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Your Hiring Pulse report for January 2023

In December’s Hiring Pulse, we drew some fresh conclusions from the data – specifically, potential tech talent issues related to laid-off foreign tech workers on visas needing to leave the United States, and how hiring team challenges have changed from sourcing and attraction issues to pipeline management concerns.

Hiring Pulse

What’s continuing now is that, even with the tech talent migration, our data shows the candidate market is absolutely flooded and the talent shortage is becoming a thing of the past. This poses challenges to hiring teams everywhere, especially in the logistical management of larger applicant numbers for every job opening. If you’re seeing your pipeline getting clogged, you’re not alone.

The data this time around is more than convincing. We’re seeing 35% more candidates per hire in December than six months earlier – that’s an astronomical increase unseen since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Plus, with the full data of 2022 on our hands, we’re able to look at how 2022 sizes up against previous years.

Let’s dive in!

How we’re looking at data

We’ve adopted two methodologies in how we look at the Hiring Pulse dataset. For Time to Fill and Candidates per Hire, we’re measuring each month using the average of 2019, the last “normal” year, as a baseline index of 100.

For job openings, we’re taking a different route – simply, the average number of job postings per company. This gives us the opportunity to gauge overall recruitment activity and whether that’s going up or down.
Want a more detailed methodology? Jump to the end and check it out.

As always, we look at the worldwide trends for three common SMB hiring metrics:

  • Time to Fill (TTF)
  • Total Job Openings (JO) 
  • Candidates per Hire (CPH)

Let’s start analyzing!

Don’t miss the pulse

This is part of a series of monthly hiring trend reports for SMBs that go out on the first Tuesday of every month. Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates!

Be informed

Main highlights

The three main highlights for this month’s Hiring Pulse are:

  • Candidates per Hire is surging at a rate unseen in nearly three years
  • Job openings for small businesses only start dipping in December, compared with dips in both November and December for their larger counterparts
  • Time to Fill normally grows in December – but not this time around

1. Time to Fill

For this report, Workable defines “Time to Fill” as the number of days from when a new job is opened to when that job opening is filled. It’s important to understand that definition: jobs that are still open as of the end of December are not included in this graph as they don’t yet have an “end date”. Only the jobs that are filled are included here.

Got that? Good. Let’s have a look at the monthly TTF trend throughout 2022 against the average of 2019, based on jobs that have been filled:

The main insight here is that Time to Fill once again hit a new low for the calendar year. It’s been three straight months of “lowest in 2022”, or for every month in Q4.

And looking at that chart above, it looks like it’s a total decline from the start to the end of 2022. But that’s not necessarily true if you look a little deeper. Take out the January metric of 98.9 – which is a full 5.9 points higher than the second-highest month in May – and take out Q4 altogether, and honestly, TTF holds steady for February all the way through to September.

We’ll talk more about it in our deep dive below, but suffice to say that the very high January number is normal, whereas the very low Q4 numbers are not normal.

But, in between those two extremes, TTF looks more stabilized compared with the previous two years. More on that below in our year-over-year comparison.

2. Total Job Openings

Total job openings represent the total number of job openings activated across the entire Workable network.

As stated above, we’re displaying this as an average of job postings per company in the network. And because this is not contingent on job opened/filled dates like TTF and Candidates per Hire, we can simply look at the raw job open numbers up to the end of December.

As you can see, we’re making it a standard to look at the Job Openings data across the three company size buckets of 1-50, 51-200, and 200+ full-time employees (FTEs).

First, before we start looking at each of the buckets, note that the overall average jobs per company in the network plunges in December to 5.2. That’s after very little change for the six months before that, ranging from 6.1 to 6.3 jobs per account throughout that period.

