The Need for Speed

‘I feel the need…the need for speed’ (Tom Cruise, Top Gun 1986)

Whatever artistic merits ‘Top Gun’ may possess, there is little doubt that it remains an iconic 80s movie, with a number of quotable lines, not least the one above. With the ‘greed is good’ business decade well and truly in full swing by 1986 there was little doubt that speed was intoxicating. Everything needed to go faster, to happen quicker, from the time it took your car to accelerate to the length of wait for your burger, it had to be now, now, now!

I was a rookie recruiter in those days, placing qualified accountants in accounting firms, learning that success came from fully understanding the client brief and partnership culture, and growing a network of candidates and contacts that could give you access to a range of talent. Candidates usually came to you through your knowledge of the market, mainly referrals from people who you had helped/advised.

When a client briefed you they would always ask…

Do you know anyone who can do this? Or Can you find us someone who can do this?

Innocent, less complex times maybe, but in specialist permanent recruitment your clients tended to value your knowledge. They expected to wait for the most suitable person and wanted to brief someone who could go out and find them. If there was urgency, they were almost apologetic; as if giving us reduced timeframes would make our task harder. Now, now, now was not something that seemed to apply to crucial pieces of recruitment.

It’s all very different now, of course. Speed is king.

I recently conducted some spontaneous research, speaking to a few recruiters about their markets and what they felt they competed on most. Almost all of them said speed. Attend a recruitment industry get together and you will hear recruiters bemoan the rise of speed over quality.

I asked a few internal recruiters what was most important to them in a recruitment partner, and alongside ‘not wasting my time with irrelevant CVs’ and ‘really understanding what we want’ speed of response also rated highly.


No-one could really say, but like Maverick and Goose in Top Gun, speed was necessary, exhilarating, a sign of strength. It implied you were good.

Hiring managers used to ask ‘Who do you know?’ now they ask ‘Who have you got?’

There seems to be an expectation that we all ‘have’ a number of CVs ready to pull out at a few hours notice. Yet the role that is to be filled may be a key position that will have a large impact on the business. Getting it wrong may be costly and disruptive. Could businesses be failing to make the best hiring decisions through an artificial time restriction?

Many briefs now ask for CVs within 48 or 72 hours…a good recruiter won’t just fling CVs at a client, they will want to conduct a full search, speak to candidates, discuss the role with them, get their authority to submit the CV, candidates may want to think over the role, do some research on the company first…

…if that can’t be done within 48 or 72 hours then some very strong candidates may not get in front of a hiring manager, and those companies may well be ruling out the most suitable person for the role…

I am always interested to know why speed is considered so desirable in a piece of specialist permanent recruitment…if there is a sudden need, then surely the business should look for an interim solution whilst following a proper and thorough process to find the best permanent candidate…so

Third party recruiters…I’d love to know if speed is something you embrace, or if you find it a hindrance…

And internal recruiters…I’d love to know why ‘who have you got’ has replaced ‘who do you know’

Look forward to hearing your thoughts

20 thoughts on “The Need for Speed

  1. Mervyn,
    This has to be one of the biggest frustrations I have about contingent recruitment. It’s right up there with employers, HR Managers and line managers briefing multiple agencies, because it “pays to keep us recruiters on our toes”. That’s the impression you’d be forgiven for thinking.
    Speed is the good recruiters arch enemy which comes in many guises. This is not to say we can’t move smartly and be fleet of foot, agile etc. But the client who briefs on speed as their main focus deserves no sympathy. The guises I refer to above include the worst of them all – the wrong candidate in the wrong job and wrong company culture. How can a true recruiter claim to fully understand the brief, have met the right candidate and spoken to all key stake holders if the first and main priority is speed?

    Have you ever seen anyone “on speed”? It’s unnerving – they talk to fast, talk gibberish and then do random things. Recruiters are prone to doing the same when confronted with an unrealistic deadline and in an arms race against their key competitors. However, a thorough brief that is inclusive, where timing plans and deadlines are arrived at together, not one that is enforced by one party or the other and ideally working with one agency (following a competitive pitch among preferred partners) then the quality and results will be achieved.

