You Want the Employee to Start When? The Lowdown on Recruitment Lead Times

Companies seeking to recruit a new employee tend to fall into two distinct camps vis-à-vis the urgency of the hire. In one camp, the hire is planned; it’s part of that year’s business plan, with a thorough and complete job description and expected costings detailed down to the penny. In the other, the hire is unexpected, occasioned by various possible but unforeseen eventualities, positive or negative: An employee leaving or being asked to leave, a new business opportunity that requires skills not present in the team, unexpected growth, or any combination of these or similar reasons.

When Executives Online recruiters get the call to help recruit and speak with our client about expected start dates, sometimes what we hear makes sense. Other times, we know we’re in for a scramble to even have a hope of delivering a placement in timescales that match the client's expectations.

Over 10 years’ worth of data on Executives Online permanent recruitment projects says that, on average, the recruitment process spans 87 days between briefing and start date.

The time consists of:  Working with the client to develop the brief; communicating the role via our Talent Bank, selective job board advertising, and social media headhunting; screening applicants; interviewing (face-to-face wherever possible); presenting the client the short list of the most promising candidates who match the profile; arranging interviews between the client and candidates, often multiple rounds, plus arranging extra steps such as psychometric profile or candidate-prepared presentations; and supporting the negotiation of a job offer.

And those are just the pieces we control! – Ourselves and our client, between us.

There’s almost always a big unknown, that can never be foreseen at the outset, which is when the preferred candidate can be available to start work. They might not be in a role at the moment and so immediately available. They may have a restrictive 6-month notice period – although in practice such notices tend to get whittled down in negotiation. They might be required to serve some “gardening leave”, departing their former employer’s premises but not able to start up with a new employer for some pre-determined time. The more senior the role, the longer the contractual notice period is likely to be and the longer the associated delay in start.

Factors internal to the client, such as availability of key interviewers, uncertainty about elements of the job description, and risk-aversion to finally “pulling the trigger” and making an offer can also cause unanticipated delays, extending the lead time.

The recession has had a notable impact on recruitment lead times, probably because of the increased degree of caution with which companies have approached hiring. From 2009 to 2014, the average time from briefing to hire surged 44%, from just 66 days 2004-2008 to 96 days on average from 2009 onwards. Timescales may be shortening in again as the economy recovers: The figure for 2011 was 106 days, yet for 2014 to date it’s dropped to 96 days.

Companies in a true place of urgency and pain can mitigate the cost of a delay in hire by only targeting candidates who are immediately available, which can reduce the lead time to a matter of weeks, or bridging the time via engaging an interim manager. Many interim managers will considering permanent employment (read our recent blog on the "Myth of the 'True' Interim Manager"), so interim management can be an excellent way of engaging a person whose skills and experience are a match for the tasks at hand, and who can start virtually immediately.

All companies seeking to recruit, to truly plan when your new employee can turn up, first know thyself. Is this a planned hire that has the full commitment from every stakeholder who needs to approve? Is the job description completely agreed? Can you diarise interview dates? (This can be a great way for you and your recruiter to aim for and meet a particular deadline.) To accelerate the recruitment cycle if you’re in the throes of crisis or unbounded opportunity, would you consider starting with an interim manager, or a search restricted to immediately available candidates?

Candidates seeking a new role, be aware of these dynamics when you enter a recruitment process. Even if you’re immediately available, the necessary tasks between recruiter, candidates and client do take time, and even the most efficient companies in the world sometimes take longer than they expect to come to agreement on something as important as a key hire.

To discuss how Executives Online can deliver effective recruitment services that meet whatever timescales you may have, contact us. Candidates seeking a new role, register your CV.


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