Streamlining the Hiring Process to Create a Better Experience
#evolve Magazine
April 26, 2023

When employees began quitting their jobs in record numbers during the Great Resignation, a multitude of open positions became available. Job seekers have been taking advantage of the situation to explore their options, but many employers haven’t been racing to hire, either because they’ve been overwhelmed by the number of applications or because they have inefficient processes in place. Either way, the result is the same: a current crop of cranky job candidates.

Mercer research found that most organizations take between 60 and 90 days to hire an individual. Anecdotal evidence suggests many take much longer, often because they ask job seekers to jump through multiple hoops. Professional networking site LinkedIn is awash in stories of candidates who’ve been asked to go through several rounds of interviews and work on projects to prove they possess the required skills — often without pay — only to wind up getting turned down or ghosted by the company or recruiter.

Lack of communication represents another problem for applicants. According to a February 2023 survey by Checkr, a technology firm that specializes in background checks, only about half of the job seekers who responded (52%) said they were satisfied with the responsiveness of hiring managers, and only a third believed their applications were actually seen.

Experts say sometimes taking more time is essential for finding the best hire and making sure the process is equitable. Less nobly, hiring managers might add layers to the process to avoid being blamed for a bad hire. But both groups agree that the process could be more efficient if it were rooted in transparency, clarity about the competencies required, and respect for the needs of both the company and the candidate.

A Question of How Many Questions

According to a February 2023 Conference Board report, a slight majority of job candidates (51%) and almost as many hiring managers (47%) agree that two rounds of interviews are sufficient for making a hiring decision. Yet a substantial proportion of candidates (22%) reported enduring four or more rounds.

“Many people are frustrated when things look to be unnecessarily repetitive, that it takes multiple interviews for people to ask very much the same questions over and over again,” said Rebecca L. Ray, executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board. “Then, compound that with not being treated with respect, informed or responded to in a timely manner.”

Boncho Bonchev, principal of HR transformation at Mercer, acknowledged that the horror stories about seemingly endless interview processes are often true. However, he added that more organizations are beginning to examine what’s working with their hiring processes and what’s not. In fact, some now even incentivize talent acquisition teams, much like sales teams, to accelerate time-to-hire rates.

“Many organizations in the last three years have completely revamped their recruiting processes,” he said. “Such a tight labor market doesn’t allow organizations the luxury of a 90-day selection process. The constant pressure to decrease the time to hire is always there.”

There’s also pressure to protect the organization’s reputation.

“At the end of the day, every candidate is going to be one of several things: They’re going to be a colleague, or they’re going to be a competitor, or they’re going to be a customer,” Ray said. “And in every one of those cases, you would want to have a respectful interchange so that people don’t leave with a negative impression.”

As managing director of physician recruiting at ChenMed, a primary care provider network focused on seniors, Marjorie Alexander, CPRP, keeps an eye on how candidates are being treated. So, every now and then, she’ll sit in on an interview being conducted by a staff member.

During these “fly on the wall” sessions, as she calls them, she doesn’t pay attention to the candidate’s experience, qualifications and culture fit; rather, she observes the process from her firm’s side. Are appropriate and consistent questions being asked? How is the candidate being treated? What concerns might they raise in a survey after they’re done, whether they’re hired or not?

“I want to make sure we follow the HR rules and regulations, but the other thing is, how was the candidate welcomed?” Alexander said. “Were they left alone at any point? Is lunch a Happy Meal or a decent meal that represents us? When we say they’re going to be done at (a certain) hour, are we actually done at that hour?”

“Many people are frustrated when things look to be unnecessarily repetitive, that it takes multiple interviews for people to ask very much the same questions over and over again.”

Adding Structure to the Process

If an organization’s operational capability and image are at stake, why isn’t the hiring process moving any faster?

A leading culprit may be a lack of structure. The Conference Board report found that only about a third of hiring managers said their interviews were structured: 17% of companies had a policy around structured interviews, and 18% used a competency grid to determine questions.

