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Your Hiring Pulse report for September 2023

Our monthly Hiring Pulse report is based on SMB hiring trends across the Workable network. See how your own business compares to the overall.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

Hiring Pulse

In August’s Hiring Pulse, we noted the ever-increasing number of candidates per hire and a dropping Time to Fill trend. We noted the Life of Riley and how that didn’t work out so well for many candidates, which leads to the above trends in recent months.

This month, we have a look at the three metrics again with this in mind, and bring some fresh insights to the table. Ready? Let’s get started!

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 second 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:

  • We’re in a “new normal” when it comes to Time to Fill and Candidates per Hire
  • Technology may be a huge factor in both
  • Seasonal and sectoral hiring are potentially impacting job opening trends

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 August are not included in this graph as they don’t yet have an “end date”. Only the jobs that are filled are included here.

Quick clarification, because people are asking: the data in this chart shows the trendline against the 2019 average as an index of 100, not the actual number of days in TTF.

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

In short: the time it’s taking employers to fill open roles is still at a historically lower point. Sure, it took a relatively dramatic jump from May’s 80.5 to June’s 84.4, but it’s coming down again.

In last month’s Hiring Pulse, we noted how the TTF trend seems to be stabilizing when compared with previous years – this is still happening. What’s interesting is that the stabilization is happening at a much lower level. Cliche alert: this may be the new normal in hiring.

In short, while the undulations of the TTF trend are normal, the actual trend itself is much lower than years past. Two thoughts happening here: first, there are far more candidates than ever before meaning it’s easier to find the ideal candidate for a job.

Second, the added bandwidth due to the deluge of candidates is easier to manage because HR professionals and hiring teams are using software to optimize their processes (yes, that’s a cheap plug for Workable!).

Now, are we seeing the same trend in job openings? Let’s have a look.

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 August.

Last month, we pointed out a surprising drop in job postings across all companies from June’s 7.6 to July’s 7.1, which turns out to be anomalous when compared with previous Junes and Julys.

July to August this year is a little different – rising from 7.1 new job postings per company in July to 7.4 in August. In 2022, the change was just an increase of .1 of one job, and in 2021, it was a drop of .2.

But when we look at the size buckets, the differences start to stand out. Companies with 200 or more full-time employees (FTEs) posted 17.4 jobs in August on average, up from July’s 16.9. Small businesses (50 or fewer FTEs) also saw growth – from 5.4 to 5.6.

The big story this time is in the mid-sized businesses (51-200 FTEs). Averages in this size bucket went from 5.0 in July to 5.8 in August – moving it higher than the average for small businesses for the first time since May.

There are two stories here:

First, this jump in general which marks nearly a full new job per mid-sized business in August.

And second, that companies with 51-200 FTEs were hiring less than their smaller cousins for three months in a row from May to July.

Why? One theory is that it’s seasonal. June, July, and August are traditionally big-travel seasons and that puts a lot of pressure on a hospitality sector that’s already struggling to fill gaps in their teams. The triple-whammy of surging tourism numbers after COVID, the Great Resignation (which hit restaurants hard), and of course the traditional tourist season all lead to an increase in demand for short-term workers ahead of time.

Perhaps it’s not so much that medium-sized businesses slowed their hiring – it’s more that small businesses increased theirs. According to BLS, the leisure and hospitality sector has gained an average of 61,000 jobs per month over the prior 12 months ending in August 2023, making it one of the fastest-growing sectors in terms of hiring in the United States. And that sector has many small businesses.

Now, let’s look at the Candidates per Hire trend.

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. Again, remember, this is a trendline using the 2019 CPH average as a baseline of 100, not the actual number of candidates per hire.

Now that Let’s look at what’s going on here through August:

What we said above about a “new normal in hiring”? This is another example of it. The highest the CPH trend ever reached in our dataset before 2023 was in October 2020, when the index reached 140.3. That was also the only time it had reached more than 140 – in other words, 40% higher than the monthly average for 2019.

Now? It’s gone upwards of 140 for five straight months – and above 170 for the last three months. It’s got to come down to earth at some point once the job market stabilizes, but what interests us is that job openings aren’t coming down at all during the course of 2023. You’d think there would be a direct correlation between fewer job openings and more candidates per jobs – but not here.

This is likely a fallout of the Great Resignation. Many people dumped their jobs over the last couple of years to the tune of more than 4 million quits every single month from June 2021 to December 2022 – and that number is steadily falling throughout 2023 reaching 3.55 million quits for July, the lowest for a single month in the United States since before the pandemic. And in pre-COVID times, 3.5 million quits was pretty normal for a given month.

All these people who left their jobs and not moving on to new ones – some of them launched freelance careers, others started their own business, and others still just took off to a cabin in Maine to live the rest of their lives in solitude. And – we mentioned this last month as well – it’s either not working out so well for them, or they miss the old daily grind and the social life that can come with an interesting day-to-day job. So, back to the job hunt they go.

Combine this with the increase in layoffs this year (482K layoffs from January to July compared with one-third of that in the same period in 2022), and you have a situation where there are many more candidates looking for jobs. Hence, the rise in the CPH trend.

What’s going on here?

Whatever your experience may be in terms of hiring, you’ve got one thing at the top of your mind: find the absolute perfect candidate for the role. Yes, it’s nice to have a growing candidate pool because it means you have the pick of the crop – but is that necessarily the case? Just because you’re now getting 120 applications for a job compared with 80 for the same job last year doesn’t mean you now have 30 ideal candidates this year compared with 20 last year.

When you have a growing pool of candidates, you run the risk of saturation. There’s also desperation – on the side of candidates. There are those who are returning to work after an extended period of time, and there are those quickly trying to land on their feet after losing their job in an unfortunate reorg at their previous company.

We made a side reference to HR technology up there and how it’s helping hiring teams better manage the recruitment pipeline and that’s speeding up the process to a filled job.

Well, technology does cut both ways – candidates also have the benefits of HR technology and now have one-click-apply and resume parsing options when applying for jobs.

Add AI to the mix; candidates can just plug their resume *and* the job description into ChatGPT or Claude and tell it to create the perfect cover letter for that specific job. The AI will even calibrate the resume so it best fits the opportunity.

So, as it becomes easier to go through hundreds of resumes a day, it also becomes harder, because the applications are becoming more plentiful and sophisticated all the time. It reminds one of the old Stephen Wright joke about putting a humidifier and dehumidifier into a room and letting them work it out.

Back to the plot: you want to focus on finding the *right* candidates, not the *most* candidates. That distinction is very important. To attract the *right* candidates, you need to understand what would compel them to apply for a role with your organization.

There are tools to help you out here – including custom application forms and knockout questions  so candidates self-select out of the process, candidate search functionalities, and of course Workable’s AI Recruiter.

And guess what? We already asked 1,250 workers to understand their wants and needs at a high level, and the result is the Great Discontent for 2023. Have a look, and package what you’ve learned into your careers page and your job descriptions – and reap the rewards.

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 May!

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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