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Introduction to the Human Resources Discipline of Talent Management


The foundations of talent acquisition involve finding qualified employees, attracting them, employing them strategically in the organization and keeping them for the long haul. In short: Find them, get them and keep them. Technical disciplines and concepts associated with these foundational tasks include assessing workforce readiness, workforce planning, conducting job analyses, creating job descriptions and the hiring process.

Workforce Planning

Workforce planning refers to the process of assessing the size and skills of the current workforce and anticipating future workforce needs in an effort to ensure that a sufficient pool of talent possessing the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) will be available to meet those future needs. Factors considered in planning for the future include government influence, economic conditions, business competition and workforce demographics. A workforce plan is an important tool in an organization reaching its strategic (long-range) goals.


Practicing the Discipline of Workforce Planning

How to Develop a Staffing Plan

Workforce Planning Will Help You Understand the Needs of Your Organization

Workforce Readiness

Workforce readiness includes the preparation of a qualified workforce through public schools, vocational and technical colleges, adult education, remedial employee training and continuing professional development. Such efforts require collaboration among national, state and local governments, business/industry, educators, and the community at large. Workforce readiness addresses the difficulty employers experience in finding qualified employees in the labor pool and their consequent need to provide new hires with basic training in the areas of reading comprehension, writing and math, as well as with more advanced training in workplace professionalism and in the skills necessary to improve teamwork, critical thinking, communication, punctuality and time management.


DOL Earmarks $40M to Diversify Apprenticeships

Employers Need to Broaden Strategies to Close Skills Gap

Skills Gap & Workforce Readiness Hub Page

Job Analysis

Job analysis, also known as work analysis, is the systematic process of gathering, examining and interpreting data regarding the specific tasks comprising a job. The output from the job analysis process is used to develop a job description and its job specifications.

Job analyses assist human resource professionals in areas such as the following:

  • Job design (roles, duties and responsibilities).
  • Job evaluation and compensation (grades, pay surveys and pay setting).
  • Employment (recruiting, selection and placement).
  • Performance management (performance criteria).

In addition, a job analysis must be performed in such a way that the outcome ensures compliance with myriad federal, state and local legal hiring requirements, including the following:

  • Equal employment opportunity (job-relatedness, bona fide occupational qualifications and reasonable accommodation).
  • Equal pay (skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions).
  • Overtime eligibility (exempt versus nonexempt work).

The following information may be helpful in making distinctions among jobs:

  • Knowledge, skills and abilities needed.
  • Work activities and behaviors.
  • Interactions with others (internal and external).
  • Performance standards.
  • Financial budgeting and impact.
  • Machines and equipment used.
  • Working conditions.
  • Supervision given and received.

Such information may be collected in a variety of ways, including open-ended questionnaires, highly structured questionnaires, interviews, observation and work diaries or logs.

See Performing Job Analysis and How do I conduct a job analysis to ensure the job description actually matches the duties performed by the employee in the job?

Job Description

A job description is a written description of a job that usually consists of five sections:

  • Job identification. Title, reporting relationships, department, location, pay grade, exempt/nonexempt status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and other identifying details should be given.
  • Job summary. A concise statement of the general duties and responsibilities that differentiate the job from other jobs.
  • Duties and responsibilities. A listing of the essential and nonessential functions of the job.
  • Job specifications. Identification of the competencies and knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform the job.

Among other things, job descriptions are important tools for maintaining compliance with the FLSA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), recruiting and selecting, and assessing employee performance.

See How to Develop a Job Description and Sample Job Descriptions.

Sourcing and Recruiting

Sourcing and recruiting are the meat and potatoes of talent acquisition. Practices include external and internal recruiting and employee referrals. Relocation programs are one technique for attracting external candidates from remote locations. See Recruiting Internally and Externally.

