If You Build It, They May Stick Around

You’ve just identified the perfect candidate for a position at your company. She’s bright, talented and has a stellar work history. Problem is, the position in question doesn’t quite exist yet, although–assuming the organization’s plans for expansion stay on track–there’s a very strong chance that it will four months from now. So, to give your company a fighting chance to hold onto this candidate rather than lose her to a competitor, what do you do?

If your organization is similar to those graded “A” in a recent report, it has a talent network to which you can refer this and other candidates to keep them interested and engaged until a job that matches them opens up.

” ‘A’ companies focus on talent nurturing,” says Elyse Mayer, director of content for SmashFly Technologies. “Nurturing” refers to forging and maintaining connections with candidates to keep them interested in a company via content that’s meaningful to them, such as new job opportunities that they’d be a great fit for, she says. “Recruiting today is nurture- and brand-driven.”

SmashFly’s latest Fortune 500 Recruitment Marketing Benchmark Research report grades the largest companies in the U.S. on their recruitment-marketing practices. Based on research that analyzed 20,000 data points from 37 criteria across the Fortune 500, it finds that companies graded “A” demonstrate 62-percent higher average revenue per year than companies graded “B” and 152-percent higher than companies graded “F.” Additionally, 76 percent of A companies have talent networks (also known as talent communities), versus only 5 percent of the companies graded D or F.

“You want talented passive candidates to have an option other than applying to your company if they’re not quite ready to apply just yet,” says SmashFly founder and CEO Mike Hennessy.

Best practices include providing a link in job descriptions and on your careers site for candidates to opt in to your organization’s talent network, he says.

The communications that HR sends out to members of a talent network don’t just have to be about job openings, says Hennessey. “It can be about the mission, vision and values of your company, a new office you’re opening, community-involvement activities.”

Recruitment leaders who take the time to develop talent networks will be ahead of the pack, says Caroline Escalante, a Google veteran who is now vice president of talent acquisition at Headspace, a fast-growing Santa Monica, Calif.-based company that builds apps for mindfulness and meditation.

“Talent acquisition tends to be reactive, not proactive, so there aren’t many companies that are nurturing talent pools,” she says. “But if you’re not proactively thinking about your future talent pipeline, you’re just going to be running around with your hair on fire.”

Some companies are addressing their longer-term talent needs by training their recruiters to spot so-called “silver medalist” candidates–ones who may not be the best fit for an existing position they’ve applied for, but who are nonetheless strong enough to be considered for future openings, says Kurt Heikkinen, president and CEO of video-interviewing vendor Montage.

Top contenders who weren’t hired initially are a valuable commodity, says Heikkinen. “They’re already familiar with, and interested in, your company,” he says. “They’ll be able to get up to speed and start meaningfully contributing … faster than most other candidates.”

Recruiters should be able to identify “coachable” second-tier candidates who’d be a good fit in a different position within the organization, says Heikkinen. “It’s a fundamental shift in mindset from a traditionally requisition-driven approach to a candidate-centric approach,” he says.

Heikkinen cites Procter & Gamble, which has trained more than 800 interviewers who are certified to interview and assess top talent and candidates who’d be a good fit for the company in a different position than the one for which they’re interviewing.

He suggests companies create a “community of silver-medalist talent,” using it as a source for when new positions open up. To keep community members engaged and interested in your company, says Heikkinen, regularly send them information about new job openings, company news and other internal events.

The silver-medalist approach can also work for internal candidates, he says. After a study at Humana showed that employees who were passed up a couple of times for new internal roles were at higher risk of quitting than other employees, the healthcare company created a “concierge” program that sets them up with a personal recruiter who tries to help them land another position at the company that matches their skills and ambitions. Since the initiative began in 2016, says Heikkinen, 30 percent of participants have found another job within Humana.

When it comes to nurturing talent, one of the smartest moves companies can make is maintaining strong relationships with former employees, says Steve Cadigan, former head of talent at LinkedIn.

“There’s no longer a penalty to changing jobs, so companies have a larger pool of former employees than ever before,” says Cadigan, who’s now a consultant and cofounder of ISDI Digital University. Many companies are going to greater efforts to engage with their alumni by holding lunches and special events for them, he says, with the goal of not only getting some of them to return but also helping the company identify talented new prospects.

Talent communities aren’t the only way to keep outside candidates engaged with your company, of course. Some firms win the attention of external candidates by holding special events designed to showcase what the organization is working on. “They’ll invite a speaker to present on a topic that’s connected to the work the company is doing, serve a free lunch or appetizers and ask employees to invite their talented friends,” says Cadigan. Another popular idea is sponsoring community hackathons to build a new app or solve a problem and having executives serve as judges, so they can not only get some great ideas but identify talented potential employees, he says.

Talent communities can include executive-level candidates. At LinkedIn, leaders were asked to have at least two people from outside the company identified as potential successors, says Cadigan. Leaders were expected to nurture those candidates, having dinner or coffee with them at least once a quarter and serving as mentors to them.

“Beyond just nurturing talent, it forced our leaders to get out of their comfort zones and establish new ways of thinking,” he says.

Recruiters can play a vital role in building strong talent networks by forging strong connections with candidates from the start, says Escalante. The caveat is that this usually requires them to carefully research a candidate’s background in order to build “good points of rapport”–and that’s something many recruiters aren’t given the time to do, she cautions.

“Recruiters can only work with the time and the resources that the organization gives them,” says Escalante. “How much is the company investing in talent acquisition so that recruiters can learn and develop to become better? Companies taking the quantitative, versus qualitative, approach are not going to win the talent game–they’re going to bring people in only to see them attrit.”

Andrew R. McIlvaine
Andrew R. McIlvaine is former senior editor with Human Resource Executive®.