What is time to fill? KPIs for recruiters

Daniel Howden | |

There is no broad consensus in the world of recruiting about what we should be measuring. With almost all businesses taking their hiring online, applicant tracking systems are the norm. Applicant tracking system provides an abundance of data to look at, including average time to fill.

Metrics or reports are only as good as the questions they answer about your business. If you’re looking for better reporting analytics, Workable’s reports will provide the insight you need to improve your recruiting process.

What is time to fill?

The definition of time to fill is the number of days between the publication of a job and getting an offer accepted.

Time to fill is:

  • A critical metric to inform more accurate planning
  • An indicator that your job advertising isn’t working
  • An early warning that you’re not sourcing fast enough

Firstly, time to fill should never be confused with time to hire which tracks the time elapsed between a successful candidate’s first contact (whether they apply or whether you source them) to their eventual hire. This might seem like a small difference, it’s not. One metric is a reality check for how long the whole process is taking, the other tells you how fast you move once you’ve found the right candidate.

How does measuring time to fill help recruiting?

Time to fill metrics should:

  • Be informed by your company growth and hiring needs
  • Impact your time and recruitment budget

The main function of time to fill is to inform realistic business planning. Far too often, ambitious companies run into problems by underestimating the time it will take to complete the entire hiring process from opening a job vacancy right through to getting an offer accepted. This underestimation can throw off growth plans and slow companies down. At Workable, we need to grow our customer success team in concert with our customer base. Just as we focus on getting accurate growth forecasts for our business, we need to an accurate read on the average time to fill a position. Company growth should inform time to fill.

“Since we forecast our revenue growth, which correlates with the growth in demand for support, we need to be proactive in hiring,” says Workable’s VP Operations, Thanos Markousis. “This lets us get started in time to have the new person in place and fully trained by the time the customer support load outpaces the existing team.”

Average time to fill a position by country

Time to fill benchmarks from Workable
Time to fill benchmarks from Workable

The temptation with any benchmark is to optimize against it. But this can be a mistake. Most employers would like to see their average time to fill trending downwards but hiring is complex, and optimizing against a complex metric can be damaging.

The DHI-DFH Vacancy Duration Measure, a time to fill measure for the whole U.S. labor market, hit a record high of 29 days in January 2016. This figure has been climbing since the financial crisis peaked and reflects falling unemployment and a tightening labor market. This is not a context you can necessarily beat. In other words, you may not be able to lower this number but you can learn to budget time more effectively in planning your hiring.

Average time to fill Engineering positions
Average time to fill Engineering positions

Similarly, putting excessive weight on time to fill metrics by industry can be misleading. We looked at Workable data on two key industries: Customer Services and Engineering (see adjacent graphics). We found wide variances in time to fill between apparently similar roles.

While the industry average time to fill for engineering in the US was 58 days, some roles had much lower numbers, like data scientist with 28 days. Meanwhile, hiring a senior QA engineer was taking 121 days on average.

Average time to fill Customer Service positions
Average time to fill Customer Service positions

This range is, of course, not limited to engineering jobs. A customer experience specialist job took on average 18 days to fill in the US, whereas a customer success manager was taking 100 days. These vary strongly from the industry average for customer service of 33 days.

More: FAQs about time-to-fill and time-to-hire

How to improve your time to fill

If your time to fill is trending upwards or appears completely out of synch with industry peers and local competitors here are some concrete steps you can take now:

  • Break the metric down by department and see where the slow-down is happening. This may be down to external factors like poor supply of java developers skewing the overall picture
  • Remove any constantly open positions you have from your overall average. If you’re always hiring for sales reps and leave the position open then the numbers for this job will adversely affect your time-to-fill
  • Look at how many qualified applicants you’re receiving. If too few of your applicants are making it from sourced and applied through to a first screening call, you may need to revisit your sourcing and advertising strategies

Recruitment KPIs that matter:

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Daniel Howden

Daniel Howden was the former VP of Comms at Workable. He writes about the ideas shaping the world of work. He was formerly with the Economist and Guardian. He tweets @daniel_howden.

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