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Companies Fast Track Hiring



The latest trend in hiring has a lot in common with speed-dating.

Fed up with recruiting that takes weeks or months, employers are experimenting with ways to take on new employees in a matter of days or even hours. Chipotle Mexican GrillInc. made a highly publicized push last week to hire 4,000 workers in a single day, and other technology and media companies are accelerating the way they woo and acquire talent, from entry-level workers to directors.

Managers say that things like delaying or forgoing reference checks and scheduling back-to-back interviews are helping swiftly fill jobs with good employees, although some workplace experts caution that such sprints may result in costly mistakes.

To be sure, hiring at some U.S. companies is moving at a glacial pace. The DHI Group Inc.time-to-hire index, a measure of the time it takes U.S. companies to fill jobs, rose to a record 29 working days in July.

Most companies haven’t adapted to the current labor market and insist on hunting for what recruiters have dubbed “purple squirrels,” workers with impossible-to-find combinations of skills and experience, according to DHI Chief Executive Mike Durney.

At San Francisco-based AppDynamics Inc., job seekers generally go from application or referral to acceptance or rejection in under a week, says Luan Lam, the software company’s vice president of global talent.

Promising job candidates undergo two phone interviews within a few days of applying to a position. Recruiters set expectations about compensation and try to hash out negotiations before candidates head to the office for six to seven hours of back-to-back interviews with about six AppDynamics employees. The interviewers, led by the hiring manager, confer in a 15-minute meeting following the last interview and decide whether to extend an offer. Once the offer is made, candidates have 48 hours to accept.

“Time kills deals,” Mr. Lam says.

Before implementing the practice two years ago, AppDynamics typically took 30 days to fill engineering roles; that’s now down to 17 or 18 days.

Not everyone loves the fast lane; some 10% of candidates who recruiters explain the process to decide to opt out, Mr. Lam says, but those who remain are excited about the company.

Retailers have long hired in sprints for seasonal workers, according to John Sullivan, a management professor at San Francisco State University who said he has helped companies implement one-day hiring.

Chipotle made headlines for announcing a one-day hiring binge for Sept. 9. The company hired 1,800 entry-level employees that day, and anticipates extending more offers soon, a company spokeswoman says. Monty Moran, Chipotle’s co-chief executive, has said that a rising economy has left the company trying to open more restaurants with fewer job applicants.

The best candidates get snagged quickly, so companies gain little by extending the hiring process, says Prof. Sullivan. “In recruiting, LeBron [James] is gone after one day,” he adds, referencing the basketball star.

But most companies continue to drag out the hiring process, loading up on interviews and unnecessary exercises—like brainteasers or reference-checking—that aren’t predictive of a person’s performance, he says. Fearing they’ll get criticized if they make a quick hire, managers take cover by looking at hundreds of candidates, he says.

You may make a false positive.’ —Morgan Missen, of Main

Brad Sawchuk was weeks into the hiring process with a big-data analytics company when AppDynamics contacted him about an opening in its marketing department. AppDynamics made the 33-year-old Mr. Sawchuk an offer about a week later. He told the data-analytics company about the offer, but was informed that their decision could take a couple of weeks. So he went with AppDynamics, saying the company’s quickness persuaded him that the business was nimble and really wanted him.

“It made me more excited, more comfortable, more confident in the company itself,” he says.

Quick hires may also lead to quick exits. Morgan Missen, founder of recruiting and talent consulting firm Main, has observed more companies using accelerated hiring practices, but in her view it can be a “risky” approach. Managers may later discover that their process didn’t leave enough time to accurately assess whether a hire truly fits their company, she says.

“You may make a false positive,” Ms. Missen says. “That’s a costly mistake to make.”

Managers at media agency MEC were initially reluctant about a new one-day hiring process for entry-level workers at the New York office, says Kristen Metzger, the company’s U.S. head of talent management. The approach took control away from team leaders, and put hiring decisions in the hands of four interviewers trained to assess things like communication skills and accountability, she says.

Team leaders asked, “if I’m not going to meet this person, how do I know they’re going to be right for me?” Ms. Metzger recalls.

But the approach—which lets employees decide the candidate’s fate in minutes and then make an offer later that day—has yielded higher quality candidates, says Ms. Metzger. So far, the company has hired 35 recent college graduates with the approach. Ninety percent of the job offers the company has given out were accepted, up from 75% with their previous hiring practices.

Some managers at Return Path Inc. were also hesitant when the data company rolled out single-day hiring for entry-level marketers, salespeople and account managers earlier this year, says Mark Frein, the company’s chief performance officer.

Yet the one-day drill—which put candidates through three hours of interviews, group discussions, writing exercises and role-playing followed by offers within 24 hours—has reduced the hiring time. Return Path forgoes reference checks on candidates, figuring that prospective employees just offer up positive references anyway. So far, all 14 candidates who have received offers have accepted.

“It’s a little bit of speed-dating,” Mr. Frein says. “You just have to trust the rest of the screening process is working.”

Write to Rachel Feintzeig at rachel.feintzeig@wsj.com

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