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Filling any type of vacancy requires a combination of art and science.

For as much as you want to quickly fill an open position, you must ensure you’re filling it with a candidate who has both the requisite skills and the necessary cultural fit. On the other hand, the quest for a great candidate can lead to analysis paralysis, which may cause a company to pass on stellar talent in the hope of finding that “perfect fit” for the role.

To keep hiring efforts moving along efficiently, both external third-party recruiters (like my firm, Cowen Partners) and internal corporate recruiters track how long it takes to fill vacancies. The particular recruitment metrics they use, however, can differ.

Third-party recruiters most often use a metric called “time to candidate,” while internal recruiters often use “time to fill.” While these metrics are similar, there are some key differences between them that are important to highlight. As a recruiting professional — or at least someone involved in recruiting in some capacity — it is worth your time to understand the nuances that distinguish time to fill and time to candidate. That way, you can better see how each metric provides value in the recruitment process.

Time to Fill Vs. Time to Candidate: What’s the Difference?

Let’s start with some basic definitions.

Time to fill essentially tracks the time it takes your company to fill an open position. The starting point of a time-to-fill metric can vary. Some recruiters start tracking the moment a job opens, when the opening is submitted to management for approval, when the opening is approved, or when an advertisement is placed for the opening. Regardless of the starting point, the ending point is almost always the moment at which a candidate officially accepts a job offer. Ultimately, time to fill is designed to measure how rapidly the company is moving to fill vacant positions.

Time to candidate, on the other hand, has a narrower lens compared to time to fill. Time to candidate specifically measures the time from when an outside recruiting firm begins the search process to the time that the winning candidate is presented to the employer. This metric takes a more granular look at the sourcing process. As you can guess, longer time-to-candidate periods mean a recruiting firm is taking a longer time to identify and present winning candidates to the client.

Which Metric Matters?

To be clear, these two metrics are not in direct opposition to each other. If we had to determine which is “better,” however, the easy argument would be time to fill. It is the broadest measure, as it includes all of the steps necessary to fill a vacant role.

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That said, time to fill is affected by a variety of factors. For instance, your company may have a slower hiring process compared to your competitors. Your time to fill could be longer because prospects are evaluated by several hiring managers instead of one. Other variables include the number of interviews, time between interviews, board approval, offer approval, offer acceptance, references, background checks, and more. No two companies are going to be alike in this respect.

That said, time to fill can be a valuable metric to help meet your internal benchmarks. Often, companies track their time to fill because they want to keep it low. There are plenty of ways to do this, such as actively sourcing candidates before specific vacancies arise, creating an internal referral program, or tightening up the time between interviews.

As for time to candidate, it is a terrific metric for third-party recruiting firms. It strips out the client’s behavior and focuses only on the aspects of the process over which the recruiting firm has control. To put it another way, time to candidate highlights the firm’s ability to quickly provide solutions. Once the candidate is presented to the company, it is up to the company itself to take advantage of what the recruiting firm has provided. As with time to fill, recruiting firms are often looking to lower their time to candidate, with the ultimate goal to deliver stellar talent to clients on as rapid a basis as possible.

Tracking Both Metrics

Should your company choose to work with a recruiting firm, you will certainly want to track both time to candidate and time to fill. These metrics shouldn’t be taken in isolation; rather, you should look at them together to ensure your recruiting process is as smooth as possible.

Tracking time to candidate will give you valuable insight into your recruiting partner’s performance, while time to hire will give you perspective on how your own internal hiring operations are faring. Using both metrics in conjunction will give you the data you need to quickly source and hire stellar candidates while meeting all of your recruiting goals.

Shawn Cole is president and founding partner of Cowen Partners.

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