Imagine that a star infielder is injured and will be out for the season. Will the baseball team post the position on a job board to hire a replacement? No. The team will turn to its bench or possibly its minor league farm team. Either way, those players were scouted years earlier – perhaps when they were in high school. They were chosen for their potential and then coached to be ready for this moment.
That’s talent acquisition in a nutshell. It’s common in professional sports, but less so in small and midsize businesses. Yet the principles of talent acquisition offer value to any organization. In sports, effective talent acquisition can mean the difference between last place, a pennant, and a championship dynasty. In business, effective talent acquisition often spells the difference between business failures and long-term success.
Talent Acquisition: Proactive and Future-Focused
Talent acquisition is a proactive, strategic process to identify, attract, and hire top talent. The process is focused on the future, shaped explicitly by the organization’s goals and plans. The intent is to find people with not only the right skill set, but also the mindset and values that will help them succeed in your organization.
Finding such talent is time-consuming and can take months. It often involves initiating contact with ideal prospects even if they aren’t actively seeking a job. It usually includes several stakeholders, from human resources, hiring managers, marketing and public relations experts to sourcing agencies, line-of-business managers, and executives. Done well, talent acquisition ensures that the right people are in the right place when the business needs them.
All of that contrasts sharply with traditional recruitment. Where talent acquisition is proactive, recruitment is reactive; where talent acquisition is strategic, recruitment is tactical. Recruitment is generally the responsibility of a single person or team, and it typically doesn’t begin until a specific job needs to be filled. Recruiters create a job posting, sort through resumes, interview candidates, and eventually make one person an offer. Recruitment focuses on filling the open job as quickly as possible, so the offer usually goes to the best available candidate. That’s not necessarily the same as the best candidate.
In theory, that baseball team could recruit a replacement infielder. But you don’t have to be a baseball fan to recognize that the amateur walking in off the street probably won’t be able to hold their own with the pros.
In other words, recruitment – at least when seeking skilled professionals – is imperfect. The wrong hire may lead to costly turnover and negatively impact productivity, morale, and even the corporate culture.
Talent acquisition programs can fail if they are static. They are most successful when constantly adjusted for changes in the labor market or company plans and to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
Talent acquisition isn’t perfect either, but companies that have embraced it have found a variety of benefits:
- Lower hiring costs and avoiding the financial risk of a bad hire
- Reduced time to hire because there are always candidates in the pipeline.
- Improved quality of hires
To get those benefits, organizations need to create a complete talent acquisition process.
8 Pillars of a Strong Talent Acquisition Program
The following eight principles of talent acquisition can be incorporated into a program tuned to the needs of any size company.
1. Know where your business is heading.
One of the benefits of talent acquisition is to better position the organization for the future, but that’s only possible if you know what the future looks like for your business.
That may seem obvious, but many small and midsize businesses don’t have concrete plans. Without those plans, businesses are often in a cycle of making snap, short-term decisions and then struggling to staff up.
Instead, set a five-year plan with six-month or annual milestones. If you create a product, for example, are you going to grow your business by expanding distribution, launching new products, or both? The answer can help define the kind of talent you’ll need to reach your goal.
2. Identify which roles make the greatest impact.
With your business’ path charted, identify which jobs will potentially create the greatest value for the organization. This helps focus talent acquisition time and resources to get the greatest return on investment.
For example, engineers who are designing the next generation of aircraft will likely make the greatest contribution toward an aerospace company’s future success. But at a consumer products company, brand managers may be the role that adds the greatest value.
3. Foster a strong employer brand.
A consumer brand represents what the business stands for to potential customers. An employer brand promotes what it’s like to work for the company.
The employer brand may incorporate elements of the consumer brand, but it doesn’t stop there. It integrates the business’ mission and values, the corporate culture, compensation and benefits, the onboarding process, and career development opportunities.
In traditional recruitment, candidates are typically selling their skills and values to you. In talent acquisition, you're selling the company's values to candidates. When developing your employer brand, consider bringing in branding experts from marketing and public relations for guidance to establish a solid framework for how you present your company.
4. Use the tech to drive decisions.
Technology can be a great source of data to help drive decisions. Applicant tracking software, for example, can help you identify the most qualified candidates. But don’t stop there.
You can improve the efficiency of talent acquisition by automating as many steps as possible. A key area should be the administration of pre-employment assessments, ranging from job-specific skills tests (think typing tests or accounting tests) to personality tests, behavioral assessments, emotional intelligence inventories, cognitive tests, and more. Technology can also help you standardize interview questions, collect the answers, and score candidates. Using tech is not only more efficient than handling it manually, but it is generally more objective as well.
5. Go where the candidates are.
A key pillar of talent acquisition is broadening the candidate pool beyond active job seekers. That’s done more effectively if you go to potential candidates, rather than just entice them to come to you.
One of the best-known examples of this strategy is Deloitte’s pursuit of top programmers. The company’s recruiters stopped attending the events that brought in other Deloitte talent over the years because they weren’t effective for finding software talent. Instead, they went where programmers hang out: IT conferences, hackathons, code fests, product showcases, and so on.
6. Get to know the candidates.
Talent acquisition should be a thorough, deliberate process in which candidates are thoroughly vetted. In addition to participating in several structured interviews – in which all interviewers use the same core questions – candidates will typically be asked to complete a range of assessments (some of which are mentioned above in the “tech” pillar). Together they will help you form a full picture of a potential hire.
7. Don’t stop when the candidate is hired.
Once you’ve identified your dream candidate and they accept your offer, you don’t want a rocky job start to morph into disenchantment or, worse, a fast resignation. That’s why talent acquisition, unlike traditional recruitment, doesn’t stop when the candidate accepts an offer. Onboarding is a crucial part of the process that starts by defining what success in the role looks like, then ensuring that the new hire has the tools and information necessary to succeed. Typically, onboarding is a 90-day process, with milestone check-ins at 30 and 60 days.
8. Measure, measure, measure.
Talent acquisition programs can fail if they're static. They're most successful when constantly adjusted for changes in the labor market or company plans and to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
To figure that out, measure as many elements of the process as possible. Those measurements should include metrics like time to hire, time a candidate is in each stage of the talent acquisition process, source of the hire, offer acceptance rate, interview-to-hire ratio, candidate satisfaction rate, cost to replace an employee, and cost per hire. Use the data to drive change.
For example, if the assessment stage is the longest, perhaps you can shorten the hiring process by conducting fewer assessments, reworking the instructions you provide, improving your follow-up communication, or enhancing the experience in other ways.
Talent acquisition is a proactive, future-focused process that ensures companies can hire the right people at the right time to grow. Doing it well can give businesses a solid competitive advantage. These eight proven talent acquisition strategies can be invaluable in building a talent acquisition program for any size organization.
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