Getting a job takes longer than ever, as employers ask more of candidates
by: SUE SHELLENBARGER
It has never been easy to land a job, but a rise in hiring has added a new twist: Employers are taking nearly twice as long to hire people as they did several years ago.
Companies need an average of 23 days to screen and hire new employees, up from 13 days in 2010, says Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at the jobs and recruiting site Glassdoor, based on a study of nearly 350,000 interview reviews by the site’s users. Applicants run a gantlet of multiple interviews not only with bosses but with teams of prospective co-workers. Also, more people are being asked to submit business plans or face a battery of personnel tests.
Employers are trying to avoid costly mistakes. Getting a new hire up to speed can take six months to a year, and replacing one who fails can wreck a tight budget. Finding the best candidates requires assembling a large, diverse pool, says David Orr, vice president, human resources, at Osram Sylvania, Wilmington, Mass., a lighting designer and manufacturer.
For job seekers, performing well during decision-making marathons requires a thick skin and new skills. Some get frustrated or blame themselves for delays in the hiring process. “It can be debilitating. It goes on and on,” says Carole Osterer, Wayland, Mass., who completed a job search late last year. A human-resources manager at one employer called her with glowing comments. A month later, he called to say the company wasn’t interested after all. After another month, he reversed himself again and asked her to interview, says Ms. Osterer, a university research administrator. She did the interviews but never heard from the employer again.
Working with ClearRock, a Boston executive-coaching and career-consulting firm, Ms. Osterer says she learned not to take such treatment personally.
Employers have added layers to the hiring process. Many require initial phone screenings, which take 6.8 to 8.2 additional days, on average, Glassdoor says. Group interviews of candidates by multiple insiders are more common, too, and they’re hard to schedule, adding 5.6 to 6.8 days to the process. Personality and skills tests can consume several more days.
Candidates can get a sense of what to expect by asking in the first interview about the timeline for the process and the target date for hiring someone, says Mr. Orr, the human-resources executive.
Avoid fishing for specifics such as, “How many candidates are you considering?” says Elaine Varelas, managing partner of Keystone Partners, Boston, a career-management consultant. That suggests you’re worried about the competition when you should be projecting confidence, she says.
Long waits between interviews can be nerve-racking, but candidates who get nervous or angry “tend to send off signals of desperation,” says David Hayes, president of HireMinds LLC, a Cambridge, Mass., affiliate of the Sanford Rose Associates executive-search network.
Calling the employer to ask, “Is there anything I can do? Is there anything you need?” is a mistake, Ms. Varelas says. Generally, it is best to get confidential updates from trusted contacts inside the company or from your recruiter if possible. She advises making friends with an administrative aide who handles scheduling—chatting during phone calls or while waiting for interviews—as a way of gaining information.
Rob Walters of Clovis, Calif., found friendly ways to stay in touch with his No. 1 choice, even as he waited so long that he had to take another job. He emailed the hiring manager an article of mutual interest and sent a congratulatory email after the company signed a new customer. “I wanted to be sure they didn’t forget about me,” says Mr. Walters, who worked with Nancy Karas, a Santa Clarita, Calif., executive career coach with the Five O’Clock Club, a network of career coaches and outplacement advisers. Almost six months after the first contact, his No. 1 choice offered Mr. Walters the job he wanted, as a sales consultant, and he took it.
Large-group interviews pose other hurdles. Barbara Schwartz, a Montvale, N.J., project-management executive in information technology, asked the names of each participant in a group interview an employer had scheduled with her. She studied each one’s background and job, watching videos of them speaking or making presentations when possible. Then she prepared examples and stories from her experience that would show individual interviewers how her skills would be helpful to them, says Ms. Schwartz, who worked with Robert Hellmann, a New York career coach with the Five O’Clock Club.
Job seekers don’t have to be at the mercy of the employer, says Mr. Hellmann. If an employer demands too many interviews, it is OK to ask to combine or group some of them on a single day.
Candidates often must take a battery of tests about their personality traits and job skills. Some are asked to lead a simulated staff meeting, others to make decisions about how to manage a hypothetical in-box with tasks and problems to solve. Failing a test isn’t necessarily a fatal blow. One sales rep blew an in-box test but got the job anyway after writing the employer a letter with evidence and examples showing that he applied the target skills well every day on the job, says Robin Ryan, a Seattle career counselor.
Some employers ask applicants to research and present a full-blown business or strategic plan. This can be an opportunity to show off your skills, but there are risks. “Don’t provide so much detail that you’re giving away your expertise for free,” says Laura Poisson, president of ClearRock.
One of Ms. Ryan’s clients spent weeks preparing a product-marketing plan for a retailer and presented it to senior managers. The hiring manager later told her it was among the best, but the company had decided after all not to hire her or anyone, says the applicant, who asked that her name not be used. “There are companies that will make you jump through all these hoops and take your ideas, but not offer you the job,” says Ms. Ryan, author of “60 Seconds and You’re Hired.”
Applicants should give most of the details in such a report in the oral talk and avoid leaving too much data or analysis behind on slides or handouts for others to pass around, says Ralph Roberto, president of Keystone Partners. “If you sense somebody is trying to get as much as they can out of you, try to limit the scope” of the presentation, he says.
Some employers demand so much that applicants lose interest. An employer’s treatment of recruits is “a very, very good barometer of how they’re going to behave” toward employees, says Nigel Taylor, vice president, sales, for Technology Business Research, a Hampton, N.H., market-research firm. Mr. Taylor rejected a job offer last year after the employer “went dark on me for four weeks,” failing to call at all or answer his emails promptly, he says.
Many job seekers agonize over what to do when their second- or third-choice employer nears making an offer while the No. 1 choice is still making a decision. Pressing the first choice risks getting you dropped from the race, but saying nothing can cause you to lose out on the No. 1 opportunity.
One of Mr. Hellman’s clients was expecting two offers within a week but still hoped for an offer from his No. 1 choice, where he was awaiting a final round of interviews. He emailed his No. 1 choice with an enthusiastic, positively worded request, Mr. Hellmann says: “I’m very excited about the opportunity and I know I’d enjoy working with you. That said, I do have other things in the works that are moving forward very rapidly. If there’s anything I can do to expedite this process, please let me know.” The employer quickly scheduled a final interview, and the client got the job.