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What Is Talent Acquisition and How Does It Work?

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    Talent acquisition is the processes and strategies designed to identify, target, hire and retain the best employees to reach long-term business goals. The practice is bigger than recruitment and requires a stellar candidate experience — as well as a strong employer brand — to satisfy this aim. Read how talent acquisition works and what you can do to support and enhance it in your organization.

    Organizations don’t grow without people. Even massive enterprises with decades of history need new employees to help maintain their success and continue to innovate. And no company can pull this off without talent acquisition.

    A step beyond recruitment, talent acquisition isn’t just about finding new employees. Rather, it involves deliberately and strategically expanding a workforce to reach an employer’s long-term goals. In other words, talent acquisition isn’t exclusively hiring. It’s the development of qualified candidates.

    But how does it work, and when does a business know its talent acquisition is truly effective? Let’s dive into what talent acquisition really means, how it works and useful tips to craft a strategy built to last.

    What is talent acquisition?

    Talent acquisition is the combination of processes and strategies companies use to recruit and retain qualified employees. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, “[talent acquisition] includes developing, implementing and evaluating programs for sourcing, recruiting, hiring and orienting talent.”

    Boiling down talent acquisition to just hiring wouldn’t capture the full picture. Rather, it involves:

    • networking with prospective talent to nurture a relationship that eventually inspires them to apply
    • complying with local, state and federal laws to ensure fair and equitable employment practices
    • fostering a positive employer brand to showcase an environment where people would want to work
    • and more

    Plus, talent acquisition won’t look the same for every company. For instance, a biological research firm might make its presence known at a scientific conference. A commercial manufacturer, on the other hand, might use flyers, billboards and other advertisements to build a large, localized workforce.

    Ultimately, how a business uses talent acquisition depends on its unique needs.

    How does the talent acquisition process work?

    While every organization may take a different approach to talent acquisition, certain universal functions still exist. Take job descriptions, for example. It would be hard to find a legitimate business (or an entire industry) that wouldn’t benefit from pointed, descriptive, informative posts.

    Here are six phases you’ll likely find in any employer’s take on talent acquisition.

    Goal setting with hiring managers

    It’s hard to know how to wield talent acquisition — and expect recruiters to effectively use it — without clear and realistic goals. Hiring managers should understand their company’s:

    • long-term goals
    • brand and mission statement
    • vision for the ideal candidate

    At the same time, hiring managers should know the exact reason their organization needs qualified new hires. This understanding should emerge from frequent communication and alignment with HR, upper leadership and any other key stakeholders.

    Write compelling job descriptions

    A business likely won’t attract the candidates it needs without clear and compelling job descriptions. Think of writing job descriptions as a balancing act. On one hand, they need to be specific, informative and otherwise accurately describe the work the role entails, as well as who would qualify. But these posts also need to be engaging and excite people about the prospect of working for the company.

    Source potential candidates

    Even the perfect job description would fall flat if no one knew it existed. Though today’s online job boards make it easier to find specific work, true talent acquisition requires deliberate and pointed candidate sourcing.

    In essence, candidate sourcing involves proactively identifying and communicating with individuals who would likely thrive in a needed role. This involves researching prime candidates and even prescreening — qualifying someone based on their skills and experience before they even apply. Once you identify a candidate, recruiters must then encourage them to apply directly, like through a message on LinkedIn.

    Talent attraction and engagement

    A major piece of talent acquisition involves getting people excited about possibly working at a given company. This requires building a relationship with and becoming a reliable resource to desirable talent pools. Organizations may host events like a career summit to bring in possible candidates. Companies may even visit local schools and universities to speak more directly to people who will soon enter the job market.

    This approach usually involves candidate sourcing, as recruiters may invite high-priority prospects to events and other opportunities for engagement to further nurture a professional relationship.

    Evaluate candidates

    Out the gate, talent acquisition will help companies “build” their ideal candidate through the goals they set. However, those who’ve seen the 2009 romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer will know reality and expectations don’t always intersect.

    As hiring managers identify prospects and applicants, they should determine how close these individuals align with their goals. This doesn’t mean you should disqualify those who don’t match your company’s vision to a T. However, any candidate should at least reflect an approximation of the employee an organization envisioned.

