High-Impact Talent Acquisition: European Edition

European UntionI just finished two weeks in Europe and attended the iRecruit Conference in Amsterdam. In addition to talking with many talent acquisition leaders and vendors, we previewed the findings of our upcoming High-Impact Talent Acquisition research which I will highlight below.

1.  Social tools and “talent networks” are a hot topic.

With the rise of LinkedIn as a core part of the recruiting landscape, “social” is a very hot topic in talent acquisition. The conference sessions had a major theme on technology and there were several jam-packed sessions talking about how to leverage typical social tools to build a “talent network.”

If you aren’t familiar with this topic, you should be. A new approach to recruiting has emerged.  Just like marketing organizations now use community networks to build product fans, companies are now building corporate followers drive the employment brand. These communities are not really “recruiting” communities, but rather high value social networks which include employees, alums, candidates, as well as potential customers.

Our new research actually shows that companies which develop these “talent pools” greatly outperform their peers. The question people were asking is “what are they” and “how do we build them.”

A real “talent network” has a few things in common:  first it is a corporate network, which includes employees, alumni, candidates, and even customers.  Second, it focuses on a unique topic of interest to the community (cosmetics firms focus on beauty tips for example). Third, it is served by subject-matter experts in the company and managed by a social media manager. And fourth, it is not a place to post lots and lots of job openings.  So it is a “community of interest” which a company creates, from which candidates can be farmed.

A simple example is AT&T’s talent network, which has tens of thousands of people who want to hear about AT&T products and talk about cell phones. Of course lots of these people want jobs with AT&T too, so AT&T mines this network very effectively. Microsoft has its own talent network, as does IBM and many other big companies.

To develop such a strategy you, as a talent acquisition leader, need to partner with corporate marketing – and you will have to enlist the help of subject matter experts and others outside of HR to drive a sustainable program.(Vendors like TribePad, Avature, and BraveNewTalent offer custom tools to help here.) The impact is tremendous, and I believe most big companies can’t avoid this investment in the talent arms race.

2.  The role of the recruiter is up for debate.

This is a topic for a book. There were many conversations about this issue – driven by the fact that corporate recruiting varies so widely from company to company. In some organizations much of the recruiting is outsourced, so the “recruiters” focus on the late stages of the process. In others (Oracle for example), the entire process is done in-house, so the talent acquisition team is essentially an end-to-end staffing agency.

Ann-Marie O’Donnell, the head of recruitment for Oracle in EMEA, for example, talked extensively about how Oracle does all its sourcing and recruiting in-house, and elevates the role of the recruiter to a very high level. At Oracle recruiters specialize in job roles and functional areas and take responsibility for sourcing and screening and have a high degree of accountability to line managers. Surrounding them there are a variety of administrative positions to help with social sourcing, screening, scheduling, and assessment.

Jennifer Candee, head of talent acquisition for SAB Miller, described how the company’s amazing independent brands (Beer and spirits) each attract their own pool of fans. These seperate brands do their own recruiting and create their own local talent networks, recruiting in a decentralized way. While this may seem to be an inefficient model, it enables recruiters to be very close to the local business, a major trend in our research.  (Read “The World is Local” for more information.)

Our High-Impact Talent Acquisition research found that the #1 most important driver of recruitment performance is the ability to carefully assess candidates against the open position. This is a complex process and requires that the recruiter partner closely with hiring managers to help shape the position description and understand the role well. At Oracle this is facilitated by “not outsourcing” this critical step and aligning recruiters with hiring managers and executives. By the way, sales execs at Oracle do recruiting as well.

Oracle’s example also points out the importance of seniority and tenure in the recruiting function. When one outsources to a staffing firm, you often get a relationship which is driven by “filling positions.” The goal of “filling positions quickly” is an important and critical job, but quality of hire is just as important (I’d argue far more important) – and this takes a long term partnership between the recruiter and managers.

And by the way at Oracle the talent acquisition team does not even work in HR – it’s too “business critical” to be housed there. (smile)

Bill Boorman, one of the thought leaders in our market, argues that the new recruiter should spend more and more time on sourcing and push assessment and candidate screening to hiring managers. We can’t argue with this: recruiters can’t “hire” people for you. What this means is that we must formally train hiring managers how to screen, assess, interview, and manage candidates.

Again our research shows that best-practice companies focus in this area – training all managers how to hire and building strong bridges between recruiters and managers. It doesn’t work to just “delegate” the process to the recruitment team. (By the way, in my 30 years of management, I have yet to be “formally trained” how to interview a candidate. So my employers over the years didn’t understand this principal.)

