The Hiring Process is Getting Slower: Are Background Checks to Blame?

By Michael Klazema on 7/4/2015
According to a study recently conducted by the Glassdoor Economic Research Blog, the average job interview process in the United States took 22.9 days in 2014. In 2010, the average job interview process only took about 12.5 days. Something has happened in the past five years to nearly double the length of the process, but what is the prevailing cause?

Some would point the finger at background checks, and they might not be entirely wrong. We've all heard the stories of job seekers who have waited weeks or even months for their pre-employment background checks to process. For schools that use the FBI database, this problem is especially common, but it's not unheard of elsewhere. But are background checks the main cause that for the increased turn around time in the hiring process, or are longer wait times just a natural product of employers being more careful about who they hire?

Interestingly, Glassdoor noted that background checks, on average, don't actually add very much time to the hiring process. In fact, background checks only add an average of 3.1 to 3.4 days, and drug tests, where relevant, add less than a day. Instead, the biggest culprits for adding time to the process are the interviews. Glassdoor noted that phone interviews add between 6.8 and 8.2 days, group panel interviews add between 5.6 and 6.8 days, and one-on-one interviews add between 4.1 and 5.3 days. Collectively, that means just the interview portion of the pre-employment screening process takes between 16.5 and 20.3 days, the vast majority of the average wait time.

The question, of course, is how interviews can be adding that much time now when they weren't five years ago. Two other reasons that background checks are often blamed for increasing pre-employment screening times are that 1) more companies are running background checks for all positions now than they were five years ago, and 2) background checks are becoming more in-depth and more complicated than ever before. Does an increase in the prevalence and complexity of background checks then really add time to the hiring process?

Background checks aren't the only tool that employers are using to tighten their employment processes and ensure that they hire the right people. The interview process remains at the core of any hiring procedure, and many employers are adding extra layers of screening in that department. More and more, employers are doing three interviews, the phone interview, the in-person one-on-one interview, and the group panel interview, where one or two used to suffice. Every interview involves finding a mutually acceptable time for all parties. In other words, complicated scheduling is arguably the number one reason that hiring processes are taking longer now than they used to.

In the United States, the interview process still isn't long in comparison to other nations. Per the Glassdoor study, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France all have longer average employment screening times, ranging from 27.9 to 31.9 days. But the fact that hiring processes take longer in other countries doesn't really help job searchers who are having to go nearly a month to hear whether or not they have been hired. It's good for companies to be careful about who they hire, and the multi-interview system is arguably essential in today's competitive job market. A pruning of these processes, though, might help to make the employment screening process more workable for the applicants and less of a blow to productivity for the employers.


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