Backfilling a Position: What You Need to Know

Recruiter with a clipboard calling out who is next in a waiting room for a job interview backfilling a position at an office.

Change is an inevitable part of doing business. One key area of change is staffing. From resignations and terminations to leaves of absence and sabbaticals, there will always be reasons positions become vacant. If you don’t have a strategy for dealing with these openings promptly, your operations can face interruptions, and team morale can suffer. Backfilling a position is a way to address staffing vacancies proactively. 

What is Backfilling a Position?

Backfilling the process of dealing with open positions as quickly as possible, using various methods to fill vacancies with qualified workers. Sometimes the replacement will serve temporarily, while a backfill position becomes permanent at other times.

Backfilling can be used to address permanent openings caused by turnover and terminations, mid-term openings resulting from parental, family, and medical leave, and short-term staffing needs due to vacations or employees being out of the office for other reasons.

It’s important to note the distinction between backfilling, which is used to fill a position that already exists, and job creation, where you’re hiring to fill an entirely new position that hasn’t been held by anyone yet.

Why Do You Need to Backfill?

A decade or two ago, it was standard practice for companies to have multiple staff members whose jobs were essentially the same. Now, this practice (which is known as redundancy) is less common as companies strive to do more with less and operate on tighter margins. In some industries, having only one staffer specializing in certain areas is the norm.

While this approach allows organizations to run as lean as possible, it also creates a major risk because some parts of the business depend on a single person. If that person is gone for more than a day or two, operations can literally grind to a halt. 

Thus, it’s important to create redundancy in your staffing even if you don’t have multiple full-time employees in a role. 

In addition to keeping the company running smoothly, backfilling benefits organizations in several ways:

  • Reduces the overtime costs that occur when employees have to pick up extra work
  • Keeps staff focused on their primary responsibilities rather than having their attention diverted to supplementing other roles
  • Prevents overwork and burnout

Looking to backfill someone?

Speak to a recruiter today.

Different Ways to Backfill a Position

There are several methods to backfill positions. Most companies use a combination of two or more of the following:

Managers filling in

Though it’s a quick and easy fix to address a vacancy, this is the least effective backfilling strategy because it takes a manager’s attention off their leadership duties. 

A manager’s elevated title (and salary) aligns with their higher responsibility level. Using managers to cover day-to-day tasks on their team only creates a deficit in an arguably more important area of the business, which is high-level operations.  


Cross-training is a practical and cost-effective way to create skill redundancy without adding to your headcount. It’s also popular among staff. 

Cross-training demonstrates your commitment to helping employees advance their skills while simultaneously building a future with the organization, both of which contribute to retention. 

Related: 6 Strategies for Upskilling and Reskilling Your Workforce

Promoting from within

Rather than having managers step down to fill absent employees’ shoes, a better method is to have a qualified (or nearly qualified) staffer step up into the role. 

An existing employee can step into the duties with little downtime because of their familiarity with the company and its operations. Plus, internal promotions help increase employee staff satisfaction and reduce turnover.

Related: Employee Promotions: Considerations & Best Practices

Leveraging contract labor

Freelancers and contract workers are great options when you must quickly cover a technical skill set. Their expertise allows them to jump right in and ensure urgent needs are met, while the on-demand nature of the arrangement allows you to leverage their services for as short or long a time as you need. 

Using a staffing agency

Partnering with a staffing agency is an ideal solution to backfill positions. Not only do staffing agencies have access to a high-quality pool of specialized candidates, but they can also help you move very quickly in hiring. 

A staffing agency can provide proactive sourcing on an ongoing basis. This means recruiters help you identify staffing needs and keep an eye out for qualified candidates on your behalf even before an opening occurs, much like you might begin shopping for a new car before your current one dies.

Related: The Benefits of Working with a Staffing Agency

Building a talent pipeline

A talent pipeline is a staffing approach where you recruit consistently, not just when you have available positions. You can build a talent pipeline independently or in tandem with a staffing agency. 

This makes hiring faster, more accurate, and less expensive than if you were to scramble to fill a role only after the person in it left. 

Considerations When Backfilling a Position

Since backfilling is used to hire for existing positions, you should know the skills those positions require. Understanding the core competencies for each role in your organization will help you move faster when it’s time to backfill. 

Another area that requires pre-planning is your budget. You’ll need to anticipate the cost of backfilling and build those costs into your staffing plan. While it’s impossible to predict the exact number and type of positions you’ll need to fill, you can get a good estimate by looking at your average turnover for the last three to five years. 

Additionally, consider turnover by position type. If you know that you typically have one developer resign every two years, and it’s been almost that long since you lost a member of your development team, you know this is a good skill set to anticipate backfilling soon. 

Additional Backfilling Tips

Involve the original employee

You can get employees in backfill positions up and running faster and with fewer hiccups if you can involve the person who’s vacating the role. If the original employee is leaving on good terms, tap them to assist with onboarding and training their replacement. 

This helps ensure a smoother transition on projects that are in progress and minimizes knowledge loss–the loss of processes and other role-specific information that happens when non-redundant employees leave an organization. 

Identify at-risk skill sets

It’s much easier to backfill proactively when you know what you should be on the lookout for. You can identify these needs by doing a skills inventory regularly. 

A skills inventory compiles every company member’s technical skills, experience, and expertise. If you’re a big company, doing this on a departmental level is more manageable. A skills inventory allows you to clearly identify areas where one person’s departure would leave a gaping hole so you can train, upskill and recruit for those skills. 

Incorporate mentoring

The benefits of mentoring are manifold. Developing younger employees and engaging more tenured employees are two of the biggest upsides. Still, a workplace mentoring program can also significantly boost your ability to backfill. Mentorship facilitates organic upskilling and creates natural pathways to promotion for more junior team members. 

Need help backfilling your position? Contact us today to learn how we can help!

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn