Strategic HR Agenda Streamline Hiring

Fill vacancies quickly by clearing bottlenecks, engaging in workforce planning, improving processes and using metrics.

By Tamara Lytle Apr 1, 2013
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0413cover.gifRecruiters find that an efficient hiring system looks a lot more like a game of dominoes than like the detours and setbacks of Chutes and Ladders. Those who match up all the pieces—thereby streamlining hiring processes—can increase corporate profits, improve customer service and employee morale, and advance other company goals.

The average time to fill job vacancies was 34 days, according to the 2011 Society for Human Resource Management Customized Benchmarking Service report. Knowledge-based industries such as finance, high-technology and health care tend to have longer time-to-fill averages, says John S. Dooney, SPHR, SHRM's manager of workforce analytics. So do larger companies with layers of managers. The average time-to-fill for companies of 1,000 employees and more is 43 days, compared with 29 days for companies having fewer employees. The report is based on a survey of more than 1,000 HR professionals at organizations of all sizes and across industries.

Beating those averages can mean better hires, says Tom Wimer, chief executive officer of Axeo Human Capital Consulting, based in Reston, Va. "If your candidate sits in the pile for days instead of hours, you run the risk of losing good people," he notes.

Look for Bottlenecks

Modern recruiting technology has been a boon for streamlining hiring. Many HR departments have increased efficiencies and cut hiring costs as they cull thousands of applications electronically, interview candidates via Skype or use LinkedIn to find candidates.

"Now a person can hit a few keystrokes and sift through thousands of pages in minutes," Wimer says.

Yet even with this technology, applicants can face long delays. Outside vendors such as reference checkers can slow down the process, as can hiring managers and HR professionals.

For Centris Federal Credit Union in Omaha, with 236 employees and a five-person HR department, background checks create a real bottleneck. Chrissy A. Cacioppo, PHR, benefits administrator, says her team is sometimes overwhelmed by getting fingerprints and checking references and education. Its solution: Make offers earlier, contingent on passing such background checks.

Sometimes the problem is closer to home. "We can get in our own way," Wimer says. Better screening upfront means HR professionals can pass along two or three fully qualified candidates to hiring managers instead of 10, he says.

But hiring managers can easily create bottlenecks, too. HR professionals can help by training managers on how to interview and what to look for in candidates. Even experienced managers can benefit from yearly refresher courses. "If you don't practice it, you lose the skill," Wimer points out.

Other delays occur when hiring managers are difficult to schedule for interviews and when they dither over whom to hire.

Kevin Wheeler, president of Global Learning Resources, an HR consulting firm in Fremont, Calif., sees delays when managers write vague job descriptions and have starry-eyed expectations. Instead of focusing on a few essential skills, such job descriptions look "like a little kid's Christmas list," he says.

Know Workforce Needs

Other broader strategies to speed and enhance results include engaging in workforce planning, improving processes and using metrics.

Workforce planning starts with understanding future workforce needs.

‘Recruiting is not a faucet you turn off and on. You have to have an engine in place.’

"Recruiting is not a faucet you turn off and on. You have to have an engine in place," says Dooney, who was a recruiting manager before switching to research. To that end, HR professionals identified several workforce planning strategies:

Stay ahead on your workforce projections.

This helps keep line managers out of a vicious cycle of being desperate to fill a position and picking the wrong person, only to have to start the process over, says Veronica Zaman, corporate vice president of human resources and learning at the 13,000-employee Scripps Health system in San Diego.

Build a solid pipeline of potential candidates.

Screen applicants who have shown interest in the company and who have basic skills, Wheeler recommends. Once a job request comes in, the process can move much faster.

Partner with outside groups.

Zaman works with colleges and community organizations that might provide future talent.

Build relationships with hiring managers.

Wimer recommends prodding managers to think about the cost of leaving jobs open, showing that the HR staff is moving urgently to fill jobs and communicating about what the hiring manager needs to see in applicants.

At Starbucks Coffee Co., with 137,000 employees, Susan Jayne, SPHR, senior recruiter of talent acquisition, presses hiring managers to block off time each quarter to interview candidates. Having this time already allocated means interviews can be scheduled more quickly.

Provide temporary labor to fill open positions in the short term.

