Slow Hiring Process Like Slow Playing Poker

March 21, 2013 at 10:27 am 6 comments

pokerIn the game of poker, slow playing is the tactic of not taking aggressive action when you have a strong hand.  The goal is to draw the other players at the table in to keep them playing and to keep building the pot, with the intent of beating everyone in the end after luring them in and cashing in on their chips.   It’s not a bad strategy…unless you get burned in the end and someone gets “the nuts” on the river, at which point the tables have been turned, you lost a large stack of chips, and now you find yourself fighting to stay in the game.

In a recent LA Times article, “Employers wait longer to hire, waiting for perfect candidate,” it is noted that despite an improving economy, employers are slow-playing their hiring process taking an average of 23 business days to hire someone for a position.  In 2009, this process was only 15 business days.

Another article from  AOL Jobs, “4 Million Openings: Too Many Employers Await ‘Ideal Candidate’,” reiterates the facts from the LA Times article and goes on to state that employers fear making a bad hire, and that discrimination against the unemployed runs rampant.

In my experience working with civil engineers and civil engineering employers across the country, this concept holds true as well.   The economy has crushed the confidence of so many employers over the past five years that they have become very hesitant to “pull the trigger” in hiring new employees…and rightfully so.   Slow playing the hiring process when you have a candidate that rates an “8” on a scale of 1-10 while waiting for a “10” to come along will most often result in one of your competitors coming in and swiping your “8” candidate and leaving you with ZERO.  You’ve wasted a whole lot of time, you’ve wasted a lot of money (lost productivity, travel, etc), and you’ve still got an empty office or empty cubicle.

A couple of things to keep in mind to help shorten your time-to-hire a civil engineer:

Perfect 10A.  If you constantly “slow play” your hiring process waiting for the perfect “10,” your business will never grow.  The candidate pool is scattered with some really good, but short of perfect, candidates.  Perfect “10’s” are few-and-far between, so if you sit on your hands waiting for that candidate to walk through the doors, well, you’ll likely get pins-and-needles in your hands before too long.

B.  A strong manager may be able to turn that “8” into “10”.  That said, always be on the look out for mentoring or training opportunities to make your leadership even stronger.

C.  Have a hiring process in place, just don’t “wing it.”  Have some sort of database that tracks candidates and their skills; allow access to share outlook calendars among employees and keep them up to date so scheduling interviews is a “snap”‘;  prepare for the interview with the candidate with the same vigor that the candidate has ideally prepared for you; should the interview go well, be prepared to schedule the 2nd meeting right there on the spot; have an offer letter template that you are able to personalize based upon the candidate and the role you are offering them. Those are just a few ideas.

D.  Begin checking references early on in the process if possible.  A game of phone tag often persists when checking references, so the earlier you start, the more quickly you can make an offer following the interview.   This keeps the momentum of the process going and greatly reduces your chances of the candidate being swiped up by a competitor during the interim that normally exists between the final interview and offer stage.

E.  If the candidate has met with more than one person during their interview, be prepared to gather as a group and exchange thoughts with each other within 24 hours. Put it on your schedule.  Failing to officially schedule this debrief with the hopes of catching up some time in the near future when everyone just happens to be in the office at the same time is a recipe for disaster.  Especially in an environment where everyone is spread so thin…be sure to put the debrief on the calendar.

F.  Don’t be so quick to shove aside an unemployed candidate.   Some people really do just get the “short end of the stick”…really.  If their resume shows progression and stability up until the point they were laid off, you may just have yourself a diamond in the rough!

hireI’ve slow played in poker before with the allure of building up the stack of chips on the table and cashing in big…what a great feeling!  But I can’t play that way all the time.   The same holds true with hiring…every once in a while you may slow play the hiring process, buying time until that rainmaker of a candidate appears…and what a great feeling!  But that does not happen all the time, so when a good or really good candidate that falls short of “perfect”  is within sight, don’t be afraid to go all in!

Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search, Inc
Managing Partner,
View Matt’s profile & connect with him on LinkedIn

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Entry filed under: Career Development, Civil Engineering, civil engineering blog, Civil Engineering Companies, Civil Engineering Issues, Civil Engineering Jobs, Civil Engineering Shortage, Corporate Recruiters, Human Resources, Interviewing, Recruiting, The Workplace, Uncategorized.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. BPS  |  February 16, 2014 at 2:25 am


    Great and well written article! However, allow me to add in a few points in relations to the “slow hiring process” from my experiences thus far. Here are a few of the key issues I am seeing/experiencing from greatest to least. These issues are as follows:

    Employers are reluctant to hire primarily due to their concerns over what Congress is going to do about making the “Highway Trust Fund” solvent. The gas tax hasnt been risen since 1991 and isnt indexed for inflation. We are bringing in 32 billion per year currently, but require 65 billion to just maintain our nations infrastructure. If we want to expand (which we obviously do) we need to generate 170 billion. 2014 is an election year…and we all are aware that this is a “Do nothing Congress”. The fed gas tax needs to be doubled from 18 cents to 36 cents and then indexed off inflation just to get the Trust Fund solvent….Oh yeah did I mention this was an election year??? So who is going to say double it and risk loosing an election? Wait a min..because if you think this is bad…guess what else happens if Congress fails to act…The Highway Trust Fund becomes insolvent in Sept of 2014…Yeah this year….You ask what does insolvent mean in terms of Fed Transp dollars…Bridges that are functionally obsolete “Closed” indefinately…..US and Interstate maint dollars will have to be prioritized based on usage….transit subsidies will have to cease because maint will be the number one issue….and the list goes on. So why hire anyone, esp skilled labor when you cant predict the outcome of this perfect storm.

    Another point….Due to the decrease in gas tax revenues both on a fed and state level; states have been forced to make hard cuts to their Transp Budgets..which has yielded less RFP’s for Consultants. Here is an example, TDOT last year only advertised a total of three RFP’s for the entire state (for Consultants). Again…why be quick to hire when there is little to no work being advertised?

    Here is another point. Most Civil Eng firms are not hiring experienced staff right now…Why? Because its cheaper to hire highschool and college students to come in and work for your firm part time (and no the highschool part is no typo). For every 10 to 15 yrs civil engineer they can hire numerous untrained staff…Even college students fresh out of school. Capitalism over Engineering Ethics anyone??

    Last few points….Matt as a recruiter I am sure you hear this statement often from employers….There are no qualified staff out there so we need to take a wait and see approach.” LOL Really? Are you serious? There are 227000 civil engineers in the US and 7.5% of them are unemployed (21000). Yes unemployement in the civil engineering discipline is higher than the national avg of 6% I really feel for my friends that are in architecture, their unemployment is hovering around 13.5%. Now compare that to .50% back in 2006 for civil engineering….HMMM

    Almost every single civil engineering firm, that is located in the states, has imposed what I call “Right to Entry Barriers” based off my experience. These barriers are as follows:

    Cant hire you because you don’t live here. Most common barrier of all.
    Cant hire you because you wont fly to interview with us on “your dime”. Next most common barrier.
    Cant hire you because we decided to promote from within (govt). Happens commonly.

    So all of these points provide insight on why firms are being slow to hire.


  • 2. Lisa lawson  |  June 14, 2013 at 5:51 am

    I couldn’t agree more. The slow hiring process is even slower than slow playing poker.

  • 3. Shawn  |  May 12, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    “B. A strong manager may be able to turn that 8 into 10.”
    I wouldn’t count on this one, though, as the politics of a company’s culture (or just, the company’s culture) seems to anoint candidates as being either great (10) or an unfortunate necessity (less than desirable). Unfortunate necessities (e.g. temps, and those less than perfect) have a hard time being recognized as valuable because, as some point, it was already decided that they were not valuable beyond filling a skills shortage. One exception might be recent graduates, who simply don’t have enough experience to be a 10 (in the eyes of a seasoned engineer). I don’t think this is typically how it works, however, as “fresh” graduates are anointed on a yearly basis, and tend to be more valuable to firms than someone who hasn’t gotten their PE yet but has a few years of experience.

  • 4. John C.S. Hansen M.Eng., P.Eng., MICE. C.Eng.  |  March 21, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Your post contains some excellent points – there is the other side too that not every employer is a 10 either!

    That is why there needs to be discussion to find common ground and establish the strong points to be built on and the means of providing support in what are initially perceived as weaker areas. The candidate may bring a fresh approach to the way that the employer has been handling the position in the past which may benefit both parties.

    Rigidity on either side cannot lead to success in today’s world market.

    • 5. aepcentral  |  March 21, 2013 at 8:39 pm

      Great point John! A typical interview question of course revolves around what the candidate perceives as their own weaknesses…that also makes a great question for a candidate to ask the employer. Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts!


  • 6. Ron George  |  March 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    This seems to be the norm everywhere but they need to understand what this does to the unemployed. There is nothing worse than waiting and getting no communication either.


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