The competition for talent is heating up, and as the economy continues its upward climb, it’s only going to get hotter.

Firms that are prepared for a fast and furious recruitment season will come out ahead, but only if they are nimble enough to make a quick hiring decision. All the preparation in the world won’t be worth a hill of beans if, at the end of the recruitment process, your firm just can’t pull the trigger. In the war on talent, if you snooze, you lose.

What prevents an otherwise agile firm from closing the deal? Usually its hesitation can be traced to unplanned issues, or it could be subliminal conflict that becomes visible only when it’s time to sign on the offer letter’s dotted line. Ask the following questions early on to ensure that you’re not missing red flags that may slow you down when you really need to take the next step forward…and fast.

Is everyone on board? We like to think, Of course everyone’s on board! We finally got an additional headcount, we have the job description and the starting salary has been approved. We’re ready to roll.

But take it from me. Just because you think everyone’s on board doesn’t mean everyone’s on board. Hiring can be a covertly risky business for some hiring managers. Bringing in a new person represents change, and in many people, change triggers feelings of anxiety, fear and self-doubt. Long-term managers may see a high-level, experienced candidate as threatening—even as they are excited to have someone so skilled on their team. They might interview enthusiastically, but in the end they might pick apart the candidate by focusing on minor issues. They might even want to rethink the position.

The hiring process could stall as your hiring team works through these conflicts, and top candidates might accept other, more timely job offers. And it’s not just the hiring manager you have to attend to.

Just because you think everyone’s on board doesn’t mean everyone’s on board.

Co-workers and staff who have been included in the interviewing bring their own trepidation to the table. Don’t hesitate to intervene if you see roadblocks being erected or if you hear comments that are emotional or malicious. Usually these things can be worked through quickly if identified and dealt with appropriately.

Are you looking for the “perfect” candidate? If so, stop. You’ll never hire anyone. I’ve seen firms interview and interview and interview, and pass up many qualified, coachable candidates in the process. Don’t get caught in the perfectionist nightmare of paralysis. Instead, create a short list of critical competencies and interview to those competencies. Really smart firms take that short list and set priorities for competencies so they know what their bottom line is and where they have wiggle room.

For example, if you’re hiring a producer, your short list may include “proven sales experience, industry awareness, solid product and services knowledge, strong interpersonal skills, team player, strategic thinker, energetic, socially adept.”

Evaluate each skill and give it a priority. Consider, for example, proven sales experience. This one you can’t teach—the person must have been in a sales role and been successful in the position. But product and service knowledge you can teach. In fact, most firms prefer to teach new hires about products and services.
You get the picture. Screen your candidates for what you absolutely must have, and then make sure they can prove they can deliver. The rest of the stuff is nice to have but shouldn’t be the primary consideration in a hire/no hire decision.

Can you strike while the iron is hot? Once in a while, a candidate comes along—via referral or networking or just dumb luck—that has great potential to be a major contributor to the success of your organization. You may not have planned for this opportunity, may not be perfectly set up to bring this candidate on board, and may not have the position in the budget. But firms that will ultimately win in the race for top talent will turn on a dime, get the decision makers together, do a thoughtful but quick ROI determination, and take action.

These firms understand the competitive nature of recruiting for top talent, and they build opportunistic hires into their talent strategy. Planning for the unplanned new hire is just plain smart. Do this by communicating the necessity to act quickly before the budget year begins, include and gain support from the key players and potential resistors, and do this before opportunity knocks.

In a perfect world, the stars, the budget and the players align, but in the real world—a world that is moving fast—you have to recognize the unplanned moment and then seize it. Make sure your firm is always alert for the potential talent opportunity, nimble enough to take advantage of an opportunity that presents itself, and prepared to move forward quickly and surely.

Don’t snooze and lose. In a world where talent is swept up in the blink of an eye, falling asleep at the wheel ensures you’ll finish last.