Here's one hard truth about recruiting: the window between the right candidate and the right opportunity rarely aligns—at least not the first time around. In this market, you can’t afford to lose the talent you’ve worked so hard to find. You have to build a talent pool: a database of targeted, qualified candidates who’ve expressed interest—or who may one day be interested—in working for your company. Think of the talent pool as a living, breathing community of reserve talent that (assuming you keep them engaged with regular touchpoints, over time) might fill your future open roles.
Emphasis on the word “future”: the talent pool is a long-term, proactive strategy for any team that is growing, that plans to grow, that has evergreen roles, or that needs to consider workforce planning or succession planning. (Collectively, that’s every team, by the way.)
Because it’s a way of “recruiting in advance,” building a talent pool lets talent acquisition stay ahead of headcount needs. It ensures your team doesn’t scramble each time a new req comes in—open reqs flow directly to the talent pool, where your reserve is. From there, you can reach out to the talent you’ve already been engaging in friendly ways over time; and that talent is statistically more likely to respond. You get to skip the part about posting on costly job boards, spending days sourcing for talent, creating campaigns to market your open position, and sorting through masses of inbound applications.
Ultimately, talent pools streamline your recruiting process, reduce time-to-hire and cost-of-hire, boost your employer brand, improve quality-of-hire, provide a safety net against attrition and skills shortages, reduce costs associated with unfilled positions, and allow you to better forecast hiring.
That’s a lot of benefits.
Before you start building your talent pool, there are two things we would recommend. For starters, find the right software. Maintaining a talent pool on post-it-notes, spreadsheets, or in your email history simply isn’t sustainable. Recruiting automation software and talent CRMs give you visibility into talent’s history with your team, allow you to store candidates, filter and tag them, nurture them through occasional branded outreach that’s personalized at scale, and move them easily into your ATS when they’re ready to move forward.
As you’re putting a solution in place, you’ll also want to define exactly what a “high quality” candidate means for your org. (A talent pool won’t do you much good if you’re dropping in everyone; the point is to nurture top talent.) What skills does your workforce currently have, and what does it need? What are your org’s future growth plans? What roles will you need in the next 2 years, 3 years, 5 years? The combination of skills gaps and strategic direction concerning future growth should give you a strong sense of who you want in your talent pool.
Now, here’s how to build a talent pool:
Save Passive Talent as You’re Sourcing
Much of sourcing is still req-based: the recruiting team is given a role to fill, and they begin actively seeking out passive talent that fit the requirements to fill that position. But what happens when you save the talent you come across while sourcing—talent who doesn’t fit a current open role, but would fit a future one? Rather than passing over these professionals, relegating them to the black hole of the internet, build a talent pool around them as you go.
You’re likely already sourcing talent on platforms like LinkedIn, GitHub, SeekOut, and elsewhere; but events, partnerships with bootcamps and universities, and employee referral programs are all strategic ways to source passive talent. For online searches, sourcing tools are available that will verify email addresses and auto-parse prospect data, then let you add talent to a nurture campaign—personalized and at scale—with useful content and company updates.
With these solutions, you can track recipient behavior to see who’s interested and understand what content resonates. Life changes quickly, and talent goes on and off the market just as fast. Even if passive talent is happy where they are now, they might be ready for a change 6 months or a year down the road. So keep them engaged.
Re-Engage Past Applicants and Former Silver Medalists
The average corporate job opening attracts 250 applicants, around 5 of whom make it to an interview, and only one of whom will be successful. Your other top candidates could likely have done just as well in the role—they were certainly impressive enough to make it to the interview. These silver medalists have taken on new roles elsewhere and are continuing to develop new skills and hone the ones they have. So rather than simply thanking them for their time and letting them stagnate in your ATS, sustain relationships with them.
Past applicants are already familiar with your org. You’ve assessed their competencies, they’ve been vetted by a hiring manager, and they’ve already dedicated time and resources to your hiring process. On your end, a lot of energy has gone into bringing them to your doorstep, including your investments in talent branding. Don’t let those efforts be wasted: ask runners-up if you can add them to your talent pool and consider them for future roles.
Of course, this means you’ve got to offer a terrific candidate experience the first time around—including giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates, which will improve their chances of success the next time around. It also means you’ll want to keep interview notes and details about rejection reasons—including why top candidates rejected you. (Talent who declined your offers should be added to your talent pool as well, depending on the reasons they declined.)
Build a Talent Community through Your Careers Page
Of course, you can also build a talent pool with active talent. A talent community is made up of talent who arrive on your careers page, don’t see a position for them or aren’t ready to apply, but decide they’d like to keep hearing from your company until the timing is right. With Gem’s help, these prospective candidates fill out a customized form directly on your careers page; and you can use the information you collect (contact information, LinkedIn URL, department or location of interest, etc.) to nurture and engage with them over time.
(Note that many job boards also allow you to capture information from talent who’s viewed your job ads. Check in with the job boards you’re using and find out if there’s a data collection option to avail yourself of.)
Tell prospects what they’ll get by joining—company news, product updates, job openings, event invites, newsletters. Make the form short and simple. You’re just getting talent into your database for now; you’ll have time to learn more about them later.
Note that you’re likely to have a range of both qualified and unqualified candidates opt in to your talent community; and you want to ensure that the talent you spend most of your time communicating with will indeed be a great fit for those future open roles. Recruiters should check in on their talent community projects regularly, see who’s been added, and take time to qualify them through the LinkedIn URLs they entered or by researching them on other social platforms.
