Talent Acquisition

The Trials and Tribulations of a Candidate Market

What can employers do to secure their perfect candidate?

You have been searching for the perfect candidate for 6 months and finally you have found him/her. You have put an offer together, only to find that the candidate has accepted another position!

Back to the drawing board? Yes, because you probably have little choice. But can you increase your chances of securing the perfect employee?

A “candidate market” is a scenario where there is a high volume of jobs in a given market and not enough suitable candidates to fill them. The resulting effect is that “high quality” candidates are in demand and employers need to compete to secure them.

A “market” for the purpose of this article is defined as a job sector – e.g. secretarial, banking and IT are three different recruitment markets.

It is important to note that a candidate market can occur in one, or a few, sectors only and may be present in one location, but not another. The PA/secretarial recruitment market in central London is entering into candidate market conditions, but outside of London, only certain regions are experiencing this phenomenon.

At the outset

Before you advertise your vacancy, make sure you do your research on the salary and package levels your competitors are offering. If you want a high quality response then you will need to pay accordingly.

Spend time when writing the job spec and advert. Make the job sound sexy! You don’t need to embellish the job for the sake of doing so, but there is no harm in accentuating certain aspects. Good quality candidates tend to be ambitious and want to grow and take on more responsibility as they get to grips with the job! If you have a clear path of progression that this person could take, articulate this. It could make all the difference.

Agency Vs. Direct

Clearly there are pluses and minuses with both options. If you advertise the role directly, then spread the net as wide as you can. Don’t just rely on advertising the role in one paper or on one job site. Put the advert out on your social networking sites, send it to your Linkedin contacts. If it is a junior role, speak to the Universities and see if you can advertise it on their intranet. Think about where you can advertise the job, where your competitors won’t be. In other words, steal a march!

If you choose the agency route, then do your research and don’t brief more than 2 agencies. But make sure you have chosen the right ones! Agencies become less incentivised if they know the job has been put out to a number of agencies. They will know, because they will be running the job past a candidate, who has already heard about the role through someone else! Also, don’t negotiate too heavily on fees. If an agency has a candidate at final stages with two companies (including yours) and you have “bashed” them on fees, then they are clearly more incentivised to sell the other position more.

In both cases, have clear timelines. In a candidate market, an agile recruitment process is critical. Once you have started your search, you should aim to complete the process within 2-4 weeks. Once you have conducted first interview, you/your agency needs to know exactly where the candidate is interviewing, what stage they are at elsewhere and how quickly the other processes are moving.

Assuming the feedback from the candidate is positive, then you should have an agreement that they will let you know immediately they have been offered another role BEFORE they accept. My advice is don’t leave it to chance and expedite every recruitment process from the very beginning.

The offer

Ideally, at final interview stage, you should know where else the candidate is interviewing and the packages of those positions. You’ll know what the candidate is looking for salary wise and be able to combine this with your initial research. In a competitive market, a candidate will always want a salary increase. In the current PA/Secretarial market, this is typically 5-10% at the time of writing with the average close to 8%.

It is critical that your offer is very competitive. Don’t try and get a bargain in a candidate market, because more often than not, you will lose out on your preferred option. Remember that package is as important as base salary. Candidates want to make sure they are getting a good holiday allowance, the opportunity to earn a bonus, health cover and a decent pension. If your company contributes above the statutory, then disclose the percentage. You would be amazed how many candidates want this information before accepting an offer.

Please note that a candidate’s salary expectations may change from the start to the end of the process. This is common in a candidate market, although is usually met with disdain by the employer. The reason is simple – supply and demand. If the candidate is extremely well qualified and is looking for a new job at a time when there is a shortage of quality candidates on the market, then the salary levels of roles he/she is interviewing for will increase, sometimes in a relatively short period of time. So be flexible and if you end up paying more for a candidate than you expected to, then don’t be put off. If you are, then you will be paying more for an average candidate in 3 months’ time!


You have a verbal acceptance to your job offer. Don’t open the champagne yet, whatever you do! In a candidate market, counter offers and gazumping are common-place. It is good practice to send an offer letter and contract out the same day as the verbal offer has been accepted. Ask for the paperwork to be sent back to you within a given timeframe. Some employers will write a clause into their offer letter stating that the offer is only valid if paperwork is sent back within 5 working days.

Ask the candidate for references and collect these promptly. Psychologically, once a candidate has provided references, they are less likely to withdraw their acceptance to an offer. Agree to a start date and remain in contact with the candidate before they start. Inviting your chosen candidate for a drink with the team is a great way to cement an offer.

Author: David Morel is Managing Director of Tiger Recruitment, a leading recruitment company in the secretarial/administrational arena.

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