This Could Be the Most Impactful Recruiting Article of the Year — Timing Is Everything in Recruiting

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Oct 24, 2016
This article is part of a series called How-Tos.

This “think piece” is designed to get you to use timing to recruit when the competition is low.

If you are not one of the few who understand the tremendous value of recruiting when the competition is low, this may be the most impactful article that you read all year.

Yes, despite all that you’ve been reading about the importance of data and technology in recruiting, timing may turn out to have a much greater immediate impact on your recruiting results. Few recruiting leaders realize it, but timing is everything in recruiting because your firm will get significantly better hires when you recruit during a time when there is low or no competition for candidates. Unless you have a data-driven recruiting function, it is unlikely that you even know how and when timing can give your firm a competitive advantage. I estimate that more than 95 percent of firms inexplicably fail to take into account the fact that the level of competition for talent is noticeably lower during certain times of the year. So, those firms that are actively recruiting during low competition times can recruit some amazing quality talent that they literally would have no chance of acquiring when the competition for talent was high.

A Timing Approach Allows a Firm to Recruit When the Competition Is Low

You would better understand the importance of timing in recruiting if you studied fishing, sales, or dating. The one single common factor among these seemingly unrelated fields is that your chances of “landing a prized catch” improve dramatically when the competition is low. For example, those anglers who want to have a significantly higher chance of catching a prize fish go out fishing the week before a major holiday like July 4. That’s because on the day of the actual holiday, the competition will be fierce, and immediately after the holiday, most of the prize fish will have already been caught.

Shifting to a recruiting example: If you were trying to attract the same caliber of talent as powerhouse firms like Google, Facebook, or Apple, on most days almost any firm would lose nearly every head-to-head recruiting competition with them. But what if you had data that showed that these powerhouse firms do virtually no serious recruiting during the month of December. With few positions open and few recruiters at these great firms who are highly active, a lesser-known firm could land more and higher-quality talent by focusing their recruiting during these this low-competition month. In addition to low competition months that repeat each year, there will be literally zero recruiting competition when your talent competitors run out of salary/headcount budget when they are under a hiring freeze or when firms close down for a 10-day Christmas break. Even with a weaker employer brand and a shortage of recruiters, almost any firm can be successful during time periods when there is zero recruiting competition.

There is no publicly available data showing that there are specific months when a higher percentage of top performers are in the job market. So even though fewer people might be looking in months like December, the percentage of top performers is likely to be the same as in low-competition months. Obviously, if your data indicated that there were such months, add this “more top talent are available” factor to your timing strategy. Taken together this means that “timing is everything” because it can be quickly and cheaply changed, while other important factors like employer branding can’t be quickly shifted. 

Immediately Filling a Vacancy Doesn’t Always Produce the Best Quality of Hire

It is common practice for almost every major corporation to immediately open a requisition when an employee leaves your organization or when a new position opens. That makes sense because in some cases, leaving some positions vacant can cost you money and productivity. But if you attempt to fill the position during a time when there is high recruiting competition, the resulting “weaker hire” will also cost your firm a lot of money, not just in the first year but over the many years that the weaker-performing new hire stays with your organization. So, when you have an opening, recruiters and hiring managers should (when it makes business sense) consider a “delayed hiring option.” This is when a “low recruiting competition spike” isn’t far off and you purposely delay filling the position until the competition for talent is low or nonexistent. This delayed hiring approach is especially effective if you are not a powerhouse firm, because it may allow your firm to hire individuals who may perform at up to 25 percent higher than the hires you land during high competition months. And of course during the waiting period, you can use contingent labor, overtime, and your own fill-in employees to ensure that the work still gets done.

The Top “Ideal Times” to Recruit

The ideal times when the recruiting competition is low vary by job and industry, so do your own research to find your own “ideal times.” However, if you want some general guidelines on the ideal times to recruit, here are the top 13 ideal times to recruit, with the best time opportunities listed first.