    Job offers

    Once a prime candidate applies and successfully interviews, it’s time to stick the landing. The right job offer can be just as crucial as successfully sourcing and attracting talent. Providing them with an offer that doesn’t line up with expectations could sabotage their entire hiring journey.

    In other words, talent acquisition efforts should inform and eventually feed into a job offer that realistically mirrors what a candidate learned. If an organization actively touts salary ranges and world-class benefits, those elements should wind up in the initial job offer. Granted, negotiations may change the final offer, but no hiring manager should deliberately start on the wrong foot.

    What’s the difference between talent acquisition and recruitment?

    Though they may sound similar, talent acquisition is a more advanced and deliberate form of recruitment. Put simply, recruitment exists to fill job openings. Conversely, talent acquisition involves proactively working toward a company’s strategic goals by nurturing relationships with qualified candidates.

    Here are more key differences between talent acquisition and recruitment:

    Recruitment Talent acquisition
    Designed to fill abrupt openings Focused on long-term staffing requirements and nurturing candidates
    Concludes when you hire a candidate Establishes a more encompassing process that involves candidate sourcing and even onboarding
    Usually used for entry-level roles Pointed to fill any role, including more strategic and leadership positions
    Helps maintain a workforce as is Works to help a company grow

    This doesn’t mean recruitment isn’t valuable or necessary in certain instances. However, true and reliable growth requires businesses to practice talent acquisition.

    3 talent acquisition best practices

    Remember, every business should take an approach to talent acquisition that satisfies its specific needs. Still, most companies will share certain best practices. Here’s how to refine the most common talent acquisition steps.

    1. Compelling job descriptions

    We’ve discussed what makes job descriptions important. Now, let’s explore how to make them compelling.

    Remember, the right post requires balance. Making your job description too granular could alienate or intimidate certain talent. However, write something with all fluff and no specific substance and hiring managers could have to comb through piles of questionable and unqualified applications.

    Take time to identify your exact needs and discuss with recruiters what a role needs to include, based on your mutual understanding. It should have:

    • an accessible, easy-to-navigate structure
    • key info like location, company values and salary ranges (if required by law or for a competitive edge)
    • an accurate title and an engaging job description
    • a clear, personable call to action that compels ideal candidates to apply

    Don’t forget to properly distribute the job posting, either. In fact, the right talent acquisition tech helps with this effort by automatically posting job listings to popular, high-traffic sites.

    2. Alignment with hiring managers

    Talent acquisition can only be as effective as the hiring managers who implement it. Without their clear understanding of organizational goals and needs, it’s unlikely they’ll know which candidates they should target.

    Schedule regular, recurring meetings with hiring managers to ensure all contributors operate on the same page. These meetings have the bonus of letting managers know when they need to pivot based on new company direction.

    On an individual level, hiring managers should provide regular reports and updates to highlight their progress and discuss unexpected challenges. Since recruiters should share a similar (if not the same) objective, it makes sense for them to continually communicate about the hurdles they face. And if they discover seemingly no candidate fits the description of a particular role, this could be justification to pivot and reset expectations.

    3. Candidate evaluation: interview and assessment

    Speaking of job expectations, they shouldn’t appear from thin air. Whenever a new or vacant position arises, hiring managers should work closely with HR to ensure specific and realistic expectations for the role.

    Employers should also vet candidates for their skills even after they’ve applied. Ensure all hiring managers familiarize themselves with and implement sound interviewing tactics. You may also consider testing prospective employees with pointed, skills-based assessments that capture elements an application or even an interview can’t.

    8 tips for an effective talent acquisition strategy

    Your organization may already practice talent acquisition, even if you don’t realize it. However, even if a process appears to work, that doesn’t make it optimal.

    Keep these eight tips in mind as you build, adapt and enhance your company’s talent acquisition strategy.

    1. Talent forecasting

    Take time to analyze your current workforce and identify skill gaps. This will help you predict which traits your organization needs from an ideal candidate. Consider asking questions like:

    • Why do we need this role and why is it important?
    • What kind of preexisting roles help inform the position we need to fill?
    • What kind of skills would make or break this position?
    • Is what we expect of this role realistic, and if not, how can we adjust it to still satisfy our needs?

    Going through this simple process can help hiring managers develop a better understanding of the candidates they should find.