A huge drop for enterprises

Now, which of the size buckets is at fault here? At first glance, it’s the enterprise-level companies (200+ FTEs) who slowed down their hiring activity throughout the month, dropping a full 3.8 points from 17.3 in November to 13.5 in December. Of course, because the big kids will normally have more job activity in either direction, this will skew that overall average

Medium, not nearly as much

But we’re also seeing a drop in medium-sized business (51-200 FTEs) job activity from 5.1 in November to 4.7 in December, albeit not as dramatic of a drop. Nevertheless, like at the enterprise level, this is a continuation of the slow and steady decline in job activity in the Q4 months of 2022.

Jobs be nimble, jobs be quick for small businesses

What stands out as different for this month’s Hiring Pulse is in the job activity for small-sized businesses (1-50 FTEs). While their enterprise- and middle-sized businesses showed decline in Q4, small-sized businesses were actually increasing up to the end of November, with 3.1 job postings on average in August, 3.6 in September, 3.8 in October, and 4.2 in November.

And here’s the interesting bit: December’s 3.5 average for small business job postings is not even the lowest for 2022 – that honor goes to June and August with 3.1 for each. That stands in stark contrast to the other two company-size buckets, which both hit convincing 2022 lows in December.

There are many different conclusions to draw from all this – the one we’ll make here is that smaller businesses tend to be more agile and their senior management are more likely to be operating around the clock because they kind of have to. They wear many different hats and may also be financially invested in their business, rather than simply being employees who can take time off in December for the holidays.

There’s sometimes a personal cost, especially when one has family, but at a strictly business level, this speaks to the strength of smaller organizations – they can be nimble and that’s crucial during recession-prone times when it’s often difficult to plan beyond the next quarter. It’s a potential generalization, but it’s a point worth considering.

3. Candidates per Hire

Workable defines the number of candidates per hire (CPH) as, succinctly, the number of applicants for a job up to the point of that job being filled. Let’s look at what’s going on here through December:

Last month, we pointed to four straight months of higher-than-normal CPH data points, each higher than the previous one.

You can now make it five. Five straight months of astronomical month-over-month increases to close out 2022. To put it in perspective, back in November’s Hiring Pulse, we showed that the average candidates per hire for October was 24% higher than in July. It’s now 34.9% higher.

Let’s put it into perspective: if you were getting, say, 100 applicants for a job in July, this means that last month, you’re getting 135 applicants for your open roles on average. That’s 35 more applications you need to sift through. And as you move your applicants through the recruitment funnel, you’re screening more candidates per job, and likely interviewing more of them in the first part of the funnel.

That’s maybe a good thing for companies who were struggling to find worthy candidates for their open jobs during the height of the Great Resignation, but not a good thing for resource-strapped companies who are barely staying ahead of all the additional work on their plate.

In fact, our New World of Work survey in 2022 showed that reduced capacity to recruit is more of a challenge today than in 2020, with 27.5% saying so now compared with 14.9% two years ago.

Note: that survey was conducted in early summer 2022, well before this surge in CPH. We’re now seeing cutbacks and layoffs especially in the tech sector, and consequently a huge rise in CPH – but bet your bottom dollar (or pound or euro or what have you) that companies are not adding to payroll to support their hiring teams.

So… a growing CPH necessitates optimization in the recruitment process (insert shameless plug for Workable which actually does help in terms of doing more with less).

Deep dive – how ‘normal’ was 2022?

We’ve already covered to some extent what 2022 looks like for each of the three metrics. Now, with a complete 2022 dataset, we’re taking a deep dive and comparing the most recent year with the previous three calendar years (2019, 2020, and 2021).

And for visual impression, we’re overlaying each of the years into a single chart for each of the metrics so you can really compare.

Quick note before we really dive in: the data for Time to Fill and Candidates per Hire is based on an index, that being the average of 2019 as a whole, which is set as 100. We’ve included 2019 in these year-over-year comparisons for extended analysis – yes, we’re even comparing the months of 2019 against its own annual average.

What we’re doing a little differently just for this deep dive is the job opening data. Since it’s normally based on hard averages (i.e. job postings per company) and not on a 2019 index, it becomes more awkward to do a year-over-year analysis because our network has grown substantially over the years and, with it, the job postings.

