Top Candidates Are Gone Within 10 Days … So Assign Each a ‘Hire-By-Date’

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Feb 15, 2016

If business people ran recruiting … they would assign a “hire by date” to each must-hire candidate, because these valuable in-demand candidates are likely to be quickly out of the job market.

Perhaps an example will help you understand the concept of a “buy by date.” Imagine that you’re at a farmers market and you needed exceptional quality produce. If the market was open from 8 to 5, you could of course, find and buy pretty good produce at most any time. However if you wanted exceptional quality produce, your best chance would come at opening time. And by the end of the first hour, the last bit of exceptional produce would likely be gone.

Recruiting top talent operates on a similar model. If you don’t make a quick hiring decision, every bit of the top echelon talent will be gone. Unfortunately, many recruiting leaders and hiring managers mistakenly assume that top candidates will still be around when their firm is finally ready to make a hiring decision (hiring time averages 34 days), but the data shows otherwise. In fact, it reveals that …

The best candidates are off the market in 10 days (

If You Don’t Act In Time, You’ll Miss The Top Candidates

Businesspeople would use data to prove that a failure of your firm to hire before the date when the best would likely accept another offer would cause your firm to completely miss out on nearly every in-demand candidate. We’ve all seen “Use by ____” stickers that warn us to use a perishable item before it’s too late. Well, assigning a “hire by date” to a candidate serves a similar purpose, and that is to remind everyone that dragging out hiring decisions doesn’t improve hire quality, it actually reduces it. You certainly wouldn’t want to force a quick hiring decision unless your targeted top performers were in demand because of the extremely high value that they add. And their economic value might be five times that of a regular employee because employees in the top 5 percent of a firm’s workforce can produce 26 percent of that firm’s total output.

Action Steps to Meet the “Hire By Date”

When a top performer prospect is identified by a sourcer, or when they apply at your firm, you must act quickly. You should immediately estimate how many days they will likely remain available, and place a tickler item in your calendar/CRM to remind you to make a hiring decision before that date. I call this approach designating a “hire by date.” Assigning a hire-by-date to a desirable candidate should then also trigger an expedited recruiting/hiring process. This process would ensure that if your firm makes an offer, it will be made before their assigned “hire by date” and hopefully before any talent competitors make an offer.

Most Firms Place No Emphasis on Top Performer Applicants

Unfortunately because most corporate recruiting functions have not yet shifted to a data-driven approach, they haven’t done any research on the impact that “time after entering the labor market” has on hiring success. And even fewer firms have calculated the million-dollar consequences that result from corporations not making offers before their “hire by date.” Few firms have taken the time to calculate the number of days until top candidates are off the market, and most are surprised to learn what my research has revealed and that is that the best are gone within 10 days (and even sooner for some jobs, candidates, and industries).

In direct contrast, on the business side, almost all firms have an expedited process for rapidly handling high-value customers before they get frustrated. And to make matters worse in recruiting, almost no one has a process that is even capable of identifying and then specifically “tagging” extremely high-quality applicants so that they can receive a special focus.

The Benefits of Developing a “Hire By Date” Process

Although it doesn’t take much effort or money to develop a “hire before this date” process, educate everyone about the benefits of quickly deciding on the very best candidates. Some of those benefits include:

  • An improved quality of hire — the overall average performance on the job (i.e. quality of hire) of your new hires will improve, simply because you will now be able to hire many top performers who you would’ve previously missed because they were not marked as a fast hire.
  • You may be missing them all now — if top candidates are gone within 10 days, and your time to fill is double or triple that, the odds of you landing a single one is essentially zero. Unfortunately, few recruiting departments formally classify or track top-quality candidates, so they don’t even know when they drop out on the hiring process and why. Without this candidate research, recruiting leaders can’t know that top candidates are impatient and they simply won’t wait for more than a few days before acting on their first offer from one of their targeted firms. And to make matters worse, many competitive firms now use exploding offers to raise the pressure on candidates, so that they won’t even think about waiting for a competing offer. This means that no matter how strong your recruiting argument or employer brand is, an offer that is in hand will likely win out over the possibility that your firm might provide them a better one a week into the future.
  • Top performers are extraordinarily valuable — although their value varies with the job, numerous firms have found that top performers routinely produce 5, 10 ,and even 25 times more than the average employee in technical jobs. With that high ROI, a top-performing hire is literally worth millions, so it’s worth the extra effort to develop a “hire by date” process which will help you land many more top 10 percent candidates.
  • Innovators are even more valuable — innovators are an even more desirable recruiting target because of the even higher value that they produce when they generate quantum improvements in processes and products. If the innovator is well known in your industry, they are likely to have an even shorter time period until they’re gone from the job market.
  • Fast hiring decisions impress top candidates — top candidates routinely view their experience with the recruiting process as a reflection of how the firm operates. And in the cases where they hate bureaucratic processes, they will view slow hiring decisions as an indication that the firm will be slow at making decisions on their new ideas and projects.
  • Being first may save you money — being first to make an offer may reduce new hire salary costs by avoiding the “bidding on top talent” that occurs when a candidate remains on the market long enough to receive multiple offers.
  • Developing an expedited hiring process isn’t that hard — you don’t skip hiring steps in order to meet your “hire by date.” Instead, you use an expedited process. Expediting is possible because alerting hiring managers that they are about to lose a top candidate will immediately motivate them to find the time to speed up their interview scheduling and their finalist decision processes. Using more telephone interviews and technology-based interviews like Skype and live video interviews can also speed up the hiring process without hurting quality. You can also expedite hiring by simultaneously developing the offers for the very top candidates during the interview process, so the offer can be quickly finalized immediately after the interviews are complete.