  • Low recruiting competition months because hiring managers are less available — in the U.S., the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas generally has the least competition, followed by late July and most of August. These are slack hiring periods because often hiring managers and recruiters are on vacation. And even though some jobs may be posted during these months, recruiters are much less active during these months simply because hiring managers are only sporadically available for recruiting. These low-competition months usually repeat at the same time each year.
  • Time periods when a competitor’s hiring budget is exhausted, so competition is lower — corporate budgets for open requisitions are rarely applied uniformly throughout the year. When new budgets open up at the beginning of the fiscal year (usually January or July), the rush to fill positions is intense. And inversely, toward the end of the fiscal year, there is often simply no salary or recruiting budget left to hire new people. And this “frontloading” of hiring toward the beginning of the fiscal year is even worse in organizations that frequently impose hiring freezes toward the end of the fiscal year in order to balance the budget. These “no budget remaining periods” with low competition usually repeat at the same time each year.
  • Time periods when a competitor has a hiring freeze on, so they offer no competition — when a firm has severe business ups and downs, it is not uncommon for the CFO to order a hiring freeze to minimize salary expenditures. Although most hiring freezes have a few exceptions, they generally mean that hiring at a firm comes to a halt and most contract recruiters are let go. The net result is that the hiring competition from this firm goes to almost zero. And to further lower the competition, there are fewer recruiters with enough time to continue existing relationships with top candidates. Although hiring freezes can come at any time, they are more likely to occur towards the end of the firm’s fiscal budget period. They may only last for a month, and they may not be repeated each year, so your firm should act quickly when they are introduced.
  • Time periods when many firms in an industry shut down, so there is zero competition — there are some firms that completely shut down operations, and therefore their recruiting comes to a screeching stop. Timber operations shut down during the rainy season; ski resorts shut down during the warmer months; and many high-tech firms shut down operations during the Christmas through New Year time period. If you want to recruit individuals in these industries or away from these industries, the shutdown periods are an ideal time when there is literally no competition. Of course, in some cases, these individuals will be on holiday but they will also have no business reason for not being available for a phone call or an interview.
  • Time periods during which most individuals look for a new job – I’ve written previously on research by Entelo that reveals that most employed individuals decide to leave their job and to look for a new one during the two-month period around their new hire anniversary date. You can, of course, recruit high-value targets at any time during the year. But it turns out that they are much more likely to consider a new job offer immediately before and after their work anniversary date. You can easily find the anniversary date of any of your recruiting targets on their LinkedIn profile. Obviously, this individualized “timing approach” requires more effort on the part of recruiters.
  • Time periods when those in specific functions look for a new job — usually you don’t need data to realize that most teachers leave their jobs in June and most Santa Clauses leave their jobs in December. But it’s also true that data from Entelo reveals that in the most important job family, sales, up to 50 percent of individuals begin looking for a job in December and early January. The turnover during this time period is higher because year-end bonuses are paid out and new year sales quotas begin.
  • University break periods when there is less competition for college hires — if a significant portion of your recruiting comes in college hires, there are also periods of low competition for college students. You simply need to look at the public recruiting schedules at the colleges you target to find out when your talent competitors are coming to campus. Although historically almost all college recruiting occurred during the spring, many firms are now also actively recruiting during the fall. However, few firms in the U.S. do any recruiting during Christmas, spring, and summer breaks, when students are not on campus. If your firm is one of the few that has the capability of doing remote college recruiting (e.g. Ralston Purina and Goldman Sachs), you can take advantage of these no-competition time periods. Professional sports teams increase their college hiring when the current graduating class is especially strong with top talent. In the same light, individual corporations should increase their college hiring quota when they encounter an especially strong group of graduates.
  • A “right time” recruiting process for high-value targets who are suddenly distressed — if you’re not familiar with the concept, “right time recruiting” is any day or time period where a normally reluctant top-performing recruiting target would be significantly more likely to say “yes” to an offer to consider a new job. A right time normally occurs when something negative happens to one of your top recruiting targets who is working at another firm. Categories of “right times” include when the target’s firm is going through a layoff or some significant business, ethical, or legal problems (i.e. Wells Fargo, VW, or Yahoo). A right day also occurs when an individual recruiting target is facing a personal major career decision, like when a close colleague or their manager quits when a major project of theirs is coming to an end, when a major idea of theirs was turned down, or when they have just been rejected for a promotion or a raise. The best way to find out when a right day is occurring is through your employees and their social networks. As a result, most of these right day hires come through the employee referral program.
  • Immediately prior to a competitor’s National Hiring Day — it’s recently become popular for large firms in retail and fast food (e.g. McDonald’s, Macy’s, & Chipotle) to hold” National Hiring Day events,” where they literally hire thousands of people in a single day. Because these hiring days (and even smaller company-sponsored job fair events) need to be widely publicized, it’s easy for any competitor to find out when they will occur. Other firms should conduct a hiring push immediately before these events, because afterward, a significant portion of the talent pool will be taken.
  • Counter-business-cycle recruiting when the economy is down — most corporations hire when the economy is strong and their firm is growing. Unfortunately, recruiting top talent is more difficult during strong economic periods when almost every firm is growing and hiring. But a few firms (e.g. Chevron and Slide) have used the timing sub-strategy of “counter business cycle recruiting.” This is where a forward-looking firm purposely recruits during slack or negative economic times, when the talent is abundant because few firms are recruiting and many are laying off or closing facilities. Under the strategy, if you can predict that an economic upturn is coming within a year, you purposely “load up” on high-quality talent before the competition for it resumes. Obviously, you’ll have to work with the COO and the CFO to set aside funds for this “early hiring,” but the strategy may get you talent that is at least 30 percent better than you will be able to recruit when the upturn begins. Of all hiring, college hiring has the highest peaks and valleys, so ramp up college hiring when others dramatically reduce theirs. The college talent will be trained and up to speed when the turnaround begins.
  • Recruit replacements in advance of an upcoming retirement wave — use a related “early hiring strategy” to ramp up the hiring of replacements for a large segment of your employee population that is about to retire. Hiring these replacements early will give them sufficient time to learn your culture and get up to speed before the actual baby boomer retirements begin.
  • Time delays during the recruiting process also impact your quality of hire — and finally, never forget that the time that it takes to make an offer to an individual who is in high demand really matters (time to fill). Every one of the top-performing candidates will likely be gone within 10 days. If you are extremely bold, you should also consider another time-related sub-strategy that is known as hiring “corporate resources.” This strategy is used when you have been tracking and building a relationship with an industry icon or superstar, and they suddenly become available, but you have no open requisition. The strategy might only cover one or two exceptional individuals during a year, but because you can’t wait for requisition to be processed, you hire them into a “corporate resource position.” Once on board, it may take a month or two to design a perfect position for them. However, if you wait for a regular requisition to get approved, they will already be working at another firm.

