Companies are Often Quicker to Hire Leaders Than Junior Employees. Should They Be?

July 31, 2018

Here’s a common story in our recruitment practice here at Argentus: a client calls us asking for our help hiring a Director of Procurement. Later that week, a different client calls with a need for a Procurement Analyst. We reach out into our network, digging deep into the connections we’ve forged over the past decade in this business, finding people for both roles and presenting them to the respective clients. We field incoming calls from active candidates and – if we’re lucky – a few of them line up with exactly those searches that we’re working on, and we represent them. A week later, each client has 4-5 qualified, pre-screened candidates. So far so good, right?

But here’s the funny thing that happens surprisingly often: you cut to a month later. The candidates have been interviewed. Maybe the clients have asked for a second round of candidates. Maybe they’ve gone through multiple interviews. Maybe clients have delayed the process due to vacation, or “re-envisioning the role,” or all the many things that inevitably come up as bumps on the road to hiring. The weird thing is, so often when you cut to a month later, we’ve filled the director-level job, but the analyst-level job is still open. Often the client hasn’t hired an analyst, even if we’ve submitted the same number of junior candidates – or more – as we did for the senior search.

We want to write about this phenomenon because we think it’s strange. It’s counter-intuitive: why should a $60k job for a vendor analyst be harder and more time-consuming to fill than a $140k job for a director of procurement?

We’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, because it really doesn’t make intuitive sense: you’d think that a senior level job has more skill and experience requirements, so the sourcing and evaluation of candidates should take longer. A senior-level person has a bigger impact on a company’s bottom line, as well as culture, so it should take longer to make sure that they’re really a good fit. But time and again, companies seem to be quicker to hire directors and VPs than they are analysts. Successfully, I might add!

It’s not that we’re unable to fill those junior-level roles. We are, and we do regularly. But the process sometimes feels more onerous than hiring directors and VPs.

So why is that, and are there any lessons to be learned?

We think the question is worth asking, because the clients we work with deserve to hire faster and better. They often come to us with positions – especially at the junior level, it seems – that have been open for months. And we consider it part of our mission to help them understand why that is, and what’s holding them back from securing the talent that they’re looking for.

So here’s our first explanation:

On one level, there are fewer positions at the top of the experience pyramid than at the bottom. There are just more analyst jobs than there are Director and VP jobs. Because there’s a Supply Chain talent crunch – with baby boomers retiring – there might be more candidates per position at the senior end than at the junior end. There are more young people getting into our vertical than there used to be, but demand is still outstripping supply.

There’s a big influx of newcomers to Canada with overseas Supply Chain experience. Many of these newcomers are smartly pursuing degrees and certifications to help them get situated in the Canadian job market, but too many companies are refusing to hire based on overseas experience – even if it’s at top-tier Fortune 500 companies like Pepsico, P&G, or Johnson & Johnson. So that might be it: there just aren’t as many candidates for analyst-level positions.

But the thing is, unless the search is super niche, we always find enough junior candidates to present for analyst roles. Companies just often seem to take longer to evaluate and hire these candidates.

So is there another explanation for why companies seem to hire directors faster than analysts?

Leaders have already proven themselves in their careers, so they have more history to go on. They have more accomplishments. Companies are more willing to be nimble and flexible about requirements if someone has shown they can deliver. Hiring managers for these roles are often CxOs or VPs with more clout in the organization, so they can hire without having to jump through as many hoops as at the junior level. Hiring managers tend to schedule two or three interviews in quick succession, and pull the trigger. They’re often hiring for the here and now.

On the other end, companies are often looking to hire analysts for their potential. They want people who can grow into a role. The candidate is likely to be less proven, and the companies want to vet them more. Which is all reasonable. But so often this turns hiring into a glacial process: extra interviews, extra tests, more checks and balances. They’ll have rigid experience requirements, whether it’s industry-specific, software-specific, or otherwise. Which, again, is reasonable: but if your company takes less time to hire a leader than hiring a junior contributor, isn’t there something wrong with that picture?

Here’s our take: considering the organizational and financial risk is lower when hiring analysts, maybe there’s a case to be made that companies need to be less rigid in their requirements for these roles.

The message here isn’t that senior searches aren’t “thorough” enough, or that companies don’t vet leadership candidates – they really do. It’s that companies would be well-served to adopt some of the nimbleness that we see in leadership searches in hiring analysts. If you’re hiring for potential, don’t insist on a major proven track record. If you’re looking for specific experience, think about being flexible with salary or other benefits if you find someone quickly who has it. Supply Chain and Procurement are all about continuous improvement, and we think it’s worth applying that to hiring as well.

That’s our opinion, but what do you think? In your experience, is hiring faster at the junior or senior level? If you agree with us, is it something that companies should change to maximize their hiring success, or is it part of the natural order of hiring? Let us know in the comments!


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