Hiring Secretaries over Time: The Benefit of Concurrent Employment

Yann Disser, John Fearnley, Martin Gairing, Oliver Göbel, Max Klimm, Daniel Schmand, Alexander Skopalik, Andreas Tönnis

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We consider a stochastic online problem where n applicants arrive over time, one per time step. Upon the arrival of each applicant, their cost per time step is revealed, and we have to fix the duration of employment, starting immediately. This decision is irrevocable; that is, we can neither extend a contract nor dismiss a candidate once hired. In every time step, at least one candidate needs to be under contract, and our goal is to minimize the total hiring cost, which is the sum of the applicants’ costs multiplied with their respective employment durations. We provide a competitive online algorithm for the case that the applicants’ costs are drawn independently from a known distribution. Specifically, the algorithm achieves a competitive ratio of 2.965 for the case of uniform distributions. For this case, we give an analytical lower bound of 2 and a computational lower bound of 2.148. We then adapt our algorithm to stay competitive even in settings with one or more of the following restrictions: (i) at most two applicants can be hired concurrently; (ii) the distribution of the applicants’ costs is unknown; (iii) the total number n of time steps is unknown. On the other hand, we show that concurrent employment is a necessary feature of competitive algorithms by proving that no algorithm has a competitive ratio better than Ω(√n/log  n) if concurrent employment is forbidden.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-352
Number of pages30
JournalMathematics of operations research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • Markov chain
  • Online algorithm
  • Prophet inequality
  • Secretary problem
  • Stopping problem
  • 22/2 OA procedure


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