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Staffing Management: Keep Hot Prospects On Tap

Stephenie Overman  1/1/2007
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Vol. 3, No. 1

Vol. 3, No. 1

Talent pipeline management can help recruiters meet their hiring needs over the long haul.

Just-in-time sourcing just doesn’t work. Successful companies know that they must keep a pipeline of talent at the ready and keep the top candidates in that pipeline “warm” until they need them.

Talent pipeline management can be the next big opportunity for recruiting professionals, says Roger Coker, a recruiting strategy consultant who led recruiting teams for more than 20 years.

High-performing recruiting organizations in the late 1990s “did a good job of being more focused on where to get talent and on measuring the results of talent acquisitions. Now that we have some understanding of those things, what’s the next jump for us? Talent pipeline management. It’s going to be the true differentiator for this time,” Coker says. And contact relationship management (CRM) is what keeps the pipeline flowing smoothly. The automated tool “was built for sales teams to keep up with leads and prospects. The same thing applies in recruiting,” according to Coker.

You can manage your pipeline with folders of candidates but “that’s a prior generation of technology,” he says. “CRM is the next level” of building and maintaining and documenting candidate relationships. VirtualEdge, Taleo, Verve, Kenexa/ Brass Ring and Peopleclick all offer CRM systems—also called customer relationship management.

Know Your ABCs

CRM, Coker says, addresses questions such as: “Who are your candidates—for today or in the next five years? Where are they? How do I reach out to them?” “Recruiters come and go,” he says, but CRM maintains the history and status of each candidate relationship. Once you’ve established an effective pipeline of talent, you need a marketing campaign to build relationships with your top potential candidates, to keep them warm until you’re ready to hire them, Coker says. “Push out materials to them. You want them to continue to remember your company. Tell them about exciting developments in the community as well as what’s going on with the company.”

Elizabeth McFarlan, director of international recruitment services for United Health Group, Minnetonka, Minn., is building a pipeline of physicians, nurses and clinical researchers.

Several years ago, United Health Group was hiring about 50 people a year for its businesses in Europe, but that number has been climbing rapidly. In 2007, the company expects to hire 3,000 to 4,000 new employees.

Recruitment “needed to be taken to the next level,” says McFarlan, who joined the company in early 2006. “This will be a huge cultural shift. I’d like to see recruiters spend about 75 percent of their time on the pipeline” and 25 percent filling current openings.

A big part of the challenge is that United Health in Europe bids for contracts, and “when we win, they say, ‘We need you to start next month,’ and we have to hire 30 clinical researchers … or 200 doctors and nurses.”

To meet that demand, she’s working with managers to prioritize and categorize vacancies.

If a position is difficult to fill and there’s a high likelihood the company will be hiring for that position soon, “That’s an ‘A.’ We pull out all the stops. We will interview any candidates who apply. We might bring them in for an exploratory interview. We’re set up so that every three months we reach out to them with email or phone calls. How ‘high-touch’ we are with that candidate depends on how great our interest is.”

If a position is easy to fill and there’s a high likelihood that the company will be hiring soon, it’s a “B”—“We put it on our web site, but we’re not going to go crazy,” she says.

“C”-level positions are easy to fill with a low likelihood of immediate need. “We acknowledge [candidates] and hang onto them in our database,” McFarlan says.

Going the Extra Mile

United Health Group plans to send newsletters to everyone in the “keep-warm bucket,” but McFarlan would like to do more.

“I’d like to see us have a virtual open house. For example, have the head of clinical monitoring give a web-based lecture on some topic and invite candidates we are keeping warm,” she says. “This would position us as experts and create a beneficial networking opportunity” for the candidates.

The biggest challenge, McFarlan says, is that “the keep-warm piece requires an investment today that you will not see for two years. We need management involvement now for the long-term investment.”

Fox Interactive Media, Beverly Hills, Calif., also maintains a talent pipeline.

The company, which oversees the Internet business operations of News Corp., hires 100 to 120 people a month, says Conrad McGinnis, director of talent acquisition.

