Recruitment Research: A New Way to Find Top Talent

By Janie Magruder July 1, 2020
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​Attracting and retaining top talent was the prevailing crisis for company leaders and HR heading into 2020. That was before a deadly virus wreaked havoc on the nation's economy and the unemployment rate went from a historic low to the highest since the Great Depression. COVID-19 has left millions of Americans out of work, yet some companies are still in a hiring mode. The challenge for hiring managers now is that they must wade through mounds of resumes to find the perfect candidate, and they must do it with a much smaller recruitment budget.

"For many companies, revenues are down, but there are still critical positions to fill," said Kathleen Duffy, president and CEO of Duffy Group, Inc., a global sourcing and recruitment firm based in Phoenix. What may come as a surprise is that some jobs are still tough to fill, she said.

Before the health crisis, companies addressed the talent shortfall by stockpiling high-demand workers with specific skill sets, even if there were no jobs available for them. This included a large percentage of hiring managers—about 77 percent—who hired for positions that did not exist a year earlier, according to research by Korn Ferry.

"Whether in traditional industries such as home health care or technology, or emerging fields like baby tech, CBD products or selfie services, there still don't seem to be enough qualified candidates to go around," Duffy said.

One way to combat the problem is for hiring managers to re-evaluate how they recruit candidates. That means considering approaches beyond adding more in-house recruiters, as well as contracting for retained and contingency searches. One often-overlooked alternative that has emerged in the last decade is recruitment research.

Recruitment Research Defined

An offshoot of the executive search industry, recruitment research is a multistep methodology that targets desired candidates and connects them with employers using a flexible pricing model.

"The process is equal parts detective and skilled salesperson," Duffy said. "It begins with taking a deep dive into the company and its business, and ends with a list of interested, qualified candidates."

At the core of the process is strategy, according to Marcia Mintz, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix. When Mintz was hired to lead the organization four years ago, she had two key positions to fill immediately. "I needed to see a diverse pool of candidates with fundraising and staff coaching experience," she said.

Because the internal environment of Boys & Girls Clubs was changing, it was imperative to find leaders who not only had the skills to do the job, but whose personalities would fit into the new culture. The recruitment team leveraged its network to identify passive candidates at top local competitors and nonprofits in other parts of the nation, Mintz said.

"Ultimately, the process helped us increase the scope and quality of candidates while providing a highly cost-efficient alternative to traditional recruitment," she said.

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The Building Blocks

Part art and part science, recruitment research entails some key steps. The foundation is a sourcing strategy, which includes an in-depth situation assessment to understand the culture and personality of the hiring company, along with the job's requirements, responsibilities and specific skill set needed. Using a comprehensive intake form, the recruitment team collects data about the company's recruiting targets, geographic preferences, salary and compensation levels, communication expectations, and industry-specific vernacular.

Next comes name generation. Armed with information from the hiring manager and others, the recruiter can identify candidates whose backgrounds, education and experiences dovetail with their company's needs. This is accomplished using a variety of methods, from cold-calling and Internet tools to probing professional organizations, trade shows and chambers of commerce. The goal is to find not only people who are looking for new careers but also those passive candidates who may not be looking at all.

"It's important to think outside of the box," said Victoria McCoy, former executive vice president of organizational strategy at the global information technology company Cyberscout in Cranston, R.I. "That means knowing where the best talent is working today, whether it is at one of your competitors or in another role at your company."

List in hand, the recruitment team is then ready to contact and prequalify candidates as part of the recruitment candidate vetting. Duffy said it is important to create sizzle around why potential hires should consider the opportunity. "In addition to courting the candidate, this is also the time to ask some all-important questions, including their interest in relocating to a particular area, if they have the right education and experience, and if they have a genuine interest in the job the client is trying to fill," she said.

Duffy's firm may search as many as 100 candidates for one position and then present the top three to five most qualified and fully screened candidates for interviews. These candidates are typically seen within 15 days of the start of the search. That's important, given that recruitment research takes a different approach to finding top talent, using a model based on billable hours, much like a CPA or an attorney.

The final step—presentation and reporting—gives hiring leaders a recap of the results and a database of all candidates for the open position that they can keep on hand for future searches.

Recruitment research isn't limited to outside recruitment firms. Internal company hiring managers have the institutional knowledge to use recruitment research effectively as well.

"They should apply the same elements of the process, starting by learning all they can about the company or the business unit for which they are hiring," Duffy said. "And they should put themselves in the candidate's shoes to create a story that will pique interest in the position and differentiate their company from competitors."

Whether internally, externally or as a collaboration, recruitment research can be a cost-effective, efficient approach to helping companies find their next new hire.

Janie Magruder is a freelance journalist and a former senior reporter at The Arizona Republic.

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