Many hiring managers make candidates wait for weeks when they apply for jobs. Can't they speed things up?
There’s an urgency to hiring, for both parties involved. Once they apply, workers want to get into new jobs quickly, to start earning their salaries and snap into the rhythm of a novel position. Speedy hiring is also important for employers, since vacant roles cost companies both lost productivity and inefficient distribution of resources to compensate for empty seats.
Even though hiring should move fast, however, it never has – even now as so many are people currently looking for new jobs amid a great talent reshuffle, and employers are eager to get these workers into their ranks.
Realistically, in many places, recruitment takes weeks – sometimes well more than a month. Logistical issues, industry-specific processes or factors unique to a given job all feed into the turnaround time from job advertisement to formal offer. But although the long, drawn-out process can be frustrating, there may be an upside for candidates to hanging in there during the hiring marathon.
‘All about retention’
Hiring processes that feel endless have “been a long-standing issue, even pre-pandemic”, says Theresa Adams, senior knowledge advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Managers typically have their own job, and when they have an open position, technically may have two jobs – Theresa Adams
In 2017, when researchers from US job-search platform Glassdoor analysed the results of more than 83,000 job interviews across industries in 25 countries, they found the average interview process took 23.7 days. That’s a slight increase from 2016, when the average time was 22.5 days. (Results varied widely by country; in Brazil, the average in 2017 was 39.6 days, compared to 16.1 in India. Glassdoor attributes this to variances in labour market regulations – how easy it is to hire and fire people.) In the US, there’s been a marked increase in the length of hiring processes. Between 2010 and 2015, Glassdoor found that the average time increased by 10 days.
Of course, hiring processes vary by industry and job type. Adams says that while it doesn’t take much time to fill positions in retail or food service, recruiting for knowledge industry roles can take longer.
That’s supported by data: in August 2021, LinkedIn analysed 400,000 confirmed hires on its platform to see how long the recruitment process took. They found that the fields in which hiring took longest were engineering and research, which took a median of 49 and 48 days respectively; the shortest were customer service and administrative jobs, which took a median of 34 and 33 days respectively. Another study, conducted in 2017 by DHI Group and Workable, found that filling positions in industries like construction can be as quick as 12.7 days on average – but financial services can take as long as 44.7 days.
Company size is also a factor in recruitment timelines.Bigger companies tend to “have larger, more powerful HR departments, which leads to more centralisation and structure in hiring”, says Michael Gibbs, clinical professor of economics at Booth Business School, University of Chicago. These firms will likely have longer processes and ask candidates to meet more people. “Given the difference in resources between a Fortune 500 company and a start-up with perhaps a few dozen employees, this makes complete sense,” adds Stephen M Rakas, an executive director at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, US.
In many sectors, extra hurdles like drug tests, personality tests, background checks and skills assessments have become more common, adding more steps to the recruitment process. But hiring has always come with time-consuming logistics: screening CVs, interviewing candidates, scheduling follow-up interviews with other hiring managers. Though artificial-intelligence systems and HR departments can take on some of this, busy managers juggling multiple priorities will also have to be involved – potentially causing delays.
“Managers typically have their own job, and when they have an open position, technically may have two jobs,” says Adams.
Companies of all stripes also increasingly want to be sure that they’re choosing a candidate who will stay in the role. “More than ever, recruitment is a question of fit: companies want to make sure they are getting the right people, but also want to make sure that they are the right company for those people,” says Michael Smits, professor of management at University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. “Recruitment is expensive, and recruiting people who leave shortly after because they are unhappy is a waste of time and money for everyone involved.”
For decades, research has shown structured interviews – in which interviewers spend extra effort to prepare questions and possible assessments ahead of time – produce better recruits than unstructured interviews involving a chat with a candidate about their CV. Plus, more structured processes that involve more people can help avoid unconscious bias in hiring; if more than one person is involved in interviewing, there’s less chance the candidate will fall victim to the biases of a sole recruiter. Gibbs says that a key reason hiring takes longer “is to reduce risks of discrimination and broaden the pool of talent to consider”.
Find your fit
Of course, none of this really makes candidates waiting days or weeks to hear back from prospective employers feel much better.
While some applicants understand why the process takes so long, many still have to endure interviewing processes that seem interminable, which can be worse depending on the company. The recruitment process also seems to have become less courteous; ghosting (by both employer and candidate) is widely reported, as is breadcrumbing, when potential employers lead candidates on. When you factor in candidates’ perceptions that it’s a job-seekers’ market, it’s easy to understand why people are baffled or even fed up when recruiters seem to be dragging their feet.
Long recruitment processes can, of course, backfire on employers, when candidates end up losing interest in the job. Long gaps between interviews and poor communication can encourage applicants to apply elsewhere instead. Adams says a process that feels too long can be a bad sign; maybe the job isn’t a great fit for you. “They [the candidate] may perceive that employer to not be considerate or employee-centric by making them wait so long, so they may choose not work with them,” says Adams.
Yet there are also powerful reasons for candidates to persist through lengthy hiring processes. “The more thoughtful the organisation is in making decisions, the better the long-term outcome is going to be for both the applicant who gets hired and the organisation,” says Brent Smith, associate professor of management and psychology at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Conversely, whizzing through the hiring process can “result in a bad hire – and result in termination”, says Adams. You might not have all the skills needed, and your new job could end up being a miserable experience – you could even get fired.
Still, Adams says companies can make certain changes to expedite hiring, like having realistic expectations about whom they’ll be able to hire. “I don’t think the perfect candidate exists,” she says. “I think educating hiring managers to be more flexible and open-minded with candidates can certainly help” lessen the time everyone has to wait for the position to be filled. Clearer and more frequent communication from hiring managers during the process can also help candidates understand how the recruitment is progressing.
But she suggests candidates also need to be patient with employers, particularly now as they grapple with post-pandemic demands for autonomy and flexibility. Even in a job-seekers’ market, it’s important for candidates to be realistic about how much time companies need to assess applicants’ suitability.
“I think candidates need to manage their expectations,”she says.