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There is a short game to talent acquisition, and there is a long game to talent acquisition. It can be difficult to think about the long game when there are more jobs than there are workers, and recruiters are just trying to scoop up the best talent they can as quickly as possible. Yet it still behooves employers to build a relationship with workers who show a great deal of potential, even if the company isn’t ready to bring them on right away.

“The people we will hire and the capabilities we’re going to be injecting in the next five to ten years—it hasn’t existed. If we keep doing what we do, keep going to the same places, same universities, same talent pools, then we’ll get the same outcomes,” said Basant Pandey, global director of executive recruiting at Goodyear Tire & Rubber during an expert panel discussion hosted by From Day One. The panel, titled “Nurturing the Candidates with Potential in Your Talent Pipeline,” which I moderated, included Pandey and three other leaders in recruiting and people operations. The group discussed ways employers can enrich their pipelines and build relationships with potential hires. 

Sourcing a Better Talent Pool

Filling your pipeline with talent requires new methods of candidate sourcing, panelists said. One habit that desperately needs to be broken, they agreed, is recruiting based on “pedigree,” or the notion that the best talent comes from a certain strata of school, geographic location, social circle or employment history.

Corporate real-estate brokerage, said Miriam Brilleman, a leader of people partnering at the commercial real-estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, has “traditionally been a pay-to-play or a friends-and-family type of industry, and it’s pretty clear that most of the power players in commercial real estate, specifically brokerage, have been white men, and we’ve worked really hard over the past several years to make commercial real estate a viable career option for everyone.” 

Brilleman said  the company has taken three steps to redesign hiring: launching paid training programs to attract people from untapped talent pools, encouraging the talent acquisition and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) teams to work together to identify and build relationships with prospective employees, and changing the culture in ways that has earned them spots on lists like the Human Rights Campaign’s list of the best places to work for LGBTQ+ equality.

Speaking on nurturing talent, top row from left: Miriam Brilleman of Cushman & Wakefield and Tonya Tucker Collins of Twitch. Bottom row: Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza, Basant Pandey of Goodyear Tire & Rubber, and Benjamin Martin of Scaler (Image by From Day One)

Of course, even when new methods of recruitment are adopted, the problem of volume often remains. There are plenty of jobs to fill, so recruiters are increasingly turning to AI and other tech tools. Tonya Tucker Collins, the VP of talent experience and DEI at the live streaming service Twitch, cautioned against removing people from the process of pipeline development. Otherwise, it’s prone to becoming stagnant.

“The tool is not going to replace the recruiter,” said Collins. “It’s not going to replace the relationship, and more importantly, it’s not going to replace your ability to examine and measure the outputs of any system you have in place. If you are not seeing a population that is underrepresented in your org today, then I would question your AI tool.”

Benjamin Martin, a senior recruiter at the cloud-security company Zscaler, feels strongly about this. “I see AI like a Band-Aid to a bigger problem, which is the bandwidth to be able to have those deeper connections, versus just having to make it very transactional to keep pace,” he said.

Keeping Your Leads Engaged Along the Way

As you fill your funnel with candidates who show potential for hiring down the road, you have to keep those leads warm. “Bringing them on is an easy piece,” Goodyear’s Pandey said. “The challenge is to keep them motivated and engaged throughout their journey.” He believes this is most difficult when companies need to nurture a potential hire for longer than nine months. “The foundation of keeping anyone warm is being a ready communicator.” 

Zscaler’s Martin said he communicates with prospects via text, email, or phone at regular intervals. Every six, eight, or twelve weeks, for example. If he knows a position will open in the near future, he can contact those leads and get the process started early. 

What he might say to a prospect: “We don’t have a role right now, but we’re excited and you sound excited. Why don’t we have a meet with the team?” Because they’re already engaged with the company, said Martin, the hiring process is more relational than transactional.  “We’ll slow-roll a formal process, so when we get to the point of approval, they’ve met the team, or most of the team, and it’s just a matter of one or two more conversations.”

