The need for KPI’s in the recruitment sector

Tim Dunn – Partner and Recruitment sector specialist

2024 brings an increasing level of business uncertainty, and a potential change in government during the later part of the year, along with many business owners predicting that they will see a slowing of activity, all adds uncertainty and impacts business confidence. The recruitment sector has often been cited as a barometer for the health of the overall economy. When uncertainty starts to increase, recruitment activity is typically one of the first areas to slow.

For some clients we are certainly seeing a reduction in the number of open mandates and anecdotally we hear of the recruitment market softening, after a prolonged period where competition for talent has been high. In such an environment, it becomes more important than ever for business owners to stay in touch with business performance, and revisiting key metrics and monitoring these is an important part of ensuring challenges and issues are identified early, and where appropriate, corrective action and strategies can be implemented.

KPI’s will be a mix of financial and non-financial data, and whilst they will vary from industry to industry, KPI’s can broadly be categorised into 4 main headings:


(Click the links above to explore each section of the guide)

The recruitment sector is complex

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It is easy to over-simplify the UK recruitment sector as simply the “supply of labour”, but this ignores the different business types and business models that operate within this industry.  Recruitment agencies cover a complete spectrum from the provision of temporary short-term staff , to the recruitment of high-level permanent staff. Further variations can be seen in the permanent placement models ranging from simple contingent fee work to exclusive retained searches. We are also seeing businesses adding an element of consultancy services in order to help differentiate their offering and enabling their clients to gain an advantage in the increasingly competitive labour market place. Candidate and skills shortages mean that competition within the industry is increasing and the outlook for the UK sector will undoubtedly be impacted by the current high level of economic uncertainty. If your recruitment business is going to be successful you need a sound financial insight, in order to make timely and informed decisions.

In terms of KPI’s there is often not a right answer or value. Target levels can be set, and it is useful to monitor performance against targets, but there will also be great value in monitoring trends over time. Trends will provide a feel for how performance is changing – if your monthly level of fees per fee earner is consistently reducing over time then it is potentially an indication that either your staff levels are incorrect, or perhaps your client management and opportunity creation is reducing in effectiveness.

The complexity and divergence of the business models does mean that there is not one simple set of KPI’s that recruitment business owners should be analysing. However, in our experience some of the main areas for consideration are below:


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Operational insight is really around how effective certain aspects of the business are. Typically, we would be expecting nearly all agencies delivering permanent placements to consider some kind of assessment of “fees generated per fee earner”. Put simply how good are your fee earners at closing deals, such a ratio will also provide a feel to resourcing and how effectively staff are being utilised.

Although quite rudimental, a simple monthly target for “number of placements” can at a very basic level give a feel for performance in respect of permanent placements. The key here is ensuring targets are set at the right level to motivate staff and also assess performance.

The business model for many recruitment businesses includes a mix of temporary and permanent placements, the idea being that the income from regular temporary placements should cover business running costs and operational cashflow with the lumpier, less predictable permanent placement income being the business profit.  Analysing the “revenue mix” [split between Permanent Income and Temporary Income]  is therefore  a good indicator of business risk. A movement overtime with an increasing bias towards permanent placement income probably indicating a rise in business risk.

The lifeblood of temporary agencies, is the “number of days filled per month” or “billable hours”. These are absolute values, but are helpful in comparing activity against the break-even point  of the business. This analysis could be extended to consider “days filled per month compared to size of admin team” [admin team days]. This ratio looks at effectiveness of the business support function and resourcing/utilisation levels.

Businesses involved in permanent placements will also be interested in “split between contingent and retained work”. This split could be analysed in terms of revenue generated from each activity or indeed number of vacancies actively being worked on. Again, a shift towards more contingent fee work, would indicate business risk increasing.

“Time to fill” is a common KPI used by many agencies to assess efficiency of recruitment process. Again, it is an absolute value which looks at the time taken from receiving a mandate through to candidate starting work.

Operational KPI Summary

Fees generated per fee earner
Number of placements
– Revenue mix
– Number of days filled per month
OR Billable hours
– Days filled per month compared to size of admin team
– Split between contingent and retained work
– Time to fill


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Financial KPI’s are primarily focussed on financial performance or financial well-being of the business at a point in time.

The model for temporary agencies [delivering either staff or contractors], is very much geared around volume and margins made are often tight. These agencies should be monitoring “gross  profit”, which is very simply the margin being made on placements. Are the margins being achieved in line with expectations and consistent with the business model?

Analysis of gross margin can also be relevant to businesses engaged in permanent placements, although it does to some extent duplicate insight obtained from any “fees per fee earner analysis”. Gross margin analysis can be more insightful when extended to monitor performance of a number of business units – for example a permanent agency supplying a number of different markets with clearly identifiable staff and other direct costs, can use gross margin analysis to compare performance and staffing levels between individual business units.