“We’re changing the way Fox looks at recruiting. It’s an old media company—you build it and they will come. But interactive is a very competitive market. We go out and do a lot of networking events. We use different technology. We mine our site for people.”

The CRM piece is crucial, McGinnis says. “It’s how everything flows for us. It’s the way our recruiting model is set up. We don’t have full-cycle recruiters,” he says. Fox Interactive Media has a tech team, a generalist team and a creative team. Each team has four or five recruiters, including a lead recruiter. Each team also has a reference checker, a scheduler and a recruiting analyst.

When a recruiter attends an event and meets someone who is interested in what Fox Interactive Media is doing, but is not interested in a job, the recruiter doesn’t try to woo that person to our company but get leads,” McGinnis explains.

Then, when the recruiting analyst sees a job opening on the horizon, the recruiter “strikes up a conversation and says, ‘This is the type of position we have coming up.’ When we actually need candidates, the recruiters engage them.”

Fox Interactive Media uses CRM to stay in touch because people “want to feel more special than they did five years ago. You need to reach out, make the phone call” to stay in contact, McGinnis says. “You never know when those leads will mature into candidates.”

“We cannot compete with Google or Yahoo! from a salary standpoint. People come here because they are interested in building, not maintaining. We’ll give them these blurbs, once they’re in our [CRM system], about the new, exciting things we’re going to be working on. We create that buzz,” he says.

“Out of, say, 100 people whose names we initially collected a year ago when Fox Interactive Media was still a new name, I’d say we’ve hired a third of them,” McGinnis says. “They weren’t interested then, but now that they’ve seen how the company is going,” they want to come on board.

Retention Plan for Candidates

Sepracor Inc. is an expert at keeping candidates warm. The research-based pharmaceutical company in Marlborough, Mass., began recruiting sales people in anticipation of Food and Drug Administration approval of its new drug Lunesta. But the FDA delayed approval.

“We had all these candidates. We put in place a retention strategy to keep them informed” during the delay, says staffing manager Eileen Rivera. “We created spreadsheets for everybody in the process,” with each candidate assigned a risk level depending on how close the person was to accepting another offer.

“We touched them in a number of different ways. Around the holidays, we did a mailing from the vice president of sales saying ‘Thank you for your continued interest and patience.’ We sent a special version of the quarterly sales newsletter to candidates.” Getting the hiring managers involved was critical, Rivera emphasizes. “The recruiters were great, but they’re not really who [candidates] wanted to hear from.”

Hiring managers were in contact on a biweekly basis. “It was structured; we gave them talking points. It wasn’t just ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ We wanted to make them feel engaged.”

Different types of candidates respond to different approaches, Rivera adds. “Sales people are ‘high touch.’ They know the process, but they want to know at all times what’s going on.

Scientists like to feel comfortable with the location and facilities and to know they will get to work on good products and see products through to completion,” so keeping that group warm would mean supplying lots of information in those areas.

The payoff for Sepracor: “We kept about 300 to 400 people warm for a 90-day period. We lost less than 10 percent of our candidates,” she says. “We didn’t have to go back to square one.”

Manager buy-in is key to all aspects of talent pipeline management, Coker says. “You need to develop and articulate a business case so that managers understand the importance of building the pipeline. That means you have to understand the business longer term and do a whole lot of homework. Make sure that you have your recruiting fundamentals in place.”

Take the First Step

The biggest obstacle to pipeline management is that many companies feel so overwhelmed with day-to-day challenges that “they just don’t get started. They don’t have the ability to put together the business case,” Coker says. “The challenge is to take that step—just do it.”

McFarlan agrees. Recruiters buy in to the idea, but when she tells managers she has a pilot program in which one sourcing specialist works exclusively on the pipeline, not current jobs, “managers say, ‘That’s nice he’s working on the future, but I’m bleeding today.’ One manager said I’m trying to change the engine while the car is running.”

When she describes how the pipeline works, managers “say turnover is high; there’s no point in keeping track of those people. But at some point we want them to move on to us. We may not get them the next time they change jobs, but we will get them the next time after that. It’s a small world.”

Stephenie Overman is managing editor of STAFFING MANAGEMENT.

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