Recruiting in a Recession

Recruiting in a Recession

Why a job-full economy makes this a downturn like no other

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Recruitment is no stranger to the ebbs and flows of economic cycles. When there are lots of jobs, there are not enough candidates. When there are lots of candidates, there are no jobs. For those who have weathered the Dot-com bubble, the Great Recession and recently, Covid-19, there was at least one constant: the need for client acquisition and job order generation reigned supreme.

Yet, experts are forecasting a job-full recession, where, despite economic contraction, companies continue to hire. Furthermore, the ongoing talent shortage compounded by the lowest unemployment rate in nearly half a century is creating a talent supply-demand continuum that’s unprecedented.

Developing your business strategy during a recession

The pandemic changed business behaviours. No, I’m not talking about the remote working debate or the rise of mental health awareness. In recruitment there has been a noticeable shift from vanity to sanity.

Where recruitment agency headcount once served as the (accepted, albeit somewhat dated) benchmark of success, business leaders learned that during a downturn, more heads meant more expenditure and higher risk. What’s changed? Profitability has come to the fore, and recruitment leaders have turned to innovation and technology as tools to support their transformation and unlock growth.

Developing your business strategy in a job-full recession will mean balancing job order and candidate flow, whilst constantly striving to push up fill rates. This is true in any economic cycle, but it’s more important in a time where there will be some contraction in client demand, likely characterised by lengthy and cautious hiring as well an ongoing talent shortage that’s peppered with general economic uncertainty and fear about moving jobs.

Why cutting marketing is the last thing you should do in a recession

They say marketing is the first to go in a recession. Not anymore!

If marketing is driving inbound and tangible business opportunities, with sound metrics and measurable ROI, why would you stop during a period of tempered – and possibly declining – business activity?

Marketing is no longer a support function with sunk costs. It is – or at least can be – an equal, revenue-generating partner in a company’s business development.


  • has the ability to reach high volume, yet targeted, contacts matching your ideal buyer persona
  • enables you to scale your outreach, allowing you to nurture customers through the sales funnel to conversion
  • makes your consultants more efficient, enabling them to focus on those customers who have demonstrated buyers’ intent and who are ready to buy
  • allows your brand to be found online (and off), letting potential customers engage with you before they’re ready to speak with a consultant

Digital marketing, and specifically marketing automation and data-driven strategies allows you to scale your operations and capture market share – without adding headcount. It’s about making your consultants more efficient and profitable – not falling into the trap of vanity insanity.

How to market during a recession

Downward economic pressures usually prompt a 180 degree turn on acquisition focus – from concentrating on candidate marketing to focussing on new or reactivated client activity. Even during times of strong client demand, it’s always a sound approach to ensure you’re attracting the right clients and job orders – clients who facilitate, not hinder, the hiring process (and who you enjoy working with!) and jobs that are exclusive, desirable and most importantly, fillable!

During a job-full recession, however, it’s likely that the push/pull of supply and demand may provide a stabilising force. Employers will still be hiring, albeit possibly with a more moderate and measured approach, and talent will still be in short supply and reticent to move job in uncertain times. Your marketing must therefore create a balance between candidate and client attraction whilst enabling sales, as well as ensuring that people are aware of your brand and admiring of your reputation.

5 marketing strategies to recession-proof your business

  1. Review marketing performance: In any economy, ensuring your marketing is working smarter, not harder, is key. But at a time when every expenditure is scrutinised, it’s no longer good enough to do things ‘just because’. Find out which channels and campaigns deliver the best performance and ultimately, your cost per acquisition/placement per customer per channel. Channel investment into those channels that yield the best return.
  2. Focus on database reactivation: Recruiters generally have immense databases with dormant – but hugely valuable – candidates or clients. Yet, too often bad data and/or poor database practices makes the CRM inoperable. Using marketing automation, you can segment and reach volumes of potential customers – oftentimes passive candidates who are not on the job boards or clients whom you’ve previously done business with. Both are more efficient and effective ways to do recruitment and business development than always sourcing ‘net new’.
  3. Ensure your brand resonates: Take stock of your brand, your unique selling proposition and the value and benefit you provide your end customer. Is this mirrored through your business and your consultants? Does this resonate through your online and social channels? In a downturn, you may wish to reconsider posting pictures of the incentive trip to Ibiza and instead think about the pain points and realities that your candidates and clients are facing and how you can solve their greatest challenges.
  4. Nurture customers through remarketing: Digital marketing in a recession is a sound strategy as it enables us to gain efficiencies and cost savings through targeted promotions and communications. Yet advertising often remains a very top of funnel activity aimed at the masses rather than nurturing those who are already in your sales funnel. Remarketing allows you to retarget customers who have landed on your website, applied for a job or engaged with an email and therefore can be a powerful channel to pull customers through ‘point of sale’.
  5. Outsource your marketing: Finding an end-to-end marketer is extremely rare. Generally, marketers fall on a spectrum – from a forte in communications and brand across to a penchant for all things technical and digital. Furthermore, senior strategic marketers will not be doing the day-to-day grunt work – it’s like asking your Finance Director to do your accounts payables! As such you’ll need multiple marketers on your team to achieve what an outsourced marketing consultancy can do for a fraction of the cost. You get access to on-demand and at-the-ready marketers across a spectrum of specialisms – from social media and copywriting executives through SEO, PPC and marketing automation experts – all underpinned by senior strategists and data-driven performance management.

Outsourced marketing during a downturn is also a sound strategy as it offers the flexibility of a variable, rather than a fixed cost. You get access to the services you require without the additional overheads and costs of employing one or more marketers full time.

Thrive works with ambitious recruitment agencies, RecTec providers and direct employers looking for data-driven and KPI-bound marketing that moves the dial. We focus on customer acquisition, ensuring your marketing investment yields return and a place at the decision-making table.

We grew our business exponentially throughout the pandemic – businesses who furloughed staff and who put that investment into marketing to deliver inbound leads and business development opportunities. And it paid off. Our clients bucked the trend and brought staff back to the office earlier than other agencies to manage increased job order demand.

It’s about making your marketing work for you. Let’s Thrive together!

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