Have you ever had to make a choice between a couple of great candidates and wished you could hire the lot of them? Most companies make their choice, bid the other unsuccessful applicants good luck, and continue on their way. But in a world where competition for great talent is fierce, there's a better way to handle those good but ultimately unsuccessful candidates and that's to create a talent pool.
In recruiting, a talent pool refers to a centralized place — i.e. a database — where all information on current and potential future candidates is stored. Instead of saying so long farewell to strong candidates, you can store their information in your talent pool in case a similar role becomes available in the future. After all, you saw them as a good fit for something at one point. Why go back to square one if you don't have to? If something new does open, it's easy to reach back out and reengage a past candidate. Then instead of running a full search, you potentially have a pre-qualified candidate with one or two emails. This is both cost-conscious and efficient, which ideally is the goal of every recruiting process. Talent pools are more than just a database, they're really a long-term, proactive recruiting strategy that every company should consider creating.
Why do you need talent pools?
Think of everything that goes into a new role search. You spend time figuring out the role design, writing a job description, and posting it. Then you have to promote your open role via social media or paid campaigns, sort through the applications and monitor the responses. Finally, you narrow your list down and screen out the unqualified candidates. All that has to happen before you even get to the offer to interview stage and it takes both time and money.
While admittedly some of it has become easier in the last few years with automated suites, it's still not an easy or quick process — and it takes recruiter attention away from bigger HR strategy, long-term capacity planning, forecasting, budgeting, and getting out and meeting the best talent in your area (and globally). Recruiters will often say their job is a “people job,” and it is. That’s true and great. But a lot of recruiters say that and still spend much of their week on admin and logistical tasks. With a diverse talent pool, you can spend more time on what matters and engage with vetted candidates more quickly. It saves time in sourcing and helps grow a stronger candidate network for future open positions.
How do you build a talent pool?
As great as a pre-built pool of interesting candidates is, how do you go about getting started? There are numerous sources you can use to build your pool including:
- Previously-applied and qualified candidates (as mentioned above)
- Career fair candidates
- Candidates from other events such as professional conferences or trade shows
- Diversity-sourced candidates
- Employee referrals
- Boomerang candidates (previously worked there, still in touch with some of your current employees, and have indicated they’d be open to a return if possible)
- Previous interns that did well
- Internal candidate pool — i.e. those suitable for more responsibility or a different role/track/department
- Social spotting pool — people you’ve spotted on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. who speak often about the industry you’re in and could be a good fit
If you combine all these into a bigger talent pool, you should have a diverse group with potential candidate gold sprinkled throughout.
Of these, employee referral is probably the most effective channel for immediate ROI. If you have employees that you trust, and they refer people they trust who they previously worked with, that referral can usually come in and start making a relatively immediate impact. If that’s what your hiring managers ultimately look for, building out a referral program — perhaps with financial incentives — should be a large chunk of your talent pool. And remember, this isn't an all or nothing game. You can have both an active talent pool and a strong referral program at the same time.
The second more effective channel will likely be previously-applied and qualified applicants. Oddly enough, this is often-overlooked when starting a new recruiting search. You know they’ve been vetted by the hiring manager, you know the team liked them, etc. Getting them in for a specific opening will be much less legwork than starting from scratch with a new candidate out of the blue.
It's also good to note that social spotting has become more common, especially as people try to become “thought leaders” in given industries. If someone is doing lots of research about the space you work in and constantly sharing it, reach out to them. They may be open to working together.
The benefits of talent pools
The overall goal here is to never really get a new requisition and feel like you’re scrambling. An open req should flow right to the talent pool, where you have multiple potential candidates who you can reach out to and gauge their interest. This is a long-term, proactive strategy that prevents lots of hair-on-fire open req moments.
Your first step can be to look at the source of hires over the past year — or, if you’re not tracking that, begin tracking it now and look at the next three months. See where most hires come from, and then see where your “best” hires (overlap with performance review data if you have) come from. If one channel seems to be driving most of your talent pool, continue to focus on that channel but see if you can bring up other channels. For example, maybe referral is 85% of your top hires. Awesome! But can you do more with previous applicants or Boomerangs or those you met at diversity events? Try to even out the pool as best you can so the inputs make for a diverse possibility of candidates as roles come open.
Once your talent pool is up and running, make sure you're monitoring it and continuing to help it grow. Having a host of great candidates in your back pocket helps build better talent pipelines and stay on top of succession planning and unexpected turnover. There's no one size fits all solution to talent acquisition so you may have to try multiple strategies to see what sources work best for you or your company but putting the energy into building a pool pays off when you are able to place top talent in the right roles.