Welcome to the GRID!

Bullhorn is pleased to share the opinions, insights, and concerns of more than 2,000 global recruitment industry professionals here on the Global Recruitment Insights and Data (GRID) site, including more than 1,000 North American respondents.

What does 2021 like for staffing and recruitment professionals? Respondents are cautiously optimistic for the future, excited about the possibilities provided by technology, and dedicated to building better relationships.

Read on to discover how your peers in the North American staffing and recruitment industry feel about approaching digital transformation, building candidate and client relationships, operating in the post-COVID-19 recruitment landscape, and more.

Recruitment Industry Outlook

2020 was an unprecedented year in most respects, and a challenging year for many in the industry. However, staffing professionals are generally optimistic about their outlook for the year ahead.

How do you expect revenue to change in 2021?

70 percent of respondents expect revenue to increase in 2021 and just three percent expect a decrease. Firms that had a good year in 2020 are even more positive about their outlooks in 2021 (80% of these respondents expect an increase in revenue).

2021 Global Recruitment Trends [Slide Deck]
Share the top trends for 2021 in your next presentation with this free slide deck.

Will agencies ramp up their investments in 2021? Roughly two-fifths of businesses plan to bolster their tech and operating budgets in the year ahead. Even if you aren’t planning to invest in the year ahead, your competitors might be. 

How do you expect the following to change in 2021?

Enterprise firms are the most likely to invest in technology in 2021, with more than half of respondents (54%) increasing their budget for tech investments.

Top Priorities

While the industry underwent a lot of change in 2020, the top three priorities for staffing and recruitment businesses are the same: it’s all about candidates and clients. 

What are your top priorities for 2021? (Top 10)

Four out of the top five priorities for 2021 revolve around candidates and clients.  Small firms are two times as likely as their larger counterparts to prioritize marketing efforts in 2021.

Top Challenges

For the first time in a decade, the talent shortage was not the number-one challenge for staffing firms. That said, the talent shortage still remains a key obstacle. Despite historic unemployment, firms report challenges placing qualified talent. Read on for a deep dive of the many challenges firms anticipate for the year ahead.

What are your top challenges for 2021?

It’s not surprising to see economic uncertainty as a top challenge for 2021 (24%), but this number actually represents a decline year-over-year (28% cited it as a top challenge last year).

A lot goes into a single placement of a candidate: gathering client requirements, sourcing, screening, onboarding, back office administration, and more. But which processes could use an overhaul? 

Which part of the recruitment lifecycle is most challenging?

Respondents say sourcing is the most challenging part of the recruitment lifecycle. It’s also the process that staffing professionals say they’re most likely to automate.

Going into 2020, the talent shortage was the most persistent obstacle facing recruitment businesses, with respondents citing it at the top challenge for more than a decade. While COVID-19 and its impact on unemployment have impacted the candidate pool, it appears the talent shortage is still an issue most staffing professionals must contend with.

How would you describe the talent pool in the industries you serve?

While the majority of respondents across segments and verticals report a talent shortage, some groups were more likely than others. 72 percent of firms serving the light industrial industry reported a shortage and small firms (60%) reported it at a higher rate than firms of other sizes. Interestingly, C-Suite leaders (70%) were substantially more likely to report a shortage than recruiters (45%).

Customer Challenges

Building customer relationships is a top priority for agencies in 2021, but what’s standing in the way of that goal? While COVID-19 introduced some new complications into the mix, many of the top challenges standing in the way of winning and maintaining clients are all-too familiar to recruitment agencies.


What is your biggest obstacle to winning new clients?

Nearly a third of respondents say client demand (hiring freezes or a lack of budget for staffing services) is the biggest challenge standing in the way of winning new clients.

What is your biggest challenge pertaining to your existing clients?

Changes to job reqs—either reductions in volume or increasingly challenging asks—account for more than half of reported answers as the biggest challenge when it comes to maintaining clients.

If you could change one thing about the recruitment industry, what would it be?

The industry changed in 2021 in expected and unexpected ways. If recruitment professionals got to make one change for the better in the industry, what would it be? Overwhelmingly, respondents are concerned about the reputation of the industry, even though some believe the negative reputation is merited. Client relationships came in a distant second. Respondents want better communication, more transparency, and better rates from clients.

Here’s what they said.

Shifting the reputation of staffing firms from negative to positive. Some recruiters from the previous decade have and continue to give recruiters a bad reputation through dishonesty,"fishing," and a lack of morality.

survey respondent

Make it more personable. People buy because of the person selling to them, not simply because of the product being sold to them.

survey respondent

Reputation, respect, and appreciation for recruiters

survey respondent

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Recruitment Industry

It’s hard to overstate the impact of COVID-19 on the recruitment industry. How will it impact the industry in 2021 and what will be the lasting legacy on the industry? Here’s what recruitment professionals had to say.

What will be the biggest impact of COVID-19 on the recruitment industry in 2021?

