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.

A 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.”

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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.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



9 Comments on “Understanding Why Fast Hiring Is Critical to Recruiting Success

  1. You have made the site very multichromatic. I hope you continue writing as always. I enjoyed reading your article speed for success. You didn’t use terms like productivity or jargon that is hard to understand. It really is simple as e=mc2.

  2. This is an excellent article in advancing the premise that a rapid recruiting process is a significant business advantage however one size does not fit all.

    I remember reading research from I believe the Corporate Executive Board that clearly stated the primary driver behind a decision to accept one similar position over another was the speed the offer was received. In my experience the rapid offer sends two clear messages 1. We want you 2. We are an efficient quality origanization able to make decisions.

    I have never bought into the argument that lengthy interviews with multiple people ensure a better fit. Or that the process allows the candidate to be impressed by the people they meet. I find the reverse response is more common from the candidate: ‘Why can’t you make up your mind?’

    I have implemented rapid offers driven from standard weekly hiring events in several companies, each with their own modification. I always meet with initial resisitance as hiring managers feel more pressure and in some cases fewer managers decide on hires for other managers. However in each case the results speak for themselves – higher offer rates, improved acceptance rates, shorter time to fill and more motivated/impressed candidates. In the Retail Bank I implemented events and we now enjoy an interview to offer ration of greater than 85% with 90%+ offer to accept in a highly competitive market.

    I do also support the concept of advance recruiting of prospects, when the position warrants. We have done this for branch managers, loan officers and executives to mixed but generally positive effect.

    Keep up the good work by presenting these concepts that speak to the fundamentals of a good recruiting structure.

  3. Simon, Great article. A company can loose candidates waiting to get several interviews. Leaving the next best candidate standing. This means the top talent is not hired. The other side of the story is that some candidates like the long courting period and view it as a valued meticulous process. But you could be hiring more of the same, creating a stronger culture where decisions are laborious and all consuming, or never come at all.

  4. okay….Simon didn’t write the article, John did. And Emily, you really know how to slip in a good one. I think. E=mc2…hahaha.

    Dr. Sullivan, this is one of your better writes, for sure. Like speed dating, what looks good in the introduction may not be good for the long haul.

    Though Dr. Sullivan states, ‘many corporations have begun to realize the benefits of fast hiring’, I can recall fewer than ten companies I’ve worked with that were truly capable of a fast hire when it was needed, and that spans a 15-year TPR career. Sadly, many mid-size and larger companies have a hiring policy based more on appeasement than hiring wisdom. Mulitiple managers, multiple directors, peers, and subordinates must all be appeased. Next time you hear, ‘We want to be certain everyone is on board’, realize that is a euphemism for, ‘nobody wants to be left out, but nobody wants the total responsibility, either’.

    All this appeasement slows down the process to something akin to watching paint dry. Any candidate who can truly bring greatness to an organization is going to be snatched up by a leaner and more decisive company.

    The only saving grace is one brought up by Dr. Sullivan, and that is brand. For those who believe they have an awesome brand, think about this: Good candidates will allow themselves to be subjected to your bloated bureacracy simply because they know your brand is going to look great on their resume.

  5. amen!
    …so nice to read such wisdom at this early east coast hour. Love the follow up to a well timed, well written article.
    Great day everyone and stay safe.
    jt kaufmann
    Human Factor

  6. Within the last week, a candidate for a General Manager search dropped out because my client took a week to respond to his interest. Being successfully employed in a major aerospace manufacturer that is well-known for its benchmark implementation of Lean/Six Sigma, his explanation to me was, ‘It’s not like I need their job. If it takes them a week to respond to a resume like mine for a job of this importance, they’re not the kind of company I want to work for. I move fast, and I can already see that my style wouldn’t fit their culture.’

    The month before that, one of my candidates rejected an offer because it was over three weeks from the day a (different) client asked me to tell the candidate it wanted to hire him until the date on his offer letter. This particular young superstar was even less charitable with his comments.

    Both clients, are, by the way, well-known, respected, successful manufacturers run by world-class leaders.

    The hiring managers and HR people I’m working with were confused and unhappy about both outcomes. In a touchingly human effort to reassign blame, all concerned initially questioned my ability to ‘sell our opportunity’ or to ‘get your candidates to understand we have other priorities here’. Since I’ve known both hiring managers for nearly 10 and 15 years, respectively, I was able to respond candidly, but with surprisingly (for me) adult restraint, with information and guidance that ultimately convinced all involved to look inward for the root cause of their respective inabilities to get what they wanted.

    The upside to these oopsies was that both clients are now a tad more humbled by recruited A-Players’ general intolerance of disconnects between ‘the walk’ and ‘the talk’. Both clients are also more convinced than ever that I know at least a little bit about what I’m talking about.

    Of course, the only paycheck affected by this tornado of nonsense was my own, but that’s for a different post.

    Hope you all have a great Memorial Day weekend. In the brief moment between the potato salad and the hotdog, please do whatever it takes to reflect on who and what this holiday is really all about. Corny as it may sound, I do this by watching the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, remembering as I do that my father was one of those terrified souls on Omaha Beach with a Big Red One patch on his shoulder and a picture of my mother stuffed in his helmet.

  7. If this happened in Real Estate in the UK, a term for this would be called gazumping – The delay in making a decision by some clients is a frustrating but real problem in the industry. However a way to cushion the impact of loosing good candidates is to manage their expectations better. Telling the candidate the recruiting process normally takes a month as they only employ the best, giving them scenarios of happy endings with a particular Client even though there was an initial time delay in them making a decision could help keep hold of good candidates. And of course client education during events and service reviews also helps.

  8. Companies will always acknowledge their own shortcomings last before blaming others.

    Curtiss Wright (they had once purchased Western Union just as it was about to collapse)
    Disney (under Eisner)

    Have all made enormous, mind-boggling errors often in the presence of external audit and stock holder/director oversight.

    Just because a company is a ‘Fortune 500’ (the list itself was first compiled in the 1950s) means little.

    They are not above reproach and not above making earth-shattering errors due to arrogance, stubborness, and cockiness.

    Take Bank of America & Wachovia. Both headquarted up the street from where I sit and look out my office window. Each have thousands of employees.

    Hundreds of MBA’S
    Many from top national universities!

    What in God’s name were these idiots thinking of when they were approving mortgages for $190k condos to employees making barely more than minimum wage at Starbucks or working at a Shell gas station (I know of two such workers that got such mortgages) !?!?!

    If you don’t have 20% to put down on a $300k house YOU SHOULD NOT BE BUYING ONE!!

    10 floors of MBA’s does not impress me if they uniformly give in to dumb culture and fail at their jobs.

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