Understanding Why Fast Hiring Is Critical to Recruiting Success

I have been writing on the need for increasing the speed of hire for nearly a decade. During that time, many corporations have begun to realize the benefits of fast hiring. Unfortunately, too many rely on a single time-to-fill metric as their way of measuring hiring speed.

There are many reasons why you should hire quickly in certain cases, but there are also problems related to using an average time-to-fill metric as an exclusive measure of hiring speed. Fortunately, there are several alternative measures which can better help you understand precisely when and where an organization should emphasize fast hiring.


Why Speed Matters in Hiring

There are three primary reasons why firms should emphasize fast hiring.

The first relates to the ability to land high-demand candidates.

One large accounting firm recently found that if they didn’t act within 22 days, their chances of landing “high-demand” candidates decreased by nearly 90%. A large electronics firm researched the issue and found that the very best in their field (the top 10% of candidates) were often gone within 10 days.

The logic of speed hiring is simple: if Tiger Woods decided to leave his golf team, he would be in such demand that he might be in and then out of the job market in as little as a few hours.

second reason for speed hiring is the economic loss to the corporation of having position vacancies. Obviously, if an airline has insufficient pilots for each of its planes, it would lose revenue from each of those canceled flights.

The pharmaceutical firm Merck found that having vacant positions in its R&D function has a direct measurable impact on the time it takes to develop new products for market.

Financial institutions have also found that having vacant positions in revenue-generating jobs, such as loan officers, costs them revenue on a daily basis because these vacant positions caused them to “miss” opportunities to make profitable loans.

The third reason relates to the “sudden” availability of currently employed individuals. The very best recruiting departments proactively seek out individuals who are currently working at other firms in an attempt to convince them, over time, to leave their current job and to join your firm. This process is known as “relationship recruiting” or “pre-need” recruiting.

The concept is a simple one. A corporation identifies highly desirable individuals and “works on them” in order to eventually convince them to join your firm. Unlike normal recruiting, when the candidate decides when to leave, this recruiting process pushes them to make that decision earlier than normal.

This process takes some time, and it’s hard to predict exactly when it will succeed. However, whenever the individual does decide to leave, it’s important for recruiters to act quickly. Fortunately, because your firm approached first, it’s highly likely that you will be the only firm directly targeting this person. But if you don’t hire quickly, he or she will likely begin looking at other firms.

Slow hiring decisions will also give their current boss an opportunity to make counteroffers, further reducing the odds that you will successfully land them.

The key lesson to be learned is that once these targeted individuals decide to make a move, you need to have the ability to open a position “suddenly” and have already designed an assessment process that is fast enough to offer them a new position almost immediately (within days) of when they make a “mental decision” to leave their current firm.

Misleading Time-to-Fill Metrics

The key concept is that fast hiring yields higher-quality hires. Unfortunately, that simple concept gets warped when corporate recruiting management begins to encourage fast hiring across the board as a result of using the metric known as “average time to fill.”

I am a big fan of fast hiring but certainly not for all candidates or jobs, and here is why:

  • Averages are misleading. When you average hiring speed across all jobs, you get a misleading number. You might have made quick decisions in low-impact jobs but have made slow decisions for jobs with a slate of “high-demand” candidates. It’s simply not a good idea to automatically hire fast in every instance.
  • Fast hiring is expensive. For key jobs and for top talent, it’s worth the added cost to hire fast. But not all jobs have a large-enough business impact to justify the added costs and management time involved in making fast hiring decisions.

Lesson to be learned: Measure speed of hire only for key jobs where it really matters.

It’s important not just to hire fast, but also to make sure that the position is filled as close as possible to its need date, and here is why:

  • Hire at the speed that the manager needs. Because the time-to-fill metric is a corporate-wide average, many recruiters focus on simply meeting that average. However, there are certain critical positions where you can hire individuals within the time that meets the corporate average but still end up hiring too slowly. These positions need to be filled by the date that the manager actually needs them, known as the need date (i.e., one day to two weeks), but it’s almost always faster than the corporate average time to fill.
  • You can hire too fast. In-demand candidates need to be decided on quickly, but it’s possible to hire too fast, long before a new hire is actually needed. Anyone who understands the corporate requisition process realizes that quite often, managers issue a requisition without knowing how long the process will actually take. As a result, if the hiring manager needs the individual in 60 days and you hire them in 15, they would be ready to start long before they were actually needed. As a result, fast hiring in response to a requisition can lead to what is known as premature hiring.

Lesson to be learned: Measure how close individuals are hired to the actual date that they are needed. The goal should be hiring on the “need date,” not before or after they are needed.

Factors That Allow for Slow Hiring

There are some cases when fast hiring just isn’t necessary:

  • The candidate pool is sufficiently large. Speed isn’t as much of an issue if you are recruiting 100% active job seekers. Employed top performers and individuals with rare skill sets are in high demand (which is why you hire fast). However, if your candidate pool is made up of unemployed people, speed is less of an issue (because they have little choice but to wait until you make a hiring decision).
  • A great brand allows you to be slower. If you have a great brand (i.e., Google), speed hiring is less important because even top performers may be willing to wait for the opportunity.

Lesson to be learned: Your hiring speed should be adjusted based on the candidate pool for that job. In some cases, you can be incredibly slow when you are recruiting from “active” candidates who are primarily unemployed. In the rare cases where the firm has a strong employment brand, you can take your sweet time and still lose only a few candidates.

Measure Speed and Quality

In most cases, you hire fast primarily because it improves the quality of individuals you can successfully land.

  • Measure quality of hire also. The on-the-job performance of a hire (quality of hire) is always the most important metric in recruiting. You do fast hiring in order to get quality, so one metric alone (time to fill) is useless unless you also measure quality of hire.
  • Fast hiring might lead to hiring errors. Making fast decisions can lead to weak assessment and bad hires either for skill or corporate fit. Develop a pool of applicants long before you need them, which allows you to assess them slowly and accurately over time.

Lesson to be learned: Measuring speed is fine only if you correlate it the quality of hire, to ensure that one produces the other. That relationship between speed and quality of hire might only exist for requisitions with high-demand candidates.

Additional Time-Based Metrics

Instead of measuring average time to fill, there are some additional and sometimes superior options to consider:

  • The cost of a vacancy. This superior metric converts the cost of slow hiring (a large number of vacancy days) into dollars, something managers can clearly understand. Managers almost always hire slowly until they fully understand the revenue impacts of such vacancies.
  • Hire by availability date. For targeted individuals you proactively pursue, the metric needs to be the time from when they “become available” (the day that let you know that they have decided to leave their current job) to the point where you make them an offer.
  • Same-day hiring. For critical positions and highly desirable candidates, corporations have to have the ability to hire on the same day that the candidate becomes available. Generally, up to 5% of all hires should qualify for same-day hiring.
  • No requisition hiring. In the rare cases where highly sought after “game changers” or innovators become available, firms have to be able to hire these individuals without an open position or requisition.

Final Thoughts

On the surface, hiring fast might seem like an easy concept to understand. In reality, it’s quite a complex issue. It’s critical that recruiting managers realize that hiring fast has great value, but it also has some related pitfalls.

It’s important to know when and where fast hiring leads to a significantly better quality of hire and a measurable positive impact on revenue.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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