Sourcing

Talent Pipelines: Definition, Strategy, Benefits & Tactics

The way candidates interact with companies and apply for jobs has fundamentally changed.

You can't rely on the best talent applying organically anymore - to be successful long term you have to be proactive, targeting the candidates that are a great fit for your company and building a relationship.

If you're looking to move to a more proactive recruiting model, talent pipelines should be a critical part of your strategy.

As with any new concept though, there's a fair amount of confusion around the best way to draw up and implement a talent pipelining strategy. So with that in mind, we've put together everything that your company needs to know about talent pipelines.

What is a talent pipeline?

A concept that's well established in the sales and marketing sphere, in the talent context a pipeline is a collection of candidates that are engaged and can be contacted when relevant roles become available.

This is "relationship-centric" recruiting at its best. Instead of searching for candidates that fit an immediate need, talent pipelining requires you to build relationships with passive talent for future opportunities.

Developing a talent pipeline requires a company to shift from reactive to proactive recruiting -- something we get pretty excited about at Beamery. You're no longer thinking about just filling open roles, you’re considering who your company will want in the future, and who they should eventually hire.

Both proactive recruiting and talent pipelines always rank high on the recruiting agenda. 82% of recruiters saw proactive recruiting as a major priority in our State of Talent Acquisition report, while talent pooling and pipelining ranked as the number one priority for talent teams:

importance of talent pipelining

Talent pipelining is a long term play. As a strategy, it takes time to develop and nurture, but the benefits are well worth the investment.

Talent pipelines, pools & communities: what's the difference?

Pipelines, pools, and communities. These terms are all thrown around a lot, and often used interchangeably, so what's the difference?

Talent pipelines: We've touched on this already, a talent pipeline is a system where you nurture interested candidates and actively build a relationship. Communication is important; you need to be moving candidates through some form of journey, moving them closer to a decision.

Talent pools: Talent pools are designed for the organization and segmentation of candidates. Instead of one, unapproachable database, pools let you effectively group and categorize talent e.g. Marketers based in Austin".

Talent communities: In a talent community, people have to be able to interact with each other. Something like a Facebook group, private Slack Channel would enable this.

Who should create a talent pipeline?

The short answer is this: every company will benefit from a pipeline of relevant candidates. With an engaged pipeline in place, no searches start from scratch and organizations can dramatically reduce costs and time to hire.

engaged pipeline

Talent pipelines are particularly important though for companies that are consistently trying to hire in competitive talent markets e.g. engineers, quantitative surveyors, nurses etc. Having warm, "ready-to-hire" candidates here can make a huge difference.

Benefits of a talent pipeline

Talent pipelines are not just another recruiting buzzword. Organizations who approach recruiting more proactively, and who focus on building relationships and pipelining the very best talent can expect a multitude of benefits.

Here are a couple to whet your appetite:

1. Better candidates

A benefit that any recruiting team can get behind; building effective talent pipelines almost always help companies hire better candidates.

There are a couple of reasons for this:

i Reducing the rush

Instead of rushing to find candidates for immediate needs, recruiters take a more long term approach. Hiring targets are communicated well in advance, so recruiters have a clear idea of the volume and type of candidates that they need. They have time to focus on identifying the best possible candidates, not just submitting the first people that they find or those that are immediately available.

ii Reducing reliance on serendipity

It's rare that the perfect candidate is available at the precise moment that you have their ideal job open. This can be a deeply frustrating process for recruiters - they find a great candidate, but can't do anything with them because there's no open role.

Talent pipelines are the perfect way to deal with this issue. Either you can nurture exceptional candidates that aren't ready to move, or you can create "evergreen jobs" that are always open so that you can hire the top candidate whenever they become available.

2. Engaging passive candidates

Passive candidates are not actively looking for new opportunities and, as a result, probably won't see or engage with your job postings.

The bulk of the market is made up of passive talent not active job seekers so, if you want to compete for the best talent, it's vital that you're able to engage them effectively.

passive candidates

Talent pipelines let you your team identify and build a relationship with these candidates without pushing specific job openings. Over time, you can introduce the idea of roles that could be a good fit and see if they resonate - a far more effective method of passive engagement.

3. You're less brand dependent

Many companies have underdeveloped employer brands or work in unfavourable locations. When hiring "reactively", this can represent a significant problem. There's no time for businesses to sell candidates on the role or company, there's an immediate need and recruiters need to move fast.

By operating a pipeline model though, recruiters give themselves more time to "sell" candidates on their organization and overcome limitations.

4. Improved diversity

Talent pooling and pipelining is the top tactic that companies are leveraging to increase diversity.

recruiting for diversity 3

56% of organizations are currently struggling to find candidates that fit their diversity requirements - pipelines give them the capacity to identify diverse prospects and build a relationship with them, instead of just hoping that they'll come across their job postings.