“A lot of companies don’t get together and decide what key qualities they must have, so they wind up with the ‘purple squirrel’ approach,” Ray said. “They have a list of a thousand things they really want, but that’s not necessarily what they need.”

Other experts suggest assessing competencies before the job listing gets posted. That way, the listing can include not only conventional matters of experience and credentials, but also matters of culture fit that are more commonly addressed later during interviews.

Stephanie Wright, director of physician talent strategy at BJC HealthCare, a nonprofit health-care organization, said her firm recently spent the past two years aggressively streamlining its interviewing process, trimming time to hire from more than 150 days to 45 days or less. As part of the process, the company worked to understand candidates’ goals sooner.

“We want to know if the physician will want to service community X, if they want to work in a rural setting or with an elderly population,” Wright said. “We’re much more intentional now to make sure that we have a match in the posting by understanding the kind of person we need at our organization.”

Emphasizing structure is often beneficial in industries such as health care, where demand for quality employees is high and candidates can be relatively scarce, but it also makes sense for employers, such as tech companies, that have access to an abundance of talent.

For example, background-checking firm Checkr might receive upward of 300 applications for a director position. According to vice president of global recruiting Justin Ayers, the company is committed to limiting the number of interview rounds to less than four. To accomplish that, recruiters look at culture fit as an essential competency early in the process.

“You’re assessing whether or not the person meets your cultural values around connection and transparency and grit,” Ayers said. “You’re being extremely honest with the candidate about where the company is right now and figuring out if they can operate in that environment.”

Efficiency and Transparency Can Be Game Changers

To improve ChenMed’s hiring process, Alexander said she pays attention to several metrics. In addition to time to hire, she reviews dropout rates during the application process, how long it takes to respond to a vetted candidate’s inquiries, and acceptance rates.

The Conference Board’s Ray recommends conducting quality-of-hire research to determine whether a candidate is considered a successful hire after six months — not just in terms of productivity but how the employee self-reports their well-being, sense of belonging and whether they would recommend the employer to others.

BJC HealthCare has streamlined its hiring process by reducing the number of interviews it conducts and sending a letter of intent to hire, which details information such as compensation, start date, responsibilities and benefits, to candidates within 72 hours of their in-person interview. Being transparent with job seekers has also been key to improving the process.

“From the first conversation (with applicants), we say, ‘This is what the process looks like, these are the number of conversations you will have, and this is how long we anticipate that will take,’” Wright explained.

Checkr’s Ayers echoes the importance of being transparent with applicants.

“If recruiters and hiring managers were communicating in a more timely and honest fashion, there wouldn’t be much frustration,” he said. “If you know that we can’t schedule your interview for a week and a half because the hiring manager is on vacation, that’s going to make you feel a lot better than if there’s a week of no communication.”

In addition, the company shares with applicants its commitment to pursuing diversity, equity and inclusion goals and considering candidates with criminal backgrounds. As a result, recruiters explain, the normal timetable of the hiring process may be extended because there are more resumes to sift through.

Career coach and HR executive Marlo Lyons encouraged candidates to ask direct questions about the process — and said recruiters and hiring managers should expect such questions.

During that first recruiter screening, Lyons said, candidates should ask what the hiring process is like at that company or for that role, as well as how far along the company is in the recruiting process. Getting answers to these questions can help put things into context for the candidate. “Are you coming in as the eleventh-hour candidate?” Lyons asked. “Are you being rushed through the process? Or are you the first one they’ve spoken to?”

Communicating transparently at the end of the process is also important. At Checkr, Ayers said, any job candidate who made it all the way to the end but didn’t get hired will receive a personal call.

“If they’ve actually spent the time to meet with us through the process, the expectation is that we always pick up the phone or schedule a video meeting to tell them why and explain the outcome of the situation,” he said. “If they’ve spent five hours meeting people, you have to make sure you close the loop effectively with them in a way that feels good on both sides.”

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