Every industry has them. The anticipated questions clients ask when vetting a potential service provider. In our industry we are often asked, How long will it take for our search services to find the perfect candidate?

Regardless of how that question is phrased, the goal of asking about the anticipated time to fill a position is to better understand our proficiency. Our goal in answering this question is to first help our clients better understand our process. Why? Multiple factors affect the duration of search services. How a search firm anticipates, manages, and mitigates those factors (aka their process) combined with how well they partner with their clients, impacts the time of any given candidate search, even when there are factors outside their immediate control.

So how long should recruitment search services take? It depends. Allow us to explain.

Elements of a Quality Search Process

Before we dive into the variables of a search process, we need to first understand the mechanics of quality search services. There will always be factors you can’t plan for, but having a proven process in place can reduce those unforeseen situations.

Dedicated Resources

It’s hard to avoid those proverbial bumps in the road if you aren’t fully paying attention to the task at hand. The same is true with search services. Is your recruiter focused on the searches you hired them to fill or are you just part of a crowd? If they are sourcing potential candidates for any number of possible clients how focused are they on the specific needs of your company compared to the specific needs of your competitors? A quality search process starts with resources dedicated to your organization and hiring needs.

Defined Criteria

How do you know when you have arrived, if you don’t know where you are going? Before beginning any candidate search, your search firm should review and define all aspects of what your perfect-fit new hire will look like with you. A job description is a good starting point, but if that is all the information your recruiter is asking for, you’re in for some trouble.

Defining your search criteria means identifying qualifications, acquired skills and industry knowledge, performance based hiring measures, and even personality traits that your successful employees possess. Dive deep into this and think beyond the basic years of experience or licensing credentials. What talent and specialized knowledge do your top performers possess? What personality traits will add to or improve your company culture? Establishing clear criteria upfront avoids wasted time later with candidates that are an unlikely match.

Intentional Search Strategy

Your next perfect-fit hire, may not be actively searching for a new role at the moment. Quality search services will include a strategy for not only qualifying active candidates but also a plan for uncovering previously hidden talent. Many times that ideal candidate isn’t openly sharing their desire or need for a change in their career, or they may not even be looking at the moment. Talented recruiters are experts in finding and qualifying passive candidates.

Candidate Selection

What is the selection process for the recruitment firm you are considering? Not all search services perform the same level of candidate vetting. Do they stop after an initial phone screening or are there follow-up interactions to understand what each candidate has to offer? How are candidates qualified? Beware of recruiters who simply pass resumes your way with only surface level knowledge of what you need. Have you heard of the expression, throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks?

Your recruiter should be continually evaluating possible candidates at every stage of the process. And they should always be measured against the criteria you defined before the search began.

Factors that Impact Search Duration

Understanding what you and your search firm can directly influence, let’s take a look at some factors that organizations have less control over that affect how long recruitment search services can take.

Specific Job Role

As positions advance within an organization, the pool of qualified candidates becomes proportionately smaller. A smaller pool of qualified candidates doesn’t mean there are fewer people to talk to and qualify. Rather it means more work must be invested (meaning time) to source potential candidates and qualify against predefined criteria. Senior and executive level positions within an organization also include more rounds of interviews, added screening assessments, and more details to be negotiated.

Current Job Market

While there is often a lagging factor, economic and environmental factors can sway the job market in either direction. Employment needs can also vary across the country and from one industry to another. In a tighter job market where hiring levels have slowed, the length of time to source, qualify, and hire candidates increases due to a tighter focus on desired criteria, despite an increase in candidate volume.

Required Skill Set

Every search is unique, even when it’s a similar position for a similar company your recruiter has assisted in the past. (Note: You should be wary of any search firm that does not approach your searches individually. Your company isn’t exactly like your competition, so searches for new employees shouldn’t be either.) Some positions naturally have a more narrowly defined skill set requirement than others. While there are some variables, the more niche the position is, the more time you should expect to fill it.

The other way that your required skill set can be a challenge is if there is a growing talent gap. This happens when the volume of individuals retiring from a specific role or field exceeds the volume of individuals entering the field. Some roles that have been increasingly prone to this challenge have been engineers, veterinarians, experienced insurance professionals, and many of the skilled trade professions.

