Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

August 2018


The job market in Vermont may be the tightest I have ever seen. Our unemployment rate today is 2.8 percent, which is about 1.2 percentage points lower than the U.S. rate. August is traditionally the worst month for hiring in Vermont, as students go back to school and drop out of the labor market; so the worst is yet to come. Hiring is getting harder and harder.

That leads me to “ghosts.” This is not about a Demi Moore movie nor is it about someone’s great-great-aunt living in the attic of an old house downtown. It is about prospects — the people we interview to hire and then disappear before we can schedule them for a second interview or before we can make them an offer.

The reason for this is the overheated hiring market. People are only available for a limited amount of time. Companies have to rethink their hiring practices to eliminate their exposure to ghosts. It’s a matter of short-term survival.

The standard practice for hiring in most companies is that the HR executive will screen resumes and/or applications for a job, then choose an appropriate number of these resumes and schedule interviews. This may take several days.

The HR executive will then cull the number down to three or four likely candidates for the hiring manager to interview. The scheduling process begins anew, and the list is further culled. Then a third interview is scheduled and, presumably, an offer made. Total elapsed time from resume submittal to offer: two to six weeks. The ghosts disappear at any time in the process as they receive offers from other companies.

The solution is to shorten the process — considerably.

Taking the process apart, we can find the bottlenecks. Firstly, the HR manager must speed things up by getting qualified people in for interviews as soon as resumes come in. Then, the interview by the hiring manager must take place almost immediately after the meeting with the HR manager. The objective: Don’t let the person out the door without meeting the hiring manager. If there are additional steps that your company is comfortable with, like meeting prospective peers, do it right then. Don’t schedule a later time.

Then comes the offer. If all goes well, you are going to want to make the person an offer.

There are two schools of thought about this. During the buildup of military contracts in the Reagan years, an associate of mine and I recruited for a defense contractor here in Vermont. We would bring people in from far and wide for interviews, and we had to do the entire process in one day.

Sometimes we would make the person an offer on the spot because we had the go-ahead from the hiring manager. At others, that authorization came an hour or two after the candidate left the building.

Two schools of thought come in here. With an offer in hand, a candidate who came from a long distance might use the travel time home thinking of all the reasons not to take the job. Bad. Or without an offer, the whole time en route home might be spent thinking about all the reasons to take the job. I’ll leave that one to you.

Small companies without a formal HR function can just as easily streamline the process. The problem with any company here is that HR issues are the last thing on the list that we tackle.

See any viable candidate as soon as possible. If someone comes in and asks if you are hiring, smile. It is not an interruption of your day. Be thankful. It may be your next solution.

Last word: Avoid ghosts.

Dave Mount is the founder of Westaff in Burlington.

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