The Shelf Life of Candidates

If you were brave enough to go to the grocery store on Thanksgiving or head out shopping on Black Friday, you’re familiar with how quickly items fly off the shelves when demand is high.

Today, with the unemployment rate sitting at 3.7%, employers face a similarly frenzied marketplace when it comes to hiring top for-profit and not-for-profit talent.

Just like the best foods and electronics get picked up quickly during the holiday season, so too do executives in our current economic landscape. Fortunately, by properly approaching the recruitment process, your organization can beat the rush and hire the best candidates while they’re “on the shelf.”

Shrinking the Shelf Life of Your Candidates

If the first meeting between a candidate and an organization goes well, the applicant will typically be interested and enthusiastic about your job opportunity. Unfortunately, because a business only has four to six weeks on average to close the deal before a prospect’s interest fades, when organizations hesitate they fail to efficiently capitalize on this enthusiasm.

Prolonging the hiring process with excessive contemplation over standout applicants often gives the impression that a business is disorganized, unsure about its goals, and how it wants to achieve them. Additionally, it allows the applicant to stop and consider other potential opportunities. In our current market, giving a candidate the option to look around is a sure-fire way to lose them.

This lack of efficiency in hiring often stems from an organization’s unrealistic expectations of new applicants. Often, a business will generate a laundry list of qualifications that their ideal candidate will possess. Realistically, finding such a perfect individual is like searching for a unicorn. Furthermore, even when the ideal, excellent applicant exists, they are often out of most organizations’ pay grade.

Maximizing a Candidate’s Shelf Life

Instead of waiting around for the perfect person to show up who will magically solve all a company’s issues, organizations should evaluate how they can improve their own infrastructure to solve critical problems before bringing on someone new. Then, they can look for an individual with competencies that align with what the market is allowing and who will help move the business’ goals forward. Doing so will make the organization attractive to candidates by showing them that it is mission-driven and decisive.

Additionally, the key to increasing a candidate’s interest is showing them that they are valued by remaining committed to the search process, transparent in all discussions, and respectful of their time. Taking these steps will demonstrate a business’ organization, efficiency, and purpose to future hires.

It’s also necessary to keep your potential hires actively engaged throughout the hiring process in order to maintain their interest. Keeping the lines of communication open and ensuring authenticity in all interactions will help sustain a candidate’s energy and enthusiasm.

Managing Expectations On All Sides

These days, executives are busier than ever before. For this reason, arranging meetings to keep them interested in the hiring process can be quite challenging. Managing objectives and expectations of all parties involved in the hiring process is paramount when it comes to navigating this challenge.

Depending on the timelines involved, applicants and organizations need to be flexible. Sometimes, it is necessary to meet after 5pm or on a Saturday for everybody’s schedules to align. Prioritizing meetings, even when it’s hard to align all the moving parts, is the key to working within a candidate’s shelf life.


Above all, it’s most important for companies to remain organized and committed to effectively manage the search process. With the typical placement time of an executive averaging from four to five months, moving efficiently doesn’t always mean moving quickly, but rather remaining engaged with potential hires to allow the hiring process to evolve smoothly and organically. Being realistic, maintaining transparency, and engaging with your candidates will extend your candidates’ shelf lives before they go stale.


For more information, read our ultimate guide to recruiting and hiring top executives.

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