In metropolitan areas like Washington DC, it’s become remarkably difficult to hire highly skilled employees and senior staff members. Trying to hire on your own has become more expensive than paying someone a fee to help you recruit.

Here’s why:

The news headlines might blare about future economic slowdowns or potential future recessions, but right now we have full employment (are you seeing any stories about layoffs from well-managed firms? No.) Quite the opposite, some organizations are hiring like mad.

So with low unemployment and fewer candidates actively looking for work, more employers are vying for the attention of fewer available and interested candidates. Consequently a few things happen in your recruiting process. Your job advertising will yield lots of candidates who are not remotely qualified (this is true in any economy) but far fewer candidates who are qualified. Next, when you try to schedule those few good people for interviews, you’ll quickly discover that some of the best candidates will withdraw before the first interview because they already accepted a job offer from another employer. Or perhaps candidates accept a first interview with you but then decline a second interview.

To add insult to injury, the job advertising market itself is increasingly complex and fragmented because of all the competition between Google for Jobs, Indeed, Linkedin, Glassdoor, CareerBuilder and others. When you have a poor response to your job advertising, it’s difficult to know whether you used the wrong job title, wrote an unappealing job description, posted your job in the wrong place, or maybe your job is just not as attractive to candidates compared to their other career options. All you see is who responded to your ad. You can never see who you didn’t reach.

When your recruiting process fails and you don’t know why, a few predictable things begin to happen in your hiring practices. Perhaps, after a few months you finally make a job offer only to see it rejected. Or perhaps candidates accept your job offers, only to withdraw before their start date. Or maybe you have even hired someone who starts and then quits when they receive an even better job offer. This is increasingly common and it all stems from the same root cause – too many employers chasing too few available, interested, qualified candidates. But nothing is worse than lowering your hiring standards and ending up with a dud. Some desperate hiring managers mistakenly plow ahead and make job offers to the best of the people who showed up to interview, instead of holding out to find the best qualified people in the job market. When you lower your standards, you always pay the price later. Those “desperation hires” always create management problem within their first year of work, and many of them also create legal problems on their way out the door (in addition to leaving bad reviews on employer reputation sites like Glassdoor.)

The long term view

Next year, you’ll need to explain the choices you made this year. What would you rather explain?  Did you go under your salary budget because you jobs left vacant for 6 months, but as a result your strategic goals were not met? Did you hire on your own, use your full salary budget, but because you lowered your hiring standards, the new hires created management and legal problems that also distracted you from meeting your goals?

Wouldn’t you prefer to have a better story to tell next year?  What if you chose to transfer the unspent money from your salary budget (about 2 months pay) to engage a search firm to quickly fill your open position with someone highly qualified and as a result you kept your projects on track and stayed within your overall budget? (Trust me on this point: If there is a future economic downturn, you definitely want to be the leader who was creative with their budget and met their strategic objectives, because if layoffs ever do happen, the first people under the microscope will be the people who did not achieve their goals.)

How we respond to this competitive job market

Compared to last year, we have to directly reach out to (recruit) 40% more people to create the same size candidate pool as last year (6-8 people for the first round interview). We know that more of those candidates will receive competing job offers during the hiring process than a year ago, so we take into account the candidates’ other career options, cultural fit, as well as the skills to do the job today.

But happily, by working harder, we are not tempted to lower our hiring standards. As a result, our retention rates on placements is holding steady (85% of the people we place are still on the job after 3 years). Because we continue to encourage a rigorous hiring process, neither the candidate nor the employer feel like they are settling.


We’re on one of the longest post-recession expansions in our economy’s history, and during the good times you will want to make as much progress as you can on your goals. And if the economy does tip toward a recession at some point in future, you will want to be sure you have the best possible people who can adapt to changing business climate. Our core business is finding and assessing candidates who can do well in both good times and bad. Unfortunately, simply posting ads and interviewing the people who emerge from that won’t help you do that.

To assess the impact of your own hiring practices, take a look at our Hiring Scorecard and then ask yourself if you wouldn’t rather get your jobs quickly filled with great people and have the security of our 18-month replacement guarantee.