Why is it Taking So Long for Employers to Fill Open Jobs?

As Matthew Yglesias noted in his recent exploration of the question over at Vox, there are more job openings now than at any time since the halcyon days of the dot-com boom of the late 1990’s and early Aughts, but all of those open jobs are taking longer to fill than at any other time over the past fifteen years.

Without going into the specifics of his chain of thought (you really should head over and read the piece if you haven’t), Yglesias eventually posits that the reason that jobs are remaining unfilled longer may be because it’s become easier than ever to apply for a job online. This ease of use is  – so the theory goes – leading to flooded email inboxes and overwhelmed hiring managers who are taking on average almost 4 weeks longer to fill positions than their recent forebears.

Is he right?

Let’s unpack this a little. Yes, it is easier than ever to apply for jobs online. Everyone in the space, ZipRecruiter included, has focused on reducing the friction of applying for a job, with most of us deploying a version of the “One Click Apply” button. This time-saving function allows jobseekers to apply to job ads quickly, often times by removing the need to manually attach a resume to each application.

The job search process has also migrated to mobile, which has transformed it from an unpleasant, time-consuming activity which involved being tethered to a desktop machine (or even – quelle horreur – a newspaper want ad section) for hours at a time, into one which could be broken into bite-sized segments to be completed at the jobseekers leisure. Traffic jams, commercial breaks, dinner with the in-laws: these moments of soul-crushing tedium have now been enlivened by the prospect of finding a new (or better) job, a phenomenon we also see in the popularity of mobile dating apps which allow for the perusal of new (or better) mates whenever the conversation lags or insomnia strikes.

These trends could reasonably be expected to increase the number of applicants for each job and, quite unsurprisingly, they have. The launch of our One Click Apply button led to a significant increase of application activity through ZipRecruiter, just as it presumably surely has for everyone else who’s implemented a similar tool.

So yes, it’s easier to apply than ever before, and that means that each job ad receives far more resumes than in ye olden days when job seekers had to mail or fax in their applications. So far, so good for Mr. Yglesias, but here’s where the thesis runs into trouble. To draw a connection between increased candidate volume and longer vacancies, you have to presuppose that the tech which made it easier for candidates to shotgun applications doesn’t at the same time address the consequences of that exponentially increased volume for end-users (i.e. employers).

The problem is, the tech does address those consequences. Automated candidate filtering tools are now widespread, and do their jobs of  sorting through candidates who would otherwise be vetted by hand so well that they have  become a boon to hiring managers.

To give you a sense of just how effective they are, look at this chart which graphs the effectiveness of ZipRecruiter’s automated pre-interview questions at filtering the field of candidates for a job:

The addition of one pre-interview question reduces completed application responses by 30%. Most employers use this feature to ask binary yes/no questions such as “Do you know Java?”, which allows hiring managers to filter out those enterprising individuals who answer “No” even though they are applying for a Senior Java Developer position. And although this is an extremely effective tool, it’s also very simple: some services employ tremendously sophisticated keyword-parsing technologies (we also use them, although in a different capacity) which further filters incoming resumes.

This ability to streamline the flow of incoming candidates – which almost everyone offers in some form or another – makes it unlikely that increased candidate volume is solely or even primarily responsible for the ever lengthier job vacancies we’re currently seeing.

What actually seems to be at play here is the surfeit of choice hiring managers are faced with today. Technology has provided them with the means to consider an almost limitless number of candidates and this has afforded them the luxury of being extremely picky about their choices. They can now hold out for an incredibly specific combination of skills, experience, and education in a candidate, an ability which, combined with a lingering reluctance to hire the unemployed, is increasing the length of candidate searches.

And that may not be a bad thing. Assuming hiring managers use this lengthy process as an opportunity to make the very best hire they can, maybe the current trend towards a months-long candidate evaluation process isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

Photo via Flickr / Dafne Cholet

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ZipRecruiter's Senior Corporate Communications Manager, Scott Garner is a regular contributor to the ZipRecruiter blog.

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