Company Culture and Reputation

Candidates today understand that an interview is very much a two-way conversation. That means they are often evaluating and qualifying your organization as much as you are evaluating and qualifying them. What is the internal culture and reputation of your company?

An organization known for high levels of turnover, employee dissatisfaction, or other internal challenges may require additional time and effort for their search services to overcome. While many culture and reputation challenges can be changed, this process also requires time and attention to detail.

Compensation and Benefits Package

Speaking of that specialized, niche role. Are you offering a competitive compensation and benefits package to attract new talent to your organization? Not only are both you and the candidate evaluating potential, but both also need to sell their respective possibilities. While not every company can pay at the very top end of the given salary ranges, a bottom end package, especially for a role with a very specific skill set, can result in needless delays from qualified candidates rejecting your opportunity.

Think beyond salary here, too. Healthcare, vacation policies, observed holidays, remote work flexibility, all factor into the total compensation package you are willing to offer.

Internal Hiring Process

Just as recruitment search services need to have proven strategies and selection processes, your organization needs the same. Once your search firm shares candidate information with you, what are your next steps? How many interviews will your team need? How quickly will your hiring managers respond and act to schedule interviews? Companies without a clear process end up formatting the process in real-time, meaning multiple delays, changes, and inconsistencies.

Search Methodology

Think, for a moment, about why you are choosing to enlist the services of a search firm in the first place. Anyone can create a job listing and post it on any number of online platforms. It’s free and relatively simple. Beyond wanting to attract the best possible talent, the next most common reason businesses use search services is to save time. But this doesn’t mean that the process itself doesn’t require time to accomplish.

A search process that is well-planned, focused on your specific needs, clearly defined, and intentional in its approach requires a degree of time. And a reputable search firm won’t simply place your opening on multiple job boards or blindly hand you a stack of resumes. They will do their due diligence to provide you with every bit of the services you are paying for.

Ways to Reduce the Length of Search Services

While nothing in this post is rocket science, it can be surprising when you start listing all the factors impacting search services, and specifically the time to fill positions. While there are many steps recruiters can take to counteract these hurdles, there are also many factors outside our direct control. Hopefully, by now you are also thinking there must be things hiring companies can do too. And indeed there are.

Participate in the process

Outsourcing your hiring process to a search firm may initially feel like you can offload an entire time-consuming (pun intended) project. And while you can delegate a large portion of the hiring process and responsibilities, you can’t completely walk away. Your participation at the beginning and the very end is critical to avoid delays.

In the beginning, your input is vital to establishing clear expectations, search criteria, and flow of information. Once sourced candidates are shared for you to meet and qualify, your participation is again essential to ensure the preset process is followed. Remember a recruiter should be an extension of your team to assist with expertise in the hiring process. You still know your company best and need to be aware of progress being made on your behalf.

Realistically set candidate criteria

When you are defining your ideal candidate criteria and qualifications, balance that against realistic expectations. Is a master’s degree essential to the role or could 10 years of industry experience equally validate a candidate’s knowledge?

With many companies expanding to include work-from-home options, is a candidate from your local zip code still required? Could someone in the same time zone be equally effective? Apply this same logic to titles, transferable skill sets, and personality traits to create as broad and diverse a candidate pool as possible. Then take one last review and make sure your candidate criteria aligns with what you are willing to pay for the role.

Remain responsive

For a candidate who has scheduled interviews, provided proof of work performance, taken profile assessments, and shared references, delays in feedback at any point of the process are the last thing either of you need (or want). Establish with your recruiter the amount of time you have to respond with feedback for each step so you understand what is realistic and expected.

Allowing days or weeks to pass for feedback or follow-up will not only delay the process but could also alienate and discourage prospective new employees.

Be an Active Participant

The talent acquisition process has a lot of moving parts with many people involved. By definition, this opens the door to delays, distractions, and setbacks. This also means there isn’t a clear or simple answer to the question of how long recruitment search services should take.

However, by working with a recruitment firm with a proven process that is transparent and dedicated, you can avoid many of these delays at the outset. Being aware of the usual suspects that cause the length of time to increase can also help avoid or reduce them when they are recognized. Finally, staying involved in the process, keeping an open mind, and being responsive, ensures any delays are not attributed to your involvement.

Do you have questions about your talent acquisition processes? See what pieces need to be in place before launching your own recruitment process in this helpful guide.

a guide to the recruitment process