Let’s face it, everyone hates interviewing. Hiring managers struggle to carve out time from their busy day to meet with candidates, most of whom they won’t wind up hiring, only to play catch up after the interview is over in order to complete the day’s tasks. Meanwhile, candidates need to sneak around the office, trying to keep their private phone calls with recruiters and competitors undetected. The hardest part is planning for the face to face to interview. Even the most truthful and loyal employees turn into bold faced liars, requesting off due to a “doctor’s visit” or a parent-teacher conference (which eat up ever so precious vacation days). Interviewing with multiple companies? Better have a solid list of excuses along with a healthy PTO bank.
On the other hand, the only way to grow a business and battle attrition is to continue to attract and retain unbelievable talent. Like it or not, interviewing is a necessary evil that can produce extraordinary results. The good news is that there are ways to streamline the process to cut down on everyone’s time, but still thoroughly vet a potential candidate. First, let’s explore why is it beneficial to reduce the time to fill open job vacancies.
Why Reduce Time to Hire?
1.Top Talent is a Hot Commodity
No matter what industry you work in, top talent is always in demand and gets harder and harder to find. The most successful talent acquisition campaigns focus on the candidate, not the job. The better a candidate’s experience with your interview process, the better the talent you will attract. Once you identify top talent, pull the trigger, because if you don’t your competitor(s) will. If I had a dollar for every time a phenomenal candidate was hired by a competitor that moved more quickly, I would be writing this from my own private island, not my home office. Most of the time, the scenario is the same. A company loses out to a phenomenal candidate because their competitor gave more immediate feedback after submission, scheduled a phone interview that took place within the same week, had a face to face interview the following week and extended an offer 24 hours later. What was the other company doing during this time? They just scheduled the first phone interview because one of the managers has a busy schedule. Top talent doesn’t wait, neither should you.
2.Use Psychologic Warfare to Your Benefit
During the interview process, there is a psychological benefit to being first. When exposed to a list of data, people remember the first and last bit of information better than the data in the middle. Therefore, the first company that moves forward with the interview process burrows themselves a little further into the candidate’s mind (the same is true about the last, but we will see why companies who are last to interview lose out nine times out of ten times).
The first interview is also a powerful behavioral statement. There is a principle called “cognitive dissonance” that explains mental discomfort occurs when your ideas, beliefs, or behaviors contradict each other. We justify our behaviors by aligning our thoughts, ideas, and beliefs to align with our actions. Keep in mind, it is easy to change our minds, it is harder to take back actions. Taking the step from “thinking about a new job” to “interviewing for a new job” now marries idea with behavior to further identify with the thought of change. Backing out now would cause internal conflict.
Cognitive dissonance also plays a role in justifying behavior. For example, after a great interview, candidates start to reflect more on the negatives of their current situation and the positives of the new company. I have seen completely passive candidates go from one extreme to the next, starting out by having their arm twisted into talking about an opportunity that would be “too good to refuse” to them speaking with every competitor in their industry. Taking that first call was enough to turn them from not even considering a change to daydreaming about giving notice. The more effort we extend, the more we need to justify our behavior. The more time spent interviewing, the harder it is to back out from the thought of change, especially once an offer is in hand.
The first job offer is a tangible justification of the interviewing efforts, a materialized pat on the back for a job well done. It is very easy to identify with the offer because all of your hard work during the interview process finally paid off, giving you an opportunity to be consistent with your past behaviors and change jobs.
It is always best to be first. Statistically, the first offer, even if it isn’t the best offer, is more likely to be accepted. The candidate has made many sacrifices to get to this stage (such as sneaking around the office and taking PTO to interview) so the first job offer creates an instant relief to otherwise wasted sacrifice. Furthermore, the first offer is a compliment to the candidate’s skill sets, making them feel appreciated and needed, perhaps more than in their current position.
3.Better Offer-Acceptance Ratio
The quicker a candidate’s submission turns into an offer, the better the change the offer will be accepted. There is nothing more frustrating from a candidate’s perspective than waiting. It doesn’t matter if it is waiting for feedback, waiting for an interview date, or waiting for an offer. If I have heard it one time I have heard it a million times, “Time kills deals.” The longer that it takes to go through the interview process, the more distracted the candidate becomes with outside factors, juggling their work life with family events and, most likely, other interviews. After a while, it can be easy to lose interest, like going on a date with someone that doesn’t call you back for a month. More than likely you have moved on. The same is true with interviewing, especially when it comes to the time between the final interview to offer. The final interview marks the final leg of the interviewing journey. It is like you are sailing across the ocean and you can finally see land. The longer it takes to make an offer, the more the land-sighting seems like a mirage. It is not uncommon to see offers made 24-48 hours after a final interview. If you are taking a week or more to make an offer, you are setting yourself up for failure, giving too much time for the candidate to disassociate themselves with the opportunity.
Hiring is costly. There are costs associated with interviewing and there are costs of having the vacancy open. First, consider all of the time that goes into filling a position including, sourcing for candidates, phone interviewing, conducting face to face interviews, checking references, and drafting offer documents. Add all of the administrative time that it takes to move each candidate through each step of the process, getting availability, checking manager’s schedules, and sending confirmation. The most time-consuming factor is sourcing talent. There are countless hours spent creating job ads, sending hundreds of messages to competitors, sorting through all of the applicants (most of which who aren’t qualified), responding to each email and voicemail, and weeding out candidates after an initial phone screen.
