The Hiring Opportunity of a Lifetime?

At Criteria we develop and deliver pre-employment testing software that our customers use to help enhance their hiring process. Because our service is web-based we can track our customers’ usage patterns pretty closely, and this provides us with great insights into hiring trends across the U.S. (we currently have hundreds of customers in 46 different states).

One of the metrics we track is a monthly “Hiring Activity Index” that essentially measures the percentage of our customers who are actively administering pre-employment tests, and therefore, presumably, hiring. From January to October of 2008, the Hiring Activity Index was remarkably consistent, always hovering around 65%. When the turmoil in the financial markets caused the unemployment rate to surge in November, however, the Hiring Index dropped a full ten points, and by January it was down to 53%. In the past few weeks, however, we’ve seen pre-employment testing activity surge to the highest level we’ve ever seen: it looks like the total number of tests delivered through HireSelect in the month of February will be 25-30% higher than in any previous month.

What gives? If significantly fewer companies are hiring now than were three months ago, why is the total level of applicant testing on our site surging? There’s no question that some companies in certain industries (construction, financial services) have stopped hiring for the moment, but the data shows that companies that are hiring are screening far more applicants for each position than they were previously. Companies that had 6 applicants for a position now often have 20; where 25 applicants for a position was normal, some companies are now getting 60 resumes.

The silver lining for employers in this giant economic mess, therefore, is that there is a glut of job seekers on the market right now. Those companies that are hiring have their pick from candidate pools that are stocked with talent. The upside of the downturn, it seems, is a real opportunity for HR managers to land great employees.