At the beginning of any executive search, almost every hiring manager tells me, “Getting this position filled is my No. 1 priority. I can make time for this.” It makes sense. Being overworked and understaffed is no fun for anyone – so why prolong hiring any longer than necessary?

But many of our clients have tried and failed to fill jobs on their own, sometimes for as long as six months. That’s a long time to spend on your No. 1 priority without success. Often there’s a pattern that emerges:

The hiring managers failed to consider enough candidates.

When time is scarce, and you are staring at a mountain of resumes, it’s natural to want to whittle the mountain down. Most managers say, “Let’s start with the three or four very best resumes. We can always come back later to consider the other candidates.” It feels like smart time management, but it doesn’t work. First of all, the people with “perfect resumes” often aren’t the best candidates. And secondly, when you prioritize your own time constraints, you overlook the candidate’s experience.

Here’s the unforgiving math of the hiring process:

In a good job market, great candidates have a very short “shelf life.” For many professional jobs, you have about four weeks to make a hiring decision. After those initial four weeks, 10 to 15 percent of the best candidates drop out for every week that the search drags on. After eight weeks, only about half of the candidate pool you had at four weeks remains.

No matter what you do, hiring people is enormously time consuming. But trying to save time at the beginning of a search will almost always cost you more time at the end. The better solution is to create an interview schedule up front, and spend more time in the first few weeks interviewing a broad slate of candidates. It’s still time consuming, but it vastly improves your odds of a successful outcome.

Here’s how the cruel math of hiring usually plays out:

  • Week 1: You post a job advertisement. The resumes pour in.
  • Week 3: You plow through the resumes to select “the four best ones.” Because your calendar is already full, it takes you a few weeks to get the first four people scheduled.
  • Week 5: You finish first-round interviews, rule out one person, and immediately begin trying to get second interviews scheduled for three of the four remaining candidates. But scheduling a first interview was a breeze compared to scheduling second interviews, because second-round interviews often involve several people.
  • Week 6: After a Herculean effort, you get the interview times, but when you offer them to your three finalists, you learn that your top candidate has already accepted another job offer.
  • Week 7: Two days before the scheduled interview, your No. 2 candidate drops out because she received an unexpected promotion at work. At this point, you wonder if you should even bother to schedule the third person, but you proceed.
  • Week 8: After lukewarm feedback from your colleagues, you find yourself hesitating, wondering if you should settle for the one finalist or start the search all over again. Meanwhile, after two interviews and months of delay, the one remaining candidate wonders if hiring really is your No. 1 priority.

Then, frustrated, you’re back where you started.


This article originally appeared in the Business Journal