March 26 , 2017

Your Talent Pipeline Needs a Roto-Router Because It’s Not Producing / Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

A comprehensive name-capturing guide for identifying who should be in your recruiting pipeline

Let’s get straight to the point: having an external recruiting talent pipeline is a powerful tool but almost no one does it well. You can tell if your pipeline is failing if more than 50 percent of your new hires come from sourcing that began after a job opening occurred. If you’re not familiar with the concept, there are only two recruiting strategy components that focus on the long-term: employer branding and a recruiting talent pipeline. And, although, both are designed to provide a consistent steady stream of future talent, the recruiting talent pipeline is unique because it targets individuals. A recruiting talent pipeline is also known as a talent/candidate pool or network. It is an inventory of qualified individuals who could quickly move into your future job openings.

Why You Need a Broader and More Effective Recruiting Talent Pipeline

Having a recruiting talent pipeline means that when there is a sudden job opening, you don’t need to conduct a panicked just-in-time search for viable candidates. A pipeline will provide better qualified and more interested external candidates because you have been able to slowly build a relationship, more accurately assess, and more effectively sell them. And if you are seeking the most desirable (those not actively looking), a pipeline allows you to act at the precise time when your target prospect becomes interested in leaving their current firm.

Perhaps the most obvious examples of “who” (which groups of people) should be included in your recruiting talent pipeline are members of your corporate alumni group (i.e. former employees who might possibly want to return) and college interns (i.e. who you assess and sell during their internship, so that you can eventually hire the best). The focus of this article is on who should be in your recruiting talent pipeline because you can literally read a hundred different pipeline articles and none of them will cover this topic of who should be included in any detail.

A “Tickler List” to Help You Expand Those in Your Recruiting Pipeline

When I assess most corporate recruiting talent pipelines, I find that the No. 1 error is that their inventory is much too narrow. And that is because they forget to include all of the individuals who are 1) likely to be qualified, and are also 2) likely to know and like your organization. The goal of this article is to get you to scan the following list of groups of individuals, and then realize that you have failed to target many of them who should be included in your recruiting talent inventory. Once you expand those in your recruiting talent pipeline, you can then tackle the No. 2 problem, which is failing to assess and thoroughly sell those in the pipeline.

Consider These Individuals Who “Have Already Applied” for a Job

This first tickler category covers individuals who have previously applied for a job at your firm. They should obviously be considered for your recruiting talent inventory because they have already been assessed and they have also expressed an interest in working at your firm.

The groups with the highest likely impact appear first on the list covering each of the five pipeline categories.

  1. Past applicants in your ATS database — everyone considers recent applicants, but few reconsider individuals who have been languishing in your ATS database. If you target those who applied even two years ago, they now have two years more of experience, you already know that they like your firm, and by now they might be ready to reenter the job market. Especially target those past applicants who have worked at great firms and have exceptional skills that fit your high-priority jobs.
  2. Silver medalists — these individuals are quality targets because they came in second for a position. Perhaps they were not hired because they were unlucky enough to be a finalist at the same time that a super candidate applied and was hired.
  3. Finalists who were offered but didn’t accept — they stayed in the process until you made them an offer, so they were obviously qualified and interested. Because the reasons that they turned you down may have changed, they should be in your recruiting inventory. With more time, you may be able to more effectively build their trust and sell them.
  4. Finalists for a hard-to-fill job — because they were finalists, they obviously met the qualifications and were interested. They may not have been hired simply because of a quirk of one single hiring manager. And now that time has passed, they are likely even more qualified. Because assessment “for fit” is often inaccurate, those highly qualified who were rejected for not being a precise fit should be reconsidered.
  5. Referrals from top-performer employees — these individuals were referred by a top performer employee and they were assessed as qualified. Top performer referrals are the highest quality, so you should reconsider the referrals who might have been referred when there was no opening or who were simply missed by an overworked recruiter. Incidentally, you should also ask your top-performer employees for “names only” referrals. Include in your inventory individuals who they know and who they would highly recommend, but the employee has not yet been able to convince the individual to become a formal referral.
  6. Qualified individuals who dropped out of the interview process — they were good enough to be selected for interviews. They might have been hired if they didn’t drop out during the middle of the process. Their situation may have changed by now, and with more time to sell them, the outcome might be different.
  7. Qualified applicants who applied when there was no opening — they met both the interested and the qualified requirements but they had the bad luck of applying when there was no opening.
  8. Applicants who were almost qualified but needed more experience — time has passed since their initial assessment. So those who needed just a little more experience to be considered as qualified likely now have that required experience.
  9. Members of your active applicant community — if you maintain a community of “actives” who have applied in the past, the fact that members proactively maintain a relationship makes many of them worthy of a second look.
  10. Applicants to a firm that you acquired — if you still have the records, review highly qualified applicants who applied to a firm that you have merged with. Because your current firm is similar to the one they applied to, they may be interested.

