A Tight U.S. Job Market Is Putting Slack Employers at Risk

Job applicants say they want answers quickly

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Job seekers fill out applications during a job fair in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 18, 2016.

Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

It’s another sign that America’s job market is hot. Workers are in no mood to stick around too long while businesses make up their mind about hiring them.

Almost one of every four employees loses interest in an opening if they don’t hear back from a prospective employer within a week of being interviewed, according to a survey by staffing firm Robert Half. Make that two weeks of waiting, and the share jumps to 46 percent. Further, 39 percent of people surveyed said they’d move on to chase other openings when faced with a lengthy hiring process.

“They have options, they want to move quickly,” said John Reed, senior executive director of the technology staffing division at Robert Half, the world’s largest specialized staffing company. “The market is so strong that candidates can have a lot of influence in the pace of the interview process.”

This is especially true for candidates with high-demand skills, in so-called white collar professions and industries such as technology, he said. The survey of more than 1,000 U.S. professionals was done in June.

Since the study was the first of its kind for Robert Half, it doesn’t offer comparisons on how workers’ expectations have changed. Still, Reed said he noticed about two years ago that the leading companies started to move faster as they realized good applicants were less willing to be patient, and in the past 12 months “more and more companies are shrinking their timelines for hiring.”

Other reports underscore the strong demand for labor. There are job openings aplenty to pick from and optimism about the outlook is sustaining workers’ confidence to quit their positions in search of better deals, June data from the Labor Department showed on Wednesday. Applications for jobless benefits are hovering near a four-decade low. 

The relentless hiring spree of the past few years has reduced the unemployment rate to near an eight-year low and the pool of excess labor is vanishing, making it tougher for companies to find the workers they need. Filling open positions is also a problem for small businesses, the National Federation of Independent Business reports. Wages are ticking up.

Of course, economists predict that the pace of hiring will cool later this year as the economy approaches full employment. For now, workers are calling the shots, at least on getting quick answers.

The largest share of respondents in the Robert Half survey 39 percent picked seven to 14 days when asked to define what was ‘too long’ a process, starting from the initial interview to when they got the job offer. 

Companies need to step up their game, or risk losing out on good hires. That doesn’t mean carelessly rushing through what’s, after all, an important decision. But striving to get that verbal offer out quickly helps, and frequent communication will prevent the applicant from walking away, Reed said.

"Secure those candidates before the competition does," he said. 

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