Scripps has more than 400 workers—mostly nurses—who fill empty slots. That saves on overtime and costs associated with expensive outside temporary workers, Zaman says. An added benefit: These workers already know the system at Scripps.

A Better Mousetrap

To improve hiring processes, focus on an array of strategies.

Develop a brand name.

Companies that start with a brand name among the market of potential employees have an advantage.

Know exactly where to find the best candidates.

Recruiting is becoming more social and more mobile as people switch to smartphones and tablets instead of computers.

At Starbucks, Jayne constantly builds her network of potential hires by searching LinkedIn for workers with store management experience, joining interest groups and tweeting. While looking for a Salt Lake City district manager, she tapped into a retail group for the region. Now several candidates from that group are going through the hiring process.

Test for skills.

At Starbucks, a potential district manager might be asked to look at a profit and loss statement and describe how best to increase sales. Starbucks' recruiters can then consistently compare candidates' answers across the country.

Test for cultural fit.

This type of testing narrows the pool of applicants earlier and may decrease turnover, thereby saving time and money that would be spent finding a replacement.

At Scripps, an online personality assessment ranks applicants for fit with the corporate culture. Zaman and her colleagues look carefully at whether someone can work well in a team environment.

At Virtua, an 8,400-employee New Jersey hospital system where applicant tracking systems handle more than 60,000 resumes a year, an extra layer of interviews was added to focus on fit, says Michael Pepe, chief human resource officer. Panels of employees have been trained in behavioral interviewing. When their departments have openings, panel members look at whether the applicant fits into that unit.

"It has paid off," Pepe says. "The wrong hiring decision can cost you one to two times the cost of the person's salary."

Reorganize recruiting staff.

Dooney says companies can save money and time by reorganizing recruiting staffs. Instead of assigning recruiters to departments, organize them by function. That way, recruiters get better at assessing specific skills and the best sites for recruiting in their niches.

Time-to-fill averages were 39 days for recruiters assigned by business unit, but just 28 for those who specialized in a particular job specialty or function, according to the latest available figures from the 2011 SHRM Customized Benchmarking Service report.

Cost per hire, which averaged $2,427, also was lower by nearly $1,000 at businesses with recruiters who specialize by function.

Tweak the interview process.

Centris recently switched to a system where tellers are prescreened but not interviewed by the HR staff. Cacioppo was concerned that hiring done without an HR professional's advice would result in poor fits and higher turnover. But tellers hired without the HR interviews are not turning over any faster, and time-to-fill dropped by two days.

Cacioppo added core questions to the interview process, with points awarded for ideal answers. In the past, managers didn't have consistent questions for comparing candidates and often remembered the last candidates interviewed better than earlier ones. "We are treating everyone the same, and we're only selecting the best people," Cacioppo says.

Commit to speedy hiring.

Recruiters must make sure everyone in the system shares this commitment, has what they need to keep things moving, is held responsible for holdups and treats candidates well.

When Cacioppo first changed the hiring process at Centris, she got pushback from managers who didn't want to take notes, score points and ask set questions. But she had the advantage of working in a small company where she has direct access to senior leaders. She won their backing.

"It's really a shared accountability," Pepe says. "If positions are not getting filled in a timely fashion, you don't just point your finger at the recruiter. You look at the whole process."

Metrics Matter

A variety of measures beyond time-to-fill and cost-per-hire can help make hiring systems more efficient. Here are some metrics to keep an eye on:

View departmental data. Look at employee surveys, customer satisfaction polls and financial performance data. At Centris, Cacioppo looks at teller wait times. In branches where lines move slowly, she uses that data to encourage managers to fill jobs quickly.

Zaman at Scripps says, "If we see anything going awry … we refocus on a more aggressive approach to getting talent."

Track external data. Pepe at Virtua keeps tabs on the state labor pool's average age, education levels and language skills. He also looks at the primary language of patients so that the organization hires employees who can communicate with them, and he assesses the types of skills his staff will need in the future. For instance, as the medical industry moves toward team approaches to patient care, medical staff will need skills related to electronic record keeping.

Anticipate retirements. Scripps offers a staged retirement program that lets workers continue to work part time while drawing some retirement income, so fewer leave and fewer need to be replaced.

The author is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area.

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