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The top 10 reasons your company finds it hard to fill certain roles

January, 2024
Adam Richardson

One of the things that has become evident in my 20+ years’ recruiting for procurement and commercial functions in the construction sector is that every company has certain roles that are hard to fill. In some case the challenge of finding good candidates is simple supply and demand i.e. a shortage of relevant skills and experience in the market; but even where this is the case some employers find it easier to attract candidates to fill their vacancies than others. So, what are the main reasons your company may find certain roles hard to fill? and what can you do about it?

Fixing the Top 10 reasons you’re finding it hard to fill specific roles…

  1. Not investing in the brief – when candidates are considering a move, they want to be confident any prospective employer has a clear vision of and is committed to the new role. A brief that articulates a considered purpose for the role, structured responsibilities, concrete objectives and the skills and experience required/desired helps sell the role to prospective candidates, and then continues to provide confidence throughout the recruitment process. 
  2. Unrealistic expectations – if you cannot identify candidates with the skillset you are looking for then it is quite possible that the ideal candidate simply does not exist or is particularly rare (“unicorns” are usually very expensive to hire). The options in such a situation are to train candidates up, to split the responsibilities across multiple roles or to compromise on what you are looking for.
  3. Inflexibility – one of the most common reasons employers find it hard to fill roles is conflating “required skills and experience” with “desired skills and experience”. The result is the talent pool narrows dramatically and unnecessarily, often eliminating some excellent candidates who would quickly develop the experience or be able to learn the skills. Speak with your recruitment consultant about how easy they think it will be to identify candidates for a role and work together to find the balance between ‘desired’ and ‘required’. An ambitious candidate wanting to develop will often outperform a more experienced candidate with less hunger quite quickly once in situ.
  4. Slow recruitment processes – the longer a recruitment process goes on, the more likely it is that the better candidates will either change their minds about moving or accept a job elsewhere - other companies will be prioritising the recruitment processes for these hard-to-find skillsets so you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage if you don’t do the same. For roles which don’t have an abundance of candidates the impact of good candidates dropping out is particularly frustrating as identifying potential applicants accounts for a disproportionate amount of the recruitment process. Putting in place a clear and concise timeline will maximise the chances of your preferred candidate still being available as well as giving the potential hires confidence in your commitment to the role.
  5. Underpaying – if you are looking for a specific skillset, then the chances are other companies in the construction sector will be looking for a very similar combination. Whether the pool of candidates is small or demand is high, the result is that benchmarking financial packages is particularly important as candidates who want to move will have options and those who who are happy where they are will need greater incentivisation. If you can’t meet the market rates then consider how you can make the role more attractive (see point 8) or consider hiring for potential rather than experience.
  6. Not prioritising the recruitment process internally – slow recruitment processes and weak briefs are often symptomatic of a company not prioritising their recruitment processes more widely. To run an effective and compact recruitment process needs buy-in from everyone involved, as well as good internal communication and planning. One of the most common reasons that recruitment processes stall or fail is because one key stakeholder has not fed into the brief, is unavailable to interview or has not given feedback in a timely manner… For roles where there are plenty of candidates this may not be an issue, but when the candidate pool is limited it can often set you back to square one.
  7. Lack of vision for the role –  companies that tell a story beyond the required skills and experience find it easier to attract candidates. Articulating how a role will evolve, the support offered to help the successful candidate develop and sharing potential subsequent opportunities for career progression reflect a company with a vision and a plan that infer the potential for a positive future for the successful applicant. While this vision should be reiterated at interview, communicating it from the start in the job description, or the brief given to the recruiter, will make it significantly easier to engage candidates who are focussed on opportunities for development. 
  8. Culture and employee value proposition – as highlighted above, financial remuneration matters. However, increasingly employees are also prioritising factors beyond the basic financial package. For some this means working patterns that dovetail with their lifestyles, others will favour roles where they can make an environmental or social difference, others will take a particular interest in the organisational culture etc. Companies that define and articulate their employee value propositions are more successful both at piquing the interest of candidates in the first place and at converting offers into acceptances. For more information on employee value propositions click here ->
  9. Not proactively scoping the market – for roles where the required skillset and experience are particularly scarce, candidates often don’t proactively seek out opportunities as they are used to employers and recruiters approaching them about opportunities. When scoping the market and making first contact, it is worth researching the candidates and personalising the approach. This may seem like a substantial investment of time at such an early stage, however if there isn’t a huge pool of candidates and you may only get one shot at each person then it is often a necessary investment.
  10. The attractiveness of the team  specific teams within companies can develop their own reputations either positive or negative. A great or poor manager can make a huge difference to acceptance and even application rates. Some companies develop a reputation for being training grounds for certain roles and that can become a self-perpetuating source of great talent i.e. the best people want to apply to that team due to its reputation and therefore its reputation for excellence continues. If your team has a poor reputation then understand why, commit to a plan to address the issues and then communicate the improvements to candidates. 

While hiring managers may have only limited influence over aspects like the employee value proposition, they still have a huge impact on how easy or difficult it is to fill roles where good candidates are scarce. That influence can be categorised into three areas: 

  1. Realism – recognising the trade-off between skills, experience and budget;  
  2. Planning – making sure that the recruitment process is smooth and compact; and 
  3. Communication – ensuring that prospective candidates understand the benefits and potential of the role throughout the process.

About the author:

Adam Richardson - Managing Director

Adam has over 20 years’ experience recruiting procurement and commercial professionals across the construction sector.

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