Hiring remains very competitive today, and that means the recruiting process often drags on much longer than most companies anticipate. In my conversations with hiring managers, one lament I often hear is, “Why does it take so long to hire someone these days? I need people now!”

I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered employers who are shocked that a job has remain unfilled for weeks — and, very often, months — on end. They had visions of bringing in someone right away and hadn’t planned to be without a core employee for so long. Their current team is being asked to work shorthanded and running the risk of burning out.

When highly skilled and experienced candidates are scarce, job seekers can afford to be very choosy. As these professionals are actively looking for work, they may receive multiple offers — and it’s not unusual for companies to find that their top choice for a position has accepted a job with another firm.

Meanwhile, passive job seekers — professionals who already have jobs but are open to other opportunities — need to be convinced of the benefits of changing companies. Even then, they may receive a counteroffer from their current employer and decide to stay put. So companies may go through the entire hiring process only to lose out on the candidate of their choice and have to start over again.

Is there anything you can do to shorten the hiring process and access the talent you need now? Absolutely. Here are five tips:

1. Find your pain points

Try to identify where things break down in your hiring process. For example, if you’re not receiving resumes from qualified (or any) applicants, the job description probably needs to be reworked. Have you described the position accurately? Are the requirements reasonable? Are you highlighting aspects of your firm’s corporate culture that make it appealing?

If you’ve been unable to close the deal with potential hires, you may need to improve the job offer by increasing the salary or providing a better benefits package. The point is to focus on just one aspect of the hiring process at a time so you can fix what isn’t working — and avoid breaking what is.

2. Expand your recruiting resources

If you’re just posting your job ad to an online board, you’re not doing enough. You need to cover more ground. Ask your employees for referrals and provide an incentive for them to encourage people they know to apply for a role with your firm. (Hint: Cash bonuses always work well.)

Increase your networking efforts, both online and in person. Let everyone know about your hiring needs. Touch base with your contacts frequently to keep the connections strong and remind them that you are still on the hunt.

Also consider enlisting the help of a reputable recruiter. These professionals have deep networks of job seekers and are often able to identify skilled professionals who would otherwise be unaware of your job opening.


3. Be flexible

Your expectations might be one reason your hiring process has dragged on. Every employer wants a worker with years of experience, an advanced degree and a long list of relevant industry designations. But it could be that few candidates meet all these qualifications. Your ideal candidate may not even exist.

In the job posting, list only those qualifications that are essential to succeed in the position. Otherwise you risk limiting your pool of applicants. And when evaluating candidates, focus on true job requirements versus nice-to-haves.

Also remember that talented people are trainable — and are typically very eager to learn. So, keep the door open to promising professionals who may not have all the experience you seek but have the potential to ramp up and advance quickly.

4. Don’t hire just anyone

It’s tempting to bring someone — anyone – on board when workloads are piling up and your employees are unable to absorb even one more task. But desperation can easily lead to bad (and costly) hiring decisions.

Consider bringing on a temporary employee until you find the right person for the job. You might even find that the professional you engage in the interim is really the full-time hire you’ve been searching for all along.

5. Be proactive

Lastly, I urge you to start thinking about your future hiring needs now. You can’t wait to start the hiring process until there is an immediate need to fill a position. Try to build and maintain a talent pipeline that consists of candidates who could be a good fit for positions that open up in the future. Continue to collect resumes and keep in touch with job seekers you liked but did not hire. Being proactive now can help you to shorten your hiring cycle next time around.

Paul McDonald is senior executive director at Robert Half. He writes and speaks frequently on hiring, workplace and career management topics. Over the course of more than 30 years in the recruiting field, McDonald has advised thousands of company leaders and job seekers on how to hire and get hired.

McDonald joined Robert Half in 1984 as a recruiter for financial and accounting professionals in Boston, following a public accounting career with Price Waterhouse. In the 1990s, he became president of the Western United States overseeing all of the company’s operations in the region. McDonald became senior executive director of Robert Half Management Resources in 2000, and assumed his current role in 2012. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from St. Bonaventure University in New York.