 Consider These Individuals Who Have “Previously Worked At Your Firm”

Top-performing ex-employees must be considered for inclusion in your pipeline because you already know their work and they fit. And they may have an interest in returning after they have seen that the grass is not greener at another firm.

  1. Top performing ex-employees who voluntarily left — the very best are the most likely to be poached away by other firms. So maintain a “corporate alumni group” and periodically ask the best in it if they would consider returning. If they can’t come back, ask them to refer business and to make referrals for your recruiting talent inventory.
  2. Top-performing ex-employees who you laid off — some of the very best are let go when you close an entire facility or business unit. And as the economy changes, you should reconsider the best who were released. After time has passed, even their unhappiness about being laid off may weaken.
  3. Your retirees — with changing economic conditions making retirement less affordable, even top-performing retirees might consider returning. Maintain a relationship with them and find out if they’re interested in returning permanently or for part-time or seasonal work. You might also track the most desirable retirees from your competitors on LinkedIn.
  4. Your best temps — maintaining a relationship with former temps who were exceptional performers and a good fit makes sense. They may have wanted full-time work but it wasn’t available or their situation may have changed so that they are now open for full-time work. Converting temps has an extremely high success rate.
  5. Interns who you didn’t permanently hire  the conversion rate of interns is only 50 percent, so it makes sense to keep in touch with the interns who you didn’t hire permanently. They may now be disillusioned with the job that they took, so many may be willing to reconsider your firm. Also, consider the names of outstanding intern applicants who you considered but who took an internship position at another firm.
  6. Employees at strategic partners — you know the work of these individuals as a result of your strategic partnership. Obviously, you don’t want to heavily raid a partner, but an occasional hire is okay. In any case, maintain a relationship because you definitely want to consider them after they have left your strategic partner.
  7. Employees from business units that your firm sold — you know they are the best employees but you lost them as a result of a business unit sale. Now that time has passed, you should continue the relationship and see if, in the future, they would be interested in returning to the “core firm.”
  8. Vendor employees, consultants, and contractors — you know the capabilities of these individuals because you have worked side by side with them and they are likely to be fond of your company. So maintain a relationship with the very best so that you can hire them when they are ready for a corporate gig.

Consider These “Already Assessed” Individuals

This tickler list covers individuals who have already been assessed in some way by your firm or its employees.

  1. The networks of your employees, board members, and executives — in a connected world, it makes sense to ask the best who work for your firm for names to add to your recruiting talent inventory. This approach is different from referrals because you’re only asking for the names of outstanding individuals who someday might consider your firm. When you’re targeting a particular job, ask your best employees in that job to name the five outstanding individuals in that job area that they learn from and admire. If you’re looking for undiscovered talent, ask everyone to name those who are developing and who “will soon be outstanding.”
  2. Names provided by top recruiters — your best recruiters are true talent scouts, so they likely already know and keep a private list of the names of the best in your industry. You should ask your very best recruiters to maintain and share this list of the names of the truly outstanding individuals who they have run across. You should also include the names of outstanding individuals who have been provided by external search professionals. Over time, you can build a relationship with them and an interest in your firm.
  3. Names provided by new hires — during onboarding it makes sense to ask all exceptional new-hires “Who else is exceptional at your former firm?” Either target these individuals for immediate hiring or place them in your talent pipeline.
  4. Names identified through benchmarking — one of the most powerful but least-used talent pipeline approaches is to identify stars while benchmarking best practices. Ask your employees who are benchmarking with the best firms to identify the individuals who know those best practices. In many cases, these individuals are highly desirable because they actually helped develop the best practices and they know how to get new ideas implemented.
  5. Individuals who produce great work — because of the Internet, it’s often possible to identify little-known talent by viewing their actual work online. Since your employees are continually spotting the works of others, ask your best employees in each functional area to share the names of those who have produced great work.
  6. Your firm’s “most wanted list” — some firms maintain a “talent map” of stars, executives, and industry icons they want to slowly target. If your firm has a “who’s who list,” include these individuals in your recruiting talent inventory because it will definitely take the time to convince them to join your firm.
  7. Professional learning community members — a professional talent community is an industry or functional “learning group” that may be independent of your firm. Ask your employees who are members to provide the names of the stars who regularly post outstanding answers. It’s important not to discuss jobs within these communities.
  8. Employees’ mentees — some of the best individuals who are under the radar are the mentees who your top employees have helped develop. Encourage your employees to add these names for consideration in your pipeline inventory and to help your firm sell the best mentees on joining your firm. Also, ask your employees who are being mentored to share the names of their top mentors for consideration.
  9. Individuals who have won awards or patents in their functional area — because they have won awards or gotten patents, you already know that these individuals have talent. Ask your employees who are members of professional associations to capture and share the names of award winners and the runners-up. Also, consider college students who have won scholarships and academic awards.
  10. Individuals who performed well in your contests — one of the best and least discriminatory ways of identifying top talent is to hold anonymous Internet contests and assess individuals on their work. If your firm holds these contests for identifying potential experienced or college hires, include the names of those with the best ideas in your recruiting talent inventory.
  11. Industry speakers and bloggers — conference and seminar speakers have to be closely vetted, so it is highly likely that these individuals should be in your talent inventory. Bloggers who are constantly coming up with new ideas should also be considered. Attendees at the best conferences and advanced seminars are probably also worthy of consideration, so ask your employees who attended to review attendee lists for top names.
  12. Impressive individuals who visit your product booth at industry events — the best are always curious and seeking to learn. So it’s not unusual for the best employees at a company to visit the trade booth of a competitor. The best firms station a recruiter at their booths in order to identify these individuals for future consideration. Otherwise, just ask those who work in the booth to capture the names of individuals that ask outstanding questions.
  13. Get help from “names-only” research firms — if you have the financial resources, there are unbundled search firms that will provide a firm with the names of all of the individuals that hold important positions in your industry. You can then use your own recruiters and employees to build relationships with the ones you want to target. You can also capture the names of those who get promoted at your competitors using LinkedIn.

