Getting Back to Building Your Proactive Pipelines of External Talent

One of the continuing challenges facing the Recruitment function is moving from the traditional, reactive and primarily transactional focus to a proactive and enhanced recruitment model.


Think about when you sit down with your hiring leaders to scope a new open position and the role details.  When you ask the hiring leaders for a proposed start date for a new hire, how many of them responded with “ASAP” or “yesterday”?  How many of your hiring leaders complain about the time it takes to recruit talent externally?  And how many of us recruiters continue to get frustrated with these unrealistic pressures from hiring leaders?  We know that for the most part, top external talent just doesn’t fall into our laps.
Effective sourcing takes time especially for tougher and more specialized positions to fill.


Over the past few years, I have been working with clients to build and develop effective proactive pipelines of top external talent. Building this type of pipeline isn’t for the light-hearted; it takes time and effort and requires planning, proper resourcing, as well as a skilled recruiter.  The planning and the resourcing are the keys to success – proactive pipelining cannot be successfully implemented without the appropriate amount of time devoted to this initiative by a skilled sourcer and recruiter.


The return on investment of proactive pipelining is more than worth the effort. I have witnessed first hand the enhanced quality of hire via this proactive channel as time is no longer the recruiter’s enemy.  Beyond quality of hire, the average time to fill a position is reduced by on average 10-12 days as the sourcing of the top external talent has already been completed prior to the position becoming open.


So how do you get started with building these proactive pipelines of external talent?  I look at it as a simple 5 step process:

1 – Plan

2 – Identify

3 – Build

4 – Manage

5 – Execute

1 - Plan

By far the most important step of this process is the planning. Within the planning stage you need to determine what position or positions you plan on building these  pipelines for. I would recommend selecting only a few positions, those you and your business deem “critical” to your organization’s success and bottom line either now or within the next year. Determining what positions are “critical” is a difficult task.  If you ask any hiring leader they will say that all of their open positions are “critical”.  This will force you to walk a political tight rope to prioritize “criticalness”.  You should work with the top-level business leaders to determine which positions they think are “critical”.  Once you have your critical position(s) identified, you need to invest your time into understanding all about the position and why it would be attractive to potential candidates. Remember, as it is proactive, you are recruiting for a position that isn’t currently open.  Knowing all the features and the upside of the position will allow you to effectively sell the potential opportunity to the top talent.


2 - Identify

Once the planning is complete it is time to identify the top external talent in the market. This is where your skills as a top recruiter will come into play and requires you to be at the top of your game.  I always go by the rule that the majority of the top talent in the external market is passive and not actively searching for a new opportunity.  Your typical transactional and reactive recruitment sourcing channels won’t effectively work, so don’t count on simply posting the position to job boards as a solution to attract top talent.  Be aggressive.  Use your networks and referrals to determine who is at the top of their field within the market.  Who is the top talent at your competition, or within a recognized leading top talent organization within your geographic area? Get out of the office and do some true recruiting to identify those resources outside your organization that will bring value and success to your company.


3 - Build

This is when you worry about getting them interested and excited about your organization.  You have identified the individuals you think are the best of the best for the skill set you are looking for. Now it is time to determine the ideal approach to contact and sell to this talent in order to effectively build your proactive pipeline. Again, this is where a recruiter must be a “salesperson” and effectively sell the talent on the organization and the opportunities potentially coming in the future. You must be honest and set expectations that you are recruiting proactively for future opportunities and they have been identified to you as top talent within the market. Don’t be too aggressive with the candidate and always ask if it is alright to keep in touch within an agreed upon timeframe. Also use this opportunity to network further and ask for referrals for other positions you are recruiting for. Be careful to ensure the communication with these candidates is very positive and is a “win-win” for both the candidate and you as the recruiter.


4 - Manage

By “Manage”, I mean, effectively manage your pipelined candidates. You need to ensure you nurture and speak with your pipelined candidates on a regular basis as was established and agreed upon when you first spoke with the candidates.  If possible use technology to effectively document and track your pipeline – this is where a CRM tool could be effectively used by recruiters similar to the way salespeople use this tool for building and managing sales pipelines.


Steps 2, 3 and 4 are ongoing. You should always be on the lookout for new top talent externally and ensure you are effectively building and managing your pipelines. Again, this is an investment and will pay off when your organization most needs it to.


5 - Execute

Step 5 is sometimes forgotten and it is simply to execute once one of your critical positions
becomes open. Your sourcing is hopefully already complete and now when your hiring leaders answer your “when would you like the person to start” with “ASAP” you can pull out a slate of pre-sourced and qualified top external talent and sit back and relax………ok, maybe not relax but you will be feeling very good about your efforts as will your business leaders.


And of course, you need to continually monitor the success of your proactive  pipelining efforts – how are you going to show your business leaders the ROI of your efforts?


Obviously there are many more details within each of these 5 steps to effectively build
proactive pipelines of external talent and I hope this high level description provides insight into how to further add value to your organization’s hunt for key talent.



Simon Parkin is recognized as a global thought leader in the acquisition of top talent and has successfully transformed the Talent function for organizations of all sizes.  Simon is the Managing Partner at The Parkin Group Ltd. and is focused on working closely with clients to build, develop and innovate their Recruitment, Talent and HR functions.  He is a former global leader of Recruitment and Talent for a Fortune 100 company.   Simon is a featured speaker at a number of HR and Recruitment conferences across North America and an author of many acclaimed articles on innovative Recruitment, Talent and HR trends and best practices.  

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Comment by Reb Blanchard on May 13, 2011 at 12:26pm

A long time ago, when I was in a college psyc course (How long? One of my classmates was named Ben Franklin. I knew that would come in handy one day!) the professor cited a study that measured the correlation of having certain personal characteristics with achieving financial and other measures of success. The #1 correlated characteristic to obtaining those measures of success, financial included, was the person's ability to work on objectives that required postponing their need for immediate reward. Doing so on a regular basis was therefore the #1 predictor of financial and other measures of future success.

While this probably isn't a huge surprise to anyone reading this, ask yourself the question, how many of the firms that you work with as clients give anything more to this idea than lipservice. My experience has been that they don't even have a long tem plan for increasing their productivity or profitability by investing in current employees much less in those that might want to be employed there.

I'm totally in favor of your proposal to the HR dept professionals to develop a proactive pipeline of great candidates but I think they are in a tough spot. That is, do they want to be identified as an expense whose benefit to develop the company's long term profits when upper management usually makes most decisions on cutbacks based upon more immediate (and often less profitable) returns?

In the meantime Simon, great post and keep up the good fight.

Best regards, Reb

Comment by Molly on May 13, 2011 at 1:57pm
We have instituted this practice in some of our "always open" type of roles - Care assistants for example or nurse practitioners.  OUr time to fill these roles have dropped by more than 50% - in the case of nurse practiitoners from 9 months to less than 3 months.


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