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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  Exasperated US recruiters do have themselves to blame too
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Exasperated US recruiters do have themselves to blame too

Despite a softening labour market in the US, companies are still struggling to fill job vacancies, with 57% of CEOs reporting problems attracting qualified workers, according to a survey by the Conference Board. The lengthy and convoluted hiring process, including multipage questionnaires and months-long interviews, is turning off potential employees, with recruiters overlooking internal candidates for outside talent. Companies need to bring discipline to their hiring processes, focusing on what is actually needed for the job and keeping track of how many candidates they have considered and how many offers they have made.

Exasperated US recruiters do have themselves to blame tooPremium
Exasperated US recruiters do have themselves to blame too

Executives in the US looking forward to a softening labour market with some relief—at last, it will be easier to hire people—might be in for an unwelcome surprise. In a survey by the Conference Board, 57% of CEOs said they’re having problems attracting qualified workers. While that number has declined from the final quarter of 2022, it still means that more than half of companies find it hard to hire.

For years, business leaders have complained about their struggle to fill jobs. Usually, they blame the economy or workers, or even the US education system. And sure, there are some jobs that are truly tough to fill, whether because there are few who can do it, few ready to accept low pay for it, or few who want to do it.

But there is a more obvious reason hiring is hard: Many recruiters just don’t do it well. Too often, they alienate prospective hires by subjecting them to a tortuous vetting process. They reject promising candidates who don’t meet their impossibly long list of requirements. And they overlook qualified internal candidates for outside talent.

The prevailing attitude toward applicants seems to be, ‘You’ll be lucky to work for us at Heaven Sent Corp.’ But executives having difficulty filling jobs—and the US has 3 million more open roles now than in 2019— should consider how the application process looks from a candidate’s point of view.

That’s exactly what Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi did when he posed as an Uber driver. When the ride-hailing company had trouble attracting new drivers, Khosrowshahi and other executives got behind the wheel—and quickly realized they needed to revamp things to compete for workers.

At full-time desk jobs that come with salaries and benefits, applicants can expect to confront a marathon of interviews, assessments and screenings. Between 2009 and 2019, employers nearly doubled the time they spent interviewing candidates, according to data from Glassdoor.

In recent weeks, I’ve seen screenshots of multipage questionnaires that applicants have been asked to complete. I’ve heard of hiring processes that stretch over months and include meetings with more than two dozen interviewers. It isn’t unusual for candidates to be asked to take personality assessments or complete sample assignments. Some could take hours.

And compounding all of this, says Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the Wharton School: Companies today fill about 80% of open roles with outside hires, compared with perhaps 5% or 10% a few decades ago. That means as painful as the hiring process is for a single candidate, it’s even more onerous for the managers evaluating multiple applicants.

Companies also want new staffers to come ready-made with the skills they need to do the job without any training. But those unicorn candidates often do not exist, especially not at the salaries that most employers are willing to pay, says recruiter Laura Mazzullo, founder of East Side Staffing. That’s a message that many senior executives are reluctant to hear from their Human Resource departments.

Companies need to bring more discipline to the hiring process—from start to finish. Sure, the first draft of a job description can include a wish-list of 42 different skills and attributes candidates should have. But the final version should focus on what’s actually needed to do the job.

Interview processes should unfold over weeks, not months. A handful of structured interviews is more revealing than a dozen freewheeling conversations.

And although judging candidates by sample tasks can bring some fairness to a process often warped by personal biases, the tasks need to be short enough that candidates can complete them in an hour— something that will also help hiring managers evaluating dozens of them.

One way to combat poor hiring practices is with data. Companies should keep track of how long they have had a role open, says Mazzullo, as well as how many candidates they have considered and how many offers they have made. Following up with people who have withdrawn from consideration can diagnose issues with the process.

Cappelli also recommends keeping an eye on how new hires are performing so that managers can answer the most important question: Did that Herculean recruiting effort actually pay off?

An advocate of long hiring processes could argue that they not only weed out less serious candidates, but also give potential employees a chance to kick the tires on the organization. But more often, the succession of interviews is a red flag, a signal of corporate flab.

When an employer spends six months or even a year trying to fill an open role, one has to ask: Is it really the labour market? Unless it involves data science or diapers, probably not. ©bloomberg

Sarah Green Carmichael is a Bloomberg Opinion editor.

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Published: 14 Apr 2023, 12:26 AM IST
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