Consider All “Friends of Your Firm”

This tickler category covers individuals who clearly already know or like your firm or who have expressed some interest in it.
  1. Members of your recruiting talent pipeline — if it’s not immediately obvious. Remember, once a year ask members of your “recruiting inventory” to suggest a handful of names of individuals who they consider being the best in a function or industry. Inventory members can in some cases also be asked to help recruit individuals they know.
  2. Social media followers — individuals who follow or “like” your firm on social media obviously has some interest in it already. Also, consider those who “follow” your top employees. Also, ask your employees to provide the names of the best who endorse or recommend them on sites like LinkedIn.
  3. Ask the references of your new-hires for names — after a new hire has proven to be outstanding, contact their references and ask them if they “know anyone else who is as good or better?” Because these individuals have been proven correct in their recommendations at least once, include these individuals in your recruiting talent pipeline. If they give you impressive names who you end up hiring, consider asking them to be a permanent referral source.
  4. Target the actual references of your new hires — after a new-hire has proven to be outstanding, assume that “their references” are even better than them. Adding reference givers to your recruiting talent pipeline will give you a chance to further assess and sell them.
  5. Names from family members of employees — in many cases family members know others who work in the same field as employee family members. Make it easy for them to provide names or to make referrals of the outstanding people they know. In some cases, you should also consider any exceptional family members themselves.
  6. Consider your most knowledgeable customers — your best customers already know and like your firm. In retail, ask your top employees to identify the best and most knowledgeable customers (especially those who hold a loyalty or club card). If you have industrial customers, you can’t raid them, but you can certainly cherry pick a few outstanding ones who your employees have worked closely with.
  7. Target individuals who hit your web or social media sites — if you capture the names or the email address of those that hit your organization’s sites, you already know they have an interest in your firm. At the very least consider those who have an email address at a top firm or one of your top competitors. Especially focus on those who asked great or insightful questions on your site.
  8. Target individuals who attend your product events — individuals who attend your product events obviously have some interest in your firm or its products. Ask for help from your marketing and sales employees to identify the names of the best who have great knowledge or passion for your company.
  9. Target attendees at technical seminars — if your firm holds technical seminars, workshops, or open houses,  consider the attendees. Obviously, attendees are trying to learn, so ask your employees to identify the most knowledgeable or the ones who ask the best questions.
  10. Identify names during candidate interviews — you can’t always end up hiring the best, but it is safe to assume that your very best candidates know many other outstanding individuals in their field. Tell them that part of your assessment during the interview is that “the best know the best,” so ask them to directly name five outstanding individuals in the same job that they learn from and admire. If you ask enough interviewees, you will get a list of top names.
  11. A “someday you might want to work here” community — the applicant communities of most firms require individuals to apply for a job. That is a turnoff to many who currently have a job and are not actively looking (it makes them feel disloyal). So consider creating a “someday I might want to work at your firm” social media community that doesn’t require them to formally apply. When you’re looking to the future for talent, these so-called “passive prospects” are the ideal people to include in your talent community.

Obviously, Also Consider Current Employees

The focus of this article is on external recruiting, but obviously it also makes sense to have an “intra-placement” recruiter looking at current employees who could also fill important openings. They should target individuals who have completed advanced training, are designated to “backfill” in an important position, those who have completed a successful rotation, those with high performance, those on the succession plan, and individuals who have been designated as a “high potential.”

Final Thoughts

Fifty six percent of recruiters are hurting for qualified candidates” (Jobvite) so it makes sense to get away from “panic sourcing” and to develop a recruiting talent pipeline. It is the author’s hope that after reviewing all of these possible categories of talent that can be included in a pipeline, you have now realized that the number of individuals in your recruiting talent pipeline is likely to be much too limited. There are invariably many more things wrong with your recruiting talent pipeline execution but I’ll cover those in a later article.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.