Why Is This Taking So Long?

Nov 17, 2009

I don’t need to fight

To prove I’m right

I don’t need to be forgiven.

Baba O’Riley

“Why is this taking so long” is one of my favorite hiring manager questions. The best answer is to not have it asked in the first place. Sadly, it makes the recruiter have to justify their existence with a flurry of undocumented and ill-prepared remarks on past activity while feeling awkward and flat-footed. All in all, it is not a fun time.

I believe that we can avoid this awkward question in almost all cases, but before we discuss how that is done, let’s look at four sample answers to that question. These answers are not good ones and should be avoided. (The answers below might be accurate, but we need to be sure that candor and objective conversation take a back seat to organizational politics.)

  1. It is taking so long because it took you four weeks to finalize the position profile. Not a great answer. Managers like to see themselves as decision-makers (especially those who so clearly are not) as opposed to individuals who need input from 37 team members before they approve a position profile.
  2. It is taking so long because you take forever to respond to the candidates I submit. Not so good either. Managers have endless reasons for taking too long in terms of response time, but personally, I do not care what those reasons might be. Twenty four to 48 hours is all it should take. If you need more info on the candidate, I will get it for you. If you do not need more info, make a decision; do you want to see the candidate or don’t you?
  3. It is taking so long because you do not get back to me after candidate interviews. Avoid this answer! Having the candidate die of old age waiting for the manager to think, discuss, compare, contrast, evaluate, reflect, confer, plot, map out, or my personal favorite, “sleep on” is pitiful. (DOD, big pharma, and biotech can be glacially slow). Once again, 24 to 48 hours to make a decision. Do you want to move forward or not? (A client once told me he had to “ponder.” I hate ponderers.)
  4. It is taking so long because you change the position profile twice a week. Once again, no good! I have far more respect for managers who tell me they are not sure of what they want or they need assistance in defining the position or whatever. Under those circumstances I can help in a host of ways, but don’t keep changing the profile because hitting a moving target makes recruiting all the more difficult. (Beware of the manager who tells you the profile changes endlessly due to the “fluid and changing needs of our organizational objectives.” Those people are clueless.)
  5. Bonus Answer! It is taking so long because of all of the above! This is the worst possible answer because it simply points out the horrific shortcomings of many managers that do not seem to go away. Recruiting is a partnership, and partnerships do not work unless both parties pull their own weight and come to an understanding of what must be done, when it must be done, who is going to do it, and a clear sense of urgency.

As you can see, the answers to this question are not pretty. With this in mind, let’s look at some ways to avoid it.

  1. Agree to a contracted time to fill. Meet with the manager to discuss the position profile and set an agreed-upon time to fill. Agreed upon means that you and the manager agree to a timetable. For example, if 45 days to fill an engineering position is agreed upon, that’s fine, provided nothing foreseeable will interfere with progress. On the other hand, 45 days is not OK if the manager is taking a thre-week vacation during that agreed upon time-to-fill window and will not be available to interview. Make sense?
  2. Start aggressively. If you have a 45-day agreed time to fill, don’t wait 30 days to begin to source candidates. Start fast and start hard. Keep in mind that it is always easier to slow things down than to speed thing up. No one is ever sorry they are ahead of schedule.
  3. Keep it moving. In recruiting, the ball is always in someone’s court, so do your best to see that that ball is not in yours. Do whatever you need to do as quickly as possible without compromising quality. Be sure that you are always waiting for the manager as opposed to the manager waiting for you.
  4. Document activity. In my career, I have learned that I was never sorry that I documented activity even if I never needed it. In a world where data points can be very helpful, it is a great idea to just keep a simple running log of key activity on candidates, timetables, and anything you deem as important. Not a ton of work; just 4 or 5 minutes a day. You might not need it, but if you do, it will be a great thing to have handy.

Now, why not seek out and ask your most uncooperative hiring manager my favorite question:

Why is this taking so long?

Pretty cool, eh?

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