Today’s talent market: Finding that purple unicorn (and sometimes the one with rainbow-coloured wings)

Written by: Macmillan Davies
Published on: 12 Jul 2022


Today’s talent market: Finding that purple unicorn (and sometimes the one with rainbow-coloured wings)

The talent market has shifted considerably over the last few years. The short-term consequences of Covid-19 were sudden and severe: Millions of people were furloughed or lost jobs, and others rapidly adjusted to working from home as offices closed. Just over 12 months post-lockdown, there are now more jobs than job seekers. For the first time since records began, businesses are struggling to find qualified employees to fill their open roles. Kerry White, Associate Director and HR recruitment specialist at Macmillan Davies explains what organisations need to think about when attracting talent.

Over the last two years, burnout has been common amongst HR professionals. HR as a function became a key pillar in helping businesses get through Covid and surviving multiple lockdowns. Last year, businesses focussed on rebuilding and this year the focus is on the future. After an unsettled period, many HR professionals are re-engaged with their organisations and want to stay where they are.

According to the CIPD’s Spring 2022 Labour Market Outlook, the most common response (44%) to hiring difficulties has been to raise pay. However, employers may be reaching a limit on how much further they can go on pay: only 27% anticipate raising pay in the future to address hard-to-fill vacancies. Positively, employers are also looking to other means to tackle staffing challenges: 39% have focused on upskilling more existing staff and 38% have advertised more jobs as flexible.

What is important to candidates?

Salary – uplift & transparency

Salary is now the number one driver for many applicants, whereas a couple of years ago it was development and flexibility. This has been bolstered by the rising cost of living and the current economic situation; however, these aren’t the only factors.

Inertia is also a big problem. We are also seeing a lot of passive candidates who, to be tempted out of their role, are seeking a much higher base salary increase. Just a few months ago, this would have been an uplift of around £5k, now it is an increase of 5-figures or they’re not moving.

Unsurprisingly, research from the job board, Reed found that almost 80% of job seekers are less likely to apply for a job vacancy that does not display a salary, with a fifth only applying for jobs with a listed salary. With salary levels and job titles being so varied at the moment, it’s hard for candidates to know whether they’re applying for the right role if the salary isn’t there.

My advice to my clients when it comes to salary is to be honest and open; but also, be aware that when recruiting for replacement roles, in order to be competitive and to attract applicants, you may have to increase the base salary even for the same level of candidate.  I also recommend utilising your recruitment partner for salary research and benchmarking, as well as using the exit interview process to understand why the previous employee left the business – was it progression, salary, culture, or something else? Combining this information will ensure your job proposition is competitive and attractive to candidates.

True flexibility

Flexible and hybrid working continues to be a priority for candidates, with YouGov stating that 20% of Brits want to work full-time remotely. When it comes to flexible working, honesty is again, key – for example, don’t say you offer hybrid working then expect people in the office four days per week.

Flexibility in your approach to work arrangements is important; a one-size-fits-all approach does not work, and options should be available to the whole workforce if roles can accommodate arrangements and technical infrastructure facilities.

According to the latest official figures from the ONS, over 8 million UK workers are now working part-time, equating to 25% of the UK’s working population. HR professionals need to lead the way and set the example for flexible and part-time workers, yet, as a function, HR is one of the worst for practicing what they preach in recruiting part-time HR roles. We are seeing a marked increase in requests from candidates for either part-time roles or to work a 4-day week (not the trial). The stigma around the out-put for part-time workers has changed. It can be done - I am an example of being able to work successfully within HR on a 4-day working week.

Diversity & Inclusion

Another important factor for job seekers is diversity and inclusion, and the initiatives that businesses put in place to support this. Research from Sage claims that almost half (47%) of millennials consider diversity and inclusion to be an important factor in their job search. The most inclusive hiring processes will attract the largest pool of qualified talent for the job.

Purpose and belonging

For many candidates, choosing whether to leave an employer will often come down to whether they feel they belong. Giving candidates the ability to see where their part in making the organisation successful will be will set companies apart from other employers.

Advice for businesses

Ensure a smooth and speedy process

Speed and momentum have always been key when recruiting, and that has never been truer than in today’s competitive talent market. Don’t drag your feet when interviewing, candidates will quickly lose interest and no doubt then be in the process for other roles and be off the market.

We advise those recruiting to set a timeline out so everyone knows what the process will be, including timeframes and this is something we do as standard.

Compromise: Focus on skills not sector

By focussing on developing people and reviewing candidates based on skills, instead of their last job title and sector, companies can fill critical roles with the best talent. As a business, you can teach and develop sector-based experience, but you can’t change a personality or cultural fit.

Be open-minded. With the current shortage of candidates, this needs to be at the forefront of clients’ minds when recruiting. For example, if the salary is a blocker when recruiting and you can’t raise it any more, consider bringing in a lower-level candidate that can develop within your business. There are huge benefits to growing your own talent and hiring rising stars – from being more cost-effective to creating a long-term committed workforce.


With businesses across the country all looking for talent at the same time, understanding the changes in expectations of employees and recognising that the balance has turned, and it is no longer employers that hold all the power in the recruitment process, is vital. To implement effective hiring strategies and to help secure the best talent in today’s competitive market, focus on what’s important to candidates, implement a smooth and speedy hiring process and ensure you are prepared to be transparent and open-minded. Sometimes those purple unicorns are the wild cards.

Get in touch

Should you wish to have a confidential chat with Kerry White to discuss the current HR market or your search for work/recruiting into your team, please contact her directly at 

Since 1979 Macmillan Davies have been sourcing and recruiting the best HR talent across the UK and globally. We have proven expertise in every sector, including financial services, technology and communications, retail, public sector, and professional and business services.