Career Report
April, 2013 — Issue 158


Employers Move Slowly in Filling Job Openings

American employers have a variety of job vacancies, piles of cash and countless well-qualified candidates. But, according to a recent article in The New York Times, despite a slowly improving economy, many companies remain reluctant to actually hire, stringing job applicants along for weeks or months before they make a decision.

The number of job openings has indeed increased to levels not seen since the height of the financial crisis, but vacancies are staying unfilled much longer than they used to – an average of 23 business days today compared to a low of 15 in mid-2009, according to a new measure of Labor Department data cited in the story.

Some have attributed the more extended process to a mismatch between requirements of the four million jobs available and skills held by many of the 12 million unemployed. That’s probably true in a few high-skilled fields, like nursing or biotech, but for a large majority of positions where candidates are plentiful, the bigger problem seems to be sort of a hiring paralysis.

“There’s a fear that the economy is going to go down again, so the message you get from C.F.O.’s is to be careful about hiring someone,” said John Sullivan, a management professor at San Francisco State University. “There’s this great fear of making a mistake, or wasting money in a tight economy.”

As a result, employers are bringing in large numbers of candidates for interview after interview after interview. Data from, a site that collects information on hiring at different companies, shows that the average duration of the interview process at major companies like Starbucks, General Mills and Southwest Airlines had roughly doubled since 2010.

“After they call you back after the sixth interview, there’s a part of you that wants to say, ‘That’s it, I’m not going back,’” Paul Sullivan, an exasperated but cheerful video editor in Washington, told the newspaper. “But then you think, hey, maybe seven is my lucky number. And besides, if I don’t go, they’ll just eliminate me if something else comes up because they’ll think I have an attitude problem.”

Like other job seekers around the country, he has been through marathon interview sessions. Sullivan has received eighth- and-ninth round callbacks for positions at three different companies. Two of those companies, as it turned out, ultimately decided not to hire anyone, he said; instead they put their openings “on hold” because of budget pressures.

According to the article, the hiring delays are part of the vicious cycle the economy has yet to escape: jobless and financially stretched Americans are reluctant to spend, which holds back demand, which in turn frays employers’ confidence that sales will firm up and justify committing to a new hire.

Job creation over the last two years has been steady but slow to put a major dent in the backlog of unemployed workers, and the March jobs report cast a cloud over the labor market with disappointing results. Uncertainly about the effect of the fiscal policy in Washington is not helping expectations for the rest of the year, either.

“If you have an opening and are not sure about the economy, it’s pretty cheap to wait for a month or two,” Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Brown told the newspaper. But in the aggregate, those little delays, coupled with fiscal uncertainty, are stretching out the recovery process. “It’s like one of those horror movies, an economic Friday the 13th, where this recession never seems to die.”

Employers might be making candidates jump through so many hoops partly because so many workers have been jobless for months or years, and hiring managers want to make sure candidates’ skills are up to date, said Robert Shimer, an economics professor at the University of Chicago.

But there’s also little pressure to hire right now, so long as candidates are abundant and existing staff members are afraid to refuse the extra workload created by an unfilled position, the article noted. Employers can keep dragging out the hiring process until they’re more confident about their business – or at least until they find the superstar candidate.

“They’re chasing after the purple squirrel,” said Roger Ahlfeld, of Framingham, Mass., using a human resources industry term for an impossibly qualified job applicant.

In addition to demanding credentials beyond what a given position traditionally requires, employers have thrown up more hurdles as screening devices, according to the article. For the companies themselves, economists say, the barriers they have constructed may be wasting managers’ time and company resources.

And for applicants, the expenses add up fast. Paul Sullivan, the video editor, calculates that the three positions he applied for cost him $520.36 in parking fees, two parking tickets, gas and trips to Starbucks while waiting for his interviews. That excludes costs of producing and mailing his video work, dry-cleaning bills for suits he dons for interviews and thousands of dollars of fees to become certified in new video-editing programs. For job seekers like him the hope is that the investment pays off.

News from BLK

Although we’ve not yet seen the April showers indicative of Spring, we at Berman Larson Kane have seen our Facebook Fans shower us with enthusiasm regarding our recent posts. Traffic to our Facebook page has skyrocketed and we are pleased to be able to use Facebook as another avenue to promote our services and provide some smiles and even laughter while doing so. If you haven’t connected with us on Facebook yet, take a minute to do so now at BLK Facebook Page.

The newest installment of the Berman Larson Kane Blog has been posted and focuses on the recently released Job Creation numbers. Take a minute and read what Bob Larson, CPC, President of Berman Larson Kane, has to say in response to these numbers as well his outlook on Job Creation and the Job Market in general at BLK Blog.

Last, but certainly not least, please join us in celebrating our anniversary as April marks our 33rd year in the staffing industry. Much has changed in the past 33 years, but our commitment to providing the Best Staffing Options to employers and job-seekers remains as true today as it was 33 years ago.