Facilitating a Mutually Beneficial Interview Process

Like much of the way we work, interviewing is undergoing a redesign. Companies are looking for ways to make the process more equitable for candidates, and this, in turn, is creating a better environment to nurture future employees. 

According to Collins, coaching candidates through a transparent interview process is a way to build that relationship. “If you took a traditional path of traditional education, most schools are going to teach you how to interview, and therefore you’re going to interview well, and if they have a relationship with that employer or an inside track—or maybe they have friends who work there—they’re going to give you what I call the ‘cheat codes,’” she said. “By having the cheat codes, you have that advantage of being the candidate who’s most likely to get hired. That’s not everybody’s story.”

The interview process should provide an accurate reflection, not an idealized version, of the company, said Collins. “Don’t give them all unicorns and rainbows. Tell people the truth. The recruiter makes that initial contact and starts to do an informal contract, and we have to understand every touchpoint in that informal contract and ask ourselves, how are we being intentional? If I over-promise in the interview process, that employee is going to hold me accountable when we hire them.”

“A realistic job preview,” as Collins put it, has three parts. The first two are being frank about your strengths and weaknesses as an organization and showing candidates an accurate reflection of your company makeup. “We have to make sure that our panels are representative of our employee population,” she said. Collins shared the example of an employee who meets with a diverse panel of interviewers only to find that, upon being hired, the panel does not reflect the employee population and that they’re an “only.” 

“That’s an uncomfortable moment for that candidate,” she said. “Being clear about those things and being very intentional in the design of the interview process will help us to get better outcomes, and, more importantly, will also help anybody that we hire go, ‘Oh, I belong here.’”

The final element Collins identified is candidate feedback. “If we do decline a candidate, what type of feedback and what type of experience are we dealing with after?”

If there are 10,000 applications for one position, a candidate might like to know they made it to the top 100 applicants, even if they didn’t get the job. “Just telling that person you were at the top, that’s a completely different message,” said Collins. “If they don’t get it, but know that they’re in the top three out of the crème de la crème, that is a completely different message than ‘You just didn’t get the job.’”

Working Toward Relationship Over Rejection

The idea of providing feedback to rejected candidates is a new one, and it naturally leads to a better relationship with the candidate. “The biggest concern candidates tell us is that applying to companies is a black hole. I mean, they don’t give you anything,” said Pandey. “And, by the way, working for an agency or sending it through a search partner is sometimes worse. It’s such a transactional thing, so a lot of candidates get burned by that flow.” 

Pandey said he’s tried to remove the idea of “rejection” from the interview process and help point candidates that show real potential toward future opportunities. That only works when there is a relationship. Martin said this: “It’s about making everybody a winner, right? You can’t hire everyone, but if you [have to reject someone], at least they walk away knowing ‘OK, I was set up to succeed. Unfortunate, sure, but respectful process, awesome employer. I’m going to spread the word.’ It’s important to send even the folks that we can’t hire away feeling good.”

Don’t neglect the fact that your current employees are part of your talent pipeline too. Providing a positive employee experience is not only necessary for business, it’s also important for future hiring. 

It even comes down to maintaining a healthy relationship through an employee’s departure. “Making sure that employee leaves with a proper exit and making sure they leave with dignity and respect is super important,” said Brilleman of Cushman & Wakefield. Not only does word travel, but Brilleman said her company also sees its fair share of “boomerang” staff. “If we didn’t keep those relationships, and if we didn’t offboard in the proper way, we would have discouraged people from returning.”

Editor’s Note: From Day One thanks its partner who sponsored this webinar, the talent-engagement platform Gem.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance reporter based in Richmond, VA, who writes about workplace culture and policies, hiring, DEI, and issues faced by women. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Fast Company, and Food Technology, among others, and has been syndicated by MSN and The Motley Fool.