5. Better candidate experience

Talent pipelining is an entirely candidate centric process. Instead of driving candidates to job postings and hoping that they'll apply, organizations focus on building a strong relationship and engaging candidates on their terms.

In a world where the candidate experience is instrumental to hiring success, this cannot be overlooked.

How to build talent pipelines

As with any business problem, execution is the key issue. You should be able to sell the benefits of talent pipelines internally, but how do you create them consistently and effectively.

For anyone building talent pipelines for the first time, or even just looking to improve their methodology, this 3-step process should be pretty helpful:

1. Identify your targets

Any effective recruiting strategy starts with a clear articulation of who you’re going after - the whole point of building talent pipelines is to help organizations engage with the right talent, not just the people that are applying.

Creating candidate personas helps to align your time, headcount and budget, and focus them on the right targets.

What is a candidate persona?

A candidate persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal candidate. This persona is formed by defining the characteristics, skills and traits that make up your perfect hire.

Creating personas help guide your hiring process and help you identify the talent that is the best fit for your organisation. Persona creation is an essential part of any successful recruitment marketing strategy.

How to build a candidate persona

Effective persona creation combines gut feel, historical data, surveys and a little analysis.

It all starts with research - the foundation for personas should be based on hard data, not assumptions. Your goal is to understand what it is that makes people successful at your company.

Start by interviewing or surveying successful employees and executives, ask questions on goals, motivations, and interests e.g. why did they apply, what do they love about your culture. If you can, ask the same questions to current candidates, or people that turned you down, to build up a more complete picture.

Supplement this data by speaking to hiring managers, recruiters and sourcers - what do they typically look for? What does success look like to them? This discussion could be pretty far ranging, you should try to cover everything from the target companies that good candidates can be found at, to specific skill sets that hiring managers admire.

What kind of information should you be looking for?

Demographic
Gathering basic information on the interests, views, and education of successful employees can form a good base to a candidate persona. One thing to remember here though is diversity. Just because one type of person has succeeded at your company, doesn’t mean that someone totally different wouldn’t do a great job. You shouldn’t try to clone your workforce.

Background
Developing an understanding of where your ideal candidates currently work makes it considerably easier to build out messaging and attraction strategies to reach them. You may find that there are “target companies” that you consistently hire from or industries that provide great sources of talent.

Experience
How highly does your company tend to prize experience? Are you looking for someone who has done, and seen it all before, or will a “stretch” hire do? What are the skills, technologies or proclivities that are important for the role that you’re trying to fill? It’s likely that answers to this will vary based on role - one of the reasons why multiple personas often make sense.

Goals
The goals of candidates and employees can vary wildly, but even a basic understanding of the general mindset your people will be very helpful. Try to discover what drives the people that have found success at your company, where do they want to be in 5 years, what gets them excited.

Objections
Is there anything that people don’t like about your organization, anything that they’d change? Ask new hires if there was anything that they were concerned about before joining, or if they had any hesitations during the interview process. If you can build up a good understanding here, then you should be able to build out messaging that will deal with these objections early in the application process.

Watering holes
What online and offline places does your ideal candidate spend time? Where are you likely to reach them effectively? Find out how new hires discovered your company - what did they find compelling?

The final step is to pull this information together to create a persona story. This is a digital document that provides a snapshot overview of your target candidate and can be shared with your team. It pulls together your research in a visual way - here’s an example that we used at Beamery:

candidate persona example

2. Fill your pipeline

Once you have clearly articulated relevant candidate personas, you can focus on filling your pipeline with prospects that match your requirements. This isn't a one-time task, this is something that should be running in the background at all times.

There are 3 core tactics that you can use to build your talent pipeline:

i Re-engaging silver medalists

Candidates who have already shown significant interest in your company by applying are ideal for your talent pipeline. While you only hire one person for every role, you might leave behind hundreds of unsuccessful applicants. In fact, data suggests that the average corporate role receives 250 applications, leaving 249 unsuccessful candidates.

Your ATS goldmine

Many of these people might make great future hires - they’ve all been assessed previously, so you have a fairly good idea of their competency, and you’ve already invested a significant amount in these candidates – attracting them to your brand, getting them to apply and assessing them. You might as well try and make use of them!

The issue? In most organizations, they sit locked away and forgotten in some corner of the ATS.

Your first port of call when you start to build talent pipelines should review this data, identify silver medalists, people that narrowly missed out on an offer, and start re-engaging candidates that are relevant.

ii Campaigns and talent attraction

If you want to build talent pipelines effectively, you need to create awareness and attract the talent that your organization really needs. Armed with personas, you should be in a better position to do this - you're a long way past spray and pray!

Traditional talent attraction relies on things like advertising to drive applications. When your goal is to build a talent pipeline, the approach is slightly different. It's less around driving an immediate conversion and more about connecting with the best candidates and starting the relationship.

Events are a great example. Creating opportunities for candidates to meet your team in person helps accelerate their evaluation of your company. They get to interact firsthand with the people that they’d be working with - there’s no better window into your organization than your employees.

