How to Identify and Set Hiring Priorities

Four blue chairs with a yellow chair in the middle

Every recruiter must juggle multiple tasks, from posting open positions to sorting through resumes to interviewing candidates. But another juggling act goes on when it comes to the open positions themselves: determining your hiring priorities. 

In a perfect world, all positions would be filled on a predictable timeline in the order they became available. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality we live in. Some positions take longer to hire for, while others are more urgent to fill because of their impact on operations. Plus, you only have so many hours in the day. 

So, how can a recruiter or HR professional decide which positions to prioritize when hiring? Here are six things to consider when setting priorities for recruiting employees and some tips to help you decide how best to distribute your efforts. 

How to Identify Hiring Priorities

1. Analyze business needs

Some hiring priorities are easy to identify. The first type is those based on business needs. Recruiting one is a no-brainer if you need to win new clients but don’t have a business development leader. 

2. Identify operational fumbles

Another easy (albeit unfortunate) way to identify hiring priorities is when things start falling through the cracks. If deadlines are being missed, customers complain more often, and team members are consistently overworked, it’s a surefire indicator of where you need to hire. 

3. Assess skills gaps

As your organization grows, you should be conducting skills gap analyses regularly. A skills gap analysis is a systematic review of the skill sets your organization currently has, lacks, and is likely to need soon. It can help you hire more efficiently while ensuring operational needs are met. 

Conducting a skills gap analysis will give you a clear action plan for which roles to hire for and in which order. 

4. Be conscious of frequently posted roles

If there’s a job you’re constantly hiring for, it can tell you a few things. If you’re hiring due to turnover, it’s an indicator that you need to refine the hiring criteria and process for that role. If you’re hiring repeatedly because of a consistent need, you can make the process easier by using a talent pipeline. In this approach, you’re consistently sourcing, recruiting, and screening candidates, so the next time that position inevitably opens again, you have a few great candidates ready to interview immediately. 

6 Things to Consider When Prioritizing Hiring

Impact on the bottom line

Regarding the overall implications for the business, some roles are simply more important than others. The factors that define a position’s business impact might include contribution to productivity, seniority level, amount of interaction with clients or customers, and the typical workload of the position. 

Here’s another way to frame it: could the company operate without this role? For some positions, like a help desk agent, the answer may be yes, at least for a while. The answer may be no for other roles, like an accountant or key manager because things would quickly fall apart without someone in the role for more than a few days. This is a quick way to gut-check any position’s priority level. 

Also, consider the impacts of the vacancy: how much money you’re losing for each additional day without someone in the role and the strain it places on other staffers who have to pick up the slack. While the organization might be able to bridge the gap and run without someone in the role for a while, it might come at too high of a cost. So, this is also an important consideration when deciding how quickly you need to hire. 

Uniqueness of skill set

The more difficult it is to find the right skills for a position, the longer it typically takes to hire, and thus, the sooner you’ll want to start the process of recruiting employees. On the flip side, you may have some general roles that are typically very easy to fill and opt to hire for those first to get them done quickly.

Either way, you’ll want to be sure to balance your recruiter’s daily tasks when sourcing different skill sets. Avoid falling into the trap of spending a disproportionate amount of time hunting for candidates with niche expertise. This can mean you’re forced to make rush hires for other roles, which can be even more costly down the road if you choose the wrong person. 

Market conditions 

Your hiring priorities will likely change from month to month and year to year based on what’s happening in the job market. How scarce are candidates for any given role? Are there any skills shortages hitting the industry? What about conditions in your local area—are you in a major city with access to lots of diverse talent, or will you need to spend more time bringing in candidates from outside the area?

This is a great opportunity to rely on your historic recruiting metrics to gauge how long it usually takes to hire for different roles. It can be eye-opening to see the time-to-hire for different positions compared directly against one another, which can be very helpful in setting your hiring timelines. 

Hard deadlines

Do you have any locked-in dates that will define your search? For example, it might be imperative to fill specific roles in time for your busy season, key budgetary deadlines, or the start of a significant project. Stay on top of these to factor them in when prioritizing recruiting employees for different roles.  

Alternative options

Recruiters have a diverse set of channels for sourcing different types of talent, and each has its pros and cons. Attracting new, full-time applicants from outside the organization typically takes the longest of any hiring method. 

When setting staffing priorities, consider the potential for alternate options. Is there an internal candidate that could quickly move into a more senior role that’s opening up? Could a temporary worker cover a low-impact vacancy while you focus on other high-priority positions? What about past candidates who made it to the final rounds of interviews and are already familiar with your organization? 

These options can shorten your hiring windows and help you fill high-priority roles faster.

