Has COVID-19 actually changed recruitment?

Has COVID-19 actually changed recruitment?

Written by Dean Sadler

Dean is the CEO and founder at specialist recruitment software provider Tribepad. Prior to Tribepad, after working as a bus driver, Dean joined a startup called Plusnet. He wrote the billing and CRM platform, became CIO and helped grow the business from a handful of employees to over 700, exiting via a sale to BT. After Plusnet, Dean was looking for a real-world problem which could be addressed by artificial intelligence. And so Tribepad was born.

COVID-19 has had a mammoth impact on recruitment. Different sectors have been affected in different ways, but we’ve also spotted some trends, patterns and challenges most recruiters will have in common right now.

As Tribepad talent acquisition software is used by more than 22 million people globally and processed 11 million job applications in the last year, it gives us a pretty fantastic birds’ eye view. 

We mined our data to understand exactly what the past few months have looked like for recruiters across these six industries:

Then we’ll share some must-dos for handling these new challenges. 

Here goes…

How has COVID-19 impacted recruiters in different sectors? 

The most recent figures from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) say applications-per-vacancy have risen to 50+ across much of the UK.

Our stats back that up… and then some. 


We processed 28% fewer job listings in retail from January to August 2020 compared to the same period last year. But application volumes have increased considerably, seeing 45% more applications in September 2020 compared to September 2019.

In September 2020, the retail industry saw an average of 150 applications-per job. That’s a big increase from our 2018 stats, when retail saw an average of 38 applications-per-job. 

This means many retail recruiters are facing 4x higher applications-per-job today than two years ago, in an already-high volume industry. 

Construction, Engineering and Logistics

Comparing January to August 2019 to the same period 2020, we processed 30% more job listings in construction this year, testament to the construction industry’s ongoing growth despite challenges. 

Application volume also increased dramatically though. We saw 3.8x more applications in September 2020 compared to September 2019. Overall, construction saw an average of 85 applications-per-job. 

Our stats also show there’s considerable variation between employers, with some construction businesses seeing as high as 150+ applications-per-job. The construction industry is as competitive as ever, and many construction recruiters are overwhelmed by applications. 

Food and Drink

Comparing January to August 2019 to January to August 2020, we processed 22% fewer job listings across the food and drink industry this year. And although the increase is less dramatic than other industries, we also processed a 15% increase in applications from September 2020 compared to September 2019.

The food and drink industry saw an average of 34 applications-per-job – that’s a lot more manageable than many industries. However, we also saw lots of variation with some employers hitting as many as 85+ applications-per-job. 

We processed 29% fewer job listings across the legal industry in January to August 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. And – bucking the trend we’ve seen in other industries – legal also saw 73% fewer applications in September 2020 compared to September 2019.

Overall, legal businesses saw an average of only 17 applications-per-job in September 2020 – compared to an average of 38 applications-per-job in 2018

That would suggest legal candidates are reacting to the uncertainty of COVID-19 by staying put. The market was certainly much more buoyant a year ago. Today, many legal recruiters are likely battling increased time-to-hire as they struggle to find qualified candidates for open roles. 


We processed 56% fewer job listings for finance in January to August 2020 compared to the same period last year. Following the same pattern as the legal sector, finance also saw 73% fewer applications through September this year than last. 

Finance overall had an average of 45% fewer open roles in September 2020 than legal though, suggesting many in the industry have put the brakes on recruitment altogether. As you’d expect, uncertainty is the perfect dampener to growth. 

Saying that though, there are outliers – the highest applications-per-job leap to 80+. That suggests a tentatively positive outlook when finance businesses return to hiring – there are plenty of candidates out there. 

Healthcare and Social Care

We processed 9% fewer job listings in healthcare and social care in January to August 2020 compared to January to August 2019. But the sector was nonetheless extremely active, posting 77% more jobs than construction during the same period, for example. 

Application volumes increased by 14% in September 2020 compared to September 2019 – a trend we’re likely to see continue as mass redundancies drive unemployment and more people hunt for jobs. 

Already a high-volume sector, many health and social care recruiters are now battling even more unmanageable application volumes. Overall, healthcare businesses saw an average of 52 applications-per-job – leaping to 100+ applications-per-job in some cases. 

How recruiters can adapt to the COVID-19 landscape 

With a few exceptions, our stats show most recruiters are battling dramatically greater application volumes than usual. Even recruiters who’re used to high volume recruitment are likely struggling right now. Which means finding efficiencies throughout your recruitment process is more important than ever.

The right talent acquisition software can help manage extreme volume, by automating manual processes so recruiters’ workloads are more manageable. (The Tribepad ATS gives you back more than a day each week, cutting admin by 25%, for example). 

When you’re handling a high volume of applications, look for recruitment software with robust screening, sorting and sifting functionality. To automatically accelerate best-fit applicants to the top of the pile (and rule out no-fit applicants without them clogging up recruiters’ bandwidth).  

Automated, personalised candidate comms are also a must-have feature for volume recruiters, to protect your employer brand.

Flat-out recruiters don’t have time to reliably and consistently do the tasks that create a great candidate experience. But when 1000s of candidates come into contact with your biz (or more.. like Tesco, who recently had one million applications in a week…), you can’t afford to leave a negative impression. Automated comms take care of the basics. 

The fact is, high application volume can be frustrating for recruiters who don’t have the right tools for the job. But the more people you attract, the better your chances of hiring someone great. That’s why delivering a great candidate experience and protecting your employer brand matter. 

For recruiters on the other end of the spectrum – like, say, those in the legal and finance sectors – it’s mission-critical to spend time building talent communities. Technical skills shortages are an endless problem and although candidates might be reluctant to jump ship right now, long-term relationships will serve you well. 

To that end, look for recruitment software with talent pooling and relationship nurturing functionality – as well as excellent employer branding – so you’re not stuck spending big with agencies when hiring picks up pace. 


Tribepad’s talent acquisition software has earned 21 awards and recognitions in the past five years, and people all across the globe rave about us. We’d love to show you around. Book a short call or demo by clicking this button.

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