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Making the most of recruitment agencies in a recession

After the downward spiral of 2008 and 2009, the UK’s national output has remained flat, with a 0.2% decline in GDP during the first quarter of this year. Inevitably, the recession has affected most businesses’ recruitment plans.

However, while the initial reaction in a downturn is often a blanket freeze on hiring new staff, it can be a good idea to resist this temptation. After all, if your competitors are laying people off, it could create a pool of readily available talent your business could benefit from.

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You will also be better placed to handle the recovery when it happens - staffing levels will be strong and you’ll have the best possible people working for you.

Now is a good time to look carefully at your cost per hire, how long it takes to hire, and your retention rates, so you can show you are garnering positive results despite the recession.

Equally, if you re-focus your priorities, and concentrate on hiring for high-level roles, you may find you get the most from your budget. After all, a downturn is no time for poor returns on investment, or taking big risks.

Expect to see more applicants for each vacancy you advertise. You may need to reassure candidates that, if successful, they won’t lose their jobs before they’ve completed their probation period.

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Given the likely increase in applicants and the need to be as cost-effective as possible, you must be sure that your processes are as efficient as they can be. Realistically, that means making the most of web recruitment opportunities, to save your business time and money.

Employers also need to be very sure they are working with recruitment agencies which are the perfect “fit” for their organisation, which understand their needs, and provide best value for money.

In terms of budgeting, it almost invariably pays to go for an agency operating a fixed fee recruitment pricing structure, where there is just one flat charge. This is cost-effective, as is the policy that many agencies have of not billing until someone is successfully in post.

Using an agency can be a very flexible option if you are looking to cover short-term staffing demands.

During a downturn especially, there are plenty of things employers can do to get the most from their working relationship with their hiring agency.

First of all, do your homework and find the agency that best suits your recruitment needs - not all of them cover all geographical areas or industries, for example.

Be precise about your requirements and you’ll get a better targeted shortlist of candidates. Be clear about things like start dates and job descriptions, and when you are available for interviews.

Since many agencies understand salary expectations well, use this information to ensure you are paying the going rate for each role.

Agencies have access to candidates that you wouldn’t otherwise hear about, and save time by pre-screening applicants before you meet them yourself. By giving honest feedback about what you felt about a candidate once you’ve interviewed them helps everyone involved.

Finally, recession or not, the cheapest agency isn’t necessarily the best one. Consider the overall package you are being offered, and go for best value rather than just settling for lowest price.