"Candidate-driven job markets", 17.4.2023

Panel discussion on “Candidate-driven job markets: How to match employers’ and candidates’ expectations”

17 April 2023

Tight labor markets have been haunting employers in Central Europe already for some time. The pandemic did not alleviate the situation, quite the contrary happened. A strong rebound in demand in 2022 left firms in despair as they faced mounting difficulties in finding and attracting good candidates in sufficient numbers but also in retaining employees. Firms have been responding with higher wages, more benefits and flexibility. They quickly added remote work, home office, four-day weeks and sabbaticals to the recruiting toolbox. To stay in the game the whole recruiting process had to become faster, more responsive, digital, and candidate-focused. The pandemic seems to have changed in the society the attitudes towards the role of work in life in general and ways of working in particular. In these candidate-driven job markets young talents can choose among many attractive positions. What is more, many of them are searching for more than a good, well-paid job, namely for one with a purpose. It seems that employers have been surprised by this massive shift in bargaining-power towards candidates. They had to move away from the view that employers determine the rules of the game and can easily choose among a large pool of candidates. At the same time, graduates looking for a job have to ask themselves how far they can go in their demands.

The aim of this panel was to discuss current developments in the job markets for university graduates in Central Europe. The shift to a candidate-driven market is putting pressure on employers. How do they respond to these new market realities in recruiting? What are the main demands from graduates regarding job and career? How do job applicants deal with this new situation? By listening to the employers’ and students’ views we tried to find out where there is a middle ground.

We invited human resource specialists from the WU ZBP Career Center, Henkel CEE and Vienna Insurance Group to exchange views with students from three Central European business schools.


  • Ursula Axmann, Managing Director, WU ZBP Career Center

  • Angela Fleischlig-Tangl, Diversity Officer, Vienna Insurance Group

  • Kaja Kubicka, Recruitment Partner, Henkel Group

  • Martin Hrivňák, Student at EUBA Bratislava

  • Natalia Kubisiak, Student at SGH Warsaw

  • Jakub Szajek, Student at WU Vienna

Moderator: Arnold Schuh, WU Vienna

Main findings & conclusions

The panel started with a brief overview of the findings of a survey from 2022 on the expectations of WU graduates by Ursula Axmann from the WU ZBP career center. Given the hyped preference for shorter working hours, remote working and a job with a purpose in the media, the results for the WU students were quite astonishing as they partly contradict what one would expect:

  • 84% of WU graduates prefer a full time job (vs. 13% part time);

  • 71% are interested in remote work opportunities – the main reason is social interaction with coworkers;

  • “High future earnings” lead ahead of “variety of assignments” and “competitive base salary” the ranking of the most important attributes of an attractive employer. Attributes related to “remuneration and advancement opportunities” occupy five out of the top-10 ranks. The “work-life balance” ranks only 10th;

  • The biggest increases in importance in 2022 (vs. 2021) were “flexible working conditions” and a “friendly working environment”. “Secure employment” showed the strongest decline.

The further discussion with the students on the podium confirmed these results. Young graduates are still strongly motivated by money in their choice of the company and job. After the coronavirus pandemic flexible working conditions and home office have become a standard and are actively asked for – but this is something that the recruiters have already reacted on and factored in. Summing up the mood among the students they expect a job with interesting assignments and the opportunity to develop personally combined with a competitive base salary, flexibility in working schedules and a friendly work environment. What’s about a job with a purpose? They don’t have to work for Greenpeace to find personal fulfilment – they want an interesting and challenging task. They are fully aware that each task does not have to save the world and make the world a kinder one. Coming from three different countries talented business students like Martin Hrivňák, Natalia Kubisiak and Jakub Szajek have very similar expectations. They expect honesty and respect from the recruiter. They all have enough work experience to know differences between employers and jobs and they are aware that work also includes boring tasks and is not always thrilling. As long as they see a path of personal development, good leadership and a friendly work environment they are motivated to work hard to achieve the goals.

Employers acknowledged that it has become more difficult to find candidates for specific positions due to the tight labor market. Particularly in the Czech Republic with an unemployment rate of 2.5% the labor market is empty. Of course, they are faced with higher expectations regarding the remuneration and working conditions. But Kaja Kubicka and Angela Fleischlig-Tangl found that most candidates are still realistic in their demands. The recruiters broadened their HR tool box in the last years to accommodate many of the demands regarding flexible and remote working. The recruiting process itself got digital and faster: Responses to applications have to be within 6 days. The e-recruiting portals of multinationals open the national and regional job markets in Central Europe to candidates from other world regions – due to the bureaucracy around getting work permits still difficult but sometimes worth the efforts. According to the study by the WU career center the expected salaries are 12% above the real salaries what cannot be deemed excessive.

All in all the discussion showed a less dramatic picture of the labor market for business graduates where candidates and recruiters still find common ground and a very realistic approach from both sides also accommodating the increased demand for more flexibility in working conditions.