Startup Hiring: When Should You Call Off a Stalled Search?

September 18, 2014

Have an open position you’re struggling to hire for? A little preparation and planning in advance will help you determine if and when you should call off the dogs and regroup.

Think back to the last recruiting search you kicked off. Can you picture how excited everyone was? Do you remember all the big plans in place for the new position, and how eager you were to go out and start finding great candidates?
Now fast-forward to today. It’s week 13 and you’re still sourcing and passing along candidates. The hiring manager is still phone screening and/or bringing individuals in to interview. Enthusiasm is dissipating with each passing day, and it’s being replaced by an awful sense of desperation and indifference. Somewhere along the way, something clearly went wrong. There’s no getting around it — this search has stalled. The question now is how can you get it back on track before it becomes entirely obsolete?

3 Stalled Search Situations You Shouldn’t Give Up On…Yet

We’ve all had one of those searches. No matter how hard you work to close it out, it keeps dragging on and on. It begs the question: How long is too long to keep a search going?
I personally don’t think any search has an expiration date, but maybe that’s just my competitive spirit. There will always be limiting circumstances, of course, but many times it’s a judgment call, and if you want to fill a position, I believe you can make it happen.
In fact, you may find that your stalled recruiting search is simply a byproduct of one of the three addressable situations below.
1) You’re Up Against the Summer Slump
Just because the search isn’t going anywhere doesn’t necessarily mean your sourcing efforts or poor candidates are to blame. Maybe it’s actually a matter of having to schedule around vacations and work conferences.
The good news is there are a few things you can do to ensure a small delay doesn’t turn into a longer hiatus.
When starting a search at the beginning of the summer, for example, you need to be thinking two steps ahead at all times. Ask when the hiring manager, their interview team, and, of course, your candidate is taking vacation time, and set those dates aside. Knowing what limited availability you have to work with will set you up mentally as to whether the search will take all summer or just a few weeks.
Summertime and holiday season searches can be tricky, but knowing everyone’s availability ahead of time can go a long way towards establishing expectations and moving the process through.
2) You’re Trying to Clone a Role
I hate to burst your bubble, but just because you closed out one search in three weeks doesn’t mean it will be that quick and easy next time around. The truth is, even if they’re for the same role, no two searches are alike.
It can be easy for hiring managers to fixate on finding a mirror image of a recent successful hire, but that can lead down a long and ultimately disappointing road.
Eventually, if you find the search dragging out, it may be time to reflect on the scope of the work you’ve done so far. Show the hiring manager how many people he or she has spoken to, and clue them in on how much work you’re doing behind the scenes. Once you lay out everything you’ve been working on over the past several weeks (or, gulp, months), the hiring manager will better understand the importance of getting the search back on track.
3) You’re Recruiting for a Tough-to-Fill Role

Finally, it’s worth acknowledging there are some roles that are always going to be highly competitive. Finding the needles in the haystack will continue to get harder and harder, which means your searches might get a little longer.
You need to be transparent with the hiring manager about the current market conditions and what you’re seeing for that particular qualification. As long as everyone is on the same page and communicating about how the search is going, you’re doing well. Despite low candidate flow, the hiring manager will be realistic about their expectations from you and may also start to flex on their must-haves for the candidate.

Your Best Bet? Establish a Firm Timeline by Working Backwards

To avoid as many issues as possible and to keep the search on a timeline, it’s best to work backwards. Map out when you want this person to realistically start. With that date in mind, determine how quickly they can turn around an offer letter, when the final interview needs to be, and how many rounds of interviews will be necessary. More than likely, that original start date you had in mind won’t be so realistic anymore, especially once you take into account all of the interviews for multiple candidates. Being honest about how much time you need to set aside and how far in advance you need to think will set you up to stay on track as much as possible for the search.
What do you think? When is it ever a good time to toss in the towel?
Image by Robert Gauvin

Technical Recruiter

<strong>Rose O'Connell</strong> is a technical recruiter at <a href="">AthenaHealth</a>. She was previously a Talent Specialist with OpenView.