Building Talent Pools: the Complete Guide
Talent pools could be the most effective recruiting tactic that you’re ignoring – and they’re one of the keys to hiring top talent in today’s competitive market.
Your team needs to establish whether you should be building talent pools, and then figure out the most effective tactics to use.
Talent pools and proactive recruiting
“The task of recruiting has moved from the reactive filling of requisitions to proactively courting high-quality talent.” – Josh Bersin, Ten Top Actionable Talent Acquisition Trends
It’s easy to mistake quantity of applications for quality. Posting to job boards and spending money on advertising is easy, but in a world where time to hire is rising (even in brand leaders like Google and Facebook), it’s not a plan that will attract the best candidates.
Changes to the candidate psyche make a proactive approach essential.
The candidate decision-making cycle is starting to look pretty similar to the evaluation process that most consumers go through whenever they make a buying decision:
Modern Talent Acquisition is therefore about being proactive, and building a relationship with candidates long before they’re “ready to apply”.
Candidates form an opinion on your company based on the very first touchpoint that they have with your brand, so if you don’t have a strategy to make a connection and build a relationship before the application, you could find yourself losing out.
Bersin is ultimately right: the best recruiting teams have moved well beyond “post and pray”. They’re now staying ahead of talent needs, and proactively finding and engaging candidates for both open and future roles.
This is where talent pools come in.
What are talent pools?
“Only 25% of the workforce is actively looking at any given time, but 85% is willing to talk.” – Eric Feng, Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Talent pools are shortlists of candidates that are not currently being considered for a role (i.e. not applicants).
When you think about it, this is a pretty huge number of people! Talent pools could include any of the following:
- Candidates that your team has sourced
- Leads from careers fairs or events
- Unsuccessful applicants that you’d like to re-engage
- People from diversity initiatives
- Executive or corporate searches
- And more...
Often these people are passive candidates (not actively looking for new roles), but will be prepared to have a conversation if you come to them with the right opportunity.
Talent pools don’t have to contain candidates that match up for current roles though. Often, they’ll be people that you want to keep tabs on for the future. Effective pooling is therefore an effective way for recruiters to maintain a constant flow of candidates for the business.
Think of them as a queue of potential applicants waiting outside your company headquarters. The longer the queue is, and the better the candidates, the easier it’s going to be for your team to continually make great new hires.
It doesn’t stop there though: having the queue makes it easy for talent leaders to forecast hiring more accurately and reduce time to hire. Often you’ll have the talent that you need for open roles on file.
How to build talent pools
There’s constant pressure on recruiter time; there are always more candidates to find and more reqs to fill. It might be hard to see how your team can even fit talent pooling into their working day.
Well, firstly, this is the exact problem that talent pools are designed to solve: saving your team time and providing a database of candidates that are there to “dip into” when you have open roles.
Secondly, many of the tactics that you can use to build talent pools involve making the most of the candidate relationships you already have, not finding new candidates (i.e. they are quick wins).
Here are a few ways you can get started:
Sourcing in today’s market is changing pretty rapidly. It’s no longer finding candidates that's the hard part (there are a LOT of plugins and extensions that make that a lot easier; a few of them are listed here).
Instead, it’s what happens next: how do you engage top candidates and manage the relationships effectively?
The management and engagement of sourcing prospects is often pretty sporadic. This gets messy quickly. Instead, add every candidate that you find to your talent pool. This is important for a couple of different reasons:
Firstly, it makes your entire sourcing process far cleaner and efficient. With candidate data spread across different spreadsheets, email inboxes and handwritten notes, it can get pretty hard to get visibility into your sourcing process and understand what’s actually going on! (Often your data looks similar to the diagram below.)
Remember, the candidates that you’re sourcing haven’t applied, so it can get hard to work out what stage of the pre-screening process they’re at... Have you spoken to them before? Do you need to follow up? Are they someone that has already turned you down?
Bringing all of this data together into talent pools makes it easy for everyone to see the status of the candidates that you’re speaking to, and where they are in your process. This helps you avoid data duplication, forgetting to follow up, or contacting the same candidate multiple times.
Secondly, many of the people that you contact won’t reply – this is sadly just part of the sourcing grind. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not interested, it just means that, at that time, your role wasn’t right for them.
By keeping these unresponsive candidates in your talent pool, as opposed to abandoning them, you make it easy for your team to contact them again a few months down the line when they might be more likely to respond.
Finally – your first choice candidate often falls through, so having a backup in your talent pipeline can make a big difference.
Pro tip: Persona-based sourcing
Talent pools are also a perfect complement to persona-based sourcing, a tactic that many of the top talent teams are starting to leverage effectively.
Most sourcing is req based. You have a role, so you look for candidates that fit the requirements of that role and try to fill the position.
Persona-based sourcing has a slightly different goal. Instead of just looking for candidates that match open roles, your team searches for talent that might be a good fit for future roles. The goal is to build a pipeline of candidates that will make filling future roles easier.
A candidate persona is a fictional representation of your ideal candidate (i.e. they have the right skills, experience and mentality). Continuously looking for these people, and adding them to talent pools, is a really effective way of setting your team up for future success and hiring proactively.
2. Re-engaging unsuccessful applicants
Candidates who have already shown significant interest in your company by applying are ideal for your talent pool.