How an Individual Firm Can Identify the “Low Competition” Times in Recruiting

It’s actually relatively easy to identify the times when the recruiting competition is low. The most obvious place to start with is to identify the number of new jobs that are posted each month on job boards, or you can use the Conference Board’s help wanted index. You can use the advice that job boards offer or the aggregated data that they provide covering which months have a decrease in new job postings. However, a more targeted approach is to get an intern to simply track each month the job postings (of jobs similar to yours) of each of your major talent competitors on the job boards that your competitors use.

Visit the career sites of each of your talent competitor firms to see how many of their competing jobs are opened up each month. Look at your own firm’s applicant flow data and your turnover in key jobs each month to give you two additional data points on when most candidates are available. If your recruiters are any good, they will already know when your talent competitors have a hiring freeze on or when they have run out of recruiting budget, but visiting their corporate career sites will also reveal any hiring freezes or slowdowns.

Incidentally, if you don’t know who your talent competitors are, ask your top candidates to identify the other firms that they are interviewing with. Or simply wait a month or two after you close a job and look on LinkedIn to identify the firms that the top candidates that you didn’t hire finally landed.

Final Thoughts

Serious business people already know that timing is critical in almost everything that a firm does, from product introductions to advertising, and for sales events. But somehow recruiting leaders have found a way to completely ignore the topic of timing in recruiting. Unfortunately, you won’t find any discussion of the ideal time when competition is low in any recruiting blogs or at industry events. In direct contrast, you will, however, find a great deal of advice on timing on sites that help individuals get a job because career advisors know that when you apply for a position has a significant impact on your probability of success.

So in my view, recruiting leaders are long overdue for studying and changing their recruiting approach to take advantage of these “low competition spikes.” And if you’re one of the many recruiting functions that are finally shifting to a data-driven function, be sure and include in your data sets the times when recruiting competition is low. You should also put together metrics to validate the fact that you’re getting measurably higher quality hires during these periods of low competition. And finally, remember that you can and should, of course, recruit all year round but it’s time to finally realize that it makes strategic sense to also focus at least some of your recruiting on the time periods where the recruiting competition from talent competitor firms is low or nonexistent.


I will be covering additional seldom-used recruiting innovations during my talk at the fall ERE recruiting conference in New Orleans during this week (the week of October 24, 2016).

This article is part of a series called How-Tos.