Understanding Time-To-Hire Metrics: Separating Time To Fill From Time To Start

Aug 10, 2004

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Part 1 of this article series discussed the complexities associated with time to hire and provided an example illustrating why companies should put more effort into defining, understanding, and analyzing time-to-hire statistics. Particular importance was placed on the need to clearly differentiate between time to fill and time to start. To reiterate:

  • Time to fill reflects the elapsed time between the initial approval or posting of a requisition and the final acceptance of a job offer from a qualified and approved candidate.
  • Time to start reflects the elapsed time between the initial approval or posting of a requisition and the actual day when the newly hired candidate begins work in the position.

The things that impact time to start can be quite different from those that affect time to fill. For example, time needed to relocate new hires can significantly impact time to start. However, relocation times will have no effect on time to fill unless relocation requirements are specifically included as a factor in selecting candidates. Because they are associated with different causes and consequences, there is considerable value in independently tracking and analyzing time to start and time to fill metrics. There are even cases where it makes sense to completely separate time to fill from time to start by setting up two separate staffing processes for the same job: one process to hire new employees for the job, and another process to place newly hired employees into specific job positions. There are at least two situations where it makes sense to functionally separate time-to-fill and time-to-start. Filling Critical Positions Requiring Extensive Orientation or Training This includes examples such as call center jobs in the insurance or finance industry that require new employees to pass licensing exams or retail store management jobs that require extensive corporate education and training. In these situations, new employees often need to complete weeks of training before they can start performing the job they were hired for. If companies wait for vacancies to occur before starting the staffing process for these jobs, then time to start will necessarily be at least as long as the training time needed for the job. This could mean leaving critical positions un-staffed for weeks or even months. Due to the costs associated with leaving certain critical job positions open, some companies purposefully “over staff” these jobs to create a backlog of pre-hired, pre-trained employees who can start work in new positions as soon as they become vacant. This results in reducing time to start for these critical positions to near zero. It also reduces the risk of recruiters or hiring managers lowering hiring standards simply to get someone into a currently open position as fast as possible. Of course, this approach only makes sense as long as the cost of carrying extra headcount is less than the value gained by keeping key positions fully staffed at all times. Hiring From Very Limited or Constrained Talent Pools This includes, for example, hiring newly graduating engineers or research PhDs. Some companies in these situations require hiring managers to not only make specific staffing forecasts six or more months in advance, but also live up to them. For example, in the first quarter a hiring manager may be required to tell the staffing department how many positions they will need to fill in the third quarter. The staffing organization then commits to delivering enough qualified candidates to fill these positions by the third quarter. The hiring manager is then required in the third quarter to make some minimum number of new hires based on their original forecast. In other words, hiring managers are required to hire the people they said they would need. Requiring managers to hire people may seem odd, but it is not much different from how finance departments treat budget forecasts. In essence, people are constrained to live up to their forecasts. The only difference is that instead of focusing on limiting resource expenditures based on a budget, this approach focuses on requiring hiring managers to spend a certain amount of money on new hires. The requirement that hiring managers actually make the hires they forecast is particularly important when hiring from small talent pools. Companies hiring from these sorts of pools can quickly gain a reputation for not meeting implied commitments toward potential candidates. For example, companies that wish to hire skilled graduates from certain colleges will soon develop a reputation among students, alumni, and faculty if they recruit candidates in the winter and spring only to decide in the summer that they “aren’t hiring this year.” These examples illustrate reasons why it is important to treat time to fill and time to start as two very different aspects of time to hire. Admittedly, these strategies may be best suited for fairly unique settings where companies have a stable demand to fill certain classes of jobs. Companies must also have the resources to support increased staffing levels that may result from temporarily over-hiring. But the short-term costs of over-hiring are often offset by revenue gained through reducing time to start for key positions, improving new hire quality by having recruiters focus on hiring the best candidates available instead of trying to fill open positions as fast as possible, and strengthening the company’s employer brand by consistently meeting commitments to candidates. In sum, investigating metrics related to time to hire can lead to highly innovative and effective changes to staffing processes. However, to fully leverage data from these metrics, staffing professionals must effectively analyze, interpret, and convert staffing “numbers” into accurate and meaningful knowledge. This means taking time to thoroughly define and understand the similarities and differences between time to hire, time to start, and time to fill.

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