Episode #103 – The Danger of Keeping a Position Open for Too Long

Samantha: Welcome to “The Animal Health Employment Insider,” brought to you by The VET Recruiter. In this podcast, executive recruiter Stacy Pursell, founder and CEO of The VET Recruiter, provides insight and practical advice for both companies and job seekers in the Animal Health industry and Veterinary profession. The VET Recruiter’s mission is to help Animal Health and Veterinary employers hire top talent, while helping animal health and veterinary professionals attain career-enhancing opportunities that increase their quality of life.

In today’s podcast, we’ll be talking about the danger of keeping a position open for too long. Hello, Stacy, and thank you for joining us today.

Stacy: Hello, Samantha. As always, I’m glad to be here.

Samantha: I’ve read and seen stories before about how hiring the wrong person can be dangerous for an organization. But is there also a danger in keeping a position open for too long?

Stacy: Yes, there is. In fact, there is actually a myth associated with this topic. And that’s the mistaken belief that when an organization doesn’t fill a position right away, that organization is actually saving money. Company officials might think to themselves, “Hey, we don’t have to pay that salary anymore. We don’t have to pay those benefits anymore, either. We can take our time filling the position, and we’ll even save money along the way.”

Samantha: So is that line of thinking wrong?

Stacy: That line of thinking is wrong and I will explain why. The fact of the matter is that when you leave a position open for too long, it can hurt your organization. I have some examples of the ways in which it can hurt an organization.

First, other employees are sometimes required to cover the duties that go with the position that’s open. Sure, it can be done, but what about the other employees’ main duties and responsibilities? How much do they suffer, especially in terms of effectiveness?

That leads to the second point. When employees are less effective, that means they’re usually less productive. When employees are less productive, that usually means less profit for the company. If more productivity equals more profit, then less productivity equals less profit. It’s a simple equation.

Third, when employees take on more responsibility and work longer hours without additional compensation, there’s more of a chance they will be unhappy with their job and they may decide to leave. When that happens, the organization is more likely to suffer from a retention problem, which also hurts the bottom line.

Samantha: Stacy, wouldn’t an organization also be at a disadvantage in the marketplace against its competitors in such a situation?

Stacy: Yes, and that is an excellent point! I’m glad you brought it up Samantha. If your competitors are completely staffed and running at full capacity and you aren’t, then they will be better positioned than your organization.

Now keep in mind that what I’m NOT saying is that an employer should fill a position as quickly as possible with a subpar candidate just to fill the position so that they don’t lose money. Hiring a subpar candidate will cost as much as leaving a position open for too long, if not more if you eventually have to get rid of them. What you want to do is fill the position with the best candidate in the marketplace in the shortest amount of time possible. That should be the goal.

Samantha: That’s a pretty lofty goal, though, isn’t it? Especially in this current job market?

Stacy: It IS a lofty goal. That’s because it’s not easy to do. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that the more important the position is, the more quickly it should be filled. That’s because a greater degree of importance is often tied directly to greater levels of value for the employer.

And there is also another facet to this whole issue that some hiring managers and hiring authorities overlook.

Samantha: Which facet is that?

Stacy: Well, I’d like to illustrate it with a case study, which I often do on our podcast as you know. Once upon a time, an organization reached out to me to ask for help with filling a position that had been open for six months. Up until that point, company officials had been trying to fill the position on their own.

As an Animal Health recruiter and executive search consultant, this is what I do, so I said that I would be glad to help them. The trouble began when I reached out to a potential candidate about the role. When I spoke with the candidate, he asked, “Hasn’t that position been open for six months? Why can’t they fill it?”

Samantha: So the candidate you reached out to knew the position had been open for a while?

Stacy: Oh, yes. He did. And because of that, his perception about the organization was affected. Specifically, he believed there must be something wrong with the position, the employer, or both.

There are three problems for hiring managers in this situation.

First, they don’t realize that leaving a position open for that long is costly to the company in terms of productivity and profitability.

Second, they don’t realize that candidates in the marketplace are often aware of the fact the position has been open for so long.

