Why Hiring Is Taking So Long—and What HR Can Do About It

From job posting to accepted offer, filling an open position takes nearly a month longer than it did five years ago. What’s the holdup?

By Roy Maurer Jun 1, 2016
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It has been four months since the job order for a team leader position was approved. Thousands of dollars have been spent on recruitment, and tens of thousands more have been lost in revenue and productivity. The already-strained relationship between the hiring manager and recruiter is now stressed near the breaking point—and the quality of candidates has only gotten worse.

This dysfunctional scenario is not just an abstract "what if?" It is happening with greater frequency at companies everywhere: The average time to fill a job—from the initial posting to an accepted offer of employment—increased by 62 percent for large global organizations between 2010 and 2015, according to research from CEB, an Arlington, Va.-based management and technology consultancy. CEB found that the average time-to-hire for white-collar positions is now a whopping 68 business days—26 days longer than it was in 2010.

And the average time-to-fill for jobs across all U.S. industries has been steadily climbing since 2009. It currently stands at 26 days, according to the most recent DHI-DFH Mean Vacancy Duration Measure, the standard assessment of hiring duration. (The DHI-DFH reflects data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and defines working days as Monday through Saturday, whereas CEB uses Monday through Friday in its measure.)

CEB uses Monday through Friday in its measure.)

The most recent data, from February 2016, cited especially long-lasting vacancies in health services (49 days), finance (42 days), government (36 days), education (35 days) and information technology (32 days).

So what’s going on? As the workplace evolves and technology advances, shouldn’t hiring be getting more efficient? While that would seem intuitive, the answer is complicated.

For an employer to address its hiring inefficiencies, it has to understand that hiring duration is "contextual," meaning "not just one layer, but an onion of context," says William Tincup, CEO of HR consultancy Tincup & Co., based in Dallas. A confluence of factors—including a tight job market, the pervasiveness of all manner of tests and assessments, and the rise of hiring by committee—have conspired to make modern recruitment a long and fraught process at many companies. Without careful planning and management, hiring managers and recruiters can fall into the same trap that some online daters do: becoming so overwhelmed by the possibilities that they date perpetually without ever finding "the one."

The inevitable result is that employers "miss great potential hires and then have to settle for candidates that were less qualified than those they had originally passed up," according to Sarah Greer, a recruitment manager for TCMP Health Services in the Washington, D.C., area.

Fortunately, HR professionals can play a key role in ensuring that their companies are finding the right matches—as quickly as possible—by working closely with hiring managers to ensure effective communication and stakeholder alignment even before a position opens.
Why the Delay?

There is no single, readily discernible cause for the lengthening time-to-hire. But on the most fundamental level, a lag signals that there are more job openings than there are applicants to fill them, says Steven Davis, the William H. Abbott Professor of International Business and Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and co-creator of the DHI-DFH measure. "Labor markets have been slowly tightening in recent years, so the continued rise [in hiring time] is no surprise," he explains.

What is unexpected, however, is that time-to-hire is "much higher than before the Great Recession, when the market was stronger than it is now," says Gad Levanon, managing director of macroeconomic and labor market research at The Conference Board, a global research association based in New York City.

Some experts speculate that today’s hiring holdups are due in part to practices that started during the recession. "When the labor market was weak, employers had such an easy time filling positions that they increased [the number of required] qualifications for job openings," Levanon says. "I call it ‘opportunistic upskilling.’ " The problem is, companies haven’t relaxed their expectations as the market has tightened, he says.

And all those years of being picky may have led some hiring managers to allow perfect to become the enemy of good. "Often, there’s a gap between the hiring profile, whether written or simply in mind, and who actually needs to be hired," says Scott Wintrip, president of Wintrip Consulting Group in St. Petersburg, Fla. "Too many hiring managers get hung up on having to hire the ‘ideal’ person, while too many recruiters fail to address unrealistic expectations."

Recruiters themselves often have a more practical outlook, but that doesn’t count for much if hiring managers aren’t held accountable when they drag their feet, either because they are searching for "unicorn" candidates—those that are too good to be true—or just too distracted to make hiring a high priority.

Indeed, recruiters say—and research backs up—that the most common impasse in the hiring process occurs when candidates’ resumes sit untouched for days or weeks in a hiring manager’s inbox. "As much as the hiring manager feels the pain of a missing body on their team, he or she doesn’t necessarily place enough importance on the recruiting process," says Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer for Matawan, N.J.-based recruitment software provider iCIMS. "Managers are not prioritizing their part, and recruiters are often scared to follow up with the manager."

This lack of communication between the recruiter and hiring manager is what Matt Doucette, director of global talent acquisition for job board Monster, calls "the single most common reason it takes longer than usual to fill an opening."

Further complicating the picture is that "often times, hiring managers don’t know what they want until they see it," Doucette says. As a result, budget parameters or job descriptions might need to be modified midsearch, creating havoc for recruiters.

"If the hiring manager is bringing a person on board because they themselves lack the technical skills for the job, sometimes they’re not well-positioned to write the job posting," says Amy Gulati, SHRM-SCP, an HR operations manager for Cvent, an events management technology firm based in Tysons Corner, Va. "You put something out to the market and get back the wrong applicants."

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