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Your Hiring Pulse report for January 2024

January's Hiring Pulse reveals a stark contrast in 2023's hiring trends compared with previous years. With a steady decrease in Time to Fill, a notable surge in candidates per hire, and a jump in small-business job openings, the report highlights the significant impact of AI and economic shifts on the SMB hiring landscape.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

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

Hiring Pulse

In December’s Hiring Pulse, we took a deep dive into UK & Ireland hiring data and the lesson was clear: SMB hiring data isn’t all the same across the world’s many regions (and countries and even sectors).

It also means that with a full year of 2023 in our databank, we have the opportunity to do another kind of comparison in this month’s Hiring Pulse. In short: we can compare what 2023 looks like against preceding years in our three major hiring metrics.
So, let’s get started on that!

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!

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Main highlights

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

  • Early 2020 and late 2023 both show huge variation from the norm
  • Small businesses were especially active in hiring in the second half of 2023
  • The Great Candidate Surge is the biggest story of 2023

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.

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 December against the average of 2019, based on jobs that have been filled:

What’s glaringly obvious here are the years 2020 and 2023 in how much they stand out from 2021 and 2022.

First, the year that shall not be mentioned again (OK, fine, it’s 2020 if you’re wondering) saw a pretty significant shift downwards in the Time to Fill trend from the start of the pandemic through to September of that year.

Note how drastic the drop is – it’s well above the other three years in the first quarter including 102.6 in March 2020, the highest in this particular dataset.

And then, like the first drop in a roller coaster ride, it plummets to 82.7, the fifth lowest month of the 48 months and easily the steepest plunge of any period in that time period. It became incredibly quick to fill open roles – like poking holes in a dam, the water comes rushing through and those openings get filled right away.

Now, look at 2023. While it doesn’t look so unusual compared with 2021 and 2022 to start off the year, it does hover at a very low level throughout the entire year without the more significant undulations that we see in 2021 and to a lesser degree, in 2022.

Now, let’s look at the job openings.

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.

Let’s first look at ALL job openings across the board for each of the four years. Remember, this is average jobs per company. You can see how the years are mostly similar, apart from the dip at the start of the pandemic in early 2020 from 4.4 job openings per company in January 2020 to half that in April (2.2).

Like TTF, this is the steepest drop of any period between 2020 and 2023.

And there’s also a significant growth in the latter few months of 2023 – most notably going from 7.1 in July 2023 to a high of 8.3 in October of that year.

Job openings – small businesses

In the small business category (those with 1-50 full-time employees or FTEs), the two most interesting developments over the last four years are, again, in early 2020 and late 2023.

That being said, the drop in job openings in early 2020 wasn’t nearly as pronounced for small businesses as it was for all businesses, going from 2.1 job postings per company on average in January 2020 to a low of 1.3 in April 2020. It’s not half of what it was, but it’s still significant enough.

The jump in the latter part of 2023, while more pronounced than the overall average, is still pretty much aligned with the baseline.

What you should pay attention to is the sheer number of job postings per company in this size bucket – take October’s 6.8 for instance. Even for a company with 50 FTEs, that’s a new job posting for every seven employees. Either there’s a lot of turnover, or there’s a lot of growth in this category, or a lot of both.

Job openings – mid-sized businesses

Mid-sized businesses (51-200 FTEs) also saw a significant drop in average jobs posted in the early part of 2020, but the real story is the bump in the latter part of 2023 where average jobs per mid-sized company jumps to 6.7 in November.

The eye-opening part? Even though we’re talking about companies that essentially have five times the employee count as those in the small-business bucket, the average job postings per company here is lower than that for small businesses in three of the last four months (6.3 vs. 6.5 for September, 6 vs. 6.8 for October, and 4.5 vs. 6 for December 2023).

Job openings – enterprise-level companies

For enterprise-level companies (200+ FTEs), we see a very different story. While the early-2020 drop isn’t out of the ordinary when compared with the other size buckets, the trend for 2023 is entirely different. The others saw a jump in average job postings – this category didn’t.

Between March and October, the job posting activity barely changed from a low of 19.3 to a high of 20.7 and that’s it.

Now, the Candidates Per Hire metric:

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.

Let’s look at what’s going on here through December:

The big story in 2023 is clear. On the heels of the Great Resignation and the Great Discontent, we witnessed the Great Candidate Surge.

It’s all the more remarkable considering that, in 2020, unemployment jumped from 4.4% in March to 14.9% in April – you’d think there would be that many more candidates applying for any open job as a result, especially since job posting activity nearly came to a screeching halt.

But, instead, what we see in the second half of 2023 is a significant surge in the Candidates Per Hire trend and a jump in job posting activity during the same time.

One might even think that 2023 is much more eventful economy-wise than 2020 was, and they may be right. We saw a lot happen in the job landscape during the year.

What’s going on here?

The ebb and flow of the Time to Fill, the varied landscape of job openings, and the unexpected surge in candidates per hire in 2023 – these aren’t just numbers. They represent a vivid picture of the dynamic and ever-evolving world of hiring as of late.

The data, of course, isn’t absolute truth – but it’s a gateway to understanding the multifaceted fabric of economic shifts, industry-specific nuances, and business strategy upheavals in a labor market that’s seen numerous ebbs and flows in a short time.

So what does this all mean, anyway? It means you’re navigating a kaleidoscopic hiring environment. Imagine posting a job ad and weathering the onslaught of applications. This doesn’t have to be a Sisyphean undertaking – it’s just a call to arms for flexibility and innovation in your hiring strategy.

It means taking on cutting-edge hiring tools in your work – and yes, that does include AI in its various forms. The use of AI in the hiring process is clearly documented in this new Workable survey, and it’s no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity.

Watch this space for deeper dives in 2024 as we work to find interesting trends between industries, regions, and even job function. If you like numbers, or if you want to compare your own hiring experiences with a baseline, you’ve come to the right place.

Enjoy, 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 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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