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Paring Down the Interview Process

In recent years, surveys have found employers taking longer to fill open positions. New data from the Talent Board, however, finds many companies cutting down on the number of interviews they conduct before selecting a candidate. Are hiring processes about to pick up speed?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016
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If you've noticed your company's time-to-hire numbers getting a little inflated in recent years, you're not alone.

In 2013, for example, Glassdoor found the average interview process lasting 23 days, compared to 12 days in 2009.

In 2015, the Sausalito, Calif.-based job and career website reached roughly the same conclusion after again culling data from interview review surveys of its users in an effort to determine the average time employers are taking to fill open positions. This time, Glassdoor found the average time to hire increasing from 12.6 days in 2010 to 22.9 days at the end of 2014.

Some new data from the Talent Board, however, finds many companies keen on reversing that trend.  

Each year, the San Diego-based nonprofit organization rewards employers that provide the best job-application climate as part of its annual Candidate Experience Awards. According to the Talent Board, the award program is designed to illuminate the recruiting technologies and strategies "that contribute to a positive, transparent and rewarding candidate experience." One of the steps the organization takes to achieve that goal is conducting surveys of participating employers as well as thousands of individuals who have applied for jobs with these companies.

Nearly 80 percent of the 200 companies surveyed for the 2015 awards said they conduct just one or two interviews for a position. When the Talent Board asked participating employers that same question in 2014, just 63 percent said they make a hire after only one or two rounds of interviewing.

Paul Rubenstein, a New York-based partner and leader for talent strategy, leadership and assessment services at Aon Hewitt, attributes this roughly 17 percent jump to a variety of factors.

For example, the sheer volume of applicants that employers have seen in recent years has created a bit of a quandary for hiring managers, says Rubenstein.

"If you want to see a lot of candidates, if you want to really test the market, then you're not going to be able to spend a lot of time with each of them," he says. "Think about buying a house. Do you want to see a lot of houses and spend a short time looking at each one, or do you want to spend a lot of time looking at a few houses that you really like?"

Rubenstein sees more employers responding by taking the latter approach -- using more efficient pre-hire assessments to identify a select few top candidates on whom to concentrate their efforts.

"Companies are getting better at pre-hire assessments. People have moved away from long-form tests to computer-adaptive, engaging tests that are faster," he says. "What used to take an hour can now be done in 25 minutes or less. That makes a big difference" in terms of getting a handle on applicants' hireability.

As top applicants become more emboldened by a job market that’s increasingly candidate-friendly, companies will be forced to focus even more closely on efficiency in the hiring process, adds Rubenstein.

"Right now, job-seeker confidence is high again," he says. "Talented people know they're in demand, and they don't have the tolerance for a drawn-out interview experience that might still end with them not getting the job. And, an employer knows this kind of experience sends a bad message about their employment brand."

In addition to protecting the employment brand, cutting costs and improving the efficiency of the hiring process are ongoing concerns for employers as well.

Technology, of course, is helping them do all of the above, says Ann Paulins, senior associate dean of research and graduate studies and a professor at Ohio University's Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education.

"Technology -- for screening as well as pre-interview rounds -- enhances speed while typically reducing costs," says Paulins. "A popular trend is recorded interviews that candidates complete in front of their own computers, much like Skype, but without anyone on the other side."

In some cases -- entry-level positions, for instance -- one recorded interview may provide enough insight to make a hiring decision, while they can serve as an effective screen for an in-person interview when filling more advanced roles, says Paulin.

Other simpler tools such as LinkedIn -- or even a basic Google search -- enable employers to screen and eliminate candidates whose professional profiles don't seem compatible with the company, she says.

"Fast tracking interviews is a trend among some companies, particularly those that want to save money."

There's a fine line between saving time and money through fewer interviews and skimping on candidate evaluation, of course.

While there's no magic number of interviews necessary to find the perfect fit, "it is possible to balance recruiting efficiency with recruiting effectiveness," says Elissa Tucker, research program manager with the American Productivity and Quality Center, a Houston-based nonprofit focusing on business benchmarking and best practices.

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Top recruiting functions rely on a number of hiring practices to achieve this balance, says Tucker, who notes that past APQC research has found these organizations with such top functions spend four times less to recruit a new hire while taking half the time other companies take to fill a position.

Top companies more often turn to internal recruiters and employee referrals to source candidates, as opposed to looking to search firms and/or recruitment outsourcers, she says, stressing the importance of using data to inform the hiring process as well.

Each business function at General Mills, for instance, "selects a core set of schools, typically 15 to 20, from which to recruit," says Tucker. "Selection criteria for a candidate include the success of [current General Mills employees from a given candidate's school] and length of these employees' stays at General Mills."

In some cases, hiring managers may need a hand to keep things moving along, adds Rubenstein.

"Interviewing doesn't come naturally to everyone," he says. "And we shouldn't just consider it an assumed skill in our hiring managers."

Rubenstein recommends looking at factors such as employee engagement and first-year turnover scores among current employees as a gauge of hiring managers' success, and seeking feedback from applicants themselves.

"We get lots of feedback from customers who select us as well as those who don't. We have to do the same with job candidates," says Rubenstein, who also suggests asking hiring managers to role play before conducting interviews.

"It's a good development moment."

In the end, gaining a competitive advantage -- or losing it – comes down to striking the balance between quick and conscientious hiring practices, says Paulins.

"In addition to beating competitors to the 'best candidates' . . . there is an opportunity cost to having a vacancy," she says.

"The company cannot be optimally productive when there are open positions. So faster hiring is beneficial and sometimes essential. Ultimately, the most efficient hiring process is 'best.' "

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