The Critical Role Talent Acquisition Executives Play in Creating Employer Brands

A recent trend noticed by executive search consultants has been the increase in mandates from their clients to recruit talent acquisition executives to join their teams. The increase in demand to fill these types of roles is a direct reflection of the fact that organizations are getting serious about fighting the war for talent, retaining their best employees, and securing the best and brightest to join their ranks.

Continue Reading Below

Sally Stetson, cofounder and principal of Salveson Stetson Group, an executive search firm located in Philadelphia, has seen her clients react to the new realities of the talent market.

"Companies are expanding their recruitment functions to meet demand," Stetson says. "More employees are accepting external promotions, and this creates more internal openings. We have had multiple requests to manage assignments from clients who are looking to recruit heads of talent acquisition.

What Is a Talent Acquisition Executive, and What Is Their Role Within an Organization?

The head of talent at an organization knows when to leverage and involve executive search firms, key stakeholders, and other departments when planning hiring activities. The head of talent serves as a strategic advisor on the overall leadership management strategy of an organization, works as an employer brand ambassador, and manages internal succession planning solutions and the company's talent pipeline.

A successful head of talent has an intimate and comprehensive understanding of all business units within a company and utilizes their strong business acumen to ensure that human capital needs are aligned with leadership demands.

Basic metrics like time-to-fill and cost-per-hire are measures of the past. Today's leading talent acquisition experts have moved beyond these hygienic metrics to more substantive metrics that measure the quality, engagement, and efficiency of the search process.

Michael Cox, senior vice president of talent acquisition for Comcast, discusses the metrics he uses when hiring talent for his organization: "My goal is to utilize metrics that measure talent in terms of quality and density in the organization [so that I have] the foresight, experience, and business knowledge to balance the hiring and movement of talent. For example, my goal is to hire 150 of the best engineers on the market rather than 200 average engineers. This higher concentration – or density – of high-caliber talent will yield more output – all by placing a higher focus on quality of hire. I also look for predictive metrics and analytics to determine future talent demands."

Companies are looking for talent acquisition leaders who possess these consultative and advisory skills to effectively manage talent gaps and needs within their organizations.

A direction correlation can be made between economic growth and business prosperity and the expansion of talent acquisition departments. This proportional growth is seen in countries such as Ireland.

Ruth Curran, managing partner of MERC Partners in Dublin and global chair of IIC Partners, has noticed this rise in demand for talent acquisition professionals: "Unemployment rates in Ireland fell to a 6 percent low in April. This has unlocked further investment across industry sectors, and with that the need for talent and talent acquisition teams. This is especially prevalent in U.S. multinational corporations and in [Europe, Middle East, and Africa] EMEA headquarter functions in Ireland."

Barbara Stahley, managing director of Chadick Ellig in New York, has seen clients begin to understand the critical role of talent acquisition departments when it comes to effectively implementing a talent management strategy.

"Clients are focused on linking talent acquisition directly to the full talent lifecycle at the company, as well as leveraging the function as part of a broader organizational transformation," Stahley says. "As our clients re-evaluate their approaches to identifying,

attracting, onboarding, and retaining talent, they understand that a successful strategy begins with talent acquisition."

Creating an Employer Brand Identity

In certain industries, functions, and markets, the supply of talent is scarce and cannot meet growing demand. This has created a competitive environment for finding and retaining the right employees. If talent is a company's most important asset, then attracting and retaining leaders should be a critical imperative for the business. The evolution of technology and social media is changing the way companies source and hire employees.

According to Cox, "Everyone is searching for the same talent in the same places, which inundates potential candidates with requests."

"A great talent acquisition professional is a strategic asset for the organization," Cox says. "They serve as an ambassador to top talent in the market by building and sustaining relationships with individuals. The attraction and acquisition of hard-to-find top talent is cultivated through relationships over time both by the employer at the brand level and by the talent professional. Identifying the individual is only the start of the battle. The other challenge talent acquisition professionals face is to convince the candidate to make the move and that their organization should be a career destination."

In addition to uncovering and recruiting hidden talent, talent acquisition departments must also serve as employee brand ambassadors.

"The role of talent acquisition in an organization has become a combination of recruitment, understanding talent trends to build a proactive strategy, and getting increasingly involved in employer branding activities," says Nairouz Bader, CEO of

Envision Partnership, located in Dubai.

Talent acquisition departments play very active roles in articulating the employer brands of their companies and selling their organizations' reputations as career destinations to candidates.

A positive depiction of an employer brand will place a company ahead of its hiring competitors.

"There is growing evidence that supports the desire for the candidate experience to be improved by an organization's talent acquisition team, and employer branding is playing more of a role in attracting talent more quickly," Curran says. "We are now hearing the term 'employer value proposition' more frequently in the corridors of large corporations."

Talent acquisition departments convey employer branding messages in two ways. The first is by establishing and utilizing incentives to attract top talent to an organization, resulting in the hiring of a new executive. The second is by leveraging the newly hired executive's influence and profile to enhance a company's employer brand identity and attract even more top talent.

The Internal Talent Mandate

When an executive leaves a position or organization for an external opportunity, it is the responsibility of the talent acquisition department to assess the departure. Understanding the motivations behind the executive's decision to leave can provide insight into minimizing future risks. During this investigation, data can be collected and analyzed to predict other departure trends and identify gaps in leadership succession.

"Internal mobility" has become a frequent key phrase within talent acquisition departments. Organizations are keen to onboard individuals who will perform well in their job functions and in a variety of roles across the organization. Companies are looking to promote from within more often.

"We are seeing more emphasis placed on internal succession planning by talent acquisition departments," Curran says. "More needs to be done to retain talent in an organization that goes beyond the traditional tools at HR's disposal. Organizations need to do more in understanding the strata of employees in their organizations, their motivations, and the values they hold as their career paths evolve."

When developing a succession plan for a position, the prospective role must have a clearly defined career roadmap for the candidate to follow. Cox notes this is a significant challenge for many talent acquisitions departments: "The challenges we face in securing talent for today's workforce are twofold: succession planning of existing talent while engaging and competing for external talent in a hyper-competitive labor market."

"When we identify potential successors through well-developed talent management processes, it is imperative we think about the needs of the role for the future as the organization grows and evolves," Cox adds. "In addition to considering the organization's needs, we also have to consider the selected individual's future and anticipate their subsequent moves to optimize their career and the company's return on investment in talent."

Executive search firms are retained to execute higher-level mandates for more senior leadership roles and identify external talent for succession planning. Mirko Petrelli, partner of Stones International in Hong Kong, has seen this trend across Asia Pacific with his clients.

"Talent acquisition teams are in fact replacing the success-based recruiter and managing the entire hiring process," Petrelli says. "Retained executive search consultants are still perceived as the trusted advisors who can deliver value and manage the high-level searches in more effective ways compared to talent acquisition departments."

Talent acquisition departments leverage executive search firms to  provide support for senior-level appointments. In addition, many executive search firms assist talent acquisition departments by offering additional services beyond traditional recruiting – such as leadership assessment, talent mapping, board placement, and succession planning – to strengthen the overall talent management and leadership strategy of an organization.

Thaddeus Andres is the senior marketing and communications manager for IIC Partners Executive Search Worldwide.