The average corporate role receives 250 applications, leaving 249 unsuccessful candidates. You’d expect more than a few might be relevant in the future.
Right now, it’s likely that these candidates are sitting “somewhere in your ATS”. It’s highly unlikely, however, that anyone from your team is looking at them for any open or future roles.
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!
If you want to start building talent pools of previous applicants, it’s important that interview notes, feedback, and information around why candidates didn’t get hired is easily available. This makes it easy for your team to decide who is relevant.
There are a few different ways you can build talent pools of past applicants, so we thought it would be helpful to provide a couple of example:
These are people that only just missed the cut. They likely made it right to the end of your hiring process, only to narrowly miss out on a role.
These candidates aren’t static. They'll be constantly developing new skills and experience, so keeping them in a talent pool makes it easy for you to touch base with them a few months down the line.
Location based re-engagement
If you’re a retail company hiring for a particular store, you may want to re-engage unsuccessful applicants for a particular store, for different roles at other, nearby stores.
They’re likely to be interested, so it can be an easy and effective way to fill positions.
3. Careers fairs and events
Investing resources in recruiting events is a great way to build your Employer Brand and attract top talent to your company.
The only problem with events is that it can be hard to manage and nurture all of the candidates that register and attend. Often they’re consigned to a spreadsheet deep in your team’s shared folder, and possibly sent the occasional email blast.
Some of these candidates might apply in the future, but will you really know if your event was the reason they did so?
Talent pools are a far more effective way to keep tabs on these candidates. They give you a systematic way to manage and nurture new leads from events, and let you track which candidates end of applying (giving you a simple way to calculate the ROI of different events).
If you already have spreadsheets of these candidates sitting around, it’s usually pretty simple to import them into a talent CRM or whatever solution you’re using to manage your pools.
4. Diversity initiatives
Diversity hiring is a major priority for corporate talent teams, and for good reason: studies on diversity in the workplace have discovered that for every 1% increase in gender diversity, company revenue increases by 3% (and having high levels of ethnic diversity increases revenue by a whopping 15%.)
To attract more of a diverse range of candidates, companies are using anything from hiring events, to website collateral, to sourcing. Most invest considerable resources in this issue, but lack a framework to manage new candidates that aren’t ready to apply (e.g. leads from events), making it hard to maximize ROI.
Creating and nurturing talent pools of candidates that fit your requirements is the best way to make sure that your team is on track to hit diversity targets, and check that you’re getting sufficient ROI from your investments in diversity talent attraction.
5. Internal talent pools
It’s easy to overlook the importance of internal talent pools.
Recruiting is both expensive and challenging, particularly if you’re trying to hire for senior roles, so being able to turn to a pool of internal candidates can be a big time and cost saver.
Your hiring manager will already have a pretty solid idea of a candidate’s competency, while the candidate probably has a relatively good grasp of the open role and its requirements. There’s the added bonus of the internal candidate being a good cultural fit and an overall known quantity too.
Often internal candidates are forced to apply if they’re interested in an open role. This is inefficient and dissuades many from throwing their hat into the ring.
Instead, create talent pools for internal candidates and promote open roles in a similar way that you would to external candidates. This will result in far more internal applications, and more effective succession planning.
6. Internships and work experience
For any company investing heavily in internship or work experience schemes, talent pools make a lot of sense.
Interns tend to receive a pretty significant amount of training while they’re at your company. At they end of their internship there may not be any openings, or they might not apply directly, so often adding them to talent pools is the best option.
This way you can track their development and contact them when they're a better fit for your company.
7. Company leavers
When people leave your company, it’s often not goodbye forever.
Many people will be open to re-joining a few years down the line. Now, this does not mean that they’ll necessarily re-apply. What it does mean, though, is that if you re-engage them with the right opportunity, they’ll be open to it.
This means that talent pools are the perfect way to monitor company leavers/alumni. All of your ex-employees will be constantly developing and learning new skills, so chances are they'll look pretty different in a few years.
What do you need to build talent pools?
Before we discuss the right tools and software to build talent pools, it’s worth saying that software is only an enabler. It can’t remedy or replace a poorly run recruiting process. This should be your focus first and foremost.
Most companies are pretty well set up to manage applications. It’s a well established part of the recruiting flow, and they’ll likely have an ATS that helps them process applicants effectively.
Your ATS is only really designed to process applications though, not to build talent pools of candidates that haven't applied or even unsuccessful applicants that you’d like to re-engage.
This is a problem that most try to solve with spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are infinitely flexible, and great when you’re starting out. BUT, as soon as you start to deal with any volume of candidates, they become manual and cumbersome (they’re designed for accounting after all).
This is why we’re seeing a significant increase in the number of companies using CRM software to build talent pools (some analysts believe that 80% of future recruiting processes will take place in the talent CRM).
This is software that is specifically designed to manage ALL of your candidate relationships, from people you’ve met at careers fairs, to candidates that your team has sourced. It’s easy to engage and nurture prospects from here, and your team gets visibility into every touchpoint that candidates have with your brand, seeing the full candidate journey.
Your VP of Sales depends entirely on this kind of system (a CRM) to ensure that your company is generating a healthy flow of leads and prospects. Creating the same infrastructure for your talent team takes a lot of the guesswork out of recruiting: open and future roles can be filled by people you’re already speaking to, and you can begin to forecast future recruiting and headcount requirements more accurately.