up your processes, ensuring best practice in all areas in order to find qualified candidates and keep them in the process all the way to placement.

This article was originally published on on the 21st of August 2023