Should I be Concerned the Position I’m Up For Has Been Vacant 13 Months?

The position I’m interviewing for has been vacant for 13 months. Should I be concerned it hasn’t been filled already? I’m worried maybe the hiring manager is being unrealistic or unclear in his own mind in terms of expectations for candidates or if they’ve been offering compensation packages that are being refused by candidates.

Ann-Z-newYou are smart to be concerned.

A position that has been open for 13 months definitely calls for further inspection, specifically regarding why the company has not been able to successfully fill the role.

A few of the screening questions that we ask potential clients when assessing a search assignment are:

  • Have they hired and then subsequently fired for this role, essentially creating a revolving door during the past 13 months, or have they never had one single person officially hired for the role?
  • Why is the position open?
  • Is the compensation equitable for the skill requirements?
  • What is the company culture and reputation?
  • If the hiring manager has unrealistic hiring goals, how realistic is he going to be when reporting to him on a daily basis?

“Aged Searches” is what recruiters call openings that have been open longer than 90 days.

If a company cannot make a hiring decision within three months, after declaring that they are serious about making a hire, something is wrong.

After being an executive recruiter for 24 years now, in my experience there are typically four primary factors why companies have trouble filling roles. After gathering the facts, one of the following four reasons typically rises to the surface.

Paralysis by Analysis

The decision makers quite literally just cannot get to the finish line. They are forever in analysis, and debate.

They are not united in a picture of their ideal candidate, and mandatory candidate requirements and job descriptions are forever in flux.

As hard as we try, executive recruiters cannot create candidates in the laboratory.

As many times as we have all made a solemn wish whilst blowing out candidates, none of us, to date, have actually been able to “create” a candidate. Therefore, we are all destined to only deal with real live human beings, that fit the skill set provided by the client.

If we cannot produce an exact match, we will provide the closest match based on what the hiring managers want, and what the reality is in terms of what the candidate pool is for what they are requesting. At that point most hiring managers choose to amend the requirements due to strong desire to get the position filled, and then make a hire. We provide the very best candidates that match their wish list of requirements, and they make the hiring decision from that pool of candidates.

Lack of Authority

Another common reason for many a company having problems with their interview process, is a clear lack of authority. No one feels comfortable making a formal offer to someone, because the risk of failure is always there. This highlights a highly dysfunctional company culture.

There are countless articles written about the multitude of negatives that accompany cultures where no one is entrusted to make the best decision with all the information available at that time, and that fail to support that person regardless of whether the dice provide snake eyes, or fly off the table.

When no one is comfortable pulling the trigger and making a formal offer, you typically see an extended interview process. Roping more and more people into the interview process to get their feedback, serves them by pushing back the actual decision. Interview processes have a very clear timeline, and natural momentum. When companies do not have a clear cut interview process and drag on the selection process, and don’t have decision makers that feel empowered to make decisions, it turns into a colossal waste of time for all involved.

Hiring Person Not On-Board with Hire

If the hiring manager continues to find reasons not to pull the trigger, one has to assume that his desire to keep the role open outweighs the desire to fill it, with the very best person available for the role.

The biggest indicator of this is when the hiring manager refuses to even interview the candidates presented. If he sincerely wants to make a hire, one would naturally assume that he has high hopes that each candidate will be the right fit. When an experienced recruiter or internal HR representative present candidates that they believe are qualified and match all requirements presented in the original job description, and the hiring manager refuses to invest the time in interviewing them, one must entertain the possibility that they are not legitimately interested in making the hire.

Once a person that has expressed a desire to fill a role has a reality check and understands that they can only make a decision between real live human beings as opposed to something conjured up on a legal pad, they have to then come to a decision based on two option. One option is to go -ahead and make a hire with the best person available. The other option is to decide that the position is not really that important and it can remain open for an indefinite amount of time, pending the arrival of the mythical PERFECT CANDIDATE, who is anticipated to emerge from the fog, predictably on a white stallion, at any given moment.

Which leads for the 4th and perhaps the most dangerous problem of all…

Unrealistic Expectations

If the hiring manager has unrealistic hiring goals, how realistic is he going to be when reporting to him on a daily basis?

When the hiring manager is asking for something that is not realistic, either in terms of the combination of qualifications that one single person would possess, or the salary that they could procure their ideal candidate for, this is commonly referred to in the recruiting world as a ‘purple squirrel’ ie an unrealistic search. We recently had a client that wanted a sales manager that had x number of years of industry specific sales experience, with x years of management experience, …..and a pilots license. While the aviation slant could certainly be added as a preferred requirement, making it a mandatory requirement swiftly put that search request into the ‘Purple Squirrel with a Pink Fluffy Tail’ file.

Having a hiring manager that is either unable or unwilling to accept that his mandatory requirements are not realistic, and listen to the feedback from the people tasked to identify and deliver candidates to his attention, is a red flag for other similar scenarios down the road.

When evaluating ‘aged searches’, be sure to delve down into which one of the above scenarios is the root cause of not filing a role, and then proceed accordingly. Occasionally, albeit rarely, there is a legitimate reason, so if there are other things that attract you to the opportunity, just be sure to invest the time regarding the history of this specific opportunity, because often times ‘aged searches’ are indicative of other issues within a company, or at least the division or geographic region within the company that has the opening.


Ask Ann,

Have a question you’d like a recruiter to answer? Write to me at AskAnn@execunet.com



Ann Zaslow-Rethaber

Ann Zaslow-Rethaber

A recruiter since 1996, Ann Zaslow-Rethaber is the president of International Search Consultants, a global executive recruiting firm launched in 1999.

ISC has become one of the country’s most reputable search firms, earning more recommendations on Linked In than any other 3rd party recruiting agency in the entire country. With a team of 15 talented recruiters, utilizing the very best high- tech tools available, ISC can produce highly qualified candidates for companies with hi-volume recruiting needs.

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