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Your Hiring Pulse report for March 2024

March's Hiring Pulse reveals a fascinating trend – job activity is up, way up for small businesses, and down, way down for enterprise-level businesses. And candidates per hire on average is undulating at a trend unlike in previous years.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

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

Hiring Pulse

In February’s Hiring Pulse, we shed light on how the year started.

Now we’ll look at how the year’s going.

Let’s take a look!

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:

  • TTF falls again in February after a January spike – all very normal
  • JO activity pretty stable – but varies when you look at company size
  • CPH coming back down, but that’s unusual when looking at Februaries past 

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

One month after the biggest single-month jump in our data going back to the start of 2019, we see a dramatic drop in the Time to Fill metric from January’s 89.1 to February’s 82.5.

So, there’s a nice little spike there from December to January to February. We’ve talked about this in the past – how January is a very busy hiring month once hiring teams take action on new budgets to start the year, plus coming back from holidays and catching up on crucial HR work. That will result in slower turnarounds in overall work processes, including in the hiring pipeline.

And when we compare this to years past, it turns out to be very normal. Following a mostly flat November and December into a longer TTF for January, then a slight drop into February. Our data shows it pretty clearly:

Now, let’s have a 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 February.

OK – we have many interesting stories going on here. The first takeaway is, of course, the average number of job postings in February was 8.6 per company regardless of employee size. That’s down just a smidgen from January’s 8.5.

Doesn’t say a whole lot month over month, does it? Aha, but it does, when you compare that with previous January-February shifts since 2019. When we use January’s job posting average as a baseline of 100, we see that every year shows a different story from January to February:

What we see here is that out of the six years, four saw a downward shift from January to February in terms of job activity, and in two of the six years, there was an upward shift. 2019, in particular, showed a dramatic drop of 5.5 percentage points, while 2021 saw a dramatic jump of 3.8 percentage points.

2024, of course, shows the smallest month-over-month change of any of the six years.

Let’s go deeper now, into the company size buckets. First, companies with 1-50 full-time employees:

We’re seeing a somewhat different story compared with all companies. Companies with 50 or fewer employees saw a jump from January to February (104 vs. the baseline, or 6.6 to 6.8 job postings per company on average). Honestly, a .2 change in average can be argued to be mostly negligible, but all the same, it’s there. Still not terribly dramatic, though.

Let’s look at the 51-200 FTE size bucket now:

Like the 1-50 bucket, there isn’t a lot to write home about here. We see a small drop in hiring activity for 2024, in line with the overall trend, and again, it’s in the middle of the pack when compared with past years.

Now – the 200+ FTE size bucket:

OK, now we’re talking. The 200+ FTE companies dropped pretty drastically, from 19.5 job postings per company on average in January to 17.9 in February this year.

Not only is that a drop of more than three jobs every two companies across the board, it’s also the biggest January to February shift of any year going back to 2019 in our dataset.

Keep this in mind as we move to 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 February:

We’re very much in a one-step-forward, two-steps-backward situation here – or is it two-steps-forward, one-step-backwards? Depends on who you talk to, we suppose. What we’re seeing here is that every time the Candidates Per Hire metric climbs a certain amount, hitting new records along the way, it takes a little hiccup before starting upwards again.

In this case, January’s 188 comes down pretty sharply to February’s 178.5. Still much, much higher than in recent years, but the drop is notable in that it follows dramatic rises in previous months as we’ve seen from October to December 2022 followed by a drop of -5.1 in January 2023, a another growth in February to April 2023 to a -13.7 drop in May 2023, and two more months of growth in December 2023 and January 2024 followed by this new drop.

It’s a little bit dizzying, indeed.

Now what about year-over-year comparisons? Let’s take a look at how November-December-January-February compares over the past six years:

Now you can see how February of this year is somewhat of an anomaly. In previous years, we see moderate or significant increase in the CPH metric from January to February with the minor exception of 2019-2020 – and in 2023-2024, we see, for the first time, a dramatic downward shift.

Sure, these are erratic times. But this stands out nonetheless, particularly as you see the TTF following historical trends and job opening data falling (mostly) in the middle of the pack when compared with previous years at this time.

What’s going on here?

We see a distinct trend here: small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are ramping up their hiring, in contrast to the slowdown we’re seeing among their larger peers.

This suggests a more agile and adaptive mindset among SMBs as business picks up and they adjust to a less predictable economy – but they’re also the ones more susceptible to breakdowns; unlike enterprises, they don’t necessarily have years upon years of experience and stability to draw from, or even established processes that have stood the test of time.

Likewise, they’re the ones more affected by the fallout of a bad hire or a fine resulting from non-compliance with the vast range of employment laws – both can put a fairly severe dent in their operating budget. These financial setbacks can become more commonplace when there’s no formal HR team in place to manage all this stuff.

For instance, an ADP study finds that fewer than one-third of small businesses have a formal HR professional in their ranks – and for those companies without, there’s an “ad hoc” HR manager in place (ADP’s own words). Even scarier, 82% of those ad hoc managers (the majority of whom are CEOs and presidents) have no formal HR training.

Now, we’re not saying that SMBs like yours should take on an HR professional (yes, you should, eventually), but rather, for the time being, your increased hiring, onboarding, and employee management needs a formal system in place. That formal system can be established with a worthy, uncomplicated HRIS that scales with your business and its increasingly complex HR processes

Try Workable's HR software

You can hire with Workable, and you can also onboard and manage your new employees all within the same platform without messy integrations.

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Meanwhile, for enterprise-level businesses, this isn’t necessarily a cause for worry, but rather, an opportunity to reassess recruitment strategies, perhaps focusing on optimizing hiring processes or adapting existing workforces to meet new technological and market demands.

It’s a key phase for businesses across all sizes – but especially for smaller businesses. Act wisely, take on fresh tools, and increase the agility and effectiveness of your HR processes. You can then continue to thrive.

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 April!

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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