For many companies, the tough economic climate of the past 12 months has forced them to concentrate on short-term priorities impacting the bottom line to the exclusion of longer-term aims. Many in-house recruitment teams have been streamlined, with their efforts focused on cost savings under the pressure of showing acceptable return on investment.

As a result, the focus of many HR departments has been on retaining the best talent rather than looking to the future. However, many organisations have had an influx of prospective candidates and should be taking advantage of a buyers market. With mixed messages from many economists, industry leaders and the media it is difficult to know for certain whether there is an up-turn on the horizon. If, as predicted, the green shoots of recovery are beginning to emerge, then it is time to look to the future once more – or face being left behind in the race for talent.

Recently published, the annual survey by international talent management firm Ochre House paints a highly fragmented picture from its survey of over 250 employers, suggesting that employers might not be as pessimistic about business prospects and consequently about staffing levels, as some commentators maintain. And, whereas 19% were already making redundancies or expected to during the year, nearly 14% predicted that they would increase headcount in 2009.

Ochre House’s research also suggested that, in many instances, the larger pool of candidates generated by the downturn has actually made recruitment more difficult rather than easier. A senior HR manager at a major retailer said, “we have seen a dramatic increase in applications per position and despite this leading to a larger candidate pool, it has almost doubled the administration time required to process new applications. Our percentage of applications rejected at the initial CV check stage has risen from 40% to over 75%. This has made candidate relationship management a much more lengthy process.”

Cost control is still a priority but investing in the right technology can play a pivotal role in a recruiting strategy, while allowing the organisation to keep a handle on costs. An HR team using traditional manual processes to sift through growing numbers of applicants is costly. Increasingly, job seekers are making the internet their preferred method of discovering new career opportunities, so it is imperative that organisations have the tools and processes in place for candidates to have a professional experience throughout the application process and beyond.

In a recent article in British online HR journal HRZone ( Alan Whitford, co-founder of Recruitment Community Europe, made the point that: “the evolution of technologies which support HR and, more specifically, recruitment has now reached the point where it should be more difficult to justify not having a purpose-built, professionally-developed and supported system in place than it would be to prove the case for investing in such a system.”

He added, “the perception is that ‘everyone can recruit online’. With the all-pervasive reach of internet job boards, corporate career sites, social and business networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook, search tools such as Google, and information broadcast sites like Twitter, the corporate recruiter can be inundated with candidates, while at the same time is still using techniques and systems from the late 20th century.”

“You can easily promote your business online,” he said, but cautioned, “without the tools and process in place to manage application volume, sift and select qualified candidates and communicate your corporate brand message effectively, you run the risk of tarnishing your reputation as an employer.”

The message is clear: now is the time to review your company’s current recruitment strategy, to start attracting new talent and begin hiring to deliver future objectives. Focusing on hiring the best talent available and holding on to star performers will give any organisation significant strategic advantage as – and when – the economy recovers.