The State of Recruitment in 2021
Employers Report

Published 20th January 2021  •  8 mins read time

In 2021, things in recruitment are still changing fast.

How are the latest restrictions and lockdowns impacting recruitment? What are in-house recruiters doing to prepare for the rest of the year? What are their priorities and concerns?

We’ve committed to track the real-world progress of the industry since the beginning of the pandemic and this survey is the third-part of our long-term analysis.

In April 2020 we showed how the shockwave of COVID affected businesses, through to a period of settling and cautious recovery and further fluctuations, and now signs of recovery coming into 2021.

Use this data to benchmark your own recruitment, and inspire your own strategy for the rest of 2021.

Looking for the results from recruitment agencies instead of employers? View the report here →

Summary of results

  • The priorities for in-house recruiters have changed since last year, with candidate experience racing to the top of the list to become the most common priority.
  • As the recruitment landscape changes and the impact of the last year becomes fully realised, new challenges are being faced by recruitment teams. Generating results with less budget is concerning recruiters the most for the rest of 2021.
  • New restrictions continue to impact recruitment, but this is more varied across sectors than before, with some key industries who were impacted by the lockdowns in 2020 now being able to continue.
  • In-house recruiters are significantly more positive about the future.
  • Ability to attract candidates has mostly stabilised, compared with April and August last year when the majority were finding candidate attraction easier than normal. A larger proportion of respondents are now finding candidate attraction more challenging compared to last year.
  • Candidate behaviours appear to be following similar trends to what we found towards the end of last year.
  • The self-reported wellbeing of in-house recruitment teams has improved since we asked last year, suggesting staff are feeling more settled into the ‘new normal’ ways of working.

New priorities for a new year

For in-house teams, improving candidate experience is now the top focus. 61% are focusing on this as their highest priority for the rest of the year.

Also on the list was filling existing vacancies (priority for 56%), hiring for new roles (44%) and workforce planning (40%).

These results signal a shift in where in-house recruitment teams are focusing their attention. In 2020 we found that the majority of teams were prioritising more immediate work. Tasks like quickly filling business-critical roles and cutting costs.

With topics such as candidate experience making it back to the top of the list, it suggests that some of the more pressing business demands have eased, allowing recruiters to focus on longer-term projects again.

The full list of priorities:

61% Improving candidate experience

56% Filling existing vacancies

44% Hiring for new roles

40% Workforce planning

39% Diversifying the business

37% Employer brand / EVP

26% Virtualising attraction and assessment

25% Developing a new strategy for the future

21% Reducing hiring costs

19% Retain current team

17% Building candidate database

16% Implementing automation

16% Implementing new technology

Challenges ahead in 2021

There’s no doubt that plenty of challenges still lie ahead for the rest of 2021. We found that the biggest concern for the year was generating results with less budget.

Our earlier surveys found that recruitment budgets had continued to be squeezed throughout 2020, with 52% reducing their budget for using recruitment agencies and 34% needing to reduce their spending on job boards.

Now it’s all about finding ways to do more with less. With less money to spend and the pressure to keep delivering results, the challenge will be making sure that the money recruiters have left to spend is used in the most effective ways.

The second-largest challenge is generating results with a smaller team or reduced capacity

It’s not just budgets which took a hit last year. Redundancies and furloughed staff mean that finding ways to continue to be effective with a smaller team is also a big concern.

The second-largest challenge is generating results with a smaller team or reduced capacity

It’s not just budgets which took a hit last year. The impact of redundancies and furloughed staff means that finding ways to continue to be effective with a smaller team is also a big concern.

The impact of new restrictions and government support

In the UK:

After a third national lockdown was announced in the UK on 4th January, the impact on recruitment appears to be much more varied across sectors than in previous lockdowns.

With the UK’s job retention scheme having already been extended until the end of April 2021, it’s likely that this will have provided greater certainty than during the 2020 lockdowns.

In house recruiters for organisations in some sectors reported that new restrictions were again having an impact.

Hiring freezes have been reintroduced in some businesses who are unable to operate normally.

"Huge vacancy freeze initially, reductions and redundancies in team. Opportunity to focus on internal talent."
"As we are an essential business, some vacancies have stayed open, however vacancies for non-essential roles have been paused."

