Conducting a SWOT Analysis of your Recruitment Function

To gain strategic insights about your recruitment organization and how it relates to your company’s external environment, conduct a SWOT analysis. Also, the SWOT analysis is a tool used to audit an organization and its environment. While typically used by marketers, this simple instrument can easily be applied to planning in the talent acquisition marketplace and provide clarity on which key issues or areas of improvement to prioritize.


What is SWOT?

Specifically, SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal factors while opportunities and threats are external factors. The Recruiting SWOT analysis begins by asking four questions while keeping a focus on talent marketplace implications.

But first, some basic rules to observe when creating a practical analysis:

  1. Be realistic about your company, and your recruitment organization’s strengths and weaknesses. The usefulness of your outcome depends on frank insights.
  2. Differentiate between where your organization is now and where it plans to be in the future. Those are two completely different SWOT analyses.
  3. Avoid middle-grounds and grey areas. The more specific you get the more useful and reliable your final analysis will be.
  4. When answering the SWOT questions, do so in relation to your competition. Are you better or worse than your key competitors in that area?
  5. Avoid complexity or over-analysis. This is a decision instrument. If the outcome is too complex it will be hard to interpret accurately. A laundry list of strengths and weaknesses is not particularly useful. The benefit lies in the meaning of implications or conclusions drawn at the end of the process.
  6. Remember that SWOT is a strategic planning tool so it is highly subjective. Two people rarely make the same conclusions. The quality of your results will greatly improve if you interview a wide spectrum of stakeholders like alumni, vendors, partners, customers, candidates who declined offers, new hires, hiring managers, group leaders, and executives.


SWOT Results

The end result of a SWOT analysis should feed into your talent acquisition and planning objectives, but it should not stand alone. Consider complimenting your results with a PEST analysis (Political, Economic, Social, and Technological analysis,) and other decision tools.

To begin the SWOT analysis, the first step is to draw a box with four equal sections and in each section brainstorm a list of answers to the four basic questions:

  • Strengths: What internal factors contribute to areas of recruiting where your company does better than the competition when finding and attracting candidates? These are areas where your organization enjoys a competitive advantage. It is important to be realistic in the assessment of strengths but don’t be modest.
  • Weaknesses: What internal factors preclude your organization from doing better than your competition when it comes to finding and attracting candidates? These are barriers that get in the way of obtaining a competitive advantage. It is important to be candid so that weaknesses may be overcome.
  • Opportunities: What favorable situations are present externally today, or in the future, that if acted on would aid your organization in competing for talent?
  • Threats: What external forces could inhibit your organization’s ability to gain a competitive advantage in the talent marketplace now or in the future?

Additionally, when generating the list of points for each quadrant keep in mind that the four quadrants interact. For example, strengths can be leveraged both to pursue opportunities and to avoid threats.


Important Considerations

Be sure to consider in the analysis your assessment of your recruitment staff capabilities, your organization’s benefits programs and employee services, any positive or negative impact the geography of your locations may have on your ability to attract talent, the competitiveness of your compensation levels or bands, any internal equity issues, your ability to relocate candidates domestically and internationally, recruitment technology such as ATS and HRIS, your employment brand reputation both internally and externally and your company’s reputation in the marketplace.

Your SWOT analysis should reveal critical needs that must be addressed, or it may pinpoint unknown capabilities to leverage. This strategic tool can be used to reduce a large number of factors into a more manageable profile but it tends to oversimplify. Some environmental factors may not easily fit into one of the four categories.

For example, company culture could aid in the attraction of talent, and it could just as easily repel prospective candidates. Recruiting is not an isolated HR function so when considering what to add to each of the four boxes, be sure to think about other aspects of your human resources processes that will be critical in your organization’s ability to attract and retain talent. For example:

  • Organizational hierarchies and corporate structure
  • Succession planning and talent forecasting
  • Diversity inclusion requirements or initiatives
  • Regulatory compliance (OFCCP, EOC, Sarbanes-Oxley, etc.)
  • Company culture and image
  • Operational efficiencies and core competencies
  • Organizational development programs
  • Passive talent outreach and recruiting programs


Continue to Brainstorm

Conducting interviews with stakeholders and though those conversations continue to brainstorm your lists of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The following are some suggestions on questions to ask during stakeholder interviews to generate a list for each category in the SWOT analysis:


  • What do we do well when searching for candidates?
  • Also, what do we do well when attracting prospective candidates?
  • What are similar organizations achieving in their search for talent?
  • And what recruitment resources and/or technology do we have access to?
  • How aggressive are our recruiters in engaging candidates, and our hiring managers in closing candidates?
  • What vendor or partner relationships do we leverage to our advantage?
  • When we talk with candidates, what do they find most attractive about our company or opportunities?
  • When we talk with new hires, what do they say we have that our competitors don’t have?
  • If we were to have an opportunity to boast about our recruiting capabilities to someone who knows nothing about us, what would we say?
  • What are hiring managers telling candidates to make the opportunity more appealing?


  • What areas of our recruiting organization need improvement?
  • Also, what should we avoid when seeking and talking with prospective candidates?
  • What are we not doing that we should be doing to find or attract talent?
  • Are we doing too much of something that may be scaring away candidates?
  • If you could instantly change one thing to help our recruiting organization function more effectively what would you change?
  • Are employees happy? Why or why not?
  • What are we criticized for?
  • When we talk with candidates what do they find least attractive about us?