Size matters

The size of your organization will factor heavily into how you prioritize your recruiting efforts. Though larger organizations have more roles to hire for, this makes prioritizing easier because roles tend to be more defined. As a result, it’s easier to see which positions have a more significant impact and which can be put on the back burner a little longer. 

In smaller companies, setting hiring priorities is trickier because every person carries more weight, and the lines between roles tend to be more blurred. So, if you’re a small- to medium-sized business, you’ll need to pay careful attention to the weight you give every position when hiring. 

Tips on Effectively Setting Hiring Priorities

1. Keep an open line of communication

Recruiters don’t operate in a vacuum. You’ll notice that many of the factors we’ve discussed here require a close knowledge of the company’s various departments and positions. This isn’t something to leave to chance. 

Make priority-setting easier by communicating regularly with managers and department heads about their current and near-future staffing needs. How does each position contribute to the department? Which roles are likely to open soon? What is the typical advancement path when employees move up the ranks?

Building a strategic staffing plan will take care of a lot of this work proactively.  

2. Keep a running status list

Suppose you’re hiring for more than a handful of roles or managing a team of multiple recruiters. In that case, you need a way to quickly visualize every open position at a glance and manage your recruiter’s daily tasks. This could be as advanced as an applicant tracking system or as simple as a whiteboard. 

Your status list should show every role that’s currently in play or soon to become vacant, plus the hiring funnel status and next steps. You might even choose to order your list in terms of priority, which is a great way to keep your most urgent positions at the top of your mind. 

3. Maintain a strong pipeline

A recruiting pipeline is a pool of candidates who are interested in learning about open positions with your company. This might include people who have applied in the past, people who are interested in a role that’s not currently open, or simply strong talent you’d like to maintain a relationship with. 

Recruiters can nurture their pipeline by staying in regular communication, like via an occasional email to check in or let candidates know about the latest openings. A recruiting pipeline makes it easier to fill open roles at all times, not just when you have an urgent need, so building and maintaining one is a great strategy that will help you meet the hiring priorities you set. 

4. Stick to a process

Whatever system you decide to use to prioritize hiring, follow a set process and stick with it. This will help prevent you from getting too bogged down with hiring for any one role or department and keep low-priority positions from slipping through the cracks. 

At the end of the day, even lower-level positions can cause major operational disruptions if they sit vacant too long. Hence, it’s crucial to keep hiring moving for all roles regardless of their position in the hierarchy.

5. Enlist the help of a professional

If your open positions are quickly exceeding your ability to fill them, or if you’re having trouble sourcing a particular skill set, it might be time to enlist the help of a staffing professional. A dedicated recruiter can help you set hiring priorities based on your organizational goals and growth trends, identifying where to focus your efforts to make the most significant impact. 

Working with a headhunter like us can lower your hiring costs and help you hire faster and with greater accuracy than tackling it on your own. 

6. Look to the future

As soon as you hire for one role, another one that’s waiting to be filled pops up. It can feel like a game of whack-a-mole! Get ahead of hiring scrambles by assessing your recruiting needs three, six, and 12 months into the future. Our skills gap analysis how-to gives you a matrix template that will help you do just that. 

7. Keep an eye on the competition

Placing too much emphasis on what the competition is doing will take your focus away from where it needs to be: your own recruiting strategy. However, you also don’t want to be operating utterly blind to what’s happening outside your own doors. 

Every now and then, take a look at what roles your biggest competitors are hiring for and how they’re marketing them. Not only will this help ensure you’re offering a competitive value proposition and retaining your most vital talent, but it’ll also clue you into changes that are going on within competitors’ businesses. For example, if you notice that they’re suddenly hiring for a slew of sales roles, it could be a sign a new product release or an additional office location is imminent.

8. Be consistent

The best recruiting teams operate like a machine, constantly filtering through new prospects and churning out great candidates. This requires consistency. If you only focus on recruiting when you have downtime or when there’s an urgent need, you will always be behind. Instead, make recruiting a regular activity in your workflows (or hire a dedicated recruiting specialist to tackle it for you). 

9. Evaluate your progress

Regularly review and reassess your hiring priorities. As your business evolves, your hiring needs will most certainly change, and it’s essential to stay proactive in adjusting your strategy. Stay flexible and be open to adapting your recruiting approach based on market conditions, business needs, and unexpected opportunities.

Prioritize Your Hiring Needs Today

We blend personalized service with impeccable performance, helping you find and hire the talent your company needs to thrive. We have over 18 years of experience sourcing and hiring the best and brightest candidates in customer service, technology, finance, healthcare, marketing, and more. 

Our recruiters take a holistic approach to hiring, delivering candidates who will get the job done and help your company achieve its long-term goals. Schedule your free consultation to begin building your staffing strategy today.

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