External recruiting

The focus of external recruiting is to fill job vacancies with candidates not already employed by the organization. Some common methods of external recruiting include the following:

  • Media advertising.
  • Internet recruiting.
  • Walk-in applications.
  • Employee referral programs.
  • Temporary agencies.
  • Employment agencies (state or private).
  • Executive search firms.
  • School and college recruiting.
  • School-to-work programs.

Some of the benefits of external recruiting are listed below:

  • For entry-level positions and even some specialized upper-level positions, the organization may not have qualified internal candidates.
  • Bringing in candidates from outside the organization may expose it to new ways of doing business or transform the organizational culture to a more productive model.
  • An organization that needs to improve organizational processes or break out of the status quo may find that easier to accomplish with outsiders rather than trying to "teach old dogs new tricks."

Basically, the advantages of external recruiting mirror the disadvantages of internal recruiting.

Internal recruiting

Filling positions with internal candidates can be an efficient and effective way to staff positions. Some advantages of internal recruiting are as follows:

  • A company with a demonstrated commitment to promoting from within can attract entry-level candidates who are interested in making a long-term commitment to a particular company.
  • Employees' knowledge that they may be considered for internal promotion or transfer may improve morale.
  • Management already knows the job history and capability of internal job candidates.
  • Positions can usually be filled more quickly and inexpensively than if filled from candidates outside the organization.
  • Less time is needed for employee orientation and training because internal candidates already know much about the organization and have established contacts within it.
  • The company reaps the maximum benefit from its training and development efforts when employees stay with the employer in the hope of moving up, rather than looking for more attractive opportunities elsewhere.

However, internal recruiting has drawbacks:

  • The number of potential job candidates is limited to qualified personnel in the organization.
  • It sometimes results in internal stagnation by minimizing the introduction of new blood.
  • It creates a ripple effect: An internal promotion also creates a vacancy.
  • Internal recruiting can become political and divisive, especially when co-workers apply for the same position.
  • The best person for the job may be someone currently outside the organization.

Employee referrals

An employee referral program is a recruiting strategy in which current employees are rewarded for referring qualified candidates for employment. Many human resource professionals believe an employee referral program is one of the most effective recruitment methods and that such programs can produce a win-win situation for both the employer and the referring employee. However, to sustain long-term benefits, an employee referral plan must be well managed on an ongoing basis. See Designing and Managing Employee Referral Programs and 6 Tips for Effective Employee Referral Programs.


Relocation assistance is a type of benefit offered to candidates who accept jobs in new locations. Traditionally this has taken the form of assistance with moving costs, travel expenses, temporary lodging and assistance with home-buying/selling. Convincing a candidate to uproot his or her family and move them to another city, state or even country can be difficult. An abundance of jobs within a particular metropolitan area means that candidates do not have to look as far afield to find attractive employment opportunities. Additionally, in families with two professional wage earners, neither of them typically wants to be "the follower."

To attract and retain the best employees, an organization that requires candidates to relocate may create a comprehensive relocation procedure that goes beyond the traditional model to provide assistance in ways that make relocation truly attractive to candidates. See Managing Employee Relocation.

Hiring Practices

The hiring process includes multiple steps and various practices, including the use of application forms, interviews and pre-employment testing. Whether to use a written employment contract and the terms of an employment offer also come into play at this stage. Finally, there is the process of organizational entry, referred to as onboarding or orientation.

Employment applications

Requiring a candidate for employment to fill out a standard application form is an important tool in hiring the best employees, ferreting out disqualifying characteristics, demonstrating compliance with equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws, and preserving the at-will employment relationship. Most organizations request the submission of either a resume or a completed application form by mail or fax, in person, or electronically. Even when a resume has been received, requiring a candidate to complete a standard application by the time the initial interview is scheduled is regarded as a wise hiring practice.

