Your biggest talent competitor isn’t another organization – it’s time. 

No other recruitment variable will impact your business strategy as much as time does.

On the one hand, there’s the opportunity cost of not filling your open jobs while your competitors widen (or close) the gap on you. An extended hiring process can impact your product roadmap, sales funnels, and customer support wait items.

On the other hand, if you rush your recruitment process without thoroughly completing your diligence, you’re far more likely to make a poor hiring decision and jeopardize the business too. 

Is it more important to get things done (to meet a perceived hiring deadline) or to get things right (to meet a candidate quality threshold)? The answer, of course, is a little bit of both. 

And so rather than dwell on the dilemma above, the best course of action is to refocus your stagnant recruitment process by addressing these two questions:

1. WHY do we believe it’s taking us so long to fill this job, and 

2. WHAT should we do better or differently, starting today? 

What truly separates a high-performing talent function from its competitors is the willingness to pivot when hiring isn’t going as planned. And most organizations fail to go deep enough in uncovering the WHAT and WHY above. 

After participating in thousands of recruitment status update meetings over the years, I’ve summarized the six most common reasons why jobs stay unfilled, and more importantly, what you can do to get your recruitment efforts back on track.

1. Your Value Prop Isn't Attractive:

A purple unicorn and a purple squirrel are sitting on barstools with a drink

Why is this happening? 

Candidates are overwhelmed with direct messages, especially those with purple unicorn-like profiles. If your LinkedIn response rates have declined, candidates are dropping out, and your applicants are dwindling, it’s time to revamp your content marketing strategy. 

What should we do about it? 

1. Customize your content marketing: It’s easy for a candidate to decipher if a Recruiter has customized their outreach message, or if they were just caught up in a generic “Hi {First Name}” email blast. The best recruitment marketers refine their pitch for every candidate outreach. A tailored approach won’t scale like an email blast, but it will improve your response rates. And response rates need to take precedence in such a tight candidate market.

2. Practice your pitch: If another employee is already doing the same or a similar job, ask them to validate if your recruitment pitch is compelling and authentic. Refine and A/B test as needed.

3. Supplement your Employer Value Prop (EVP) with a “job-specific” value prop: Most companies focus on building a great EVP. But the best recruitment pitches resonate at both an organization and job level.

2. You Keep Changing the Target Profile:

A Hiring Manager is on video conference and the Recruiter is sitting in her living room. She has a disappointed look on her face

Why is this happening?

If you’re hiring for a new role, there’s nothing wrong with gathering market data before finalizing the job scope. The challenge becomes: unless you formalize the switch from insights to action, you’ll struggle to know when to stop browsing and when to start shopping (see Optimal Stopping Theory below).

What should we do about it?

1. Gather market insights first, and then kick off the recruitment process: If you haven’t finalized the role scope, you shouldn’t start the clock on measuring the effectiveness of your recruitment process. These are two very distinct and separate initiatives. 

2. Refine the scope: If the target candidate profile sounds more unicorn than human, then trade-offs need to be made. Clarify your needs and wants, and encourage the decision-maker to edit their wish list. 

3. Keep your interview panelists updated: The onus is on the Recruiter and Hiring Manager to ensure that they’ve shared any changes to the target candidate profile. Set up a group chat to ensure all stakeholders are receiving the same updates in real-time.

3. You Never Say Yes to the Dress (or Candidate)

A Hiring Manager is standing at the desk of a Recruiter and is very happy about how his interview went. The Recruiter has her hands on her hips and is disappointed that she needs to find six more candidates for comparison.

Why is this happening?

It doesn’t matter if you’re searching for a better apartment, wedding dress, or parking spot – it’s easier to say no than it is to say yes. In the recruitment world, this translates to: when should we choose the best candidate that we’ve already met with, and when should we keep searching for a better option? 

What should we do about it? 

1. Know when it’s time to stop: Take a few minutes to learn about Optimal Stopping Theory. At a high level, the general theory states that you should meet with the first 37% of shortlisted candidates, and then you should hire the next best candidate from the available talent pool. If you don’t subscribe to such a formulaic hiring process, there’s still value in understanding the math behind the model (even if you just want better parking spots).

2. Establish a candidate bar, not a skill set bar: Once you’ve identified a top candidate, every subsequent candidate should be evaluated as a collective being, rather than holding out for a superhuman candidate that comprises the best attributes of each candidate. 

3. Recalibrate as needed: As the candidate data set grows and the comparison set becomes more valuable, the ‘Responsible’ and ‘Accountable’ stakeholders need to align on any changes to the target candidate profile.

