Talent Pools: Pursuing the Passive Candidate

The best workers are engaged, productive, valued by their managers and peers, well compensated, and happy where they are.

And they are the exact people I want to hire.

To paraphrase an old joke about the dating pool: If desperation were attractive, the world would be a much happier place. By the same token, we all want to find and attract the best candidates. In this world of social media and networking, everyone – including other recruiters – can find talented and accomplished candidates with just a few mouse clicks.

The question, then, is how to rise above the noise to lure top talent across the industry? The answer: talent pools, also known as "talent networks" or "talent communities." No matter the name, it's all about amplifying the social and professional networks your employees already have in place. Talent pools are great ways to find candidates who share similar values, interests, and traits with the top employees in your organization.

In my 17 years of experience, I've seen firsthand that quality sourcing and hiring are best achieved via talent pools. However, to get (and stay) on a passive candidate's radar requires extra effort. You need to boost your company's brand awareness, convey a clear employee value proposition, and work hard to foster ongoing relationships.

If you're considering initiating a talent pool program at your company, here are a few tips for getting started:

Start by Defining Personas

The days of simply filling job requisitions are over. You need to anticipate and forecast future talent acquisition needs by listening to business partners. When you understand what positions you're always hiring for, you can create pools of qualified candidates for those roles.

To get an accurate forecast, work with your business partners to define the following:

What are the common competencies and skills you are always looking for, regardless of level?

What are the key traits of your best employees?

Once you've boiled it down to a clearly defined, concise persona, you will know exactly which prospective candidates to engage in order to build a talent pool that fills future business needs, regardless of level.

Foster Relationships With Prospective Candidates

While engaging passive and prospective candidates, I've developed four key pillars that have helped shaped my approach:

1. It's a Relationship, Not a Sale

The name of the game is building relationships, not making the hard sell on a specific requisition. Hosting events and having conversations just to raise brand awareness with the right candidates will go far in building a talent network that meets your business needs.

Here's an example:

You meet Jane at an event and get her contact info. As follow up, you send her information about you and your company, nothing formal. You interact with Jane at two more events throughout the year, eventually asking her if she would like to meet a hiring manager to have coffee and talk about solving a business problem related to her experience. She agrees, and the discussion goes well.

Then, a requisition opens. This is the first time you talk to Jane about a potential job. You've never tried to recruit her directly until now, but Jane is already sold because she knows your company from the ongoing networking. You don't need to sell the job. You've already sold yourself as someone Jane can trust, which contributes to a great candidate experience.

Imagine the story Jane will share with her network about getting hired. The process was quick, lean, and relational. She has now inadvertently become a brand ambassador – which leads us to the next pillar.

2. Empower Your Brand Ambassadors

Word of mouth is more valuable than ever in the digital age. Only 55 percent of consumers consider a company's marketing materials to be trustworthy sources of information when making a decision.

What employees say about your company is a major factor in whether a candidate ultimately accepts an offer, so here are a few ways to ensure your staff members are positively promoting your talent brand:

Reward employees for referrals that lead to hires, and prioritize referrals in the review process.

Encourage employees to share the brand story through blogging and social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.).

Partner with employee resource groups that come together over shared characteristics or experiences (e.g., groups for the Black community, the LGBTQ community, or veterans).

Employee resource groups act as talent pools in themselves, helping to attract diverse candidates. When these groups host external events or partner with other organizations, a mix of likeminded individuals will engage with your brand in a positive light.

Ultimately, ownership needs to take place across the organization in order to exponentially grow a successful talent pool.

3. Serve Up Events and Content Relevant to Candidates' Interests

When hosting events for passive candidates, consider the type of information and the topics that will resonate best. Tech-heavy talks given by popular speakers or articulate employees will offer developers and engineers the content they want, but may not prove effective with marketing professionals.

For content, it's key to send the right message to the right audience at the right time. Authentic employee stories are the quickest way to differentiate yourself from your competitors. What is your talent brand story? Make it personal, and target segments so you can customize the messaging.

Create clear internal guides for your employees on how best to tell that story, what makes your company's opportunity unique, and how to overcome common objections.

For both events and content, make sure you have a strong employer brand and a clear employee value proposition (EVP) that differentiates you from your competitors. Promote your brand on your career site, social networks, and at industry events. These are all opportunities to engage with and educate candidates, as well as gather their contact information.

4. Get Hiring Managers Involved

In order to build and grow a talent pool, both recruiters and hiring managers need to partner in hosting events and telling the brand story.

In my current role at Workday, I lead the talent acquisition organization, which is responsible for enablement. We own the profiles and competencies, and we initiate events. The business groups, though, are responsible for the events' content. Networking falls on the leaders and people managers across the company. Afterwards, recruiters will follow up on candidate conversion.

Creating a talent pool is a team sport, and both the hiring managers and recruiters are star players.

Effectively Capture and Track Candidates

Once you have engaged with potential candidates and gathered their contact information, it's important to track and manage them in a meaningful way.

Some of the best recruiting technologies have candidate relationship management (CRM) features built in. These allow you to maintain a pool of passive candidates who can be brought in for consideration at short notice. Having this capability ingrained in your overall recruiting system is key for an efficient follow-up process.

Basic CRM tools make it possible for you to move prospects and candidates into the pipeline by sorting them into static or dynamic candidate pools. You can then interact with the people in each pool as appropriate, whether by inviting them to apply for a job or just sending emails to share news and keep them informed about what the company is doing. This is an important first step as you establish your talent pool strategy.

As you grow your talent pool, keep in mind that you are planning for the future. Not everyone will be ready to leave their current job, and there may not be a job open for every candidate just yet. By placing candidates into targeted segments, you can craft personalized, automated nurture campaigns. Partner with your marketing team to ensure you have the tools, resources, and content to create a consistent brand experience.

Bottom line: Talent pools are an extremely effective way to create a tailored, delightful experience for each and every person who wants to be a part of your organization's network. By engaging with and fostering relationships with prospective candidates, you are keeping the lines of communication open and continually showcasing your company's employer brand. As you foster these relationships through hosting and attending events, phone and email communications, coffee meetings, and check-ins, your talent pool efforts will, in time, fully come to fruition with quality hires that are great fits for your organization.

Charles Mah is V.P. of talent acquisition at Workday.