Tips For Recruiting Hard to Fill Positions

Recruiter calling a job candidate for a hard to fill position sitting at her white desk with a clipboard

Recruiting top talent in a competitive market is a challenge, and the difficulty only multiplies when you’re sourcing for hard-to-fill positions. These roles require specialized skills, niche experience, or exemplary qualifications that aren’t readily available in the job market at large. So, you have to get creative. 

We’ll explore 12 tips that can help you refine your efforts and recruit successfully for positions that are challenging to fill. 

What Makes a Position Hard to Fill?

There are a number of factors that can make a position more challenging to fill than your typical opening. Here are some of them.

Niche requirements

When a role has a very specific set of requirements, there will naturally be fewer individuals who meet those requirements. This is often the case with highly technical roles where you need someone who not only has a specialized skill set but who has experience in a certain industry or scenario. It’s also true of leadership roles where you’re looking for someone with a particular background and experience level. 

Physical location

It’s more challenging to fill a niche position in a small town with a limited talent pool than it is in a big city with millions of people. Also, some locations are less desirable than others, making it harder to convince candidates to relocate there. 

Company culture

Elements of a company’s culture can make it hard to find a good match, like if the company has a reputation for being very demanding or lacking work-life balance. 

Bad PR

Negatively perceived current events like layoffs or scandals involving company leaders can make an organization ‘damaged goods’ in the eyes of talent. 

Low compensation

For many candidates, moving forward with a company comes down to dollars and cents. If your salaries don’t match the going rate in your industry and location, it will be hard to recruit for any position. 

Lackluster benefits

If your compensation package doesn’t include basics like health insurance, top talent are likely to look elsewhere. 

Overly narrow or broad job description

While it’s true that some positions do require a person with a very specific set of credentials, some companies make recruiting a challenge with a set of requirements that’s needlessly rigid, like calling for a post-grad degree when a bachelor’s would suffice. The opposite can also be true with requirements that are so loose they encourage anyone and everyone to apply. This makes it almost impossible for a recruiter to zero in on candidates who are a strong fit.

Related: How to Write a Job Description

Talent shortages

Industries sometimes experience short- and long-term talent shortages that make it hard to recruit for routine openings and run-of-the-mill roles. The current situation in nursing is a great example. 


Some markets and industries are hard to recruit for at certain times of the year. For example, if you’re in a college town, it will be harder to fill a minimum-wage role during the summer months when many students leave town. 

12 Tips For Recruiting For Hard-To-Fill Roles

1. Arm yourself with information

Before you begin sourcing candidates, it’s crucial to have a deep understanding of the hard-to-fill position you’re hiring for. This involves not only knowing the job description but also understanding the unique challenges, responsibilities, and opportunities associated with the role. 

Take time to consult with current employees in similar positions, as well as leaders who manage the role, and gather their insights. This knowledge will help you craft a more accurate job description and identify the specific qualities you seek in a candidate.

2. Develop a strategy

Recruiting for hard-to-fill positions requires a well-thought-out strategy. Create a detailed plan that outlines the steps you will take, the resources you will use, and the timeline for the entire recruitment process. Additionally, identify any resources you need but don’t currently have that will help you in your efforts and what you need to do to secure them. 

A strategic approach will help you stay organized, keep your timing on track, and increase your chances of success.

3. Leverage employee referrals

Referrals are consistently a source for high-quality hires, making them valuable assets in your quest to hire for hard-to-fill positions. Existing employees understand the company culture, which can help them proactively identify and recommend candidates who are a match. 

Use a referral program to encourage your staff to suggest potential candidates from their professional networks. 

4. Use niche job boards and industry networks

Consider advertising your hard-to-fill position on niche job boards and industry-specific networks, like Dice for IT jobs or PRSA for communications roles. These platforms can help you target the right candidates with the specialized skills you’re looking for and may yield better results than a generic job portal like Indeed or LinkedIn. 

5. Partner with a specialized recruiting agency

Recruitment agencies that specialize in your industry or the specific field of expertise can be invaluable partners in your hiring process. Their headhunters have the knowledge, experience, and preexisting talent networks to identify and attract qualified candidates who might not actively seek new opportunities. This is especially beneficial for roles that require highly specialized skills or certifications.

6. Offer an attractive compensation package

In the competitive job market, it’s almost impossible to win great talent without a competitive compensation package. Hard-to-fill positions often require candidates with unique expertise, so you must be prepared to pay above-market rates to attract those individuals. 

Evaluate your salary and benefits package to ensure it aligns with (or exceeds) industry standards and offers an attractive proposition to would-be applicants.

In depth staffing knowledge is only a click away.

Download our 2023 Hiring and Salary Guide to read helpful advice from industry experts.

7. Highlight your company’s unique selling points

When you’re recruiting for a challenging position, it’s essential to set yourself apart by showcasing what makes your company a great place to work. 

Highlight your organization’s culture, values, growth opportunities, and any other unique benefits during the early stages of your application process. Use positive employee testimonials to further cement the case for working for you. Emphasizing these aspects will make your organization more appealing to potential candidates.

8. Streamline the application process

A lengthy or complicated application process can deter potential candidates, especially when recruiting for hard-to-fill positions. Simplify and streamline your application process to make it as user-friendly as possible. Remove unnecessary steps and only request essential information. This can help increase the number of qualified candidates who complete the application.

9. Use social media and online branding

Your company’s online presence plays a significant role in attracting candidates for hard-to-fill positions. Use social media platforms and your company website to showcase your company culture, values, and the exciting work being done within the organization. Engage with potential candidates through content they’re likely to find interesting, like blog posts about what’s happening in your industry or photo albums showcasing what it’s like to work there. 

10. Implement skills testing and assessments

To help narrow your focus when you’re looking for a particular skill set, use pre-employment assessments to qualify candidates. These assessments can help you objectively evaluate a candidate’s abilities, especially when filling roles with specialized technical requirements. Skills tests can be particularly valuable in conserving a recruiter’s time so that you’re only talking with applicants who are truly qualified. 

11. Provide training and development opportunities

When you’re recruiting for hard-to-fill positions, it’s essential to consider the long-term development of the candidate. Sometimes, it may be best to recruit a candidate based on their potential and provide training for any skills they lack. 

Additionally, training and development opportunities can make you more competitive among candidates who are ambitious and eager to grow with their employer. Highlight your commitment to continuous learning and professional growth during the recruitment process.

12. Create a diverse and inclusive hiring process

A diverse and inclusive hiring process is not only ethically sound but also beneficial when recruiting for hard-to-fill positions. A diverse pool of candidates brings different perspectives and experiences, which can lead to more innovative solutions. Ensure that your hiring process is free from bias and discrimination and actively promote diversity and inclusion within your organization.

Recruiting for hard-to-fill positions can be a complex and challenging task, but with the right strategies in place, it’s entirely achievable. By developing a comprehensive strategy and leveraging all available recruitment channels, you can increase your chances of successfully filling these positions. The keys are patience, persistence, and adaptability. Embrace these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to securing top talent for even the most challenging roles in your organization.

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Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn