Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jobs Open, but Filling Them Slows Down

MARCH 7, 2011

Hiring has yet to hit a rapid clip, but it's not for lack of job openings.

Since December, the economy has added about 130,000 jobs a month, barely more than what is needed to keep up with population growth, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Meanwhile, the number of job openings advertised online has grown by more than 400,000, to 4.2 million, according to the Conference Board, a research organization. That increase continued a trend that began in the spring of 2009.

Getty Images
Hundreds of people waited to fill out job applications at a San Francisco Mollie Stone's Market last month.

Recruiters say they are having trouble finding candidates for many skilled positions, and once candidates are found, hiring managers are taking longer to pull the trigger.

Positions that typically took two months to fill before the recession are sometimes taking four times longer, recruiters say, as hiring managers are holding out for better candidates.

Managers invited between five and six candidates on average for second-round interviews last year, twice as many as in 2007, according to a survey of 1,500 recruiters at large companies by the Corporate Executive Board, a research organization.

"Nowadays, if managers speak to a really great candidate, instead of hiring him, they take it as an indication that there must be 10 even better people out there," says Todd Safferstone, director of CLC Recruiting, a unit of the Corporate Executive Board.

PepsiCo Inc. aims to make offers to job candidates within two months of posting an opening, but since the recession began, some positions have taken up to 90 days to fill, says Paul Marchand, head of talent acquisition for the Purchase, N.Y., food-and-beverage company.

Certain candidates, such as scientists and some kinds of marketing professionals, are in short supply in the labor market or, if they are available, are unwilling to relocate to fill the position, he says. But even when qualified candidates are found, hiring managers sometimes want recruiters to find more candidates, thinking better matches must be possible, Mr. Marchand says.

"People think that with all the available talent, time-to-fill would go down, but it's just the opposite. When you're still trying to find quality candidates, it's actually taken longer," he says. Less-skilled positions, as in sales and customer service, take less time to fill, he says.

Eight months ago, Catholic Health Initiatives, a Denver-based nonprofit that runs hospitals and other health-care facilities, began looking for 50 highly skilled project and program managers. Eighteen of those positions still aren't filled, says Director of Recruitment Tracie Grant. Before the recession, it typically took the company 60 days to fill positions.

"Hiring managers hear the news and see the high unemployment rate and tell us that they want to continue looking for better candidates," she says. "They want the perfect candidate, when the reality is, there is no perfect candidate."

Zions Bancorp has about 430 openings in such areas as compliance, credit, auditing and risk, says Chief Human Resources Officer Connie Linardakis. After a six-month search, the company recently hired six senior vice presidents to help manage its credit department, she says. A few years ago, it might have only taken three months, she says.

The company, which is based in Salt Lake City, is trying to find a manager for its compliance department in San Diego but is competing with 15 other banks for the same kind of manager, she says. That will probably mean the opening will take months to fill, she says.

At videogame maker Electronic Arts Inc., there is a gap between the skill requirements the company posts and the experience of the people who apply, Gabrielle Toledano, executive vice president of human resources, says by email. That means the Redwood City, Calif., company's recruiters have to woo candidates who work at other companies, which can extend the time it takes to fill a position and push up compensation, she says.

"We're seeing a problem of companies unable to find the right skills in the right places," says David Arkless, president of corporate and government affairs for Milwaukee-based staffing firm Manpower Inc. For a position that would have needed two or three candidates a couple years ago, now companies want five or more, he says. "Companies want to make the hire count."

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