Host (or Co-Host, or Sponsor) Exceptional Events
This strategy could fall under “sourcing”; but we’re giving it its own section because it’s an approach to building talent pools that every department in your org should be using. Career fairs, campus events, forums, meet-and-greets, industry conferences, hackathons, seminars, webinars, workshops, trainings… you’ve defined the roles and skill sets you’ll need in the near future; now it’s time to find them. The point is to be where your target talent is. Events don’t have to be costly or time-consuming endeavors; but they do have to be well-thought-out.
Collect contact information from all talent you meet at these events. Again, think beyond your current open roles: does the person you just spoke to seem to share your organization’s values, and would they be a good culture-and-skill-add for the team? If so, drop them into your CRM, and manage and nurture them from there.
(By the way, with Gem’s events module, RSVPs and attendees are automatically added to a Gem project for easy nurture down the road. Our full-funnel analytics show you which events lead to which applicants lead to which hires, so you can calculate the ROI of your events based on actual headcount increases.)
Build out Your Referral Program
We’ll keep this one short, because we know that you know the power of referrals. Referral programs improve time-to-hire, cost-of-hire, and quality-of-hire. Because referred talent is vetted by your own employees, who know both the skill sets of the folks they refer and the nuances of your culture, referred talent onboards more quickly and stays at your org for longer. Last year, 82% of employers said that, as a sourcing strategy, referrals see the best ROI: referred talent is 4x more likely to be hired than candidates who come from other sources.
The moral of the story? Even if you don’t hire someone who’s been referred to your org, add them to the talent pool you’re building. And don’t just build your talent pool... build out your referral program.
Build Out Targeted Social Media Recruiting Campaigns
You’re already using social media to showcase your culture and promote your employer brand: Why is your company such a great place to work? What do your employees have to say about their experience, and their career trajectory, at your org? Now it’s time to step it up a notch. Rather than just showcasing your team and its culture, use this space to promote your talent community, and further build your talent pool. Of course, you know your target talent best; and you’ll meet them at the platforms they’re on—whether that’s LinkedIn, Instagram, Tiktok, or elsewhere. Your call to action should drive visitors to the Talent Community signup we discussed above.
Keep in mind, too, that most of these platforms offer targeted ad options that let you narrow in on professionals that have the skill sets, or hold the roles, you’ll eventually need to fill. Nearly 80% of job-seekers are already using social media to conduct their job searches; a recent survey found that over 85% of organizations say social media helps them find and engage passive talent as well. So get your social game on… but have an end goal beyond employer branding.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of the Boomerang
The vast majority of employees who leave your org will do so on good terms—new roles, the opportunity to travel, parenthood or other personal circumstances. (Of course, this category isn’t limited to former full-time employees; “alumni” also includes former interns, independent contractors, and part-time talent.) It’s possible that the grass won’t be greener on the other side for employees who accept roles elsewhere. It’s possible that there won’t be an immediate open role for an intern who’s gotten some great work experience with you. Leave open the possibility of re-welcoming these folks. They know your culture, fit your values, have the skills, and will onboard more quickly.
Exit interviews are always critical, but perhaps especially so for employees who might be boomerangs. Ask if they’d consider coming back if the right opportunity opened up for them. Uncover the decisive factors that would get them to consider a return to your org. If they indicate they’d be open to returning, put them in your talent pool, add them to a long-term nurture sequence, and send them the most relevant content and updates over time.
As you build and maintain your talent pool, keep up with the particularly stellar talent that’s left you. What new skills are they learning? What are they doing in their new roles?
Look to Internal Talent
We’ve just asked you to consider the talent that’s left your org; now think about the talent that’s still with you. It can be easy to overlook what’s right in front of us, but the perfect candidate for an open role may already be employed with you—only in a different role or department. You know what skills your current employees possess; you know they’ve had extensive training and they harmonize with your organizational culture; they know the ins-and-outs of the company better than any candidate out there. Internal talent pools provide a consistent and reliable source of talent if you refrain from pigeonholing your employees in the roles they began with.
Ask managers to identify the ICs who are learning new competencies and have the potential for career growth. Are these employees ready to be promoted to more senior roles? As openings arise, this talent should be kept in the loop… but before they arise, add them to an internal talent pool. Recruiting and hiring becomes more challenging—and more time-consuming, and more expensive—the further up the ladder you go. This is one reason your org should have an L&D plan in place to upskill current employees. Talent that’s excelling in performance management reviews should be noted. Let them know that you see them, and that there’s a career path for them. Indeed, failure to do so is likely to lead to employee disengagement and attrition.
Don’t Just Build a Talent Pool; Segment and Nurture It
As you’ll have noticed, the talent pool you build will include a variety of personas, uncovered from a range of sources, all with different relationships to your org. Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to your engagement with them: graduating seniors will be compelled by different information than talent on parental leave will. We’ll have more to say about talent pool management in an upcoming post; for now, start segmenting your pool so you can send relevant content to each particular group.
You’ll want more than an ATS to build a talent pool. Applicant tracking systems are only designed to move talent through the funnel once they’ve applied. But for talent that hasn’t applied or folks you want to re-engage, a talent CRM will let you categorize prospective candidates, drop them into nurture campaigns, personalize outreach at scale, give you analytics on that outreach, and generally turn your database into a vibrant community of talent that may one day want to come work for you.