“Net profit” refers back to the main profit and loss account and how profitable the overall business is. Although I started this article saying that analysis does need to extend beyond just profitability, there is no getting away from the fact this remains an important metric. A position of continued loss making, will put pressure on cashflow and is ultimately not sustainable, unless there has been considerable investment in the business and losses are accepted as part of a longer-term strategy to drive market share.

It is also important not to lose sight of indicators of financial stability and performance. “Debtor days” being an obvious  example which calculates the average time taken for customers to pay. Cashflow is often a challenge for temporary agencies, and KPI’s that identify liquidity issues should form the part of any analysis. The “current asset ratio” looking at level of current assets to current liabilities, will identify the level of asset cover and ability to meet liabilities as they fall due. This a KPI that should be monitored over a period of time, trends here could indicate a worsening liquidity position that will manifest itself in future cashflow issues.

Financial KPI Summary

Gross  profit
Fees per fee earner analysis
Net profit
Debtor days
Current asset ratio


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Market insight can be a gauge as to the health of the wider economy, but it is also an assessment of how effective your business development activities are. For any permanent recruitment businesses, it is important to have understanding of the “number of vacancies” and “number of candidates” registered at any point in time. This provides more of a barometer as to the short-term health of the organisation. Assuming success rates remain constant any drop in the level of  registered vacancies will mean a drop in income levels in the short term. It is important that business owners can really understand movements in vacancy or candidate numbers to assess if this this is driven by market conditions [eg a slow down within the wider economy], or as a result of reduced interest in the actual business.

Linked to the above, many agencies choose to analyse the “number of new vacancies/candidates registered a month” This analyse is very focussed on current market conditions and BD activities, and looks solely at activity during the past month.

As well as work obtained from existing clients, successful businesses need to be regularly adding to their client base  For both Permanent recruitment agencies and temporary agencies alike the “number of new clients” added per month is a good indicator of performance of BD focussed staff.

“Sourcing channel effectiveness”  is a very popular KPI for recruitment businesses and is  used to assess what works well and what does not. Understanding where your opportunities are coming from and how you are reaching good candidates allows you to focus future efforts.  The idea of a “Net promoter score” is used widely across many industries, and it is a powerful way to assess how well you are delivering your services, based simply on the likelihood of your clients recommending you. There is a prescribed formula for calculating NPS, driven from the question – “on a scale of 1-10 how likely are you to recommend……?” Monitoring movement over time in the NPS is a good barometer to assess how positively your clients are feeling about their relationship with you.

Markets KPI Summary

Number of vacancies
Number of candidates
Number of new vacancies/candidates registered a month
Number of new clients
– Sourcing channel effectiveness
– Net promoter score


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Recruitment businesses live and die by the quality of the staff and the customer relationships they hold. Good employees moving to competitors or even branching out on their own is a real risk for owners of recruitment business.

I recently saw an interesting post on LinkedIn which suggested successful businesses  recognise the value of their staff, the post went on to advise: “your number one customers are your people. Look after employees first and then customers last”

Maximising the return that you get from existing staff,  and minimising costs associated with replacing are both important, but we find that  staff satisfaction and engagement is an often-ignored metric.

“Staff turnover” or conversely “retention rates” should be reviewed regularly. Simply looking at the number of departing staff as a percentage of your overall workforce, provides as useful indicator that can be used to identify trends over a period of time, or indeed benchmark performance against your peers or an industry average if you are lucky enough to be able to locate relevant statistics.

Whilst an employee survey in itself is not a KPI, Surveys can be used as a means to obtain further information regarding current levels of “employee engagement” within an organisation.  Surveys will often include a few specific questions around level of engagement that allow a quantified value to be calculated around employee engagement. Again, comparing this to an industry norm or looking for trends over a period of time, allow a business to understand if they are investing sufficiently in their teams.

Summary of Employees KPI

Staff turnover
Retention rates
– Employee engagement

Your next steps

Including KPI’s as part of your regular management information is an excellent way to provide further insight into business performance. Choosing KPI’s relevant to your business is an important first step in this process.

The comments above, identify some common KPI’s that we see used by businesses operating within the recruitment sector, the list above is by no means exhaustive.

Frequency of analysis will depend upon how easy the data is to collect, there will be some data that will lose accuracy or relevance if collected too frequently. For example, a monthly staff survey is likely to provide very limited insight and would almost certainly be counter productive in terms of staff attitude and lost productive time.

Analysis of KPI’s needs to look at trends and benchmarking performance against targets, peers and industry norms. This insight available can be really powerful and will add real value to your regular management reporting.

Posted in Guides, Recruitment