Employers are hiring more slowly than at any time since 2001

October 21, 2014, 3:56 PM UTC
online job interview
Hand selecting from portrait grid on laptop screen
Photograph by Dimitri Otis—Getty Images

If a company where you’ve applied for a job seems to be taking a long time to get back to you about it, rest assured, you aren’t alone.

On the one hand, the economy has finally emerged from its “jobless” phase. In August, the latest month for which figures are available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers reported 4.8 million job openings, the most since July 2001.

Even so, more job seekers are in suspense: The average number of days it took to fill an open position rose to 26.5 working days, according to a new analysis by Dice Holdings, owner of six career web sites. In a weird bit of symmetry, that’s the longest time since 2001, when Dice first started tracking these figures.

“Part of the reason is that, the more jobs companies advertise, the more applicants they get,” says Mike Durney, Dice Holdings’ CEO. “So human resources departments, many of which were cut back during the recession, are a little bit overwhelmed.”

But most of the reason for slower hiring is that employers have gotten pickier. “Companies’ needs keep getting more specific,” Durney says. “They have a much more detailed wish list of the kinds of experience they’re after.”

One example: Mobile app developers are in big demand now, but only if their resumes match a given job opening precisely. “A couple of years ago, employers wanted anyone who had done anything in mobile, it didn’t matter what,” Durney says. “Now they’re looking harder for exactly the right background.”

Even with an all-time low unemployment rate of 2.7%, tech applicants typically wait an average of 23 days to get hired, more than twice the 11 days it takes for construction workers who, Durney notes, “often have specialized skills, like carpentry, that are harder to find now than they used to be.” Health care applicants endure an average of 46 working days to land a new job, the slowest rate of any industry that Dice examined. “It was always a complicated field,” Durney notes. “Now, with health care reform, it’s much more so, which means that finding candidates with the right skills takes longer.”

That’s likely to continue in almost every industry as the economy keeps growing more complicated, Durney adds. “If you’re in IT, get as many new certifications and learn as many [software] languages as you can. If you’re in health care, go after more specialized training,” he advises. “Employers’ needs will keep getting more specific. So, the more skills you have, the better your chances of getting hired faster.”