After all of that time and effort, a select group of candidates is moved on to hiring manager review. The hiring manager now steps in, usually working with the scheduling department to set up phone interviews and then face to face interviews. It is not uncommon to have anywhere between three and ten hiring managers involved in the interview process. Multiply all of the time spent by HR, the scheduling department, and the hiring managers by the number of candidates being interviewed and you can see the dollar figure add up. Streamlining the process cuts costs: Time = Money.
On top of the labor costs of interviewing, there is an additional cost for having the vacancy open. Every headcount should be profitable, even if nonbillable, to the greater good of the company. This is especially true with public companies who need to show a maximum profit with the least amount of spend to satisfy their stockholders. If a position is not adding value to the company, it shouldn’t be approved. Keeping that in mind, every day a vacancy goes unfilled the company is losing money, or in other words, losing the profit to which the position will bring. This actual dollar figure is harder to calculate, but understanding that the loss increases each day should motivate the team to reduce the time the vacancy is open.
How to Reduce Time to Hire?
Reducing time to hire may sound like a risky task. No one wants to sacrifice quality for speed, especially when it comes to growing a business. It’s not about moving quickly as much as it is about being efficient with time. Following these best practices will help speed up the hiring process while increasing the quality of candidates that you bring into your company, making it a win-win proposition for both candidates and companies alike.
1..Work on Your Approvals
Realizing that there is a monetary loss every day a job vacancy goes unfilled, it can be tempting to begin the hiring process before a position is officially approved. In theory, the interview process can take four to six weeks to identify and vet the proper candidate and, in a perfect world, the team could save time by starting the process before the position is approved (as long as the approval comes in prior to the offer stage). The problem is when the crystal ball stops working. There is nothing worse from a candidate’s perspective than finding out that they are interviewing for a position that hasn’t been approved. Candidates are making personal sacrifices to carve out time to interview. Wasted efforts lead to negative impressions.
When possible, make sure your positions are approved before identifying talent. This means having headcount and budget approval. If you are pre-screening for an upcoming position, let the candidate know. Realize that you are going to be missing out on candidates who are actively looking and be able to let them go rather than stringing them along. The goal is to identify passive candidates who don’t mind being given a heads up on a potential opportunity. Just make sure you follow up with them once the position is approved.
From personal experience, I have seen countless hiring managers lose sleep over interviewing the absolutely perfect candidate that they can’t hire. The team is usually all on board with bringing the person on board, but for whatever reason, upper management is either not approving the position or there is a long enough delay in approval that the candidate’s interest fades. Many times, the same candidate would have worked out if the interview process began later and ran smoothly through the offer stage. Remember, time from the last interview to offer is a key criterion for an increased offer to acceptance ratio.
2.Know What You Are Looking For
Most candidates will agree that it is extremely frustrating to go through an interview process that takes longer than it needs to because the team isn’t on the same page. If managers aren’t clear about what qualifications they are requiring (or if there are conflicting requirements coming from different team members) the process ends up as an exercise of trial and error. On the other hand, when the hiring team is laser-focused, they have the advantage of sniping talent before their competitors.
If HR is going to be conducting sourcing/first phone interview support, the hiring team should provide as much information as possible regarding the required “must haves” and the preferred “nice to haves.” These qualifications should be agreed upon by the team prior to the beginning of the search and required versus preferred skill sets should be clearly distinguished. If the team isn’t clear on what they are looking for, how is recruitment supposed to be hit a bullseye on a moving target? The key to streamlining this process is to create a list of qualifications and communicate clearly and concisely to whoever is sourcing and screening candidates.
Utilizing internal or agency recruiters can drastically reduce time to hire as long as they fully understand the vacancy in order to properly qualify candidates. A rule of thumb to saving time is: vet early and thoroughly. Let the hiring managers do their job and make the hiring process as easy as possible. Hiring managers should only need to spend time speaking with a handful of candidates who are prequalified and interested in the position. In other words, each candidate should match all of the “must have” qualifications and have a good amount of the “nice to haves.” Let the recruitment team narrow down the search from countless candidates to around five that the hiring manager can phone interview. From there, the team can meet with the top three and hire the one that fits best with the corporate culture, using the other candidates as backups. The 5 phone interviews, to 3 final round interviews, to 1 offer ratio is a solid ratio to shoot for (more on the 3 final round interview rule below).
In summary, a successful time saving prescreening process is a simple three-step process. First, the hiring team needs to identify clear qualifications. Second, those qualifications need to presented to the staffing team, whether internal HR or their external agencies, so the staffing team can work their magic on sourcing and screening candidates. Third, only prequalified, prescreened candidates should make it to the manager’s inbox. Identifying candidates that match the requirements, fall into the salary expectations, and who have a good reason for contemplating a career change is the majority of the battle and the most time-consuming part of the hiring process. The rest should be smooth sailing.
