Madison Avenue by flickr: midweekpost

Although recruiting is at a standstill at most ad agencies—and although the ad industry shed 7,000 jobs in the last four months of 2008—some ad firms are still struggling to fill their upper-tier positions, Workforce reports.

In specialized agencies, recruiters are seeking candidates with specific industry experience as well as advertising experience. The piece notes:

Health care advertising agencies, for example, are still hiring from what remains a very small pool of candidates with a specific mix of creativity, advertising experience and health care industry expertise.

“In health care advertising, we still see a real shortage of qualified candidates,” says Alison Lalli, an in-house recruiter for Grey Healthcare Group, a niche advertising agency for the health care industry.

“For the entry-level positions, we can recruit from a larger pool, but above that, applicants without agency experience or from outside the health care industry find it very difficult to meet the skills we need,” Lalli notes.

At Grey, Lalli fills 40 to 50 positions a year, and sometimes only attracts two qualified candidates for a given job opening, and recruiting “passive candidates”—those already in a job and not looking—is even tougher in a recession, since people who have jobs are typically more risk-averse.

To tackle these challenges, the recruiters are prepared to redefine the job (to a certain extent), and they’re always conducting interviews, even if the candidate isn’t necessarily interested in a job right away or even if Grey has no open positions.

“Because the talent pool is so small, it’s crucial to maintain relationships,” Antonette Poli, Lalli’s colleague, notes. “The challenge is always to find new talent.”