The current unemployment rate in the United States stands at 7.3 percent. That’s an amazing improvement from the high of nearly 10 percent at the peak of the recession but still far from the glory days of the mid-2000s when the rate bottomed out at 4.4 percent. Let’s confront the reality, a lot of Americans are still looking for full-time employment.

Yet strangely, U.S. employers report growing vacancy rates at a time when more people are looking for work. This trend — the gap between those seeking work and employers looking to hire — goes against traditional thinking.

In years past, as the unemployment rate rose, the vacancy rate fell. Now, the opposite seems to be happening, according to a recent review of data by The New York Times.

Some pundits argue this trend shows a skills gap between the skills of the workers looking for jobs and the jobs employers have to offer. A mismatch between skills workers possess and jobs available certainly accounts for some of the discrepancies, especially in highly specialized fields such as technology or medicine. But the true reason for the gap between unemployed workers and job vacancies, as so often is the case, is much more complicated.

Unrealistic Expectations
When unemployment goes up, employers know they have larger pools of candidates to draw from to find just the right person. Employers feel like they can afford to be picky as they maintain optimism that the perfect candidate will come along eventually.

Employers may also feel like they can raise the bar for the credentials and skills they want the perfect employee to have. Anyone with a resume that doesn’t pass muster gets cast aside, even if the candidate has other skills and experiences or shows potential for becoming a great employee.

Instead, employers set narrow, unrealistic expectations for candidates and play a waiting game. In the meantime, qualified candidates go by the wayside because their resumes don’t have one vital component.

The Waiting Game
Another reason employers leave jobs unfilled rises out of pure economics. The recession hit the American economy hard, and while the country has recovered in some ways, in many other ways businesses and individuals still very much feel the effects of the downturn.

To that end, companies looking to save money or play it safe simply choose to wait to fill vacancies or find the absolute perfect candidate. However, because they have set unrealistic expectations in the first place, they continue to wait around, leaving a vacancy unfilled or reposting the position every few months.

While they wait, however, employers pass up highly qualified candidates, the kind of candidates with the ability to learn, receive training and become the kind of exceptional employees that human resources departments are looking for in the first place.

The Interview Gauntlet
Sometimes human resources departments intend to fill positions. They post the jobs, review applications and bring in the most qualified candidates for an interview. And then a second interview. And then a third interview. And then a fourth, a fifth, a sixth and even more interviews.

It’s not unusual these days for candidates to endure a lengthy interview process involving multiple groups from within an organization, question and answer forums, lunch meetings and more. Google, for example, has expanded the average interview process from 21 days to 30 days in the past two years.

On many occasions, after the lengthy interview process, a human resources department may choose not to hire anyone at all, turning off candidates to the company and letting qualified candidates slip through their fingers. Candidates might feel like a company is playing games with them or leading them on only to waste their time, and in many cases, money and resources.

Closing the Gap
The gap between vacancies and those seeking work needs to close. Employers can make several changes in their approach to hiring to close vacancies and find candidates who can bring value to their organizations.

First, companies can start by ending the practice of waiting around for the candidate with the perfect list of qualifications and credentials. Instead, companies should look for candidates who show a history of flexibility, work ethic, creativity and innovation. These employees often become the purple squirrel a company is looking for because they possess the potential to become indispensable members of a team.

Companies can also reduce the interview time relying on the information the glean from two or three interviews and information from references. Additionally, companies can look to grow their own employees through internship and fellowship programs that recruit talented young people to grow into their best employees.

The unemployment rate can go lower. Companies can fill vacancies. We can turn around the economy, put more people to work and transform the landscape of industry by working to hire candidates with potential.