Measuring How Long Top Candidates Remain in the Job Market 

If a superstar like Stephan Curry decided to enter the open job market for basketball players, he would have at least one verbal offer within hours. Well, the business job market is no different. My own research indicates that the top 10 percent of candidates are literally snatched up by other firms within 10 days. Fortunately, there are several ways that you can definitively determine the time period in your industry before top candidates make a job choice. Those methods include:

  • Contact top candidates every day — when you notice that a top 10 percent candidate applies at your firm, simply contact them every day and inquire if they are still available. This simple approach can tell you when they got their first offer and when they are completely off the market. Do a separate assessment of the average time in which the even more valuable innovators and industry icons remain available.
  • Ask your top new hires — during onboarding, set aside some time to ask your very best new hires to identify the date that they applied at the first firm. Since you know when they accepted your offer, you can easily calculate how long they were on the market.
  • Ask past top candidates to estimate the time — conduct a telephone or email survey of a sample of last year’s top candidates who said yes to your offer and those who got away. Simply ask them to estimate the number of days that they were in the marketplace.
  • Estimate and then validate — in many cases, simply guesstimating the length of time that top candidates are on the market is a good place to start. Then after a few months, simply verify during onboarding whether your estimates were accurate for your top candidates in each of your major job families.
  • Ask top candidates to alert you — if you can’t identify the most likely hire-by date, asking them to alert you may be an alternative. If you build trust and rapport with your top candidates, you can then ask them to alert you when they receive another offer. Or as an alternative, ask them to agree to give you a chance to match their first offer.
  • LinkedIn profiles reveal a lot — if you lose a top candidate, use LinkedIn to find out where they got hired. But also use LinkedIn to estimate how long they were available. Assuming that they gave two weeks’ notice, you can measure the time between when they applied at your firm and two weeks before their start date at their new firm in order to calculate approximately how long they were on the market.
  • Estimate when they will get a counteroffer — the very best employed candidates will get an enticing “please-stay” offer from their current boss. Estimate when that counteroffer is likely to occur. This process ensures that your firm’s offer is ready in time so that the candidate can favorably compare it to their boss’s “please-stay offer.”

Slow kills hiring success, because making the first offer may be the single most important factor in successfully hiring top talent

Final Thoughts

In my experience, almost every corporate recruiting leader underestimates the importance of speed in hiring and its tremendous dollar impact on the corporation’s overall quality of hire. They also don’t understand prioritization, because they don’t treat exceptionally qualified applicants any different than the average applicant. I’ve written extensively over decades about the importance of making fast hiring decisions and the best approaches for “Speed hiring” across all candidates. But when you are targeting the extremely valuable but hard to land in-demand top performers and innovators, matching or beating the speed of hire of your talent competitors becomes critical. If you don’t believe that fast hiring is critical for top talent, ask executive search professionals, because they have known the importance of timing for years.

Now you might be thinking that if your firm has an exceptionally strong reputation and employer brand, the top candidates will wait for your offer. But you would be wrong in that assumption because even Google found that its phenomenal employer brand wasn’t enough to keep them from losing top college prospects to faster-moving rivals. If you want to land top candidates, you must adjust your hiring timeframe and end date, so that it matches the time period when your target candidates will remain in the job market. Assuming that top talent will patiently wait for you to make an offer is simply arrogant and it is not supported by the data.

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