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Applying for a Job? This Might Take Awhile

Jun 23, 2015

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SMITH BRAIN TRUST -- Are companies being too picky in hiring workers? One factor slowing the recovery might be the growing length of time it's taking companies to fill open positions. As of April, the average vacancy took 23.7 days to fill, nearly double the 15.3 days of mid-2009. In some sectors, like technology and finance, the unemployment rate is so low (2 percent or so) that supply and demand offers an explanation, but that's not the whole story. Companies are deploying more tools — or, from another perspective, making applicants jump through more hoops. They report using more background checks (42 percent in 2014, up from 25 in 2010), skills tests (23 percent, up from 16 percent), and drug tests (23 percent, up from 13 percent). They are also using more group-panel interviews and personality tests than they did just a few years ago.

Poll: Do longer hiring processes pay off?

Applicants might find the selection process frustrating, but Jeff Kudisch, a Smith School professor and managing director of the Office of Career Services and assistant dean of corporate relations, thinks it's sensible that companies appear to be embracing the first part of the HR motto, "Hire slow, fire fast."

"This is an information society," Kudisch says. "People need to multitask, think strategically, think relationally, deal with a variety of people. It's a complex, global workplace. Why shouldn't we be using sophisticated tools to predict success?" Selection is often given lip service, but managers are unwilling to spend significant time and resources on it, he says. Companies have no problem issuing their workers $1,500 computers. "But it's difficult to get organization leaders to spend $200 on an assessment that could provide great insights on an applicant that might otherwise take them a year to learn."

The jobs that are disappearing from the economy are low-skill jobs, Andrew Chamberlain, the chief economist of the career-research firm Glassdoor, told the Wall Street Journal. "The kind of jobs that are booming are jobs that take lots of judgment and creativity. They're harder to hire for and so they take longer." Glassdoor was the source of the data on which tools companies were using. The source for the rate at which positions were filled was the DHI Hiring Indicators report.

Longer interview processes are an international phenomenon. France, Germany, the U.K., Australia and Canada have seen increases. Still, the United States hires more quickly than any country in that group but Canada.  

Kudisch says that companies appear to finally be embracing insights from the human-capital literature — notably, that unstructured interviews are an extremely unreliable way of judging people. Depending on the job level, on candidates' core competencies, and because different tests measure different attributes, Kudisch recommends combining such tools as business-reasoning tests, personality assessments, integrity tests, "fit" measures, structured behavioral interviews and even full-blown job simulations.

But if companies are going to take longer to fill a given job, they need to communicate that fact to applicants. "Selection is a two-way street," he says. "We have to monitor the quality and ROI of the tools used to select individuals but also monitor applicant reactions to hiring processes."

Applicants would be less vexed by lengthy hiring processes if companies communicated better. "If companies got back to candidates after a month and said, 'Here's where we're at in the process. We're very methodical about assessing top talent,' job seekers would likely feel OK," Kudisch says. Fail to do that and word might spread among some very talented people in the market that your organization has a tendency to string people along.

"You don’t want to short-change your hiring decisions," he says. "Getting the right people on the field is the key to success. On the other hand, inefficient processes that frustrate job seekers can lead to losing top talent and negatively impact an organization’s brand in the marketplace.”

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.