3. ATS Technology Complaints Continue

Ever since I entered this marketplace (about 13 years ago) I’ve heard people complain about their applicant tracking system. Lots of new research is being done on the “candidate experience” (I must thank Elaine Orler for her leadership in this important initiative) and it’s sad to say that more than half of candidates never hear a word about their job application and those who are rejected often walk away with a very negative impression of your company.

The ATS is not to blame for this, but on the other hand the ATS is not really helping either. Our experience shows that ATS systems are desperately needed but these systems are no longer the “differentiator” they once were. This is because the technology is often highly complex, often hard to use, and not focused on improving the recruiting process we use today.

A new breed of ATS’s is slowly starting to emerge (I was particularly drawn to TribePad, SmartRecruiters, Jobs2Web, and SmartRecruiters), and of course older providers (Oracle Taleo, Lumesse, SuccessFactors, PeopleFluent, Kenexa) are adding new modules to help automate the entire process. And CornerstoneOnDemand’s recruiting platform shows great promise as well.

Let’s face it:  ATS systems are as important as email. We can’t really manage a recruiting function without them, but over the years they’ve lost their focus as the “center of innovation” in talent acquisition. As new tools for candidate brand management, candidate marketing, analytics, assessment, and social sourcing emerge, it’s inevitable that they will be part of the ATS “platform.” And that’s what ATS systems have become, a stable and secure “integration platform” and “data platform” for all the recruiting tools we need. I think the smart ATS vendors will see this and open up their APIs to integrate with all these systems, collect data, and focus on analytics. (SmartRecruiters and Taleo are well along here.)

There was a panel on the topic and James Purvis the head of recruiting for CERN and Eric Van Delden, the head of recruiting for EF Education. First, both commented that the most important part of recruiting is employment brand and ultimately they wished the ATS could get out of the way. Our research clearly points to this fact: without a strong, authentic, and well marketed employment brand your entire process becomes overloaded with poor candidates or lack of candidate activity.

4.  The Topic of Employment Brand has Expanded in Scope

I’ve had many briefings from clients and vendors over the last few months and its clear that with the growth of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Glassdoor, YouTube, and other employment-related social networks employment brand is now one of the most important and complex parts of talent acquisition. (LinkedIn just released a survey which found that 85% of recruiters believe employment brand is of primary importance in their role. The LinkedIn Talent Brand Index is an amazing tool to help understand where your brand is strong and where it is weak.)

This topic rated very high in our impact research and it’s clear why. Your “talent brand” is your “company brand,” and your talent brand is being reinforce and communicated by your employees every day. Today talent acquisition leaders must work with corporate marketing and a brand agency (or do it yourself) to study and understand your real employment environment. From there you can build a communications program to market your company through any and all media channel.

Our research shows that the more authentic you are the better. For example, if engineers in your company work 60 hours a week, don’t market the work-life balance aspect of your company. Focus on the exciting work, the great work environment (one company mentioned that all new software engineers get to pick their new computers and desks, for examples), and the excitement of the products themselves.

We have lots of research on this process, and today the high value RPO firms have excellent branding agencies embedded in their service. A significant part of high-impact talent acquisition is pinpoint marketing – companies that focus heavily on employment brand in our research were almost 40X more effective than those which did not.

5.  BigData in HR is Growing

I spent some time highlighting this trend and giving examples in my presentation. The talent acquisition function in most companies is sitting on a gold mine of data, but often not using it well.

For example, we just completed a big project for an energy company and helped them identify why strong leaders in China were so different from strong leaders in the US.  The results show a different sourcing and candidate profile is needed in different geographies. This of course changes the sourcing process around the world.

Similar research we’ve uncovered in many companies shows, for example, that highly effective sales people have very different backgrounds and profiles than managers often believe. By looking at the profile of high performers you can dramatically improve your sourcing and hiring quality. (Read The Science of Fit for more information.)

What really impressed me was the new recruiting dashboard demonstrated by Chris Hoyt of Pepsi. Using new technology by Broadbean, he demonstrated an iPad application that lets Pepsi analyze cost to hire, campaign and channel cost, channel effectiveness, time to hire, and many of the other critical measures in recruiting on a point and click application. This is the future of recruitment analytics, and innovative solutions like this will soon become the “must-have” for all recruiting organizations. ATS providers have been working on this for many years, but ultimately the problem goes beyond the data in the ATS – so new tools like BroadBean have amazing potential to add value.

The war for talent rages on, and even in Europe where the economy is very slow in some countries, large employers are aggressively investing in a more integrated and automated recruiting process this year. Stay tuned for our new High-Impact Talent Acquisition research coming later this year, and click here if you’d like to see the presentation previewing the results.