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How to secure your first choice of job candidate

Kate Allen, Managing Director, Allen Associates

Competition for great job candidates in Oxfordshire and London is on the rise, which means that multiple offers and counter offers are starting to rear their heads again. While this is encouraging news for job seekers, it can be incredibly frustrating for employers if it prevents them from securing their first choice. Fortunately, there are several things they can do to stand out in today's complex and nuanced job market.

As businesses look to bolster their business support functions and gear up for growth, candidates with sought-after traits and skills along with relevant experience, are in increasingly high demand.

We have seen competition return to the Oxfordshire and London job markets – not just for niche roles but for good candidates across the board, particularly in the areas that we recruit for: PA and Administration, Marketing, HR and Finance.

The best candidates are being snapped up quickly with many being fortunate enough to attract more than one job offer or an inflated counter offer from their existing employer.

This means that employers are having to move faster, 'sell' themselves well and make sure that their offer is a compelling one!

How to secure your first choice of job candidate

There are five key things that you can do in a competitive jobs market to help win over your first choice of candidate.

1. Form a realistic view of what the jobs market is really like

The market is complex and may not be quite what you had envisaged. There are many reasons for this. Although some sectors of the economy have been decimated, many others have survived and some have even thrived in spite of – or as a result of – the pandemic.

Competition for highly sought-after or niche skills has not abated, particularly in sectors such as life sciences, medical research, engineering and technology, and these roles are arguably as difficult to fill now as they were before.

As more recruitment opportunities have opened up this year, most of the candidates whose roles were made redundant in the early stages of the pandemic and who were actively looking for work, have now found employment. Most of the job applicants that we register are currently employed and although they are committed to making their next career move, they are also more cautious and selective than they were before, which means employers have to work that bit harder to win them.

We are here to advise and support you throughout your recruitment journey so please don’t hesitate to call on us if you have any queries or would like any advice on market trends.

2. Make sure your recruitment processes are fit for purpose

If you haven't recruited for a while or have found recruitment challenging, it is worth revisiting your  recruitment practices to make sure that they are sufficiently robust, efficient and agile. Employers that take weeks or even months to process, interview and shortlist applicants will almost certainly lose their preferred candidates to competitors who can move quicker and more decisively.

3. Showcase a strong employer brand

As much as candidates have to work hard on their personal brands and 'sell' themselves to prospective employers, the reverse is also true. You need to be prepared to talk passionately about your employer brand and demonstrate why your business or organisation is such as a great place to work.

It's important to ensure that everyone on the interview panel is on the same page and can talk consistently and knowledgeably about your vision and values, your purpose, your culture and team dynamics, the way you tackle green issues and support the communities you serve. It's worth taking a few minutes to show your enthusiasm for the business and highlight the things that make it special, sustainable and responsible.

Candidates care about these things and it may swing their decision one way or the other, should you decide to make them an offer.

4. Develop a compelling job offer

There is a real risk in today's market that the best candidates will receive more than one job offer – and may even receive an extravagant counter offer from their current employer – so it's essential to get it right. It's hugely frustrating to fall at the final hurdle, particularly if the interview process has been a long and arduous one.

According to a Salary Budget Planning report by Willis Towers Watson (published in December 2020), UK private sector workers are expected to receive average pay rises of 2.4% in 2021. It is always worth checking that your salaries are keeping up with inflation and the package you're offering is on point.

5. Be open to flexible hours and home working

Candidates are increasingly looking for choice and flexibility in their working arrangements. With home working options now expected by many office workers, businesses should explore hybrid working models which allow staff to work from home for at least some of the week. Almost all of the UK's 50 biggest employers told the BBC in May that they do not plan to bring staff back to the office full-time. Most businesses that can, are expected to follow suit.

In addition to home and hybrid working, it's important to be flexible about the hours that staff work. Data from the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey analysed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) indicates that employers are not meeting the demand for flexible working, despite 9% of workers saying they would prefer to work shorter hours for less pay. The evidence suggests that the traditional working week may be too rigid for some people and flexi-time, compressed hours and part-time hours would be welcomed.

Nationwide announced earlier this year that it would allow its 13,000 office based staff to choose where they work under new flexibility arrangements. Other firms, such as KPMG, have announced a four day week.

While media headlines tend to focus on the largest companies, it is clear from our dealings with candidates in Oxfordshire and London that they too have come to expect a degree of home or hybrid working and greater flexibility, regardless of the size or sector of employer.

If you are serious about attracting top talent, it's worth reviewing your job adverts and employee propositions to make sure they highlight these aspects.

Let us help!

Our Permanent and Temporary recruitment divisions have an excellent grasp of the Oxfordshire and London recruitment markets and are only too happy to answer your questions and provide advice and guidance. You may also like to read our latest Oxfordshire Recruitment Market Overview.

If you would like any help in securing your next candidate, we would be delighted to assist with that too. We conduct in-depth interviews with every candidate that we register so you can be assured of an excellent match.

About the author, Kate Allen

Kate Allen is the founder and Managing Director of Oxfordshire and London-based recruitment agency Allen Associates and can be contacted at

Read Kate's bio and meet the rest of the team, here.

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