So, instead of looking at just raw averages or even lining things up against the 2019 index, we’re using the first month of the year (January) as an index of 100 for each year, and sizing each month of that year against January.

Hope that makes sense! Let’s get into what was ‘normal’ about 2022 and how ‘normal’ it actually was compared with previous years.

Time to Fill

First, of course, Time to Fill:

So, the first and most obvious commonality across all years is that TTF is naturally higher in January than any other month, takes a bit of a drop in February, and kind of fluctuates from there.

2019, being the last ‘normal’ year – and we stand by that statement – shows only minimal fluctuation. 2020, which of course was a rather cataclysmic year for anyone personally and professionally, shows a rather stable TTF right up to April as the other three years continue to drop. But then, 2020 plummeted resoundingly from roughly 100 in March and April down to 84.2, 83, and 83.8 in the Q3 months before recovering slightly in the last quarter.

The other thing that stands out is something we alluded to above: 2022 showed consecutive month-over-month declines in the TTF metric from September all the way to December. This differs from the other three years, which all show relatively stable TTFs with even an increase in TTF for December for 2019 and 2021.

So, if we’re going to talk about what even is ‘normal’, it’s kind of hard to suss that out even with the last four years on full display.

Job Openings

Now, on to job openings. Remember, instead of looking at it as raw average job openings per company, we’re simply using January of each year as the index for that year. That way, every year starts at 100, and goes up or down from there.

Also, we have four different graphs here, because we’re looking at each of the FTE size buckets:

JO trendline for all businesses

Let’s look at the overall trendline for starters:

Yeah, yeah. That dip in April 2020 needs no explanation. We all know what happened. So let’s just scrub that from memory (and we do apologize for reminding you about it).

On to the comparables: what seems to be relatively normal across all four years is how the job opening trend remains relatively steady in mid-year and in some cases even grows a little bit in the Q3 months.

Another trend that looks to be consistent regardless of year is the drop in job openings in the last month of the year – understandable because of holidays and it being a relatively slow month for business all around.

Keep that one in mind – more on that below.

JO trendline for small businesses

Now, let’s look at the small-business job opening trendline:

What’s interesting about this is how 2021 and 2022 show a very healthy jump in small-business job openings for November which stands in contrast to 2019 and 2020.

What also stands out is how the job openings for small businesses climb significantly for September, October and November in 2022, while remaining relatively stable in the other three years.

One part that intrigued us is that the 1-50 FTE bucket is the only one that showed a drop in job openings for just December and not for both November and December as in the other two size buckets (and in the overall average).

Again, numerous reasons for this – one explanation to think about is, again, that small businesses are more nimble and perhaps work on much more of a month-to-month basis than their larger counterparts. Execs may not be thinking as far into the future when they’re running a smaller kayak of 15 employees as when they’re operating a larger ocean liner of 250 employees. Again, a potential generalization, but worth thinking about.

JO trendline for medium-sized businesses

Now, let’s look at the medium-sized business job activity:

What’s markedly different here for businesses with 51-200 FTEs is how much healthier the market looked for 2021 going out from January – it rises far above the others.

This is a sign of economic recovery from 2020, of course, likely in tandem with Great Resignation fallout – this all leads to more jobs added to payroll as companies grow (or recover, rather) and also, more backfill as quit rates run through the roof towards the end of 2021.

JO trendline for enterprises

Now keep that in mind while looking at enterprise-level businesses:

See, companies with more than 200 FTEs also showed plenty of job activity in 2021, higher vs. the January index than the other three years – but not standing out nearly as much as 2021 was for companies with 51-200 employees. Again, this is likely a combination of economic recovery and the Great Resignation.

What’s a little concerning about all of these job opening graphs is how the trend looks to be lower than other years for 2022 and going sharply downhill. We’ve heard talk about a recession since the early days of Q2 2022 – and companies cutting back in preparation.

