Recruitment in the South West

6 February 2019

Our clients consistently tell us that one of the top challenges for SMEs in the South West is hiring good staff…

There just isn’t the talent pool available and many owner-managers say they find it difficult to compete with the ‘draw’ of large corporates.

To assist business owners in tackling this critical challenge, Old Mill’s recruitment team provides some actionable tips and advice on what can be done to stand out from the crowd and attract the top talent the region has to offer.

Recruitment, recruitment, recruitment

It’s the biggest challenge facing most businesses right across the UK at the moment, so it’s likely a major concern for you too. You can’t help but hear that unemployment rates are at their lowest since the ‘70s, and dare we use the word “Brexit” to throw into the mix and the constant feeling of how the unknown could affect this further?

So we should probably all be panicking?

Well, you could (and let’s face it lots of businesses are) or you can choose to accept that the Labour Market is tough and arm yourself appropriately to make sure that you are still able to secure good people.

At Old Mill, we look at recruitment as a marketing function. Yes, we sit within Human Resources – we bring people to the business after all – but we must think about our candidates like we think about our clients to truly understand how we should treat them, attract them and sell our business to them. We must nurture the candidate market place, we must appeal to them, and be prepared to use a number of different channels to speak to them.

OK, so that makes it sound simple doesn’t it? So, where do you start?


You need to accept that things are going to take longer; the days of 30 day “time to hire” are slipping away from us, especially in areas where there are serious skill gaps or geographically limiting factors. Acceptance alone won’t help you of course, you need to incorporate this into your planning. “Well how can that help me if I don’t know that someone will resign?!” we hear you cry. We’re not suggesting you get out your crystal ball but you will need to be proactive wherever you can.

Think about where your risk areas are; who are the most sought after individuals in your organisation and what are their notice periods? You need to start to build a Talent Pipeline. Start talking to people with the relevant skills, talk to them across Social Media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), you need to put yourself on their radar before they are looking for a job. Start giving before you start asking. What does this mean? Post relevant and interesting content across the socials – the only time they hear from you shouldn’t be when you’re asking them to work with you.

Perhaps build yourself a Social Media Content Calendar if it helps, ask people from your business to contribute and write articles. Begin to open up the curtains and let people take a peak within your business so that they get a feel of what it would be like to work there before they are looking for a job. Good candidates will be snapped up so you need to make them want to work for you.

Understand your USP

Unique Selling Point is probably something you have considered when marketing your business but what does this mean for your Employer Brand? If you stood in a line alongside your three major competitors for talent – why would the best candidate pick you over someone else? If you can’t answer that question yourself, how could your candidate even begin to answer this? Maybe you already know your USP – that’s great! Do your candidates? Are you shouting it loudly from the rooftops? If so, are they hearing it?

How can you tell? Ask them…

Ask your recent recruits, ask your agency contacts, and ask your network. In the same way you would use focus groups if you were launching a new product or service, you can use focus groups to understand people’s perception of you.

It could be that you offer amazing salaries, or a great flexible benefits package or maybe you are offering a good work life balance. If you can understand what your ideal candidate is motivated by, you can use this as a focus when you promote your Employer Brand. What should you have in your arsenal?


It goes without saying that there will likely always be a place for Recruitment Agencies and, despite them getting bad press sometimes, there are some really good companies out there that can provide a fantastic service. As with all suppliers though you need to pick wisely. Meet with a select few, how do you feel when talking to them? The chances are that if you feel like you’re talking to a used-car salesperson then your candidates will too. You need to work with the agencies who can treat your candidates as well as you can – and if possible even better!

Using agencies comes at cost – if you go down this route there is little point trying to drive them down to small fees – if you pay 10% your will get a 10% service. If you are committing to the budget for agency fees you should be paying between 15% and 20% to ensure that the agency are putting their best people onto the role and are giving you first refusal on good candidates. If your competitor is paying 20% but you are paying the same agency 10% – who are they sending that candidate to first?

At Old Mill we have adopted a Preferred Supplier List for our agencies – this is working well. We now work with less agencies and work well together. As a result they talk about our business more confidently, they know that they will be treated fairly and that we will look after their candidates. So if you are going to use agencies, use them wisely and this could be a great source of candidates for you.


If you don’t have a huge budget then LinkedIn can be a really good way to get in touch with candidates – you can purchase a Recruiter Lite subscription (in fact you can take a free one month trial first!) and pay less than £100 a month. This will give you access to search for people by their Job Role and Location and contact them directly even if they are outside of your network. All you need to do is send them a friendly message to ask them if they are interested in a new role (keep it short and sweet) and begin to open up some communication and hopefully convert them into an applicant for your role.

Job Boards

You may not feel confident approaching people directly on LinkedIn, or you may not have a huge amount of time to do so. Another good option for you is to purchase credits for Job Boards and post some adverts yourself rather than using an agency to do so. Some Job Boards will charge you (Total Jobs, Reed, Monster, Jobsite etc.) and others will be free (Indeed, Job Centre Plus). You should also be aware that some are Aggregator sites (LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Google Jobs) and they will automatically pull any jobs advertised on the internet into their search engine. But having Job Board credits is useless if your adverts are boring.

Good advert copy

The way you write is becoming more and more important. You should separate the term Job Description and Job Advert in your mind.

A Job Description is a detailed list of all the essential and desirable requirements of for the job itself. The advert should be shorter, you should speak directly to the candidate and talk about what is important to them and not you. If you get chance look up a chap called Mitch Sullivan on LinkedIn – he isn’t particularly “vanilla” in the way he writes his blogs but he does have some great ideas around Advert Copy, and better still, he even runs courses to teach you how to write Job Adverts if you’re so inclined.

Make applying for the role as easy as possible – avoiding lengthy application forms or extra paperwork unless it is absolutely necessary.

So there you have it, it’s a complex area and it can’t be fixed with just one approach but understanding that it’s a candidate’s market is key.

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