Whereas other industries, including some which were impacted by earlier lockdowns, have managed to continue largely unaffected.

  • Most teams now have the tools they need to operate a fully remote/virtual hiring and onboarding process - allowing the pipeline to continue largely unaffected
  • Some start dates have been postponed until restrictions are eased
  • More recruitment is continuing unaffected
"We have had to postpone some start dates to limit travel and also put some offers on hold until we have clarity around restrictions."
"Recruitment has continued, right now we are as busy as we were 12 months ago, but there is now more reliance on other teams to 'up their game' e.g. HR shared services and process for issuing IT kit to keep candidate journey as a priority."
"Business is moving along as normal - we think with the vaccine there is an end in sight."

Around the world:

Data from Broadbean shows how job posting was recovering in the lead up to the new year, with slower but consistent growth in several key recruitment markets.

A more positive outlook for the future

Despite the challenges which lie ahead, In-house recruiters now have a significantly more positive outlook for the future.

It’s likely that positive news about the vaccines, predictions being made for the future easing of restrictions, as well as becoming more comfortable with new ways of working have all contributed to a more positive outlook.

Within our own industry there are signs that 'recruitment recovery' has happened for many sectors, with job postings having returned to pre-covid levels in key recruitment markets at several points in 2020. It's likely that this will have helped to boost positivity too.

Feelings around business and job security have also improved, with 93% saying they felt overall positive.

Candidate attraction is starting to become more challenging

The ability to attract quality candidates has started to return to more normal levels. During the summer, we saw candidate attraction become suddenly easier for nearly two thirds of organisations.

But the latest results suggest that candidate attraction is once again becoming more of a challenge. It’s remained the same or become more challenging for 65%.

Despite this, feelings of positivity around candidate attraction has remained. 88% think that they will be able to easily attract candidates to roles in 2021.

Candidate behaviours in 2021

The most common behaviours mentioned were:

  • An expectation for long-term remote working, even once the pandemic is over and office are able to fully re-open.
  • A greater interest from candidates around the security of a role.
  • A higher volume of candidates applying who are underqualified or without enough experience for roles.
  • More resistance from passive candidates to change roles, with candidates not prepared to take risks or make big jumps.
  • We heard from our survey of recruitment agencies that there is currently more interest in roles in the public sector than usual, as candidates search for greater job security.
  • More interest in the company culture before applying - candidates want to see how the organisation supported their staff throughout the pandemic.

Here's what some recruiters said:

“Talented candidates seem to be staying put - harder to engage with those in secure roles as the risk of moving in a pandemic isn't appealing to them. We, like everyone else, are experiencing higher volumes of applicants that don't have the experience for the roles on offer.”
“Most candidates now have the expectation of remote working even once the pandemic comes to an end”
"There appears to be more of an acceptance of the Covid situation and people are trying to live life as normal as possible and are resigned to the fact that life must move on, therefore, they are finding ways to overcome the issues around Covid and continue to develop their careers."

Wellbeing is still on the rise

The self-reported wellbeing of in-house recruitment teams is higher than last year, suggesting staff are feeling more settled into the ‘new normal’ ways of working.

72% reported positive wellbeing, compared with 59% in August and just 52% in April. 

This is despite many aspects of the working experience of an in-house recruiter not having changed throughout the pandemic.

Many are still having to juggle childcare and work, and most are still working entirely remotely.

However greater positivity in other areas (such as job security and outlook for the future) are giving everyone an extra boost.

Some organisations have been supporting their teams by introducing new wellbeing initiatives and benefits, which help staff to feel more connected and engaged.

We’re on the road to recovery

There are some really positive outcomes in these latest results. In house recruitment recovery is well underway for many, and aspects of 'business as usual' appear to be falling back into place.

Of course, it's still far from a walk in the park. Some sectors are still struggling and the latest restrictions are causing another round of challenges.

But even as we face these challenges, there's a sense that the end is in sight.

In the rest of 2021, the winners will be those who can move fast, do more with less, and seize the new opportunities which head their way.

Our thanks to the hundreds of recruiters who responded to our pulse surveys and made it possible to share this data with the industry.