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The Challenges for Staffing and Recruitment Teams in 2021

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Between early 2020 and 2021 the whole world changed. Every trend and prediction that was forecast for the year ahead, had to be thrown away as businesses globally grappled with an unpredictable future. 

For many, the challenge was huge as the consumers or businesses they had relied on to keep them afloat no longer needed their products or services.

This was certainly the case for many recruitment firms as they watched clients’ teams diminishing and, while talent pools grew with hundreds upon thousands of skilled professionals being made redundant, employment opportunities for great talent vanished overnight. 

Pre-COVID Recruitment Trends 

Key challenges, recruiters 2019, branded icons on grey
Three of the biggest challenges facing recruiters pre-COVID.

When markets make their move back towards some sense of normality, it will be interesting to see if the recruitment trends and challenges seen in the few months before COVID-19 struck, will resurface. 

In late 2019, some of the key challenges recruiters were facing, included: 

  • A war on talent - demand for great talent was highly competitive and candidates had the pick of multiple options. Standing out from the crowd to attract that talent was a problem facing all businesses. 
  • An increase in global mobility - a skills shortage in Australia meant companies were increasingly looking overseas for talent. Knowing the rules and regulations around overseas hiring was a challenge. 
  • Low unemployment rates - Australia’s low unemployment rates meant businesses were recruiting from a smaller pool of talent, making sourcing and attraction difficult. 

We can cross at least two of those challenges off the list when we consider what today’s hiring environment looks like but the war for talent is certainly heating up as businesses start to ramp up their hiring again. 

And let’s not forget that, pandemic or no pandemic, there are consistent challenges that recruitment teams have and will always be faced with, including: 

  • Having the trust of clients
  • Building a pipeline of great talent 
  • Supporting the business development of their agency 
  • Moving candidates quickly and confidently through the recruitment process
  • Using reliable and efficient systems 
  • Maintaining process consistency across recruiters and teams
  • Making informed recruitment recommendations

A Year of Disruption and Advice

It goes without saying that everyone has had their piece to say about how organisations can survive and support each other during the pandemic. But with so much information available, it can be hard to find the best advice for ensuring that your organisation continues to thrive during and after COVID-19. Here we’ve trawled through dozens of articles to pull out some of our favourite quotes from top names and titles in the recruitment industry. 

“Everyone is scared, and many have lost jobs. Be generous. Not only out of pure humanity, but trust me, people will remember those recruiters who reached out when the chips were down.” Greg Savage 
“During the current crisis, businesses have worked faster and better than they dreamed possible just a few months ago. Maintaining that sense of possibility will be an enduring source of competitive advantage.” McKinsey
“I want HR pros to bring all of their creativity to the table. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink everything. If we emerge from this crisis unchanged and wedded to an old way of thinking about work, we have failed as an industry."  Laurie Ruettimann
“Flexible working increases your options to recruit from a more diverse range of candidates. When you’re no longer restricted to hiring employees within commuting distance of your office, you can attract talent from a much wider pool.” HRZone 
“The best recruiters are almost aggressive about learning new habits, gaining the knowledge and mastering the technology they need to compete, no matter the arena. So own the remote interview process: upgrade the tech and test it in advance; organize the interview and script out questions.” Meghan M. Biro

Today’s biggest challenges for recruiters 

key challenges, recruiters 2020, branded shapes on grey
The key challenges recruiters now face.

1. Hiring requirements have become unpredictable - recruiters pride themselves on their knowledge of the markets they work in and the roles they fill. But since covid struck, what employers are now looking for has, in many cases, changed dramatically. Demand for talent is likely to spike as rapidly as hiring freezes were introduced, and everything recruiters thought they knew about hiring seasonality will go out of the window. 

2. Recruiting virtually requires new skills and approaches - for a profession that typically lives and dies by a person’s ability to form meaningful relationships - with candidates, employers and hiring managers alike - being thrown into a virtual environment last year was a huge shake up. For many, the days of being in an office 9-5, Monday - Friday are now long gone and, while this has its perks, it can also be hugely challenging for recruitment teams who are trying to connect the dispersed dots. 

3. Recruitment processes must be more efficient and effective than ever - according to a global study by Monster, the recruitment process is currently one of the biggest concerns for recruitment professionals. The research report reveals the following, top three process concerns for professionals during 2021: 

  • Assessing candidates during the interview, 41%
  • Identifying quality candidates quickly, 40%
  • Effectively screening candidates pre-interview, 36%

4. It’s a candidate’s market - As hiring begins to ramp up, the massive pool of experienced and talented professionals who have been let go from their roles will become spoilt for choice. Let the battle commence! 

5. Candidate experience has been negatively affected - According to LinkedIn, nearly 46% of hiring professionals believe the COVID-19 negatively affected candidate experience. In a market that is weighted so heavily in favour of candidates, their perception of a recruiter and recruitment agency has never been more important.

6. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion remain a priority for employers - The push for greater diversity, equity and inclusion continues to be a huge challenge for employers and, therefore, the recruitment teams that are tasked with sourcing their talent. Recruitment and staffing agencies now have a level of responsibility when it comes to ensuring their clients are able to hire a more diverse range of talent. Creating intentional recruitment strategies to build a diverse talent pipeline is an important place to start. 

7. Talent shortages remain in consumer-facing industries - For some industries in particular, such as retail and hospitality, the lack of transient talent working on temporary visas, has made recruitment particularly difficult, especially as these industries begin to open up again. Similarly, for those placing talent in the care sectors, there continues to be a huge talent shortage as staff remain unable to work across multiple sites. 

How automation can help recruiters 

As we’ve seen, even in a “normal” market, recruitment teams face multiple challenges in trying to source, attract and place great talent, 

At the heart of all these challenges is the need to be able to move quickly when talking to great candidates and use processes that provide clients with the insights they need to feel confident in their recruiter’s hiring recommendations. 

Automated recruitment tools enable: 

  • A seamless workflow, via integrated platforms that ensure data passes from one recruitment process to the next, at the click of a button. 
  • A better experience for everyone involved, from the recruiter managing the hiring journey, to candidates and clients who benefit from improved efficiency and transparency.
  • Confidence for recruiters who are liable for the final recruitment decision their clients make and have a duty of care to their candidates.
  • Standardised approaches and centralised storage of the data generated by them. 

Benefits of online reference checking for recruiters

Quote, fusion medical staffing logo, branded shapes on grey


Reference checking is a critical element of the recruitment journey and a robust process is essential to ensure recruiters are able to maintain their integrity and the trust of their clients with every new hire. 

Xref’s online reference checking solution is used by recruitment teams all over the world, offering multiple advantages, including: 

  • Compliance & governance - Xref is certified by the world’s highest global standard for data security. It is ISO 27001 certified and offers globally compliant data collection and storage. It meets all regulatory requirements, to ensure every candidate is assessed fairly.

“Xref has also helped to evolve our client service proposition. Compliance, for example, is getting ever tighter with clients now asking routinely for background checks, and we also need to ensure we cover all data protection laws, such as GDPR.”La Fosse Associates 

  • Value & trust - Xref is trusted by more than 1,200 businesses globally. It offers a reliable tech solution with dedicated account managers and local support. It’s an enterprise-ready solution that scales with businesses as they grow.

“One thing that we weren’t expecting, as you don’t see it too often with other tech companies is that the team has been so easy to work with. The customer service that Xref has provided has been fantastic and we’re super happy with the product.” Lannick

  • Fraud detection - Xref detected more than 7,000 cases of potential fraud in one 12 month period. Xref's unique fraud algorithm monitors for unusual activity during a reference and raises a red flag if anything potentially fraudulent is detected.

“Another unexpected benefit was how useful the fraud detection tool would be for us as it certainly raises red flags that would be impossible to catch without the platform in place. This has added a level of security and peace of mind that our old referencing method couldn’t provide.”Blue Sky Recruitment 

  • Relevant & reliable insights - Xref offers candidate assessment and benchmarking at a glance. It delivers relevant data analytics to inform great recruitment decisions with tailored and comparable insights, perfect for candidate benchmarking.

“We have found that references give us more content and are more candid in their responses.” WilsonCTS

  • A tailored experience - Xref offers opportunities to tailor the entire reference checking process to suit the needs and requirements of a business and the role being filled.

“Because we recruit across the legal industry as a whole, sometimes we'll get something a bit different and we'll need to tweak the reference template. So the customer success team is helping us do that behind the scenes very quickly and easily, the turnaround is fantastic.”Legal People 

  • Time & efficiency - Xref references take 30 seconds to request and are returned in as little as 24 hours. And as a reference is completed, Xref notifies the requester, they do not have to wait until all responses have been received to start reviewing feedback.

“It can be difficult enough to find the right candidate but when you’re working for a recruitment agency you have the added time and expectation pressures from clients. Integrating Xref with JobAdder has helped to relieve some of our biggest recruitment pressures.” Pinpoint Talent 

  • Qualified leads - For recruitment and staffing firms, reference checks offer a great business development opportunity. Xref’s People Search tool is a database of references who have provided express consent to be contacted about future recruitment needs or job opportunities when submitting an Xref reference.

“One of the great surprises with Xref is the amount of new business we've been able to leverage off the back of it.” Precision Sourcing 

In summary 

The turbulence caused by COVID-19 was a challenge for almost every organisation, in every industry, across every region. As a result, recruitment agencies, tasked with supporting organisations’ hiring, were arguably hit the hardest. 

As some markets start to ease out of lockdown and business slowly returns to normal, recruitment teams will need to have efficient and effective processes in place to ensure they can hit the ground running. 

Their results on the way out of COVID-19 will be the mark of success for recruitment teams around the world as hiring ramps up, and the lessons learned during what will undoubtedly have been one of their hardest years, will offer great opportunities for improvements to their processes going forward. 

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