Your event strategy should align clearly with pipeline goals around things like diversity. If you're struggling to find diverse prospects, launching targeted events can be a great way of building awareness and attracting people that are currently slipping through the net.

A clear pipelining strategy also allows you to personalize a lot of your careers content to stand out to your target personas. We recommend setting up landing pages for hard to fill roles or projects. These pages are totally geared around creating interest with people that typically don't apply e.g. female engineers for technology companies, quantitative surveyor for construction etc and can play a critical role in pipeline generation.

iii Direct sourcing

Successful talent attraction helps your organization cast a wider and more effective net. The goal is to “catch” candidates that are a right fit for your positions and corporate culture. Sometimes you can’t afford to wait for the right candidate to fall into the net though, sometimes you need to be proactive and go after talent yourself.

This is where sourcing comes in. Instead of fishing with a net, sourcers are spear hunters. Picking their targets carefully and reaching out in a targeted and personalized fashion.

With hiring getting more competitive by the day, it’s no surprise that our research shows that companies expect sourcing to become the most important source of hire in 2017. It’s a crucial element of a competitive talent acquisition strategy.

The most sophisticated recruiting teams look at sourcing through two different lenses. “Fast” and “slow” sourcing.

Both require a proactive sourcing function, but the latter is more relationship focused, and therefore critical to talent pipelining.

Sourcing fast

“Fast” is the sourcing default.

You have a role to fill, and you’re sourcing for candidates that fit a specific list of requirements.

The jobs you fill vary, but once you get going muscle memory usually kicks in and you run through the same tried and tested tactics on autopilot. *Usually* – some roles require significantly more effort than this.

Speed is key. Every day these roles lie unfilled, potential revenue and productivity is lost and hiring manager time is wasted.

“Fast” sourcing gets results, but ultimately fast is entirely reactive. If this governs a company’s talent outlook then it’s hard for recruiters to think strategically.

Sourcing slow

Slow isn’t a measure of speed, it’s indicative of a different objective.

There isn’t an immediate role to fill. The goal is to find “quality” candidates to add to your pipeline. “Slow” sourcing is strategic, you’re searching for candidates that could make a “10x” impact in your organization. Outreach is almost always to passive candidates, and success relies on carefully building personas of the kinds of people that “fit” your company.

These candidates could end up being hired in the future, equally, they might not. Either way though, they should be of a sufficiently high quality that your company will benefit from building relationships with them.

Sourcing - pro tips

Personalization matters: Getting emails from people outside your address book used to be a novelty, now candidates are drowning in them. If your message isn’t personalized, don’t expect a response

Protect your brand: Your sourcers are the footsoldiers of your employer brand. Every time they contact a candidate they have a chance to positively or negatively impact the perception of your company in the market.

“Not now” doesn’t mean “no”: Not every candidate you contact is ready to move right now. Don’t despair, keep them on file, nurture them with marketing content and re-engage them down the line.

3. Engage your pipeline**

Identifying the right candidates is only the beginning, for your talent pipelines to be effective, you have to nurture relationships in the right way.

The key to successful candidate nurture is understanding how to engage candidates in a time efficient way, without overloading them with messages, being irritating or spammy. It’s a delicate balance to strike!

According to Forrester research, it can take as many as 8 brand touch points to influence a decision. Nurture is a long term investment – you have to persevere with it to convince candidates to apply.

These touch points are not necessarily part of a linear process though. Candidates typically consume content based on what they’re doing at the time, and what they fancy reading, not how you draw it out on a storyboard.

Candidate Awareness Journey

This has ramifications for the way that you think about engaging your talent pipeline:

You have to segment people based on the status of their relationship with your company. If they're in the early stages of your pipeline, your goal should be to send them content that educates them about your company and helps them understand why it could be a fit.

If you think they could be might be ready to learn more about opportunities or even make an application decision, then you should be leveraging content that helps them understand your EVP or sending them to personalized landing pages that are more likely to drive applications.

The content map below provides a more complete picture of how this nurturing process should look:

content map

Pipelining is a long game, and while you need to make sure that you're helping candidates move through the process in a timely fashion, to be truly successful you need to map your engagement to their level of awareness.

Tools & technologies - a quick note

Reading through this article you've probably been racking your brains, wondering whether your ATS will let you build and nurture talent pipelines. Well, the simple answer is that it usually won't.

So what's the solution?

Well, this is not the place for a product pitch, so we'll keep this short. Recruitment CRM & Marketing software is designed to run talent pipelining and nurture. We think Beamery is pretty good at this, so if you're interested in learning more get in touch here.

If you're just at the information gathering stage and want to learn how this new breed of software is different from your ATS, we recommend our Complete Talent CRM Handbook stuffed full of great information!.


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Ben Slater

VP Marketing

Ben Slater leads marketing globally at Beamery. He typically writes about the future of work and talent transformation.

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