Hiring Talent With a Short Shelf Life

Companies are hiring again. It actually never stopped for the high-quality talent out there recognized not only for their stellar work but also their high moral character. This is a winning combination no matter what the economy is dishing out. These days, organizations will do well to understand that these potential employees have a very short “shelf life.”

John Sullivan wrote a piece for ERE in 1999 that is true again today. He estimates that the odds of hiring a superstar candidate go down by 50 percent each week a résumé is on file. “As résumés get older, the likelihood of a superstar hire diminishes, but be careful, because the same is NOT true for average or poor candidates. Average candidates are able to stay available (they have no offers to say yes to) for more than 90 days (typical time to hire).” The early bird idiom rings true here.

Top talent may only be available for a day or two at the most. They will be hired straight up by a competing organization, or at the very least become wary of a company that doesn’t respond quickly and drags out the process. And dragging out the process is indeed what’s happening across the board. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the hiring “process has been slowing down as candidates go through more interviews, more screenings, more tests.”

The reporter cites research from Stephen Davis, an economist at the University of Chicago. He said that as of April 2015, “the average job sat vacant for 27.3 days before being filled, nearly double the 15.3 days it took to fill a job in mid-2009. Mr. Davis’s research … shows that the rise has occurred across industries, regions and firms of different sizes.” So while we have more available jobs today than in the last 15 years, the increasing use of screenings and background checks to hire more skilled workers for less routine positions has slowed the process.

That is to be expected to some degree. But in an effort to present a favorable image to a prospective employee, communicate regularly in a two-way dialogue, keep the number of steps to an offer to the essentials, and don’t become paralyzed by overthinking it all. Here are some ways to attract talent to your organization in a timely manner while also conducting due diligence:

  1. Mine for referrals — the fast way to knowing one’s character. Internal folks are your best recruiting asset, and be sure to let them know it. We have long had a referral program in place but recently amped up our focus here in both promotion of the program and dollars. We’ve seen the return on the investment that our internal employees, our talent and even our clients provide when bringing talented professionals to our attention. Once hired, referrals often feel more obligated to perform well and stick it out longer, while managers are more willing to work through any early issues with these new employees given the personal connection. It’s a winning formula.
  2. Offer good pay — the fast way to attract high-quality talent. The market rates for hourly workers, in particular, have shifted. Minimum wage increases by the likes of Gap Inc., Wal-Mart Inc. and McDonald’s set the pace in nearly all cities. The Huffington Post reported that IKEA saw such success from its minimum wage hike in all U.S. stores last year and it’s planning another nationwide raise next year. Chief execs cited benefits that include lower turnover and more qualified job seekers. Paying up for certain aspects of the job such as off-hour shifts and bilingual capabilities are also important to note.
  3. Screen as needed — the fast way to get through background checks. Background checks can take days or weeks depending on the type of information you’re seeking. Per-county screens and education and employment verification can delay the hiring process significantly, and when a good hiring decision needs to be turned around in a day or two, that time can be substantial. Certainly screen for what’s necessary for the open position and keep it all above board, but sometimes a national background check — which comes back quickly — is all that’s required. Here is a great SHRM article on 2015 Employment Screening Trends.
  4. Loosen the requirements — the fast way to hire for core competencies. Prolific HR industry writer Liz Ryan authored a spunky Forbes piece recently in which she stated, “Fixed job descriptions are pointless in the knowledge economy.” We do rely too heavily on the official tome of requirements set forth by the hiring manager for the only person possibly suited for the open position. But a lengthy job description can be what actually stands in the way between your organization and the perfect candidate.

The search for the “purple squirrel” is as frustrating as it is time consuming. By identifying the core requirements the candidate needs to have, and separating those from the nice-to-haves, you’re well on your way to identifying a solid group of candidates. Don’t leave out the nice-to-haves as those are often traits used to narrow down the field.

Nimble companies or business units clear on their hiring process and what they seek in a candidate will land the cream of the crop almost every time. By capitalizing on the brief time a topline candidate may be available for employment through planning and preparation, you’re setting your organization up to create a deep bench of some of the best talent on the market today.