Hiring in a hurry picks up

April 30, 2012, 6:27 PM UTC

FORTUNE — After Intel began to shift its hiring approach a year ago, a few candidates cried. Other soon-to-graduate students were so happy or excited that they forgot to ask about their salaries.

The big change? The tech company started to hire for some jobs in a week’s time, instead of the multiple weeks it used to take. The process is now being whittled down to a couple of days, says Cindi Harper, Intel’s (INTC) Americas talent delivery manager.

“The talent’s not waiting,” she says. Neither is Intel, apparently. In its new approach, managers and recruiters first determine the key attributes and skills for a job — the profile they are seeking. Then a designated manager joins Intel recruiters at industry conferences and college career fairs, where they hand candidates an offer letter on the spot. A couple of days later, they work out details such as salary and where the job is located, Harper says.

Welcome to the new world of hiring in a hurry, an emergent recruitment method as more employers look to snag talent from college campuses and beyond before their competitors get to them.

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Several companies are simultaneously facing a talent shortage and growing demand for their goods or services, so they are speeding up the talent pipeline and searching for other shortcuts to fill key jobs in IT, engineering, and other areas.

“Companies are starting to feel a real pinch for a lack of employees,” says Dan Finnigan, chief executive of JobVite, a recruiting software platform that uses employee referrals and social networks. As business begins to pick up, Finnigan says, they think: “I have to hire some more people, fast.”

A (gradual) return to pre-recession hiring times?

Last year, the average time from first interview to job offer for a college graduate was 22.5 days, compared to 25 days on average in 2009. The turnaround time is inching closer to 2008 levels (22.2 days), according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

More than one in five employers said they had missed out on a candidate last year because they did not give an offer fast enough, according to a recent CarerBuilder survey. This year, more employers say they plan to have all their summer jobs filled by the end of April, according to a survey by SnagAJob. And almost half of employers expect all their summer openings to be claimed before May; in 2010, it was 40%.

Employers are finally feeding a pent-up demand for new blood after resorting to huge cuts during the recession, says Finnigan, who ran the career site HotJobs.com for almost five years.

These days, one-fourth of JobVite’s clients hire via an employee’s referral, and those people are hired more quickly than candidates who come from career sites, according to research by JobVite. Referred candidates took, on average, 29 days from application to hire versus 39 days for job board applicants.

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Certainly, many employers are sticking to a slower paced hiring process. Some career placement directors at business schools say they’re not seeing much change in hiring turnaround times. And some executive recruiters also say they don’t see an increase in hiring speed, especially when it comes to filling senior job vacancies.

A case of post-recession rusty recruitment

There is evidence that suggests that employers may be less efficient at matching jobseekers with available jobs, says John Wohlford, a Bureau of Labor Statistics economist in charge of the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, also known as JOLTS. The BLS does not track hiring speed specifically, but other data implies that the hiring pace has slowed over the past few years, Wohlford wrote in an email. Since the end of the recession, the number of job openings has increased by 46% while the hiring rate has grown only 19%, he noted, adding, “This could be a result of the vacant jobs piling up due to a slowdown in the speed of filling vacancies.”

Yet several surveys suggest that employers are finding it more difficult to attract people for specific jobs, and they are recruiting faster to snap up engineers, accountants, and others as quickly as they can convince them to jump ship or join up.

“If employers are competing for graduates, they may want to make offers faster,” says Andrea Koncz, employment information manager at the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The overall improvement in the economy also contributes to the faster hiring process for the class of 2012, she said. (Data for 2012 hiring speed will be released in the fall.)

“We’re one of the few companies out there giving them on the spot,” says Intel’s Harper, though she does not expect that distinction to last long. Already at industry conferences, she sees more companies asking for interviewing booths to be set up in addition to the traditional recruiter tables.

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Not everyone favors the hiring in a hurry mode. At the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, more students are receiving “exploding offers,” which must be accepted within 24 hours or they disappear. “It really plays on the student’s insecurity” and may not allow him or her to interview with another employer that they favor, says Damian Zikakis, director of career services. Sometimes “the company’s trying to scoop their competitor,” especially in management consulting or investment banking, he says.

Michigan asks employers to leave job offers open for at least three weeks, and other top business schools have similar suggestions, says Zikakis, who was a recruiter for a decade before he joined the university in 2010.

Making the case for speedier hiring

Intel had to overcome some initial hurdles in launching its speedier hiring process, called team-based hiring. For one, a manager sent to an industry conference had to grow comfortable with making a hiring decision for a large group of managers and make sure they had their colleagues’ confidence. Harper also had to make the case that the faster process could actually yield positive results.

Recently, Intel’s faster hiring practices are spreading to their offices in Poland, Russia, and Latin America. “We’re trying different things in different places,” says Harper.

So far, Intel has used the new approach to hire more than 1,200 new employees, including almost 1,000 hardware and software engineers, as well as some customer care staff in Poland and some human resources staffers.

Sheryl Dawson, an executive partner with Career Partners International in Houston, has worked in outplacement and recruiting for many years. Companies may be moving more quickly on hiring, depending on how competitive the landscape is and how deep the talent pool is. “Speed’s important for both sides, but the right fit trumps that,” she says.

Dawson argues that holding multiple interviews is important, but she sees employers speeding that process along by conducting group interviews or interviews stacked one after another in a single day.

Candidates that are intent on a new job appreciate speed and think less of companies that stall in hiring, said Dawson, whose company also handles outplacement services. Their thinking: “They don’t have their act together on hiring; they may not have their act together in other areas.”

Besides bringing in more solid candidates at a faster clip, Harper sees another advantage to Intel’s new approach: Most of Intel’s managers can stay focused on their jobs and don’t have to take as much time or energy to find or lure the right software engineer.


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