    2. Talent pipelining

    Talent pipelining is the process of forming relationships with those who at least seem like a solid fit for an organization. To satisfy this purpose, hiring managers should also be expert communicators. They should have materials to help attract people to your organization. Plus, they should regularly host events, attend conferences and — perhaps most importantly — speak with candidates to create stronger bonds with them.

    3. Creating an employer brand

    To attract the talent your business needs, you need to excite candidates about your workplace. Focus on enhancing your employer brand by highlighting what makes your organization a great place to work.

    Ensure you have clear values and a mission statement that people can relate to. Consider gathering feedback from employees to learn what makes them stay. You could even write employee testimonials to show candidates why people love to work at your organization. Ultimately, prospects won’t want to find a place they can just show up and work. They expect an environment that inspires them to take root and invest in a long-term career.

    4. Skill- and requirement-based hiring

    Work with hiring managers to identify a role’s most important skills and qualifications. Any legal requirements based on your organization’s line of work, such as industry-specific certifications, should come first. Next, you should compile relevant skills the candidate will need, like:

    • professional communication
    • leadership
    • collaboration
    • familiarity with your business
    • technical expertise
    • risk management
    • strategic planning
    • and more

    Finding the right combination may take time, but don’t lose hope. Remember, effective talent acquisition demands experimentation.

    5. Internal mobility

    A role is bigger than the position it fills. (Yes, you read that right.) In addition to what the job entails, you should also understand how the role could evolve, shift and advance within your company. You don’t necessarily need to get too existential with it. After all, you can’t anticipate every direction your organization might take. You can, however, form an idea of what that development path looks like based on preexisting roles and your company’s long-term goals.

    6. Focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging

    While talent acquisition requires you to identify and pursue candidates based on their qualification, never exclude people based on their demographic and background. Ensure your workplace is one that welcomes everyone and encourages employees to bring their authentic selves to work. If this doesn’t appear to be the case, work with HR and executive leadership to develop a strategy around how you can enhance your working environment and foster a more supportive culture. This process goes hand in hand with creating and displaying your employer brand.

    7. Establish standard processes

    Make sure your hiring processes are fair and consistent for every applicant. In fact, certain laws like the Equal Employment Opportunity Act require most businesses to prove they don’t discriminate through hiring. But even in the absence of a legal obligation, consistency creates a stronger pipeline for quality candidates.

    Have candid conversations with HR and recruiters to determine which portions of your hiring track might appear biased or otherwise inconsistent. Plus, regularly evaluate how applicants proceed through the pipeline. After all, even an effective flow will eventually need updating.

    8. Focus on the candidate experience

    Ultimately, effective talent acquisition works to create an engaging candidate experience. Think of your candidate pool as a renewable resource. True, not every applicant will perfectly fit the role you seek. But no candidate should walk away from an interview feeling like they can never apply again.

    Ensure hiring managers know and use best practices for interviewing and applicant communication. Use talent acquisition software to simplify and maintain consistent communication, which also prevents strong prospects from falling through the cracks.

    At the same time, you should interview new hires about their candidate experience. Take their feedback seriously, and make a point to implement it in future iterations of your talent pipeline.

    Talent acquisition: FAQ

    What is the role of talent acquisition?

    Talent acquisition allows companies to identify ideal candidates who help the organization achieve long-term goals. More than recruitment, talent acquisition involves defining key skills and nurturing relationships with prospective employees.

    What does talent acquisition mean in HR?

    Talent acquisition is a vital component of holistic HR. It’s the process of identifying, targeting, hiring and retaining quality employees. To put it another way, effective talent acquisition should speak to a healthy employee experience, one of HR’s most critical areas of focus.

    Is talent acquisition and talent management the same?

    Not quite, though they are closely related. Think of talent acquisition as the front end of talent management. While it’s focused on acquiring talent, talent management (as the term implies) is about effectively managing personnel to make the most out of a company’s resources. Effective talent management doesn’t exist without strong talent acquisition and vice versa.

    Does talent acquisition handle the hiring process?

    Yes, talent acquisition covers the hiring process, as well as candidate sourcing, onboarding and employee retention.

    What is a talent acquisition interview?

    A talent acquisition interview can be a pre-hiring discussion, though it can also take place after a candidate applies. Essentially, these interviews help employers determine if a prospective employee is the right fit by questioning them on their hard and soft skills, in addition to any other specializations needed for a given role.

    Explore Paycom’s resources to learn more about talent acquisition, employee retention and more.

    DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.