The Most Important Service Level Agreement

Having talked to countless hiring managers, one of their biggest frustrations is not knowing what is going on with a particular search. They post a position, talk to their recruiter, and then wait for candidates to come their way.

While many recruitment organizations have created service level agreements that define the recruitment/hiring process and each parties’ (hiring manager and recruiter) responsibilities, many do not define and establish a “time-to-first-submittal” SLA. This SLA is what I believe to be the most important.

We (and others!) call this SLA: Requisition Received to “First Submittal.”

This is the time between receiving/qualifying the requisition from the hiring manager to the time you send over your first pre-screened, qualified candidate for consideration/interview.

Now I know that your manager will ask for/want more than “one” candidate (although it truly takes just one qualified candidate to successfully fill a position!), but we all know that a manager’s most anxious time is the time that lapses between giving a requisition to a recruiter and receiving the first applicant.

This time period (between req received and first submittal) causes the most anxiety/pain because of the “fear of the unknown.” Their thought process might be something like; “…I don’t know what is going on; I don’t know when I will see candidates; I don’t know when I will be able to get this position filled, etc.”

When applicant flow starts to come in, regardless of whether or not the candidates are the perfect fit, they rest easier knowing that “the ball is now rolling.”

You can avoid all this pain, anguish and anxiety, and most importantly — define expectations and improve customer service — by setting a realistic SLA. The process includes (but is not limited to) the following:

• Meet with the hiring manager and qualify the open position/requisition.

• Identify whether or not you feel there are internal candidates qualified to fill the position. If you believe an internal candidate exists, start the internal recruitment process/posting and set the appropriate service level that defines when you expect internal applicant flow.

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• If you have to search externally, define (with the hiring manager) the position’s level of difficulty to fill:
o Standard, business as usual
o Difficult to fill
o Extremely difficult to fill

• Once you determine the level of difficulty (and get sign-off/buy-in from the hiring manager), define (with the hiring manager, if possible) your search strategy for filling the position. Educate them on how you will find (your action items/steps) qualified candidates for this position. While they might not care about what you need to do to fill the position, educating them on your search strategy will give them a better idea of how long it actually takes to identify, make contact, and pre-screen qualified, passive candidates (especially during the summer with folks on vacation, etc.).

• Now time to set your SLA:
o “Joe, based on the fact that this is a difficult to fill position, as we discussed, and that we don’t have any internal candidates and, honestly — since it is a new position — no external candidates in my pipeline, I want to set a realistic SLA. You should expect to see applicant flow by Friday, 8/19. Of course, as soon as I identify candidates that I think are qualified, I will send over ASAP. But I want to set a realistic expectation given the search, my search strategy, etc.”

• If for some reason you are unsure that you can not meet that service level, give yourself a “safety net.”
o “Joe, if for some reason I don’t think I will meet that deadline, I will let you know by COB Monday the 14th.”

If the only SLA you have ever established with your manager is; “…I will get working on it…” When they say, “I need it filled ASAP/yesterday…” don’t expect your managers to roll over and be happy with some of the SLAs you set (especially for difficult-to- fill and extremely-difficult-to-fill positions).

Anyone that has set this SLA will attest to the fact that many managers will still want candidates “yesterday.” With that said, over time, you can start to educate them on why it takes time to generate a slate of qualified candidates. Just as important, if you meet/exceed the SLAs you set, your hiring managers will start to appreciate your honesty regarding the situation. And most importantly, your hiring managers will trust and respect you more for setting them.

David Szary is senior vice president and general manager, recruiting services, HealthcareSource. HealthcareSource is a leading provider of talent management solutions for healthcare.

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