    A good example I would cite is a recent piece of work we at Stopgap have undertaken for Premier Foods. A competitive pitch on a number of business critical marketing roles where we outlined our plans and approach, resulted in a process that enabled us to focus on the quality of our search, speak to the right people in the market as well as bring in additional and dedicated resource to support the assignment. Bottom line is that we have delivered for the client, found them some super candidates who truly fit their business culture and strengthened our already strong partnership. Not to mention making some brilliant candidates very happy people with great career moves. Because it was a shared approach as a partnership should be, rather than a “supplier” / “us and them” relationship, we were able to deliver a high quality recruitment experience for our client.

    1. Completely agree with you Andy…I have knowledge of the piece of work you refer to and, like you, am convinced that a competitive brief with time constraints would not have produced the depth and quality of shortlist that you put together. I’ve seen recruiters on a tight time deadline and they will either submit CVs without speaking to the candidates first, or just send the 2 or 3 people who happen to be ‘top of mind’ at that time.

  2. Its life. Its everywhere, but its particularly prevalent in the UK recruitment market. I think your request for input will generate some interesting comments but im pretty sure you wont find any gound breaking or eye opening shockers, particularly from in house recruiters as to why speed is so important. Or why ‘”who have you got” has replaced “who do you know”.

    Sure, reducing the lead time to hire is absolutely key. But in my experience, even if you allow the recruitment consultancy several of weeks to do the more quality research you talk about, this will have little or no impact on the overall time scale of the hire, largely because the key blockers to reducing time to hire lie with internal process/decision issues inside the organisation and not with the recruitment consultant.

    This is one of those things that pervades our entire lives and it innevitably seeps into business. Is there a real justification for it? Not really, although im sure there will be many that disagree with me.

    1. You’re right in that the overall time to hire is governed more by internal processes than the recruiters’ search process. I have been briefed with a request for CVs within 48 hours and then waited 2 weeks for feedback from the client! When 2 CVs were chosen, the interview slots were for the next day, which both could make. We then waited another week for feedback!

    1. if you had the strength of network…you probably would, I guess? I do accept though that a recruiter, even without a stringent time limit, should probably be able to get to quality candidates faster.

  3. This reminds me of the old comedy retort to a sexual insult “I may not be good, but I am fast!”

    I actually believe that it is the recruitment industry which has injected the need for speed into the process. The “Time to hire” targets for employers shouldn’t be any (or much) shorter than they ever were, and they realise that the process, which includes at least 2 rounds of interviews, negotiations and notice periods, still has to be navigated.

    No, In my view the recruiter has encouraged the rush to hire, for reasons other than the good of the client, or even the candidate. Remember the idiom, “Time kills all deals”. From my perspective the pressures on individual recruiters, especially in contingency recruitment, to fill jobs fast, beat the competition, and in particular match the immediacy of the internet, are all contributory factors.

    Don’t you ever get that realisation when your eating a McDonalds really fast, that it’s the nature of the fast food environment that somehow compels you to guzzle your burger and fries? I know I do. There’s no obvious reason to eat so quickly, but perhaps the ease and speed with which the food is prepared serves to reinforce that we should consume it with equal alacrity.

    Thus clients have had their expectations of speed raised, and of quality reduced. They’ve accepted the trade-off without realising.

    Would it really be so difficult to say to clients, “I may not be fast, but I’m good”?

    1. Very good points Stephen. I do believe that there is pressure on consultants to close as many deals as quickly as possible and to be able to submit CVs faster than a competitor is one (misguided) way to try and convince a client that you are the person most likely to fill the role. An old boss of mine used to remind you constantly of how many Mondays were left in the month!