3.Map Out the Interview Process
Like most things in life, the more you plan, the less room for error. Map out the interview process prior to beginning the search by setting expected timelines for each part of the process. Identify who is going to be a part of each step and try to save time by having multiple managers interview candidates together. For example, if two managers need to be a part of the phone interview process, try to find a time when both managers can talk to the candidate at the same time. You can easily reduce time to hire while retaining quality by having group phone calls and face to face interviews. Setting up multiple calls on separate days or having the candidate return to the office more than once is inefficient in most cases.
Furthermore, always set timelines for interview feedback and next steps. For example, it would be realistic for HR to forward along a CV to the hiring manager the same day they screen a candidate that they feel is fit for the position. The hiring manager should provide feedback on whether or not they want to speak directly with the candidate within 24-48 hours and should provide several days and times they are available to help with scheduling. Repeat this process for each step of the interview process, trying to cut the number of interviews to the least amount possible while making sure that each decision maker gets their opportunity to speak/meet with the candidate. Setting timelines hold the team accountable for providing feedback, keeping the process moving in a forward direction. Otherwise, it is easy to get distracted with day to day responsibilities delaying the interview process.
Side note: A recent technology that has been gaining in popularity is video interviewing, especially for remote positions. Not only is there a cost saving compared to paying for flights, hotels, and Ubers, but many of the platforms allow for the interview to be recorded. This way other team members who were unable to meet during the interview time can still review the candidate’s performance at a later date.
4.Give Feedback and Keep Things Moving
Feedback is extremely important in keeping candidates motivated to continue with the hiring process which is why a smooth interview process includes regular feedback. The most important feedback is sharing the team’s interest in moving forward with the next steps in the interview process. The longer it takes for post-interview feedback and the more time between interviews, the less likely a candidate is going to retain an interest in the position (and the more likely one of your competitors is going to wind up snatching them up). Is one of the managers traveling for the next two weeks, postponing a potential face to face interview? Have another team member conduct a short phone interview while the manager is out. Try to fill in the gaps as much as possible and make sure that candidates are hearing from you at least once, if not twice per week. Set a goal to provide interview feedback within 24-48 hours.
Giving feedback to the recruiting team is also important as it will aid in sourcing better-matched talent. The idea is to replicate success and minimize failure. Learning why previous candidates are being declined will result in better screening efforts. This leads to more qualified candidates being forwarded to the hiring team, thus saving time and streamlining the process.
There is an added value of a long-term staffing agency partnership. The more familiar a staffing partner is with their client (and specific hiring teams), the better able they are able to screen potential candidates to make sure that they not only fit the qualifications but also match the corporate culture. Every “no” leads to a shortcut to the next “yes.”
5.The Three Interview Rule
Earlier I mentioned the 5:3:1 target. Five first round interviews should turn into 3 final round interviews which should lead to one offer. Here, we will discuss the importance of the 3:1 ratio. Inviting the top three candidates to participate in the last round interview is advantageous in many ways. First, it gives the team a goal to shoot for, three. If there are a ton of applicants, use the previous interview(s) to narrow down the pool. If you are struggling to find three candidates, open up your search criteria. Second, it limits the amount of time spent interviewing. It is very easy to fall into the trap of interviewing every candidate in order to leave no stone unturned. If you have a solid screening process (utilizing recruiters and initial phone interviews) you should be able to weed out candidates that don’t fit and narrow down the pool to only three. Keep in mind, these three candidates are the team’s favorites, so why bother with the others who didn’t make the cut? Third, bringing in three candidates will allow the team to consider multiple top-tier talents to protect against the fear of missing out on a better candidate.
Each of the three interviews set the bar for the next. The first candidate sets the bar of comparison for the following interview. The second candidate will either dethrone the first candidate as the team’s favorite or will provide further evidence that the first candidate is the better fit. The third candidate will do the same, either dethrone candidate one/two or provide further proof that one of the others is a better match. As long as you have three qualified candidates, there shouldn’t be a need to interview a fourth. Should the first candidate not accept the offer? Hopefully one of the other two is a close back up.
If you don’t like any of the candidates after the three interviews, it is time to put the position on hold and set up an internal meeting to get back on track. Most likely, there is one of two issues going on. Either the team isn’t clear on what they are looking for and it is time to get back on track before wasting any more time, or, the candidates were not screened properly and attention should be made to find the gap and plug it. If the need itself has changed (which happens quite often), make sure the recruiting team is kept up to date so they can change the focus of their search and screening process.
Many of the changes are minor, involving a little more planning and goal setting to create a better candidate experience. An hour conversation creating an interview plan and bringing the recruiting staff up to speed on the vacancy can save exponential time and money, giving you the ability to identify and attract better talent more quickly. Once you experience the results of streamlining the interview process (hiring better talent and saving money) it is much easier to replicate the new and improved process going further, while ironing out smaller inefficiencies on the way.
Strive to be the company that snatches up the best talent in your industry, pulling the rug out from your competitors. Do this every time and think of the type of talent you will be surrounded by.
The Headhunter Guide is RECRUITER WRITTEN'S way to provide insider's knowledge to candidates and employers alike. Enjoy!