  • What opportunities do we know exist but we have not been able to address?
  • Are trends emerging in the talent market on which we can capitalize?
  • Are any of our competitors struggling in any areas or are they failing in areas that may free up some talent?
  • Do any foreseeable technological advances offer additional opportunities?
  • Are there any government policies or demographic changes on which we can capitalize?


  • Are there any potentially disruptive developments in technology or economic changes that would draw candidates to competitors?
  • What external roadblocks are blocking our progress, i.e. regulations, quotas, etc.?
  • Are there any current or pending government regulations affecting our ability to acquire talent?
  • What are competitors doing completely differently?
  • Are competitors going after our people?
  • What reasons do our employees have to leave for “greener pastures”?
  • Be open-minded and expansive. Threats can come from unforeseeable places.


Now categorize your items

Once you have gathered your list, categorize the items into any common themes that may emerge. Before continuing, be sure that you have prioritized the items. If possible, select the top 5 to 10 ideas per category.

Look for strengths that are distinctive competencies and clearly set your organization apart from others. From among the weaknesses, pick those which are most debilitating. And finally, look for threats that can be reduced with internal strengths, and opportunities that are possible to maximize.

As this is a decision making and planning tool, look to match internal strengths and weaknesses with opportunities and external threats. If there’s no relationship between the four quadrants then formulating a strategy becomes difficult.

Having arrived at a prioritized shortlist for each category, you can begin to validate and establish long-term goals along with short-term initiatives. When setting goals it’s a good idea to determine milestones that can be accomplished within one budgetary cycle so you can formulate an action plan and realistic budget for each objective.

Start with creating goals from factors that represent strengths within the organization and also map to opportunities in the external environment. These areas have the strongest potential for growth.

Use your internal strengths to take advantage of external opportunities. Also set goals by selecting factors that represent internal weaknesses and external threats that need to be most urgently addressed. Look to also use your organization’s internal strengths to avoid external threats and devise defensive strategies to minimize weaknesses.


Recruiting SWOT Example

As an illustration, the fictitious example below may help illustrate the above principles:


  • Close relationships with top educational institutions produce a pipeline of college grads for entry-level roles
  • Well defined job posting strategy attracts a constant stream of applicants to the corporate career page
  • Ample utilization of job boards and resume databases provide access to active candidates
  • Upper management buy-in of recruitment strategy
  • The available budget for recruitment initiatives
  • Strong industry reputation and brand name recognition


  • Lack of statistics on source of hires makes it difficult to replicate success and define which candidate sources are most effective
  • Hiring managers and/or recruiters do not successfully engage with long term passive talent pipelines
  • Compensation ranges are below market averages
  • Candidates have a negative perception of career growth at our company
  • Recruiters stretched too thin, carrying oversize requisition loads
  • Recruiters are not adequately incentivized for meeting recruiting targets
  • Alternative candidate sources like social networks, search engines, and lead databases are underutilized


  • Innovations at our company could help us attract talent from competitors
  • Market forces like layoffs, mergers or acquisitions could weaken our competitors, making it easier for us to recruit from them
  • Advances in technology could make it easier to reach passive candidates
  • Employee referrals could be better utilized and proactively solicited with new social networking software
  • Existing incentive programs could be leveraged to motivate recruiters
  • OFCCP regulations about applicant tracking can produce data which could be utilized to provide insights on the effectiveness of sources of hire


  • Other companies’ innovations may make their jobs more attractive
  • Other companies’ culture and benefits may more strongly appeal to a new generation of candidates
  • Competitors utilizing social networking and alternative candidate sources to identify and recruit our employees directly
  • Changes in privacy laws or other government regulations may make it difficult to directly solicit candidate information
  • Additional OFCCP and EOC regulations may slow down recruiters with additional red tape
  • Further erosion of the HIB caps make it more difficult to import talent for highly specialized roles
  • Well-funded start-ups overspending to aggressively recruit our people and offer them salaries much higher than industry averages.

Using the above example, here are some possible strategies that can be formulated:

  • Leverage college relations to ensure that new generations of candidates are well informed about our company’s innovations and culture well before they graduate.
  • Leverage employment branding and job posting strategy to capture the attention of employees at companies that are experiencing layoffs or mergers.
  • Create a proactive program to utilize industry reputation and brand name recognition to solicit referrals from both employees and external communities.
  • Use upper management buy-in and budget to fund recruiter incentives, purchase access to alternative candidate sources, and provide training on how to engage passive talent pipelines.
  • Automate job board sourcing and active candidate communication to free up recruiters time, reduce their workload, improve time-to-hire, and provide “just in time” access to candidates.

Shally Steckerl

One of the pioneers of the sourcing discipline, Shally is the Founder and former President of The Sourcing Institute, where he has helped numerous F500 and mid-market organizations train and develop their talent sourcing capabilities for nearly 20 years. When it comes to innovative approaches to candidate search, Shally literally wrote the book. He is the author of the industry-standard textbook “The Talent Sourcing and Recruitment Handbook” as well as “The Sourcing Method: Tactics to Find Unfindable Talent.”


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