Fuzzy Math: Why Time to Fill Sucks.

cartoon1Oh, “time to fill.” If you’re a recruiter, the very mention of this metric is enough to send shivers down your spine; after all, it’s been used for years now to beat recruiters into complete submission (and completing submissions).

For as long as I’ve been a recruiter – which, by the way, is longer than I’d like to admit – the concept of “time to fill” has been one of the most commonly leveraged baselines for assessing recruiter productivity and output; it’s also commonly utilized as a convenient crutch for building a completely biased benchmark to determine whether or not a recruiter is worth keeping.

In recruiting, there’s a need for speed; if you’re working for a third party, getting your fee often requires sacrificing depth of screening for expediency of submission, a devil’s bargain that most are willing to make (rightfully so, too).

As we’ve entered the digital age in recruiting, though, at least as far as our sourcing and talent attraction practices are concerned (applicant tracking systems and job descriptions are a different story), and have learned to stop worrying and dropping big data bombs, that crucial “time to fill” metric that every recruiter considers a core competency has become more and more meaningless.

Today, we have the ability to measure recruiters, their productivity and talent acquisition efficacy across multiple levels, across multiple platforms, systems and sources. Say what you will about “big data,” the truth is that we’re actually talking about meaningful metrics and actionable analytics in recruiting for once is a big deal – even if the practice of said theory remains a little flawed.

This means that, finally, the “time to fill” metric has become more or less obsolete, a hand-me-down from the olden days of recruitment that’s about as old and archaic as most enterprise ATS systems. And while even the most obsolete HCM technologies can track something as simple as days to fill.

Even this is flawed, since the amount of time something is open in the system in no way reflects the infinite variables, hiring manager obstacles and process delays that inevitably occur while the clock inexplicably keeps on ticking. But, in the absence of real data, it’s something.

I just wouldn’t want to stake my job to what the hell those systems say, and I’m betting I’m not alone on this.

Why Time To Fill Is Such A Stupid Metric.

59073347While recruiters, as a rule, kind of suck when it comes to anything involving analytics, for some reason any recruiting department that tracks any sort of metrics seem to have made this the standard way in which success is measured.

Superficially, this makes sense, as time to fill provides a pretty even, ostensibly objective snapshot at how well any particular recruiting department or individual recruiter is doing at any point in time.

But while this is a convenient (and easy) way to deconstruct recruiting to a simple, standard and scaleable number that anyone can understand, what time to fill lacks is the nuance and understanding of the infinite fallibilities that occur within the recruiting process.

Some of these, like time from submission to time of screening, are entirely up to the recruiter; most, however, have have nothing to do with anything but a broken process and the frustrating delays and unforeseen circumstances that inevitably arise in recruiting.

But the reqs keeps aging, and their Time-To-Fill (TTF) continues to rise regardless; bad news when this is the metric by which you’re measured and managed, pretty much. When it comes to TTF, the devil truly is in the details.

Which is to say, that when calculating this metric, what isn’t factored in is almost as important as what’s normally included in calculating TTF.

6 Big Reasons “Time to Fill” Really Sucks for Recruiters.

untitledWe’re looking at the wrong stuff, it seems; TTF looks at the bottom line: how long did it take the recruiter to fill this position?

But what it leaves out is all the shit that we, as recruiters, have no control over whatsoever. For example:

  • Manager Drag – Every recruiter has or has inevitably had a manager that without fail takes days (or weeks) to respond to candidates that have been submitted, regardless of how “critical” the position is to their team.
  • Unskilled Interviewers – Remember the VP who bails on an interview last minute and lets their junior employee interview the senior candidate? The same junior employee who has little to no interview experience? Their inexperience in effectively interviewing that candidate impacts the decision, and hence time to fill. 
  • “Moving Targets” – There’s the always-fun role that for which you need a candidate with 3-5 years experience, only to submit 5 people for that role and find out you really need someone “more senior”, with 8-10 years of experience. Feels like the clock should start over here, if you ask me. Especially if we’re really looking for a whole new set of attributes or a major change in core skills needed for the role. 
  • Candidate Availability or general “flaking out” – People are an unpredictable lot, and any recruiter with any tenure knows that candidates can have tight schedules, and can go M.I.A. at times for seemingly no reason. All the “candidate control” in the world can’t save every candidate from going sideways every now and again. While I’m at it, “candidate control” is another really shitty anachronism we need to drop. No wonder candidates think we’re assholes – we talk about them as though we were plantation owners in 1834. 
  • Rare or In-Demand Skill Sets – When you are recruiting for the same skill set as 70% of the rest of the tech companies in the country (I’m looking right at you “Big Data”…) or a skill that maybe 40-50 people in the industry possess, that can be a hindrance to meeting the 28 days to fill expectation that your company has arbitrarily dictated. This isn’t recruiter whining, its a fact. 
  • Improper Broad Use – Piggybacking on the in-demand skill set, we also need to look at how we apply TTF. In many cases, TTF is measured as a whole-company strategy/outcome when the reality is that it is a metric that is quite departmentally specific. We’d be better served to measure this at a Business Unit or departmental level to accurately reflect where efficiencies are and where areas for improvement exist. 
  • Positions On Hold – TTF rarely takes into account the external business factors that impact hiring. Budget shortages, changes in the priorities for which positions can be hired and when, and business performance (IE – quarterly earnings) can put roles on the back burner. Are those cumulative add-on days being taken into account as well?

