The Surging Demand for Recruiters... What is driving it and where do we go from here?

By Andy Ryan - 9 Min read

Andy Ryan

Client Partner

I have worked in strategic hiring and talent consulting for 5 years. I am one of the many talent people who entered this fascinating world mid-career, after close to two decades in business – first in banking, and then in the entrepreneurial world of tech startups.

Earlier in my career, I had often been somewhat puzzled about the way recruiters were perceived by the wider business. When working for international banks, business leadership would consistently remind us of the critical importance of hiring only the most exceptional talent. While building my own tech startup, no pitch to a prospective investor would be complete without their insistence that “we don’t invest in products but in teams”.

Yet with few exceptions, those same industry leaders and investors would talk of recruiters like they were second-class corporate citizens. Despite playing the key matchmaker role between the company and candidates, recruiters were often considered a support service that was ignored when hiring matters went well and berated when they didn’t. Theirs was a role that was rarely held in high regard.


Recruiter perception is changing, and Covid-19 is driving the evolution

When crises hit and hiring slows down or stops altogether, recruiters are often first out the door. We saw this in the global financial crisis of 2008, and again as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in early 2020. However, while it took many years to recover from the former crisis, we are already seeing strong signs of an economic recovery from the current one, driven by progress in vaccination and large-scale fiscal stimulus from governments around the world.

This rapid recovery has led to a curious situation which for many recruiters is a first: it is they who now find themselves on the receiving end of headhunter calls.

In a post that recently gathered significant traction online, the global head of talent acquisition at a celebrated Australian scale-up noted that there were more open roles on LinkedIn for Recruiters worldwide than there were for Software Engineers.

An article published by LinkedIn itself shared further data points and insights underscoring the rapid increase in demand for recruiters:

  • 6.8x as many recruiter jobs were posted on LinkedIn in June 2021 vs June 2020
  • 2.8x as many recruiter jobs were posted on LinkedIn in June 2021 vs January 2019 (i.e. pre-pandemic)
  • In April 2021, the number of recruiter jobs on LinkedIn surpassed pre-pandemic levels.
  • Recruiter jobs have grown faster than the overall market
I have least one offer per day myself on the table, and compensation for recruiters – both in terms of what’s offered and what’s expected – has increased significantly. Tereza Machackova, Head of People at Credo Ventures

Tereza Machackova, formerly Head of Talent at several European scaleups and now People & Talent Partner at Prague-based Credo Ventures, says she has seen recruiter salaries in Europe and North America increase by 30%-40% over the last 9 months, along with an increase in bonuses and stock options. During dozens of conversations with tech contract recruiters, Armstrong Craven’s Head of HR, Jamie Allan, has seen day rate expectations more than double since before the pandemic, and salary expectations for full-time roles 25%-30% higher than pre-pandemic levels.

We have engaged with many Heads of HR and Talent Acquisition leaders who have had recruiters hand in their resignation only weeks after starting, because a competitor made them an offer they could not refuse. More than a few have complained of a “recruiter merry-go-round” situation.

What is driving this increasing demand for recruiting talent? And as many of us grapple with challenging questions around the Future of Work, what are some of the key implications for the future of this particular role?

Crisis? What crisis? Our workforce grew by 24% during 2020, and during that time we had no trouble hiring experienced recruiters. Today is a different story and we’re struggling to find new recruiters. Chief People Officer at a Swiss technology firm

Driver 1: The Rebound

As Armstrong Craven’s Jamie Allan states, “a lot of companies have been caught out by how quickly things have recovered.”

The post-pandemic economic recovery, combined with the widespread availability of capital, are fuelling much of the demand for recruiters. With government aid and access to cheap capital, and consumers and business alike spending the money they couldn’t during lockdown, companies are once again investing in building out their teams and opening and expanding facilities. The pace of recovery has taken many by surprise.

It is tempting to assume that when the pandemic took hold, hiring everywhere slammed on the brakes. But that doesn’t hold true: venture capital investment worldwide hit a record $179 billion in the second half of 2020, just as much of the world was deep in lockdown. The VC industry therefore did its part to keep many recruiters in a role even during the worst of the crisis. And these new capital inflows are showing no sign of abating: 2021 has seen new highs reached with venture funding surging 61% to an all-time high of $288 billion and contributing in no small part to the current demand for hiring talent.

Looking to the Future

Short-term implications:

A slowdown will inevitably arrive after the current spike in hiring activity, and in early/mid-2022 we expect demand for recruiters to level off as markets adjust to a sustained recovery. However, until then recruiters will continue to command salaries well above what we have seen to date, and once things slow down compensation will likely settle at an uplifted level from where it was pre- pandemic. Recruitment will remain very much a candidate-driven market for now, with good recruiters able to pick and choose who they work for, motivated as they may be by compensation, workplace flexibility, growth prospects, culture, or mission. It’s a good time to be in talent, and few would hold it against recruiters to be making hay whilst the sun is shining.

Longer-term Implications:

Unless there is an unexpected new health or economic crisis, demand for recruiters is expected to remain strong for the foreseeable future. The role of the recruiter itself is changing, and as it continues to evolve towards that of a trusted partner, the need for experienced talent acquisition professionals should remain high even during periods of slower hiring.

Driver 2: The Evolving World of Work

The workplaces and workforces that are emerging post-pandemic look very different to those of 18 months ago. And there’s another reason why this crisis recovery phase is unlike previous ones: because for once, many of the key forward-looking challenges currently high on C-suite and board agendas are ones centered squarely around talent and HR themes.

