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Talent pipeline: Definition, benefits and management

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Creating a talent pipeline is a proactive recruiting technique where, instead of filling roles when there’s a vacancy, you consider what skills you’ll need in the future and nurture warm leads who possess those traits. 

It’s a candidate-first hiring process. The focus is on building relationships with potential hires so that when there’s a job opening, you have a list of qualified talent ready to go. 

What is a talent pipeline?

A talent pipeline is a group of qualified candidates who are ready to fill a role. These could be external or internal candidates.

External candidates may be passive potential candidates who’ve found the company on social media, an online job board or the company website.

Your talent pipeline could also include internal candidates who want to progress in their careers.

These warm leads are great for competitive job markets, such as software engineering, which can be notoriously difficult to find the right talent for.

Talent pipeline vs talent pool

A talent pool is different because it’s wider in scope – potential candidates still need to be vetted against the desired criteria.

In comparison, a talent pipeline consists of already qualified candidates.

Benefits of a talent pipeline

The benefits of a talent pipeline strategy are far-reaching, covering every area of the business. First and foremost, it streamlines the hiring process. 

It means there’s a curated list of skilled professionals who are perfect for future roles and interested in working for the business when there’s a job opening. This results in a lower cost and time to hire.

Because of the relationships you’ve built, potential hires already know about the business, its company culture, and what it could be like to work there. Employee engagement and retention go up as a result.

A strong talent pipeline can also reduce the need to work with recruitment agencies or post on job boards when there’s a job vacancy because you already have a list of candidates wanting to work with you.

Managing your talent pipeline

A talent pipeline provides you with more flexibility and scalability when it comes to workforce planning. It means you can allocate resources more efficiently, especially during periods of growth or expansion, making it easier to adapt to changing market conditions.

So, how do you manage your talent pipeline?

Start planning

An effective talent pipeline should tie in with the wider business strategy. This ensures you attract the right job candidates for current and future business needs.

Showing stakeholders a talent pipeline strategy makes it easier to get them onboard, giving you access to the time and budget you need to set up and nurture your candidate pipeline.

Look at how things are now. Consider:

  • Are there any talent gaps that need filling?
  • What roles have a high turnover rate?
  • What about ones that are challenging to fill and may require a longer hiring process?
  • What roles need a quick turnaround time if someone leaves?
  • What about if a new position is created?

Other things to consider are the offer-to-acceptance rate, the time and cost to hire for different departments and open-to-filled job numbers.

Plan for as many situations as possible. That way, you’re fully prepared for whatever comes next.

Create a candidate persona

Creating a candidate persona will help you identify the right kinds of candidates to fill a role.

Consider demographics, personal and professional goals, and the specific skillset required.

This is a prime opportunity to consider company diversity initiatives and targets, too. If a department is mostly populated by people from the same background, it risks groupthink, a less welcoming culture, less creative problem-solving, and fewer profits. It can also make your business less attractive to candidates.

So, instead of looking for culture fit, consider culture add, instead. Potential hires can share similar values, such as a growth mindset, while still bringing different perspectives to the team.

Grow your employer brand

Reactive hiring depends on employer brands, but a lot of companies don’t actively work to grow or promote theirs. Meaning when they have an immediate need to hire, there’s no time to develop their non-existent employer brand. This can lead to less qualified candidates applying and a longer time, and cost, to hire.

A strong employer brand, on the other hand, can reduce the cost per hire by up to 50%.

To take a proactive approach to growing an employer brand, create a careers page that’s informative, accessible, and attractive. Don’t just tell potential hires what it’s like to work there – show them.

Employees are three times more credible than a CEO when it comes to discussing working conditions at a company, so use employee photos and stories on the careers page.

Another way to attract, and nurture, passive candidates is by sharing content that shows company culture on social media or via an email list. This content could answer questions like:

  • What’s it like to work there?
  • What do employees enjoy about their roles?
  • What are the company values?

McKinsey research found that 70% of employees feel their work defines their purpose. By showing potential hires that they can have a sense of purpose at work, you’ll increase retention rates.

Find Candidates

Since most candidates are passive, there’s no guarantee they’ll notice a job opening when recruiters share it.

The best talent is gone the fastest, which means any business that regularly keeps in touch will be top of their mind when they’re ready to start a new role.

Once you know who you’re looking for, reconnect with previously unsuccessful candidates. These were people who almost got a role but just missed out. You already know they want to work there, so it’s time to get back in touch with them and keep them considering it for future opportunities.

Another way to find future talent is through in-person events. These are a great way to create a diverse talent pipeline, showing you’re looking to hire from more than just your typical talent pool.

Consider events targeting underprivileged communities or areas. There may be talent tucked away there that your competitors haven’t even considered.

When it comes to outreach, particularly on sites like LinkedIn, make sure to personalize your messages. Use their name, maybe even comment on something they’ve posted recently. This shows you’ve done your research and makes them more likely to respond.

Talent pipes aren’t just about external candidates, though. Where can you hire from within to retain company talent and employee knowledge?

Create an internal succession plan

Talent pipelines can help with succession planning and business continuity as much as bringing new people into the business. Having a succession strategy in place, to roll out when needed, ensures that when a vacancy becomes available it’s filled seamlessly.

Identifying employees with potential allows you to prepare for leadership transitions, reducing the risk of knowledge or skills gaps when key employees leave.

More than half of millennials find opportunities to learn and grow extremely important when job hunting. So, offering learning and development opportunities helps you attract talent as well as retain it.

Investing in employees’ futures shows you care about their career advancement. When employees can see a clear path ahead, they’re more likely to stay because they know what they’re working toward. As a result, they stay motivated and productive.

Nurture your talent pipeline

A strong talent pipeline allows you to have a better understanding of candidates’ skills, qualifications, and fit before they join. This deeper knowledge can lead to more informed hiring decisions and increase the chances you’ll hire someone who’s a good match for the company culture.

It’s important to nurture your current pipeline so that they remember who you are. It takes an average of eight touchpoints until someone converts, so the more times they hear from you, the better.

You could keep in touch with them on social media, via an email list or on the website. Wherever your candidate persona is likely to hang out.

Optimize your talent pipeline

No matter where you are in the hiring process, it’s important to always look for ways to optimize your current talent pipeline and improve your recruitment process.

Is there a way to make things more efficient? Have the company’s needs changed? Is there a new technology you could try? How is your current talent pipeline performing, and are there things you could do to make it even more effective?

Examples of successful talent pipelines

Microsoft is well known for its talent pipeline management. It actively recruits from universities, offering comprehensive talent development programs that it adapts to a new hire’s needs.

To further improve its diverse talent acquisition, it has a program designed to attract and nurture neurodivergent candidates and employees. On its Neurodiversity Hiring Program page, it shares the stories of successful Microsoft employees who’ve been through the program and information on what the process is like.

Its internal mobility options show Microsoft’s commitment to employee growth and further grows its healthy talent pipeline.

HubSpot, meanwhile, focuses on creating “a candidate experience that’s positive, inclusive and helpful.” It explains their approach in depth on its careers page.

Rather than focusing on culture fit, it focuses on culture add, welcoming candidates with career gaps or without college degrees. This widens its talent pool and increases company diversity.

It also offers tuition reimbursement and employee development opportunities to help employees advance in their careers.

Long-term investment

The importance of a talent pipeline in modern recruiting can’t be overstated. It’s a long-term investment that can future-proof any business.

A strong talent pipeline can save a business time, money, and effort at every stage of the hiring process. It can streamline succession planning, help businesses stand out in competitive markets, and improve employee retention.

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