  4. What’s the old saying? “Act in haste, repent at leisure”? If I were an employer I would want recruiters to deliver candidates that were chosen because of their ability to fit into the culture of my company, not just because they had the right job title and work experience on paper. Why is it that in many surveys about employment you’ll find that something ludicrous like 66% of all employees are dissatisfied with their current position or company? Could it be that this desire to hastily appoint has snowballed to such an extent that many, many people are being placed in whilst what on paper what seem like the right roles, ‘fit’ wise aren’t actually at all? Employing someone is such a big investment, why would anyone want to rush it? Could it be that in some instances quite simply because the HR person or hiring manager isn’t footing the recruitment bill themselves that there isn’t the absolute need to get it spot on?

    1. Fair point. I do think that there is this belief that we have a pool of candidates that we can summon at short notice…which possible works for temp recruitment but not permanent, especially at more managerial levels.

  5. In my experience it’s often towards the end of the process that the need for speed is most relevant – not the start!

    My most recent example is of a NHS trust for whom I’m running some psychometrics.

    They were going to do final interviews at the end of June and at that stage they had six candidates in the frame. The dates kept moving for final interviews meaning they lost four (yes four!!) cadidates. They then “found” 2 new candidates so have delayed interviews even further to bring them up to speed. Now they are looking to hold the interviews late July.

    I don’t know how long ago they started their recruitment campaign but I’m guessing the agency/agencies were briefed at least 6 weeks ago.

    How do they expect to keep candidates engaged with such a drawn out interview process!!

    1. You’re absolutely right Louise.
      Employers are often hasty at the beginning of an assignment, and then curiously lethargic as it gets close to decision making time.
      Scores of brilliant candidates are lost as a direct result of this kind of dithering.

      However, it’s the job of a good recruiter to do all they can to manage the schedule, and the expectations of candidates for a quick conclusion.

    2. Very true. I blogged before about the impression that candidates get from the hiring process, clearly not a good one if they have to make an instant decision on the role then wait ages for the process to proceed.

  6. I agree with you about taking time with important decisions but isn’t speed a money thing when you get right down to it? Plus, it’s not like the new person will be productive on the first day, so you have to factor that in as well. Then there’s whatever notice they have to give. Etc., etc. So maybe companies see the recruiting as the only link int he chain they can shorten.

    1. Interesting point. I think that the whole recruitment process needs to be looked…sometimes a request for immediate CVs can be followed by a much slower internal recruitment process. I think it should be about getting the best person in the most expedient manner.

  7. It is very ironic that our clients and recruitment partners want the BEST resume at rocket speed. We totally lose out in competition if we don’t respond fast. This is sad because most of the time, the first few candidates may not be the best candidates for the job. Our search almost ends after we have submitted 2-3 resumes for the position, which IMHO are just fits, may not be best fits. Then we jump on the next position…

    1. Good point Leena…often the search does end far too soon. A fast response encourages recruiters to submit CVs without getting full buy in from the candidates, which in turn leads to them dropping out during the process, which can often lead to a longer, disjointed recruitment process. A full search can’t always be conducted within a short timescale.

      1. Thanks, Mervyn. Yes, that is another fallback. It seems that in the ‘speedy’ recruiting process, we are unable to develop a relationship with the candidates, and the mere transactions of a short conversation and submission of their resume do not make them loyal to us or our customer at all. This is especially the case when, as you pointed out, we do not give them response for days or weeks. They have already lost interest and confidence in us by that time. The situation that I am quoting is more so in contract/VMS recruiting and is definitely a hindrance.

      2. So true! All aspects of the hiring process form part of the employer brand. I’ve lways thought that you can tell a lot about a copany from the way that it attracts and acquires it’s talent, and timescales and communication are vital components.

  8. I absolutely agree with your point about quality over speed but while we still have the situation of clients and candidates using multiple agencies and those agencies competing for business then speed will always be a factor. And it always has been – particularly from a commercial point of view

    I too was recruiting back in the heady days of no computers( competing with you if i rememebr rightly). Then the issue was getting my cv in front of the client before yiou did. I still went for quality – but if we had both seen the samne candidate and Ididnt get my act together quickly enough then you would get the fee and not me . Like it or not that’s the cold reality!

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