This is continuing to happen at the start of 2023, and frustratingly for the talent market, means fewer jobs on the horizon.

Which leads us to:

Candidates per Hire

Are you ready?

We will keep this succinct: the CPH metric is now trending at the same level as at the end of the catastrophic year of 2020. What’s different this time is that the CPH trend is on a consistently uphill climb since mid-2022 and hitting new highs every month since September.

In 2020, CPH was at astronomical highs and coming down pretty drastically for November and December. And with the Great Resignation, the CPH trend continued to drop throughout 2021 and then held steady throughout the first half of 2022.

And now, in complete contrast to any of the other years, CPH is climbing at a rate unseen since those early months in 2020. People talked about how 2020 showed a recession unlike any other – the difference is that at the time, the volatility hit us like a truck on a dark country road thanks to an unanticipated pandemic.

This time, we’ve been anticipating a change in the economy for many months now.

What’s the difference? Well, the huge drop in the economy in early 2020 was in direct response to a single development, and because it was so swift and severe, the rebound was also swift.

This time, it’s much more complex – it’s not just about a pandemic. It’s about supply chains, a war in Ukraine, rising food and gas prices, consumer hesitancy, and other things in what’s being called a permacrisis.

Wait, a permacrisis? What’s that? Read on:

What’s going on here?

The opening lines to a recent Economist article read as follows:

“The editors of the Collins English Dictionary have declared ‘permacrisis’ to be their word of the year for 2022. Defined as an ‘an extended period of instability and insecurity’, it is an ugly portmanteau that accurately encapsulates today’s world as 2023 dawns.”

That’s scary stuff, indeed. That’s the tone we’re also setting for 2023 – if it isn’t already, it’s going to be tough times for businesses and employers.

But there’s a kind-of glimmer for you: you may still be needing to backfill vacated roles and fill new roles opened up due to restructurings. But for many of those job openings, a flood of candidates will come crashing through.

This will add stress to your hiring pipeline every step of the way. You, of course, may be reluctant to add to your payroll that’s responsible for hiring – which is understandable,. Instead, you’ll want to optimize your existing process.

We talked last month about automation using recruitment technology – you can screen far more candidates using one-way video interviews, keep them regularly informed with automated messaging, and relieve your recruiters of scheduling hassles using interview self-scheduling.

There are flexible solutions that can rise and fall with your hiring tide. Plus, you will show your value as a hiring team member that makes you even more indispensable to a company that’s trying to survive this permacrisis.

Stay strong, and see you next month.

Thoughts, comments, disagreements? Send them to [email protected], with “Hiring Pulse” in the subject heading. We’ll share the best feedback in an upcoming report. Watch for our next Hiring Pulse in August!

The Hiring Pulse: Methodology

Because one of the three metrics (Job Openings) is different from the other two metrics (Time to Fill and Candidates per Hire), we’re adopting two very distinct methodologies.

To bring the best insights to small and medium (and enterprise-level) businesses worldwide, here’s what we’re doing with the Job Openings metric: we’re taking the number of job openings in a given month and dividing that by the number of active companies in our dataset, and posting that as an average. For example, if July 2022 shows the average Job Openings per company as 7.7, that simply means each company posted an average of 7.7 jobs that month.

For the Time to Fill and Candidates per Hire metrics, we’re comparing a specific month’s trend against the full average of 2019, and we show the result using that 2019 average as a baseline index of 100. For example, if July 2022 shows an average Time to Fill of 30 days for all jobs, and the monthly average for all of 2019 is 28, we present the result for July 2022 as 107.1 – in other words, 7.1% higher than the average of 2019.

And we chose 2019 as the baseline because, frankly, that’s the last normal year before the pandemic started to present challenges to data analysis among other things.

The majority of the data is sourced from businesses across the Workable network, making it a powerful resource for SMBs when planning their own hiring strategy.

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