Recruiting is Still All About the (Candidate and Client) Relationships

While the recruitment industry changed significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing remains the same: strong relationships with candidates and clients are still essential to recruitment firms as we head into 2021. 2,200+ global recruitment professionals we surveyed as part of our 2021 Global Recruiting Insights and Data (GRID) research agree: if you’re not dedicating resources to client and candidate acquisition, you should be.

Candidates and clients have always been essential to recruiting, but there has been a dramatic change to the macro and micro factors that impact an agency’s ability to proactively and positively impact the candidate and client experience. 

Throughout any changes the industry undergoes, candidates and clients will most likely remain a top priority as the industry moves more and more towards a relationship-first mindset.

Relationships Remain Top-of-Mind

For the 2,200+ global recruitment pros surveyed this year, four of their top five priorities revolve around candidates and clients. Respondents cite candidate acquisition/sourcing (54 percent), winning new clients (45%), and engaging candidates (30%) as the three most important initiatives this year.

Every region surveyed, aside from UK&I, placed candidate acquisition as their top priority for 2021. UK&I, which chose winning new clients as their top priority, was also the region most likely to report losses last year. 

While the industry may look different this year in many ways, candidate and client relationships remain top-of-mind as firms navigate two key challenges: COVID-19’s impact on the labor market (63%) and tight talent pools (44%).

Obstacles to Finding and Building Client Relationships

While it seems that the industry agrees that candidate and client relationships are a top priority, respondents were also acutely aware of the many challenges facing their teams in 2021.  

What is your biggest obstacle to winning new clients?

One-third of respondents feel hiring freezes or lack of budget is their most significant obstacle to winning new clients, while 20 percent agree that increased competition also poses a challenge.

What is your biggest challenge pertaining to your existing clients?

But what about maintaining existing client relationships? Overwhelmingly, the reduction in job reqs poses the biggest challenge to survey respondents (37%). Pair that with shifting or challenging job reqs (18%), and in general, meeting client demands account for more than half of respondent’s answers about maintaining these ever-important client relationships.

The Talent Shortage, Candidate Sourcing, and Candidate Experience, Oh My!

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

When we shift to the candidate side of recruitment, the findings paint a similar picture. While most respondents across segments and verticals report a talent shortage (54%), some groups were more likely than others to acknowledge it.

Seventy-two percent of firms serving the light industrial industry reported a shortage, and small firms (60%) said 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%).

Which part of the recruitment lifecycle do you find most challenging?

When asked the most challenging part of the recruitment life cycle, one-third of respondents agreed that candidate sourcing presented the biggest hurdle for them. In a distant second and third, handling client requirements (16%) and screening candidates (15%) round out the three biggest challenges facing recruiters in 2021.

What is the biggest challenge you face in providing a better candidate experience?

Candidate experience is top-of-mind for most recruitment firms, but it is imperative in the face of tight labor markets and increasingly demanding clients. By providing a positive candidate experience, you are building a solid relationship with that candidate. Putting your firm is a great place to continue working with that candidate and potentially redeploying them to a new role. 

We asked respondents to comment on the most significant challenge when providing a better candidate experience. The insights range from remote work concerns to communication limitations to lack of time. 

Understanding and therefore articulating client environments when we cannot meet with the clients face to face.

survey respondent

Not every candidate has access to the same technology options as we do, so that communication can be difficult.

survey respondent

Ensuring we communicate frequently and maintain strong ongoing relationships.

survey respondent

How To Overcome Client and Candidate Obstacles

The first step in improving your client relationship strategy is to get a pulse on your firm’s customer satisfaction. Client satisfaction provides critical insight into how your team performs, where you might improve or streamline processes, and how likely a client may be working with your company again.

Do you measure client satisfaction?

While the importance of measuring client satisfaction seems obvious, almost one-third of firms don’t gather this vital piece of intel. While it’s good news that 70 percent of respondents measure client satisfaction, the opportunity is wide open for those firms not sending NPS surveys or conducting customer satisfaction interviews to identify areas of improvement.

Which part of the recruitment lifecycle is most challenging?

On the candidate side of recruitment, respondents overwhelmingly agreed that candidate sourcing was the biggest priority in 2021 (54%). Respondents also say sourcing is the most challenging part of the recruitment lifecycle (30%). Interestingly, sourcing is also the process that recruitment professionals say they’re most likely to automate.

What is your top source for generating qualified candidates?

When asked for the top sources of qualified candidates, job boards (26%), social media (17%), and online talent platforms (13%) rounded out the top three most preferred sources of talent.

More traditional sourcing methods such as cold calling (4%) or, surprisingly, job advertisements (6%) were among the least preferred sources of qualified candidates, suggesting that recruitment firms are increasingly reliant on online mediums or platforms to find candidates. 

Focusing on these avenues ensures that your team will be looking where the candidates are but don’t sleep on your company’s website just yet: one-fifth of respondents cite employment brand development and marketing as a top priority this year.

What Comes Next?

When asked about the recruitment process’s biggest challenge, respondents agreed that sourcing (30%) presented the biggest obstacle. But one-fourth of respondents are not automating the sourcing process, providing a massive opportunity for process improvements by investing in digital transformation. By incorporating automation to tackle sourcing roadblocks, recruiters can devote that time to building candidate relationships or meeting client expectations.

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

And if you do not have a digital transformation strategy in place, now is the time. More than half of recruitment firms plan to adopt a digital transformation strategy in 2021 or are ramping up an existing one.

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 35%
It has slowed down our existing digital transformation efforts 6%
It hasn't changed our approach 29%

Still not convinced? Respondents in 2021 are 72 percent more likely to have a digital transformation strategy now than they were a year ago. If you’re not automating or implementing other digital transformation strategies now, your competitors are likely already ahead of you.

Content Marketing Manager


Emily Swartz is the Content Marketing Manager for Bullhorn. She graduated from Suffolk University with a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing. In her spare time, she enjoys discovering new restaurants and hidden gems in Boston, MA.