Hiring IT staff? Avoid long start dates.

Posted by Murshed Chowdhury on Thu, Dec 20, 2012 @ 11:12 AM

By: Murshed Chowdhury

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Recently I was speaking with a senior level IT executive who works at a media company in midtown Manhattan. He had recently closed an initiative to find several new IT professionals for the firm and just extended an offer to a real sharp Security Engineer. However, he realized soon after releasing the offer that this individual’s candidacy was wrapped in red tape. Allow me to explain.

While the candidate had originally expressed his immediate availability while going through the interview process, he backtracked once he had the offer letter in hand and stated that he needed two extra months before starting the new role in order to get his annual bonus from his current employer.

Now to the average person, this may seem harmless. But, it’s important to read between the lines in these circumstances and analyze why a long start date can be so dangerous for the hiring agency.

The detriments of long start dates:

Had the candidate intended on informing his current employer of his intentions to leave right away and needed, for example, extra time to finish out a project or to deal with a family/medical emergency, then that would be less worrisome. However, because his intentions were to milk his company for some extra cash, the breach of loyalty wouldn’t be made public for as many as six weeks, leaving few tangible assurances that he would come on board at the new firm aside from his word. 

With that in mind, here are a few problems that can arise when candidates are granted a start date more than 3-4 weeks after the offer is extended:

They get a better offer – Obviously a candidate is talented if he/she gets an offer for a highly competitive technical position. With that in mind, if a hiring manager allows him/her to stay outside the organization for that long, there is the natural risk that the candidate will get scooped up by another company willing to pay more or provide more seniority. This is especially true in the current IT market in which hiring agencies are engaged in the equivalent of guerrilla warfare to attract top technical talent. And when a hiring manager is dealing with the kind of person who needs an extra few months at his/her current company to grab more loot and run, this possibility is even more dangerous.

They decide they don’t want to leave their current company – Change is hard for any person and giving a candidate that much time to reflect on the situation before bringing him/her on board can have dire consequences. For example, perhaps the bonus is larger than expected, motivating the candidate to stick around and never give notice. Perhaps he/she develops a rich emotional bond with a co-worker or even gets a promotion in the time between the offer and the start date, making a current working environment more appealing and consequently more difficult to leave. And if any of these factors come to fruition, it can spell major problems for the hiring firm.

Business needs are on hold – Obviously if a company is hiring a senior IT professional, it could have a potentially business critical need that requires fast action from a new employee. Consequently, if the candidate who can fill that gap is on hold for several months, that need goes unfilled, slowing down processes, obstructing progress and hindering innovation. In other words, long start dates are not good for business.

If something goes wrong, the search is already closed – When a hiring manager is posed with a long start date, he/she needs to take a hard look at how the firm’s needs and operations could be adversely affected. For example, if any of the above-mentioned factors cause the candidate to bail, then the search has already closed. The second and third choices for the role have likely reengaged their search and may no longer be available, meaning the whole process might need to be restarted from scratch.

Moreover, if the position is critical, the hiring firm may need to engage a staffing agency to catalyze the process, resulting in additional fees. As a result, the company is left burning valuable time, energy and resources looking for a replacement all because the original choice was given too much leverage. Again, not good for business.

Avoiding long start date problems:

  1. Set concrete expectations during the interview process - Before hiring managers get excited about prospective candidates, they need to set rock solid expectations right out of the gate. By explaining that a candidate needs to start within three weeks of accepting the offer, candidates will understand they can’t be too cavalier lest the offer get pulled. And if a candidate tries to extend the start date under these circumstances without a pressing emergency, then that should send up the red flags for hiring managers that this person has a hard time with directions.

  2. Avoid all ambiguities – One of the big problems that caused the issue I’ve been describing is that the candidate had expressed he could start “right away” after an offer was extended. However, “right away” has no universal definition, leaving the hiring firm vulnerable to the long start date issue. With that in mind, hiring managers would be well advised to define their terms to a T and avoid any sly loopholes candidates may try to deploy.

  3. Don’t close the search until the top candidate has been unequivocally locked in – Another big issue with the example woven through this piece is that the hiring firm experienced these issues after the search was closed. Consequently, hiring managers need to cover their asses by continuing to engage the various tiers of eligible candidates to ensure that if something goes wrong with the top dog that there are still plenty of other solid folks in the queue.

The bottom line:

While hiring firms certainly don’t want to be too hard-nosed, losing a candidate to a long start date is the kind of thing that can seriously affect not only business productivity but morale. So understand where the pain points can occur and take the effective precautions to avoid them, laying the framework for great candidates to get on board quickly and without any asterisks.


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Topics: Human Resources, IT Leadership