The double-edged sword of speed

It's no secret you've got to move if you want to snag the top IT candidates. But there's a difference between streamlining and rushing the hiring process.
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Remember when you first found out about subliminal advertising? You know, when television advertisers sneak in a hidden come-on about their product to entice the unwitting consumer?

I first heard about this advertising trend in 1980 (the earliest experiment occurred in 1958), and it was difficult to imagine that images or words could be flashed on a screen so quickly I could only subconsciously register them.

"In this day and age, you can't sit on a resume--it becomes a piece of fish left out in the sun," says Paul Miller, a technical recruiter at Banyan Systems Inc.
How times have changed. Today, speed is more than a given--it's an addiction. I impatiently wait as my Internet search engine takes an entire 10 seconds to display material that would have taken me at least three hours to dig up on my own at the library.

The speed requirement extends, unfortunately, to the hiring process. Demand for IT talent is so high, companies are under pressure to develop lean, mean hiring practices that absolutely minimize the time between receiving a resume and making the job offer. Too many companies have been burned by candidates who--unable to wait out even a five-day decision-making process--accept another, more quickly offered job.

Whereas 18 to 24 months ago you had a month for the hiring process, you're now looking at a two-week period, maximum, says James Essey, president of TemPositions Group of Companies, a temporary staffing firm in New York City. In the last six months, even that timeframe has collapsed, with companies making job offers right after the first interview, he says.

"If you take the time to say, 'Let me think about it,' they've already taken another position," agrees Peter Alexander, senior consultant at Blessing/White, a Skillman, N.J.-based firm that helps companies manage, motivate, and retain knowledge workers.

Bob Mhoon tells a story about that. Mhoon is president of The Manx Group Inc., an IT staffing specialist in Arlington, Texas. He knows a company that extended an offer to a candidate who was supposed to start a couple days after Christmas. The HR department called him and extended the start date until after the first of the year. "Well, Recruiter B came along and snagged this guy twiddling his thumbs. They extended an offer--close to home, no commute, same dollars--and the candidate took it," Mhoon says.

Streamlining the hiring process

However, while it's necessary to move quickly, it's also a danger to move too quickly. In the name of speed, some companies are doing things like forfeiting the second interview and even hiring candidates after just a phone interview, according to recruiters.

But consider the cost of a mistake. You can end up paying more than a year's salary to replace him or her if it doesn't work out, according to the Concours Group, a management consulting firm based in Kingwood, Texas.

What's crucial, then, is to figure out how to streamline your hiring process without rushing it. That involves knowing what can be thrown out of your traditional hiring process, what should be kept, and what should be added. "We have to do our due diligence, but we also have to get people to be more reactive when a good resume comes across," says Paul Miller, a technical recruiter at networking software provider Banyan Systems Inc., of Westborough, Mass.

Here are some suggestions for streamlining your hiring process without racing to a bad judgment:

Send an "acceptance letter" rather than an "offer letter," Mhoon suggests. Most companies extend a verbal offer and then follow up with a formal written offer. Meanwhile, you're at the mercy of the applicant signing that piece of paper. In the interim, he or she could accept another position elsewhere.

Instead, he suggests, after getting a verbal commitment, follow up with a letter saying, 'Great to have you on our team. By the way, the director of XYZ has informed us that your first project will be thus and such.' The candidate still has to sign the form, but "psychologically, you're making them part of the team," Mhoon says. "It doesn't always work, but at least there's a greater probability vs. waiting for someone to sign the offer letter."

Up the ante for your employee referral bonuses. "If you have to make a quick decision, whether it's in 24 or 78 hours, it tends to work out better for candidates who have come from an employee referral rather than off the street," Blessing/White's Alexander says. "Most people aren't going to refer someone who's an idiot because it won't reflect well on them."

Sophisticated referral programs include major prizes, such as a color TV or a trip. "When you consider how costly it is to recruit and find people, putting a nice prize in a referral program will save a company money," Alexander adds.

If you do forfeit the second interview, get organized. The most successful companies ask all the questions they need in one interview and extend an offer on the spot, The Manx Group's Mhoon says.

However, this means having top-notch interviewees to begin with, Alexander notes. That means rigorous prescreening, not just a telephone call to make sure it's a live body on the other side of the resume. The screener should query candidates on their expectations and give them a good sense of the corporate culture. That way, each side knows whether it's worth continuing with a face-to-face interview.

Get rid of bureaucracy. In some companies, it can take five days after a resume is received to schedule an interview--"and that's a phone interview," Mhoon says. You've got to think of a resume as a perishable product when technical skills are at hand.

However, this means having top-notch interviewees to begin with, Alexander notes. That means rigorous prescreening, not just a telephone call to make sure it's a live body on the other side of the resume. The screener should query candidates on their expectations and give them a good sense of the corporate culture. That way, each side knows whether it's worth continuing with a face-to-face interview.

 

 


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