Hybrid work, employee wellbeing, workplace inclusion, sustainability, and other highly topical human capital-related issues inform the conversations recruiters are having and directly impact the outcomes of those conversations. It’s no longer enough for a recruiter to sell a role and a salary; they must now also sell the company’s culture, vision and purpose as well. And as data is sought to drive an ever-expanding array of business decisions, recruiters are increasingly expected to be knowledgeable about people analytics and talent insights, and to make meaningful data-driven and evidence-based contributions to HR strategy.

HR is playing a critical role on the frontlines of the recovery of the workplace – as we already saw in the last edition of the Armstrong Craven Review. In their role as a company’s primary gateway to external talent markets, recruiters are playing a pivotal part in this process; as expectations on them grow, so too will the need for quality talent to fill recruiter roles.

The workplace will continue to change – at pace.

In this final quarter of 2021, the idea of hybrid work is on everyone’s mind. Armstrong Craven’s Insights & Talent Analytics team has undertaken multiple client projects around this topic, and these have revealed that few companies yet know what a sustained hybrid work setup will actually look like in practice, nor how it could be implemented. Questions about the future of the workplace intersect with others about inclusion, wellbeing, community, and collaboration; these topics will grow in importance in the years ahead, and in doing so will continue to reshape what it means to be a recruiter.

Recruiting will become more strategic and business-oriented

Tomorrow’s recruiter will be expected to work with senior leaders to co-create, implement, and evolve a company’s talent and hiring strategy. The role of the recruiter is shifting from being predominantly procedural and administrative to one that is becoming increasingly strategic and influential. This is witnessed in how recruiters in an increasing number of companies are embedded within the business and report into the functional leader, rather than into the HR or TA leader.

Just rewards from challenging times.

This will be a pivotal moment in the careers of many talent folk. Through the health crisis and now in the recovery phase, many recruiters have taken on tasks that were not in their own job description. New skills have been acquired in remote working, crisis management, self-learning, wellness counselling, and entrepreneurship. Recruiters who have stepped up to the plate in these trying times will be rewarded with new responsibilities and promotions. When they look back and connect the dots, they will no doubt view “Covid times” as a key chapter in their own career story.

Driver 3: The Evolving Role of the Recruiter

The post-pandemic recovery may be accelerating certain workplace trends, but the role of the recruiter was already undergoing its own evolution long before “lockdown” became an everyday word. Indeed, the best business leaders have long recognised that high-impact TA people do a lot more than post job ads and screen candidates. More than ever before, a valued recruiter must now be part salesperson, part psychologist, part counsellor, part researcher, and part innovator – the whole infused with a healthy dose of humanity, creativity, and resilience.

Meanwhile, greater business acumen and numeracy are required as recruiters are being asked to deliver increasingly strategic and data-backed advice to business leaders. Candidate assessment is moving from one- dimensional markers like a degree or a narrowly defined skillset to more nuanced factors like capability and potential. Recruiters are being tasked with shifting a company’s hiring strategy from reactive screening to proactive sourcing, hence a need for talent pipelining skills to support with strategic hiring, succession planning, DE&I hiring, and the uncertain ‘what if’ scenarios of the future.

Looking to the Future

Tech as an enabler, not a replacer

Much has been theorised about the impact of automated or intelligent recruitment tools on the need for recruiters in the future. To be sure, technology will replace some of the more repetitive tasks involved in a recruiter’s work, such as creating job descriptions and screening candidate applications. But instead of reducing the need for recruiters, this will more likely catalyse the role’s shift towards a more strategic and advisory one.

A more rounded recruiter profile

To meet increasing demands placed on HR and People operations, companies will be looking to hire recruiters who offer a skillset that goes beyond standard talent acquisition. Candidates with demonstrable expertise in creative sourcing, DE&I, employer branding, people analytics, talent intelligence, and digitisation will be in high demand. Recruiters with intimate knowledge of business will be at a distinct advantage, with their ability to understand and build trust not only with hiring managers but also with top candidates. In addition to being curious and persistent, successful recruiters will need to be assertive and eloquent, capable of confidently occupying a seat at the metaphorical – and sometimes literal – table.

A role with increasing appeal

Most companies claim that they “put their people first”. But how many demonstrably do that? In this new post-covid reality, many will actually begin to, because they have finally realised that doing so genuinely delivers a positive ROI – in terms of employee wellbeing, performance and loyalty, and ultimately to the bottom line. In turn, this will make any function which deals with ‘people as the product’ that much more critical to a business, and – hopefully – that much more rewarding and appealing to top talent. It is often said that out of crisis comes opportunity. We saw that after the credit crisis in the wake of which financial risk and compliance talent became a very hot commodity. So, with the current surge in recruiter demand and the exciting direction the role is going in, who’s to say that the global health crisis we are just emerging from will not mark the beginning of the recruiter’s heyday?

We are already seeing a new phenomenon that points in this direction: the emergence of talent acquisition “superteams”, celebrated for their ability to influence business, fuel growth and deliver complex hiring operations. While these may never dethrone revenue- generating commercial superstars, the improved awareness and appreciation of “people superstars” will certainly help attract ambitious talent to the recruiter role, and thereby help recruiter supply keep pace with demand.

At Armstrong Craven, we are witness each day to this demand for recruiter talent. But we are not only outside observers: we too are growing and we are eager to hire experienced recruiters and sourcers. If you are therefore an experienced talent professional and you are excited by the opportunity to support a variety of companies with their evolving talent needs, then we would love to speak to you. Or if you are responsible for hiring at a company that is experiencing the current recruiter squeeze first-hand, and you could do with some additional support to find and attract the right talent that your company needs, then our own recruiting and talent consulting teams are only a phone call away.

Want to know more? Speak to Andy Ryan