A fifth of respondents believe COVID-19’s effect on the unemployment rate will have the largest impact on the industry in 2021, but the majority of respondents still think they will have to contend with a talent shortage this year.

What will be the largest impact from COVID-19 on the way your staffing or recruiting business operates?

When it comes to COVID-19’s impact on daily operations, remote work reigns supreme. Remote recruiting (31%), reduced office space use (24%), and remote onboarding (23%) were the three most chosen impacts.

What will be the largest impact from COVID-19 on the staffing & recruitment industry at large

Since COVID-19, respondents have reported placing candidates in remote roles they never before dreamed possible. 

Recruitment Technology

Staffing technology is a substantial investment, but the majority of businesses express adoption woes. While many of the obstacles that prevent adoption are internal (lack of time and high turnover), the most common explanation falls on the vendor: limited training. Look for a provider with robust learning resources to ensure you get the most out of your investment. 

How would you evaluate your team's adoption of your staffing technology?

Just 16 percent of respondents report full adoption of their staffing technology. Last year, one-fifth of respondents reported full adoption, suggesting remote workplaces have had a possible effect on adoption.  

What is the top obstacle preventing internal adoption of your staffing technology?

Why aren’t businesses making better use of their staffing technology? For the second year in a row, teams across all segments and sizes report that a lack of training is the culprit: training-related reasons account for half of all responses. 

If limitations are preventing adoption, it might be time to consider a change in technology. However, one-quarter of respondents have either never changed staffing technology providers or haven’t changed in a decade.

When was the last time you changed your core staffing technology to a new provider?

One-fifth of respondents have changed their core technology in the last year. Although the year was unusual in many other respects, the rate at which respondents switched to a new provider is nearly identical to the year before.


We've never changed providers 19%
10+ years 6%
5-10 years ago 15%
2-5 years ago 25%
1-2 years ago 15%
In the last year 20%

What prevents you from switching to a new core staffing technology provider?

Respondents are significantly less likely to report fear of disruption as a reason to avoid switching providers than they were last year (19%), suggesting an increased openness to disruption after the unprecedented last year. 

Remote Work

Like many other industries, the recruitment industry underwent a huge shift to remote work in 2020. And judging by the responses, don’t look for remote work to go away in 2021 or anytime after.

How many of your recruiters will work remotely in 2021?

Small businesses are more than twice as likely to operate entirely remotely (47%) as large businesses (21%) in 2021.


All our recruiters will work remotely 31%
The majority of our recruiters will work remotely 25%
Some of our recruiters will work remotely 31%
None of our recruiters will work remotely 14%

How many of your business's internal employees do you expect to be remote AFTER the COVID-19 crisis?

Roughly one half of companies who will operate entirely remotely in 2021 plan to stay remote permanently.

2021 Global Recruitment Trends [Slide Deck]
Share the top trends for 2021 in your next presentation with this free slide deck.

Digital Transformation

Historically, the recruitment industry hasn’t always been known for embracing technology, but that no longer appears to be the case. How do respondents feel about digital transformation—the integration of innovative technology into all areas of the business for the purposes of improving operations and delivering more value to clients and candidates? The results are clear: the digital transformation of the industry is both a positive development and an essential one.

The last year saw a dramatic rise in the number of staffing businesses employing a digital transformation strategy. Heading into 2020, just 25 percent reported a digital transformation process.

How has COVID-19 and its aftermath changed your approach to digital transformation?

COVID-19 has had a direct impact on respondent’s approach to digital transformation. Firms that don’t have a digital transformation process are now more likely to adopt one, and firms that had one ramped up existing efforts.


It has made us more likely to adopt a digital transformation strategy 28%
It has made us less likely to adopt a digital transformation strategy 1%
It has ramped up our existing digital transformation efforts 34%
It has slowed down our existing digital transformation efforts 5%
It hasn't changed our approach 32%

Obstacles and Benefits

According to respondents, the biggest obstacle preventing the adoption of digital transformation is internal resistance to technology, while the biggest benefits are efficiency and increased flexibility.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to embracing digital transformation?

Putting in the work and streamlining the process.

survey respondent

Staff that do not view technology as an important business tool!

survey respondent

Current employees not being proficient with modern tech.

survey respondent

What do you see as the biggest benefit of digital transformation?

It helps you be prepared for the unknown. Our tech Investment in the prior two years has paid off well during COVID.

survey respondent

The automation of tasks to allow recruiters and salespeople to provide more ‘touch’.

survey respondent

It helps you become more efficient and better examine processes. There are way too many manual and paper-based processes. They’re highly outdated and they can be improved upon.

survey respondent

Which staffing and recruitment trends will you be closely following in 2021?

Respondents are most closely following technology trends in 2021, especially those that intersect with digital transformation or the increased role of remote work. Respondents are also closely watching the role of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) efforts in the year ahead. Be sure to subscribe to Bullhorn for year-round research, interviews with staffing experts, and advice on these topics and more.