Engage Your Back-up Plan Now
In 2009 I wrote a blog about the importance for unemployed job seekers to have a back-up plan in their job search. Just because things are going well in an interview process and the position is attractive, it is vital to be pursuing other opportunities in the event that the lead one doesn’t work out. Ten years later the tables have turned – now it’s employers who must have a back-up plan in place in the event that their leading candidate doesn’t want the job. The hiring managers who recognize this shift are getting their jobs filled with “A Players” while those who don’t are left wondering why their team is under staffed.
The U.S. labor market in 2019 is unbalanced – the May unemployment rate stood at 3.6%, a 49-year low. Many economists refer to this as an era of transitional unemployment. Qualified workers who want a job in their field either have one already or will have one in less than six months. Those who don’t are often in a period of transition in their lives and their unemployment is frequently by choice. As we know, in many industries and disciplines there are far more job openings than qualified workers to fill them, so when a high-performing employee with a valuable skill set decides that they are open to making a career change they suddenly have multiple opportunities from which to choose.
This creates a predicament for a hiring manager who has a need to fill a critical position. In recessionary times the prevailing mindset is that you select a new employee from among many qualified, interested candidates, as if you were buying a shirt off a rack. Now hiring managers are discovering that the shirts are saying “no,” because they found a better deal or took a counteroffer. This is a paradigm shift that is part of normal business cycles and too few employers have been quick enough to recognize it.
From my seat as a third-party Search Consultant I’ve noticed that nimble employers – large or small – not only sell the opportunity to coveted prospects (i.e. “recruit”), they also have a staffing process in place that generates viable candidates in the event that a primary candidate doesn’t work out.
The key is to be willing to engage with multiple candidates at the same time, throughout the interview process. We must be willing to talk with 5+ targeted prospects on the phone within a 2-3 week period, and bring in more than one “leading” candidate for on-site interviews in a similar time frame. Yes this creates a short-term time burden on managers busy schedules, but in the slightly longer term the job will be filled faster, with an A Player, because you won’t have to start your process all over again if your leading candidate doesn’t work out.
Over the past two years we’ve seen many examples of restarting a search because of a lack of multiple, qualified candidates being considered simultaneously. As I refer additional candidates into an interview process they are frequently put on “hold” while the leading candidate moves throughout the entire process. My partners in HR generally support the idea of considering multiple candidates at the same time, but hiring managers with many other things to do than fill job vacancies are often reluctant to do so. In a normal balanced job market that risk is usually OK but these days leading candidates often don’t work out and the “on-hold” candidates aren’t available anymore when they are needed.
What to do about it?
In those cases where there is a clear need to fill an important position it’s crucial that we develop a well-conceived hiring process before the search begins. That includes setting timelines for phone interviews and target dates for live interviews – and holding the interview team accountable for sticking to the plan.
This type of focused planning and execution is not required in those cases of job “openings” that are not urgent to fill, where we will only hire someone “when we find the right person.” But when we proclaim that there is a mission-critical position that needs to be filled as soon as possible then we need to have our calendars out as we create the staffing plan and be willing to engage with multiple candidates simultaneously.
As always I welcome your comments and questions.