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The key to building a talent pipeline? Care about your candidates

As a talent acquisition professional, I’m constantly talking to passive candidates. Even when my business doesn’t have a current hiring need, our highest performer could resign at any time. I always keep talent pipelines open – especially for roles with high turnover.

Some companies think there’s a formula for how to build a talent pipeline. They think algorithms and automation will do all the heavy-lifting: finding – and nurturing – potential candidates.

With all due respect, I disagree. It’s much more human than that.

The best way to build your talent pipeline is to care about your candidates. Every single one of them.

When you care about your candidates, they feel valued. And even if they don’t end up filling the role, they’ll leave the door open for future opportunities.

How to begin building your talent pipeline

Maintain your employer brand

Caring about your candidates starts with caring about your employer brand. And a strong employer brand builds a healthy pipeline. Weak brands struggle to attract top talent, and have to respond to candidates’ concerns about their negative reputation. You have to take your brand seriously.

Companies with strong brands:

  • Respond to online reviews, both positive and negative (especially on Glassdoor)
  • And create a better candidate experience (by being honest with candidates)

Learn about the business

My pipeline strategy begins with getting to know who I’m recruiting for. I need to understand how my hiring manager’s department contributes to the company’s success. I also need to know how the manager’s department works with other teams within the context of the larger business.

I start with an intake meeting. I sit down with the hiring manager for at least half an hour to find out:

  • What are the must-have skills for the role?
  • What are the top three contributions this new hire will make to the company within the first 90 to 120 days of their employment?
  • What is the department’s function within the company?
  • What is the symbiotic relationship this role has to other lines of business within the organization?

I use this information to source candidates who have skills that will serve both the hiring manager’s current needs and the company’s long-term success.

Source internally and externally

When searching for any new hire, I’m also succession-planning. Particularly when the hiring plan calls for a more junior or entry-level candidate, I look at talent for entry-level roles who may grow into more senior positions. For instance: after demonstrating success in their positions, a customer specialist may be promoted to a customer support role, or a sales development representative to an account manager or account executive.

External pipelining is a machine you can never really turn off. I use a multi-channel sourcing approach to build an external pipeline. I combine the following approaches:

  • Events: Every company should have presence at two talent-related events each year, at minimum.
  • Web channels: These include job boards, websites and partners.
  • Sourcing tools: I use tools like People Search to identify and connect with passive candidates who meet the hiring criteria but are not necessarily on the hunt for a new role.

This strategy constantly exposes our brand to new candidates.

Source and attract more candidates

Workable helps you build and promote your brand where your next candidates are. You’re always top of mind, whether they’re actively looking or not.

Start sourcing

How to engage with candidates in your talent pipeline

When I engage a candidate, I think long-term right from the beginning. Some questions I ask myself are:

Is this person an athlete? Does this person have the dexterity to flex from one role to another in the future?

And some questions I ask candidates are:

What are your professional goals and aspirations? Why are you interested in this role? Why you interested in our company?

I use this information to either:

  • Advocate for this candidate to my hiring manager;
  • Build a business case for why this individual might work well in this role, or a different role within the organization;
  • Form a relationship with a candidate for future hiring needs.

How to build relationships with candidates in your pipeline

No matter what stage of the hiring process candidates are in (from sourced to rejected), the way you treat candidates will either make or break your pipeline.

Here are a few rules I follow when communicating with candidates:

  1. Reply promptly. I’ve been known to send emails after 5 p.m. on a Friday because I like to operate with a sense of urgency. It makes for a better candidate experience.
  2. Be transparent. I’m not an advocate of advertising for roles that don’t exist, just to ‘test the market.’ It can really hurt your brand. And candidates are savvy: they’ll know when they feel like an experiment.
  3. Do your research. If I’ve never engaged with a candidate before, I always read up on their skills and role they’re currently in before reaching out. This helps me write a compelling, personal message to pique their interest.
  4. Be honest. Recruiters need to have difficult conversations with candidates. Sometimes candidates’ qualifications don’t match the manager’s needs. Or sometimes, you think they’d be a better fit for a different role within the company. Tell the truth, and frame the discussion around their strengths. For example, “We think you’re great, but your main strengths would not be put to their best use in this position.”
  5. Give interview feedback: Recruiters feel this is a risky one. They don’t always want to take the time to do that due diligence. And, they think it’s libelous. I beg to differ. When you’re able to pull together a credible, technical assessment you’re fine. There’s no risk.
  6. Be a career counselor. It never feels good to reject candidates- especially finalists. I try to come back to them with advice for their job search. I’ve said, “Here’s a list of companies that would salivate over your skills” or “Here’s a contact at a contingency search firm who would love to represent you.” And I mean it.

Candidates will appreciate and remember these actions. More often than not, I’ve received thank you notes from past candidates. And they almost always ask for me to keep them posted about future opportunities. Which just goes to show, treating candidates with care and respect is the best way to build your talent pipeline.

Related: How to measure talent pipeline metrics

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