4. There are Bottlenecks in Your Recruitment Process:

3 Recruiters are around a table with a cake on it. Although it's a birthday party, they are sad that a job has now been open for 365 days.

Why is this happening?

I consider the big buckets of a recruitment process to be, in order: Headcount Planning, Sourcing, Screening, Interviewing, Hiring, and Pre-boarding. More often than not, there will be wasted time and effort in your recruitment process, or in the handoff from one stage to the next. As much as Recruiters love cake, nobody wants to celebrate an open req growing into a toddler. 

What should we do about it?

1. Implement One-Piece Flow (OPF): OPF is a lean manufacturing process where the steps and stages are completed concurrently rather than consecutively. If you are recruiting for high-volume and recurring roles, I’d recommend embedding OPF into your recruitment process. 

2. Audit your bottleneck reports: Most Applicant Tracking Systems can produce a Bottleneck Report. This report will tell you how many days each candidate sits in a particular stage of the interview process. If you have to book interviews two weeks out to find time in an interviewer’s calendar, you’re going to see this bottleneck reflected on the report. Same with scheduling phone screens, generating offer letters, etc.

3. Implement Follow-up Fridays: Every active candidate should know where they stand heading into the weekend. A quick touch base message will help to minimize candidate drop-offs and improve your Candidate Experience too.

5. Your Job Descriptions are Screening out Qualified Candidates:

Two Managers are together at a desk. They are both complaining and upset that they can't hire the candidate that they want to.

Why is this happening?

As I covered in my blog post on Job Descriptions, if you focus on screening candidates out, you’re also negatively impacting your Diversity and Inclusion programs, employer brand, and ability to woo candidates with high learning agility. 

What should we do about it?

1. Focus on quality, not quantity: Instead of focusing on years of experience thresholds to differentiate your job levels, shift your emphasis to qualitative measures and competency-based expectations. For example, rather than requiring 5+ years of X, you can state that you’re looking for proven and recurring success working with X. 

2. Ask more Situational Interview Questions (SIQ’s): SIQ’s will ensure that you’re evaluating candidates based on real-world scenarios, rather than focusing on how many years they’ve been doing a specific task. Check out my blog post on how to write practical Situational Interview Questions if you need a refresher.

3. Get creative with your Job Descriptions: A candidate might infer that a boring and bureaucratic job description is more likely to be produced by a boring and bureaucratic company. If you’re concerned that your job descriptions negatively impact your employer brand, you can experiment with innovative job description formats to entice more candidates to apply. 

6. Your Interview Stage Needs a Makeover:

Five dentists are in a room together. Four out of the five want to hire a candidate, but the fifth dentist doesn't. A dental hygienist is upset that they can't agree.

Why is this happening? 

It’s common for interview panels to expand to the key stakeholders interacting with your new hire. But where should you draw the line? More interviewers lead to more calendar scheduling, more complexity in your calibration process, and a greater likelihood that more nimble talent competitors will swoop in while you’re still deliberating. 

Worse, are you still mandating that you cannot make any hires without 100% agreement on the hiring decision? If we can’t get five dentists to agree on a toothpaste, it’s unrealistic to expect consensus when selecting the best candidate. 

What should we do about it?

1. Create a RACI at the kick-off stage: Implement a RACI to identify which stakeholders are Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed on every open requisition. Treat every req as if it’s a project to manage. 

2. Communicate your RACI definitions: Recruiters or Hiring Managers are typically Responsible. If you’re Accountable, you own the hiring decision. If you’re Consulted, you’ll provide feedback on candidates, but you also won’t take it personally if the Accountable one doesn’t select your preferred candidate. If you’re Informed, you should provide guidance and support but not meddle in the selection process. 

3. Establish SLAs for providing interview feedback: If your stakeholders aren’t providing interview feedback within 24 hours, the law of diminishing returns creeps in. The value of interview feedback lessens with every day that passes.

In Closing:

There are far more than six reasons why jobs stay open, but I hope that a few of these scenarios resonate with you and your hiring team. 

It’s easy to summarize the perils of a broken recruitment process in a single comic panel. It takes far more time and effort to see a meaningful impact on your hiring process. 

But the call to action is to simply take action. And ideally, starting today.

No villain need be – time is the enemy. 

If these comics and insights resonated with you, please subscribe and share these ideas with your hiring teams. New blog posts are coming soon – for real this time.

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Chris Mulhall is a Talent Management Executive and the Founder of Whiteboard Talent. His mission is to challenge the status quo and encourage others to disrupt the Talent industry. Read more about Chris, his comic strips, and his affinity for whiteboards.

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