Sound familiar?

The End Times of Time To Fill.

What_Time_Is_ItThere is reason for optimism in how and what we measure on the recruiting front in the coming years. Recently, Rob McIntosh, Chief Analyst for ERE, proposed a standardized set of metrics that will measure not just an overall time to fill, but that will look at metrics between segments within the recruiting workflow, and at key intervals in the process.

It will also be incredibly helpful to use a metric like Recruitment vs. Business Consideration, which, in his words.

“Compares how many business days the Recruiting function takes to identify and screen the candidate vs how many business days the business (hiring manager) takes to interview and hire the candidate.” 

That is one sexy metric I can get behind, because it helps to tell the story behind the numbers. More metrics like this one will give us more information than TTF alone ever will.   

The currently-forming national association for recruiting (Currently under the working name Professional Recruiting Association) could be a major influencer for introducing additional definition and streamlining, particularly as it relates to industry breakdowns, as well as discussion at the local level.

Recruiting is clearly in that awkward teenage phase. It’s growing up, and growing up is ugly in many ways. Now is the time to embrace a new way of thinking about how we measure whether or not we’re actually effective at the job we do.

We waste hours of our time debating each other on pointless issues on Facebook or Twitter, defending our profession to outsiders while attacking each other inside; we’re content to argue theory instead of driving best practices, and we’re happy to talk about the importance of data instead of implementing it.

It’s time to grow out of this phase and realize that if we’re going to make any meaningful difference in our business, or the impact we make for our candidates, clients and colleagues, we’ve got to shut up and start doing more than simply scratching the surface.

The key is using data from different sources to tell the real story about what’s really going on with recruiting – because TTF ain’t nothing but a number.

unnamed (11)About the Author: Pete Radloff has 15 years of recruiting experience in both agency and corporate environments, and has worked with such companies as Comscore, exaqueo, National Public Radio and Living Social.

With experience and expertise in using technology and social media to enhance the candidate experience and promote strong employer brands, Pete also serves as lead consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consulting firm.

An active member of the Washington area recruiting community, Pete is currently a VP and sits on the Board of Directors of RecruitDC.

Follow Pete on Twitter @PJRadloff or connect with him on LinkedIn, or at his blog, RecruitingIn3D.



  • BobCorlett

    Pete, I totally agree. Time to present a slate of qualified candidates is a great measurement. We’ve been tracking it for years. It works. Jessica Lee posted on this topic on FOT 4 years ago: http://fistfuloftalent.com/2011/02/move-over-time-to-fill-metrics.html Having a slate of people is important (not just one candidate): http://staffingadvisors.com/2012/06/20/removing-bias-and-desperation-from-your-hiring-decisions/

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  • Alan Henshaw

    You are speaking of TTF in terms of judging recruiters. But what if we used the data in other ways? For example: If I have 4 engineering groups that are all hiring the same profile of person but one group is consistently 19 days longer to fill than the other 3, this is data that I can use to go to that team and correct/improve a process. There is obviously a bottleneck and you can figure it out. I agree that TTF for judging recruiters is not accurate but we can use that data is so many other useful ways.

    • Pete Radloff

      Agreed Alan, and that’s where the shift is headed. It’s to ID the problem areas, instead of using it as a catch-all metric for effectiveness.

  • Fareed Ansari

    Time to fill is a communication matter. Employers and job candidates speak two different languages from two different set of needs, methods and realities. The recruiter or recruiter solution must be the translator that can provides actionable information (knowledge) upon which progressive decisions can be made.

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