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How to build a passive talent pipeline – Talent pipeline management

Building a passive talent pipeline starts with employer branding and getting buy-in from stakeholders. Then, use effective sourcing techniques to find and assess candidates. Finally, engage candidates honestly and respectfully, focusing on their career aspirations and letting them determine the mode of communication.

Nikoletta Bika
Nikoletta Bika

Nikoletta holds an MSc in HR management and has written extensively about all things HR and recruiting.

passive talent pipeline management

What is talent pipeline? A talent pipeline is a group of passive candidates you’ve engaged who can fill future roles in your company. Building a talent pipeline has one great benefit: it saves you time you’d spend on sourcing candidates, decreasing your overall time-to-hire.

Here’s how to build your talent pipeline strategies and foster relationships with passive candidates:

3 Steps of building a talent pipeline

Step 1: Plan ahead

Planning is an important part of your talent pipeline strategy. Here are a few steps to include in this phase:

  • Start with employer branding. Companies with a good reputation as employers have a headstart in engaging passive candidates. Here are three ways to build your employer brand:
  • Get buy-in from stakeholders. Present the benefits of building talent pipelines to executives and clarify the resources you will need to start (e.g. funds to attend recruitment events.) Encourage all employees to refer people for open roles. And meet with managers to discuss their future hiring needs.
  • Determine what kind of roles need a pipeline. Having a pipeline makes sense for roles that have high turnover rates (e.g. sales roles.) These positions open frequently and usually require candidates with a specific skillset. Talent pipelines are also useful for hard-to-fill roles that translate into high revenue loss while vacant (e.g. executive roles.) Pipelines help you fill those roles as quickly as possible.
  • Consider the balance of internal and external candidates. Hiring from external pipelines helps you enhance company culture, hire for diversity and close organizational skills gaps. But, having a good succession plan in place is also useful to fill roles faster and retain employees. Consult HR to determine which roles could be filled from within.
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Step 2: Find passive candidates

Qualified candidates are everywhere, from social media to your internal talent database. Here are some effective sourcing techniques to find and assess candidates for your pipeline:

Sourcing technique How to get the most value
Run Boolean searches
  • Target your Google search strings using multiple criteria (e.g. skills, projects, location.)
  • Study results and continuously refine your searches.
Meet candidates in-person during events (e.g. product events, seminars, conference booths)
  • Host your own events to enhance your employer brand and attract talented people.
  • Use sites like Meetup to keep track of relevant events.
  • Use social media to promote events.
Use social media recruiting
  • Follow relevant hashtags on Twitter (e.g. #PyCon for developers), Facebook groups, forums or people who are well-known in their field.
  • Try niche platforms like Reddit, Slack and Snapchat.
  • Engage passive candidates over time through discussions and mutual interests.
Sourcing tools
  • Use tools like People Search, a Chrome extension. People Search works in tandem with social media sites. Find any candidate profile on Facebook, Twitter, GitHub, Dribbble and Behance and activate the extension. People Search will build complete profiles, often including an email address, resume and other social networks in which your prospect is active.
  • Analyze the information you gather to understand your candidates’ goals and motivations.
Peruse portfolio sites (e.g. Behance and Dribbble)
  • Comment on a candidate’s work to begin a discussion.
  • Use Boolean strings on Google to scour these sites for profiles that match your criteria.
Search through your Applicant Tracking System (ATS)
  • Look for referred candidates, former employees, interns and candidates who reached the final stages of previous hiring processes.
  • Use your ATS’s ‘snooze’ button to remember qualified candidates.
  • Tag candidates using hashtags to organize your pipelines in a way that works for you.
Get referrals
  • Communicate your referral program to your employees and find creative ways to drive more referrals.
  • Craft effective messages asking for referrals and acknowledge those who refer great candidates often.
  • Once you’ve engaged a passive candidate in your pipeline, ask them to refer other candidates, if they aren’t available themselves.

(To source EU candidates, please refer to guidance on using social media for recruiting and collecting candidate information as per the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.)

Step 3: Engage candidates

Sourcing candidates for positions that aren’t open yet is tricky. Here are some tips to address this challenge and engage qualified candidates:

  • Be honest. In your first contact, let candidates know that you don’t have an immediate opening, but you’re likely to be hiring soon. Say that your company is always looking for talented people and you’d like a few minutes of their time to discuss. Customize a template to send an effective first email.
  • Respect their time. Ensure candidates are the ones to drive your communication. Ask them what medium they’d prefer to communicate by (e.g. phone, email or Skype.) Also, ask them what they are currently working on. If they’re in the middle of a big project, let them defer your discussion for when they are more flexible.
  • Show genuine interest. Focus your conversations on candidates’ career aspirations. Use People Search to do some research beforehand so you can better navigate these discussions. Explore their motivations (e.g. ask what they like about their current role) and encourage them to ask you about your company. This will help you determine whether they would be a good fit. It will also help you personalize your pitch to them by addressing their long-term goals.
  • Let candidates determine how they want to stay in touch. Discuss what the candidate would prefer. Ideas include scheduling regular check-ins, inviting them to events or sharing good content with them. Invite them to reach out to you anytime. Ultimately, let the candidate stay connected with you in a way they feel comfortable with.

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