Recommended features of employment applications include the following:

  • A statement that the organization is an EEO employer that does not discriminate on the basis of any attribute outlawed by federal, state or applicable municipal laws.
  • A prominent statement that employment is being considered only on an at-will basis, and an acknowledgement by the candidate that he or she understands that and is seeking employment only on that basis.
  • Authorization for the organization to conduct whatever background or reference checks or verification of application information it deems necessary.
  • A prominent statement that falsification of any information in the application process will be deemed grounds to reject a candidate, and to discharge the candidate if employed, and an acknowledgement by the candidate that he or she understands and agrees to those terms as a condition of being considered for employment.
  • An employment history section that makes concealing periods of unemployment hard for candidates.

EEO laws preclude asking certain questions on employment applications. See Guidelines on Interview and Employment Application Questions.


Normally done in a face-to-face meeting, an interview involves asking a job applicant questions to determine whether the applicant is suitable for a position of employment. Handled properly, the interview process is undertaken with deliberation and planning to accomplish the task of selecting the best person for the job and to avoid asking questions about personal characteristics that are protected under EEO laws. See Interviewing Candidates for Employment and Recruiting 101: 5 Tips for Better Interviews.

Traditionally, interviewing has focused on communication skills, personality, grooming and professionalism. However, behavioral interviewing, an approach that looks at past behavior as the best predictor of future performance, has become more popular with hiring managers and human resource professionals. See Job Interview Questions.

Pre-employment testing

Pre-employment testing is the practice of subjecting a job applicant to testing to determine the applicant's suitability for a particular position. These tests might include drug and alcohol tests, medical examinations, skills tests, physical agility tests, honesty/integrity tests or personality tests. To not run afoul of EEO laws, an employer must be able to show that the particular pre-employment test is both reliable (i.e., having a high degree of consistency) and valid (i.e., that the conclusions drawn from the test are accurate). Pre-employment testing is a particularly delicate matter under the ADA. See Screening by Means of Pre-employment Testing.

Employment offers

Written offers of employment are primary tools for documenting the terms and conditions of employment. Recommended features of an offer letter include the following:

  • The title of the position being offered.
  • The amount and basis of compensation (salary, hourly, piece rate) and a reference to the organization's benefits plan.
  • Whether the employment is full time or part time.
  • The department in which the candidate will be employed and the name of the candidate's supervisor.
  • Whether the employment is deemed exempt or nonexempt under the FLSA.
  • That the employment is at will (unless the employer is offering employment for a specific length of time).
  • That employment is subject to the candidate providing proof of eligibility for employment as required by applicable immigration laws.
  • If applicable, that the employee pass a post-offer medical examination or drug test.

See How to Create an Offer Letter Without Contractual Implications.


Onboarding, often used interchangeably with the term "orientation," refers specifically to the orientation process for newly hired employees. Handling new-employee orientation properly is important because most employee turnover occurs during the first few months of employment. Devising effective orientation programs involves more than just communicating information about pay and benefits and company policies, completing paperwork, making introductions, and touring the office. Socialization into the organizational culture is the ultimate goal of an onboarding program. See Managing the Employee Onboarding and Assimilation Process.


Retention refers to the desire of organizations to hold on to their good employees, and the measures they take to do so. Employee retention is critical because it usually costs more to hire and train a new employee than it does to retain an existing one. Every aspect of the work environment and the employment relationship—including recruitment of new hires—affects retention. A successful retention program depends on finding incentives—including nonmonetary incentives—that really work. See Managing for Employee Retention.

Legal and Regulatory Issues

Talent acquisition involves detailed knowledge and practical application of a variety of federal, state and local laws and regulations. Discussion of several highly regulated areas of practice follows.

Equal employment opportunity

EEO refers to the policy that persons should not be denied opportunities in the employment context because of personal attributes unrelated to one's ability to perform a job, such as race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, age, national origin, disability status, genetic information, protected veteran status. EEO requirements apply both to hiring and to the terms and conditions of employment after hiring. Federal law generally defines worker's rights in this area; however, states and some municipalities also have EEO laws that in many cases offer greater protection than federal law. See Avoiding Adverse Impact in Employment Practices and Equal Employment Opportunity Policy: Detailed.

