According to the annual survey of the Forum for Inhouse Recruitment Professionals in the UK, creation of talent pipelines has been an important priority for inhouse recruitment leaders for the last three years.

The reason it remains a priority is because almost no employers or agencies actually know how to create them.

Why is this so hard?

There are multiple reasons why employers and agencies find it very difficult to create talent pipelines. First, recruiters on both sides of the fence are driven by vacancies. Someone resigns or a job gets created and they need to focus on filling the roles they are presented with.

In-house recruiters are normally working on 20 or more vacancies at one time so they have to put almost all their efforts into creating shortlists for those roles. Agency recruiters, although often working on less roles, are usually doing so in competition with others so need to fill as many slots in the interview schedule as possible and therefore have to determine fast, who is interested today. Candidates interested next week, next month or next year come second. Recruiters simply don’t have time to talk to them and find out about their career aspirations. They aren’t paid to be career coaches. Their jobs are to get the seats filled as soon as possible.

Sad though it is, professionals are driven by short-term goals and so have to spend their valuable human time only with people who can help them right now.

How should we view a talent pipeline?

My definition of a talent pipeline is a cohort in which you know in real-time which people are cold, warm and ready to talk about opportunities today. It’s not a database on an ATS, CRM or spreadsheet. That, at best, could be referred to as a talent pool. A talent pipeline is far, far more powerful.

So, the next reason the creation of talent pipelines is unattainable to most employers and agencies is because, to hit my standard described above, you need to understand each of your current and future candidates all the time and outside of executive search, recruiters don’t have the time to keep in touch with candidates, calling them once a month to find out how they are getting on.

The third reason employers and agencies find talent pipelines so hard is because they pay little attention to their existing database, preferring to undertake activities which will generate ‘live’ candidates today. That’s why so many recruiters spend hours surfing social media, cutting and pasting messages to potential candidates, cold calling people at their desks and advertising. While all these are worthy activities, especially when recruiting niche roles, they are very inefficient if you already have a strong database. Lisa Jones of Barclay Jones estimates a recruiter with a 100,000 database is working hard every day to generate ‘new’ candidates…. 70% of whom were already in the database. The Talent Acquisition Manager at a global pharmaceutical company recently told me proudly that they direct source every permanent role in the EMEA region; but then admitted 70% of hires sourced from social media and advertising were already in Taleo at the point the recruiters attempted to add them to the system.

Why is it then that recruiters’ instincts tell them to skip the database and go straight to sources of net new talent? It’s because they are usually difficult to search. Many of the biggest, most established ATS products aren’t enabled with key-word searches. Most people know this is a problem but a lesser known and, in my view, bigger issue, is the fact that if you use your database for sourcing, you don’t know which candidates are ready for a conversation so if you identify 500 business analysts in New York City on your ATS or CRM, which do you call first? The best you can do is send them all a job alert by email, which for most (LinkedIn tells us 80% of people aren’t in the market for new opportunities today) is spam at best and will result in an unsubscribe at worst.

There’s a silver lining, though

The good news is however, the most sophisticated employers and agencies are learning that alternative systems of engagement now exist to help you to understand which candidates in your database are ready for a conversation in real-time. It’s all about taking a marketing-led approach.

If you distribute multi-format content, multi-channel, to your candidate database; content which will help them with their careers first and sell jobs in the background, you’ll generate insights from their behaviour which tell your recruiters automatically who is disengaged, who is active and who is reviewing job descriptions.

This kind of candidate stimulation will inform your recruiters which candidates to focus their valuable human time making content with, saving them 50% of their time-to-shortlist and for the rest, if you make sure you’re sending them useful and valuable information that helps them be more productive and successful, you’ll automatically build goodwill with everyone you might want to hire further down the line.

That my friends, is the basic thinking you need to understand how you can go about creating powerful talent pipelines.

Adam Gordon

Adam Gordon became a recruitment consultant in 1999, placing Big 4 accountants into industry in Scotland. He then spent time in recruitment marketing and in HR consulting at PwC before founding a talent sourcing company and then Candidate.ID (now iCIMS Marketing Automation). He is co-founder at Poetry, the recruiter enablement workspace, lives in Glasgow, Scotland and plays rugby at the weekend.