The Eternal Conflict: Are You Taking Too Long to Hire?


I've hired a lot of people over the years, more than I can count, but the one constant in all that hiring is a simple question: Are we taking too long to hire?

Yes, I've been accused of that before, especially when I was recruiting journalists for a newspaper in Hawaii, a place that people suddenly got cold feet about when they had to consider living and working there rather than just dropping in for a vacation. Corporate types 6,000 miles away never seemed to understand that.

I've also been accused of hiring too fast when it was clear that the very first candidate interviewed for a position was by far the best choice. Many people don't believe that ever happens. Their view is that unless you're interviewing lots of people and digging through an endless stack of resumes that you're not really doing your job.

A recipe for losing your best candidates

I bring this all up because of a great little survey from Robert Half, the staffing firm that largely specializes in accountants and financial professionals, with a simple premise -- Are You Taking Too Long to Hire?

As the Time to Hire survey points out:

Hiring is one of the most important decisions any organization makes. But stretching out the process can cause good companies to lose out on the best candidates."

The survey data does a good job of supporting that premise.

  • For almost six in 10 workers (57 percent), the most frustrating part of the job search is the long wait after an interview to hear if they got the job.
  • Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) lose interest in an organization if they don't hear back within one week after the initial interview; another 46 percent lose interest if there's no status update from one-to-two weeks post-interview.
  • When faced with a lengthy hiring process, 39 percent of survey respondents lose interest and pursue other roles, while 18 percent decide to stay put in their current job.
  • Nearly one-third (32 percent) said a protracted hiring process makes them question the organization's ability to make other decisions.

How long is too long to hire?

That last point is an important one, according to Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half:

The hiring process provides a window into the overall corporate culture. If people feel their career potential will be stifled by a slow-moving organization, they will take themselves out of the running."

Of course, all of this discussion about taking too long to hire raises a question: What is the proper time frame to make a hiring decision, and what is considered too long? According to the survey:

  • From the day of the initial interview to the day an offer is extended, the largest percentage of workers – 39 percent – said a process lasting 7-14 days is too long.
  • One quarter of the survey respondents (24 percent) felt a time frame of 15-21 days was too lengthy.

Yes, hiring is one of the most important decisions a company makes, and as the survey analysis notes, "the risk of making a mistake causes some firms to draw out the process, adding days or weeks until a final decision is reached. But doing so often results in losing top candidates and starting the search over from scratch. "The key takeaway is for firms to tighten their timelines without skipping steps," McDonald said.

(Editor's note: The Talent Insider blog is fueled by Checkster, and Checkster offers a number of nifty tools to help speed up and improve the hiring process, including the Reference Checkup and Interview Checkup.)

Getting a message you didn't mean to send

My take: Hiring is about getting the best people, yet at far too many companies, the internal systems for doing that get in the way of actually finding and landing them.

The Robert Half Time to Hire survey reminds us again that candidates aren't willing to wait too long for a company to make up their mind, and given that we're in an economy that continues to slowly improve, people have a lot more options and job possibilities than they had even two or three years ago.

If you leave candidates hanging and don't get back to them in a timely manner, you will not only hurt your ability to hire people now, but you'll send a larger message out about your organizational culture that can be terribly damaging long-term.

My experience is that candidates will stick with you as long as you are regularly communicating with them and helping them to understand where you are in the hiring process -- and where they stand as well.

I say this a lot, but it bears repeating: A new job and new company should be at it's very best when you are at the beginning of the relationship. If it's not great then, it probably never will be. if you leave would-be employees hanging when they're talking with you about a job, don't be surprised if they hear a message in that you never really intended to send.