Applicant tracking

Applicant tracking refers to systems used to track information about persons who apply for employment. Such systems may be computerized and detailed, or on paper and simple. Either way, applicant tracking is an essential part of any hiring process.

An organization's applicant tracking system helps ensure adherence to organizational policies and EEO laws and provide proof of compliance with policies and legal requirements if challenged. See Should all employers collect demographic data on applicants and employees? If so, when?

Immigration and visas

Foreign nationals form a significant part of the U.S. workforce in both skilled and unskilled positions. A foreign national must have a visa to work in the U.S. legally. Two categories of U.S. visas are issued: immigrant and nonimmigrant. Immigrant visas are for persons who intend to live permanently in the U.S., while nonimmigrant visas are for those who intend to be in the U.S. only on a temporary basis for touring, business, or temporary work or study. See Understanding and Obtaining U.S. Employment Visas.

Immigration matters are the responsibility of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Employment eligibility verification

Employers are required by law to verify the eligibility of their workers to work legally in the U.S. Eligibility verification generally refers to the process of determining whether a person has the right to be legally employed in the United States or in a state within the United States.

The federal government's Form I-9 lies at the heart of the eligibility verification process. Several states, and even some municipalities, have imposed additional layers of eligibility verification on top of the federal process. Civil and criminal penalties can be imposed on employers that do not comply with applicable legal requirements.  

E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by the DHS in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). E-Verify allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their newly hired employees. Federal contractors with a contract that contains a FAR E-Verify clause must use E-Verify for their new hires and all employees (existing and new) assigned to the contract. See Complying with I-9 and E-Verify Requirements in the United States.

Background investigations

Background investigations conducted by third parties must be conducted in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Employers often seek information regarding a candidate's criminal history, credit history, driving record and personal or professional references. Conducting background investigations provides many benefits when hiring employees but also presents risks that must be properly managed. See Conducting Background Investigations and Reference Checks.

Employment contracts

Legally binding contracts for employment may be created verbally or in writing. Organizations sometimes use written contracts to state the terms of their agreements with employees, especially high-level employees or contingent workers. Some of the issues that may be addressed in employment contracts include the following:

  • Job duties and responsibilities.
  • Compensation and benefits.
  • Terms and conditions of employment.
  • Confidentiality and nondisclosure requirements.
  • Covenants not to compete.
  • Resignation and termination.
  • Severance provisions.

Note that enforcement of individual employment contracts is generally a matter of state law. See Employment Contract Provisions.


Metrics refers to a numerical measure to determine the effectiveness and value of a contemplated or implemented human resource policy or program. Many areas in talent acquisition can be measured, and adjusted accordingly, to enhance effectiveness and value. Examples of commonly used staffing metrics include cost-per-hire, time-to-fill and quality of hire. See How do I determine which HR metrics to measure and report?


A vast and ever-increasing array of technology exists to assist organizations with talent acquisition. Solutions include software, web-based applications, video products and artificial intelligence solutions.  

Some of the more common areas in which technology is employed to assist in talent acquisition are the following:

  • Applicant tracking.
  • Background checking.
  • Contingent staffing.
  • Job analysis.
  • Job descriptions.
  • Job posting.
  • Legal compliance.
  • Orientation/onboarding.
  • Recruiting.

See SHRM's HR Technology resources.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI)—the ability for computing devices to think, problem-solve, and learn from their work—in talent acquisition is increasingly expanding. The recruiting process is filled with numerous repeatable tasks such as resume screening and interview scheduling that, when given to AI, free up recruiters' time to focus the human interaction with candidates. And that can be done at scale with an intelligent chatbot trained to conduct preliminary screening and manage the interview process. See AI in HR: The New Frontier.

The use of AI does raise some legal concerns and employers that want to use AI in the workplace should weigh the benefits against the potential legal risks and must also keep a close eye on emerging laws to stay in compliance. See Addressing Artificial Intelligence-Based Hiring Concerns and Use of AI in the Workplace Raises Legal Concerns