Credit: Lindy Alexander for SEEK


Activity in the Australian job market is slowly driving a return towards pre-COVID job ad levels and by November 2020, job ads were up 8.6% month-on-month. However this positive trend isn’t being matched by a similar overall increase in applications.

SEEK data reveals that while the number of job seekers viewing ads is the same as this time last year, the overall number who go on to apply is 15% lower. And industries with customer-facing roles are seeing a big drop in applications volume – in some cases up to 30%.

So, what’s causing this disconnect between the volume of job ads and the number of applications?

We asked Nicole Gorton, Director at Robert Half, for her take on this, and what hirers and managers can do to navigate this tricky period.

  1. Job security given preference over salary Many Australians’ working lives have been impacted dramatically by COVID-19, so it makes sense that job seekers’ priorities are shifting too. While getting a pay rise has traditionally been a priority for many candidates, job security has become increasingly important. In fact, according to research conducted on behalf of SEEK, 2 in 3 people feel that because of COVID-19, job security is more important than salary. And what’s more, 31% of Australians said they were planning to leave their current job but decided to stay because of COVID-19. “The pandemic has seen a shift in the career priorities of many Australians – for the short term at least,” Gorton says. “Many professionals today are concerned that if they move to a new employer, they could potentially be the first to lose their job if the company or economic situation takes a turn for the worse.” What you can do: “Employers need to be on the front foot when it comes to addressing candidates’ concerns about job security,” Gorton says. “Emphasise the stability of the business, its plans for sustainable growth, and the company’s ability to successfully navigate a variety of market conditions. That’s the key to successfully attracting staff in today’s market.”

  2. The impact of borders being closed In previous years, immigration to Australia has brought a supply of candidates into the job market. But this has been impacted by international border restrictions. “COVID-19 has brought stricter visa requirements for Australian companies, so there would be fewer international candidates applying for Australian jobs, combined with fewer Australian citizens returning home,” Gorton says. What you can do: Gorton says that hiring managers should be confident that domestic candidates are still willing to change jobs – they may just need a little more encouragement than before. “Employers need to take a ‘what’s in it for you’ approach when attracting Australian job seekers,” Gorton says. “This can mean drilling down into what makes the role and the company an enticing place to work.” This could mean reviewing and revamping your Employee Value Proposition in light of the current climate.

  3. Challenges with new year timing It’s possible that the reduction in job applications is due to timing challenges. “At the start of the year, plenty of people are still on annual leave, and immediate issues such as getting children settled into school may take priority over career advancement,” Gorton says. What you can do: Be proactive and don’t rely on candidates coming to you. “At Robert Half, we actively approach our network of passive candidates, those not actively looking for a role, harnessing our extensive network of contacts to connect with suitably skilled candidates as part of our broader strategy to find the best talent,” Gorton says. Similarly for any business looking to hire now, in addition to attracting talent via a job ad, a successful strategy may include searching directly for talent, reaching out to previous applicants and networks as well as looking internally among existing employees to uncover the right talent for a role.

  4. JobKeeper has provided additional support While JobKeeper has supported both business and employees, the Reserve Bank estimates the scheme saved 700,000 jobs in 2020, Gorton says it’s possible JobKeeper may be acting as a psychological ‘security blanket’ that’s providing support for some Australians to focus on caring for children or other family members and relieving some people from needing to seek a new role. They may still be monitoring the market but are not ready to apply yet.” What you can do: Recognise that most people work towards long-term career goals and they understand the need to grow and develop their career in order to gain financial benefits that exceed the value of JobKeeper payments. “JobKeeper as we know it is coming to an end on 31 March 2021,” Gorton says. “This is likely to encourage more people to resume career plans, which may have been put on ice in 2020.”

While a fall in applications has been seen across different industries, success in finding the right candidate for your role may require a different approach or additional tactics. Job seekers seem to be more selective when choosing which roles to apply for. Source: Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK. Interviewing 4800 Australians annually. Published Feb 2021.

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