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NEW YORK CITY—The key to attracting the best talent, particularly in hard-to-fill fields like technology, is to identify passive candidates by scouring the Web, creating “poach” lists and running contests to interest them in potential future openings, experts say.
“The core of strategic staffing is looking at not just who applied for your job but who is the absolute best person for your job. And once you have identified that individual, you need to engage them,” said Maury Hanigan, founder and CEO of Sparc, an HR technology firm that helps companies engage passive candidates with a video-based job marketing platform. She recently gave a presentation at a talent acquisition conference presented by The Conference Board.
Too often, organizations take a tactical approach to source talent. They advertise positions, sort applications, conduct phone screens, negotiate and hire.
“I’m hoping none of you are still doing this,” Hanigan said, “because this is your basic ‘post and pray’—you put it out there and hope somebody who is fabulous will see it and respond.”
During the session, she discussed some common and not-so-common strategic sourcing techniques.
LinkedIn, employee referrals and talent communities are fine, but each has drawbacks, Hanigan said. LinkedIn is a huge database of about 380 million registered users. The major con? The ability to access technology professionals. “The number of Python or Ruby on Rails developers on LinkedIn is probably only six,” Hanigan said. Most have turned off their contact settings because they get bombarded with offers, she added.
Employee referrals don’t cost much and often result in strong culture fit and employee retention. But they can also lead to a lack of diversity. Employee referrals are also tough to scale, particularly if the organization needs to hire 1,000 people.
Talent communities are increasingly popular because people can self-identify and are often invited to join. “It’s basically a big … database where [members] can identify the kinds of jobs they would be interested in,” Hanigan said. The downside is that there’s no quality control… It takes a lot of resources, and you have to keep it current.”
Sleuthing for High-Potentials
In addition to using targeted advertising and social media to promote jobs, here are some other ways to build a database of potential employees:
Follow the digital trail. Some organizations use vendors like Entelo or SwoopTalent that comb the “digital dust” to help identify potential candidates. Whenever someone tweets or posts on Facebook or even conducts a Google search, they leave a digital footprint. Vendors can scan all Web transactions to find people who mention “Python” or “system architecture” and help identify candidates who fit specific profiles. Some companies conduct the monitoring themselves using GitHub and Stack Overflow for technical recruiting, she said.
Create mulligan files. If a golfer hits a shot into the trees or water, it’s known as a mulligan and he or she gets a “do-over” without penalty. Likewise, in recruiting, Hanigan recommends keeping track of people who have turned down a job offer from your company. The timing may not have been right, but they may be interested later.
“When people say no, those files tend to get trashed or they go completely obsolete, but what an amazing investment you’ve made in identifying someone who has the skills and abilities” you’re looking for, Hanigan said.
Campus recruiters often screen hundreds of thousands of students and then delete the files. And then they go out 18 to 24 months later looking for a financial analyst with 18 to 24 months’ experience. “You’ve already found them,” Hanigan explained. Send an e-mail every six months to previous candidates asking if they’d like to opt out of future contact or update their information.
Poach lists. Succession planning shouldn’t just be for top jobs like CEO. Hanigan said some companies have a backup list three people deep for every key position down to regional sales manager. Ask people in key positions, “Who would be the best person to put in your seat today?” It might be an internal or external candidate or someone from a completely different industry.
Content communities. Produce newsletters or webinars to create a ready database of potential employees from the subscriber list.
Get involved with meetups. In New York City, Greenhouse, an applicant tracking system vendor, sponsors and organizes a meetup for people who work in talent management functions. The company’s name is nowhere on the invitations, and “you would probably have no idea they were behind it, but they now have access to all the talent operations people,” Hanigan said.
Contests. Think creatively about what candidates might care about. General Assembly New York, which holds classes on technology, business and design, recently ran a contest for talented technology professionals where the top two winners would be flown to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston for a tour with an astronaut. The prize had “nothing to do in theory with who they’d want to hire or who they’d want to attract, but it was such a cool prize that people who are space geeks just flocked to it,” Hanigan explained.
Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.
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