And third, they don’t realize how that knowledge affects the candidates’ perception of the organization.

These problems are bad enough for a non-sales position. However, they’re even worse when the position is a sales role.

Samantha: Why is that?

Stacy: Leaving a sales position open is even more costly than leaving a non-sales position open. That’s because a sales person is actively bringing money into the organization. As employees go, sales people are among the most valuable. They more than pay for themselves. So when a sales position goes unfilled for a long amount of time, the organization is losing even more money.

Now the position involved in this case study was NOT a sales position. However, the organization did lose out by having the position open for too long. Not only that, but the fact the job was already open for six months also raised many questions.

Samantha: What questions are those?

Stacy: First and foremost, how much money could the organization have made if there was someone in the role? You have to look at the situation from two different perspectives. First, there’s the money lost by not having someone in the position. Then there’s the money lost that could have been made by having the position filled.

Samantha: So it’s almost a case of doubling your losses?

Stacy: Exactly! Let’s say that this organization filled its position in only a few weeks. Let’s also say that it filled the position with a higher performer, a star candidate who turned into a star employee. I’m talking about the kind of top performer who gets up to speed quickly and performs at a very high level.

First, other employees do not have to chip in and cover the responsibilities of the open position, since it’s no longer open. That helps those employees to be more productive in carrying out their own duties. Second, the position is not only filled, but it’s also filled with a superstar candidate. That equates to nearly five months of superstar production in the position, which translates to high levels of productivity for the organization.

Contrast that scenario with the situation the organization actually found itself in, which was a position that was not filled quickly with a superstar candidate. It was still open after sixth months, having been filled with no candidate at all. You can see the big difference in these two scenarios, including the impact they each would have on the organization’s bottom line.

Samantha: What other questions does this situation raise?

Stacy: Another question is how many top candidates had a negative perception about the position and quite possibly the employer because the position had been open for so long? If the one candidate that I reached out to had a negative opinion, that means there were quite possibly other candidates who held the same opinion. In fact, I’d say it was probable that there were other candidates like the one I spoke with.

Yet another question is did the organization lose market share to the competition during the time this position was left open? This is something that we touched upon earlier, and it’s a fair question to ask, especially if the position was an important, high-level position within the organization.

If the company was at a disadvantage, did the competition take advantage of that disadvantage? Common sense would seem to dictate that they would. And if they did, what did that look like? In what ways did the competition gain an advantage, and what would this organization have to do to regain that advantage, or at the very least, make up the ground that it lost?

Samantha: Wow, these are all great questions! I can see why such a misconception exists regarding this topic and why exactly that misconception is false. So what can organizations do to help ensure this doesn’t happen to them?

Stacy: Engaging the services of an experienced search consultant or recruiter is a great way to make sure you don’t find yourself in a situation like this one.

Executive search consultants and recruiters specialize in finding and recruiting the type of candidates that employers want to hire. In fact, search consultants have built relationships with the top talent within the marketplace. They know why and under what specific circumstances those candidates would make a career move.

As a result, when a search consultant is working with an employer and that employer has an open position, the search consultant knows who to call first. That’s because they know which of the top candidates they have a relationship with would be most interested in the position. So they reach out to the candidate, they present the opportunity, and the candidate is most likely interested.

Samantha: It is all about the time it takes to hire, isn’t it?

Stacy: Yes. And an experienced executive search consultant can help an organization source quality candidates in a short amount of time and then help it to fill critical positions quickly with the best talent possible.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I was very thankful that this organization reached out to me to help fill the position. However, if company officials had reached out to me at the beginning of the process, they would have been in a much better position. They would not have lost so much time, energy, and money by keeping the position open for that long.

Samantha: Stacy, what would you say is the bottom line?

Stacy: The bottom line is that if an organization has a high-level, critical opening, it should NOT take the “wait and see” approach. It should do whatever is necessary to fill the position with the best candidate in the market in the shortest amount of time possible.

Samantha: Stacy, thank you so much for joining us today and for sharing all of this great information.

Stacy: Thank you, Samantha. It’s my pleasure, and I look forward to our next podcast episode!