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Are We There Yet? Why Executive Hiring Takes a Long Time…Sometimes Too Long

4.10.2017
You would think that with technology speeding up our communications and processes on all fronts, the time needed to seek and hire the right candidate would be shrinking. That’s not necessarily so. The interview process alone is getting longer each year.

In 2015, employment site Glassdoor.com found that the average interview process in the U.S. is now 22.9 days, nearly double the 12.6 days in 2010, and that is for all positions within a company, from retail clerk to the CEO. An executive search can take anywhere from four to ten times that long, if not longer. Whether you are on the hiring or candidate side, the longer it takes, the greater the pain you might feel. Let’s look at the most common reasons why it is taking so @$#%ing long. 

1. Proceed With Caution! Hiring executives, and the human resources departments that serve them, are acutely aware these days of how expensive a bad hire can be. On average, it takes a new employee six to 12 months to get up to speed on the job and the company culture, and a bad decision and a quick departure mean the clock has to start all over again. Lost productivity, not to mention a double dip in recruiting costs, will hit a tight budget in a bad way. With more hoops for a candidate to jump through, including additional rounds of interviews to get more input from the team, background checks, and requests for writing samples or group presentations, a hiring executive has much more data to work with to make the best decision. But every hoop that gets added takes time.

2. Analysis Paralysis. In the case of a newly created role, or one that is being re-imagined after a long-term incumbent, there can be a lack of clarity in the hiring executive’s mind as to what the essential characteristics and skills are needed before they even interview the first candidate. Does the new CFO need to have a strong accounting foundation, with a CPA, or is someone who has followed a financial analysis career path to the top a better fit? Does your Chief Marketing Officer need to be a strategic, creative, visionary leader, or someone who can drill down on operational leadership?

Some hiring executives prefer to “try on” different candidates as they work through the search process to help them arrive at the answer, rather than hammer out the answers before starting the interview process. This can be tiring and unfair to the unwitting candidates, and a waste of time for the interview panel. Much of our work as consultants is to help our clients shape the position descriptions, through interviews with the team as well as position assessment tools (of which we are a big fan) to help them identify what their business needs to succeed before their first interview. 

3. Getting the Buy-In Upfront. Some corporate cultures have a top-down approach to decision making, and what the hiring executive wants, the hiring executive gets. Inevitably, this will lead to a shorter search process. On the flip side, in a company where decisions are made by consensus and through buy-in, the process will inevitably take longer. Getting six strong-minded, opinionated leaders aligned on a hiring decision is at least six times as hard as one. The great benefit for the successful candidate in this situation, however, is that the onboarding process is smoother and shorter, as much of the hard work of buy-in is already complete.

4. Trains, Planes, and Automobiles. Speaking of consensus at the top, when global business leaders who are essential to the interview process are zooming around the country and world conducting business as usual, it can be challenging to get calendars to line up for face-to-face meetings with each of the key stakeholders. While the “search committee” was an entity employed primarily in academia and the non-profit sector, we’ve noticed more and more of our clients assembling one to ensure that the best candidates have been vetted thoroughly. This adds a few additional levels of scrutiny and screening, but also other scheduling logistics into the picture. Add to the mix a similarly mobile candidate pool of leaders who have a full dance card of travel scheduled months in advance, and the calendar Olympics get increasingly difficult and add to timeline.


5. Looky-Lou Syndrome. The distant cousin of Analysis Paralysis is the Looky-Lou Syndrome. Some hiring executives feel like the perfect candidate is always the next candidate, and the search can feel like a journey to find the end of the universe. We have greater access than ever to information on possible passive candidates, and it can feel tempting for a hiring executive to keep “swiping left” in search of a golden unicorn that may or may not even exist. Meanwhile, the exceptional candidates who meet 98 percent of a job’s requirements get put on hold for all of eternity. About a decade ago, we conducted a search for a senior financial services executive. The good news was there were only one or two people involved in the hiring, but the bad news was the hiring executive said he liked interviewing people and wanted to see 50 candidates. 


Rushing the hiring process is never a good idea (see item number one.) However, if you find yourself on the hiring end of a search and the weeks are stretching into months, assess how you and your team are impacting the timeline and make adjustments where you can. If you are a candidate in a search process that seems to be stretching into eternity, find your patience, do your research, and know that if is meant to be, it will be.


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