A Focus on Filling Roles Is Killing Recruitment

A focus on filling roles is killing recruitment, says Jonathan Hehir. Certainly, that’s a bold statement because…well…isn’t recruitment all about filling roles?

Not exactly, says Jon, who is the global people marketing leader at data company Talend. At ERE Digital, April 6-7, Jon will be talking about how a myopic view of recruiting is counterproductive to effective recruiting. In his session, he’ll reveal how his team has been able to 

  • Reduce time to fill by 30 days,
  • Decrease interviews by 50%, and
  • Increase email response rate by at least 10%.

I recently spoke to Jon about his views on creating relationship-driven shifts in mindset and process, developing a talent pipeline that improves ROI, and what it means to replace a tailored approach with a targeted one to engage candidates. 

Vadim Liberman: The title of your upcoming talk at ERE Digital is quite provocative. But what do you actually mean when you say that focusing on filling roles is killing recruitment?

Jonathan Hehir: We spend so much time trying to fill currency open roles that we lose sight of what’s best for the business. And what’s best for the business is for recruitment to get to a more proactive, rather than reactive, state. The way to do that is through building relationships with candidates and potential candidates.Too often, though, we forget the relationship aspect of recruitment because we’re so focused on filling open reqs.

Look, one of the biggest things people do in life is change jobs or employers. That’s a big decision for people, and no one wants to make such a decision in a rushed or pressured state. So the key is to start having conversations with potential candidates or employees as early as possible so that they can feel more at ease when it comes to getting to know your business better. But that’s just not how the process is set up at many organizations. Instead, the hiring process is all about cramming everything into a short period of time. That’s bad.

So you want recruiting departments to prioritize building a pipeline of talent more, right?

Yes, nurturing talent early on is important. It gives people greater opportunity early on to figure out if your company is right for them and their long-term goals. Ideally, you want people to already feel like they belong at your company before they start officially applying or interviewing for a job. 

And from an employer’s perspective, this helps hiring in the long-run. You can hire more quickly, as well as retain people better because you’ve built that relationship with people from the beginning. That means having conversations with people about what they really want to do in their careers. It’s not about selling benefits or even roles. You can’t really tell someone you’ve got a great role for that person until you understand that candidate’s needs first. There’s a sales parallel, which is that a good salesperson doesn’t just go sell software without understanding pain points first.

I also know that you are a big proponent of engaging what you call silver medalists.

Yes, these are people who were not hired, but were still excellent candidates. You want to keep engaging these individuals and continue to nurture your relationship with them. At some point, a job may open up that’s right for them, and because you already know them well — and they know you well — you can save time in the hiring process by not asking the same questions again and again. You’d be cutting through a lot of that B.S.

At Talend, we’ve found that by nurturing relationships with people, we’ve been able to hire up to 30 days quicker. The quickest hire we had was in just six hours; the person had interviewed for a role the prior year, so when a new role opened up, the conversation about it was quick and easy.

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Right, but that doesn’t really mean you hired the person in six hours, because you’d already spent more hours a year earlier talking to the candidate. 

That’s true, but we nonetheless saved time because at most companies, the process would’ve started anew with this person and added time as a result. But because we invested in relationships early on, we are able to reduce time for sourcing, searching, and interviewing for roles as they come up.

What this is all really about is moving from a role- to a person-focused strategy. Instead of constantly focusing on open roles, we look at the people we engage to understand them better. We look at what they can bring to the table. And also, we use a targeted, rather than a tailored, approach to engage candidates.

What’s the difference between “targeted” and “tailored”? How is one more effective than the other?

Well, we asked 300 of our employees what kind of content attracts them, and for the most part, people said they appreciate personalization. But when we trialed personalized — that is, a tailored — emails when reaching out to potential candidates, we got an increase in response rate of only 10%, whereby our total response rate was 35% to 40%. The thing about tailored approaches, though, is that they take time to craft. 

But a targeted approach, which is not personalized to an individual but is rather a template geared toward specific types of roles, is often a better option. You can have an email relating to sales positions, another email covering IT roles, and so forth. This approach takes much less time than developing tailored emails per candidate. And sure, while a targeted approach may not yield as high a response rate — for us, it’s 30% to 35% — the saved time can be better spent screening candidates and doing other searches. The ROI for taking a tailored approach just isn’t worth it generally.


Join Jon at ERE Digital, April 6-7, for his presentation, “A Focus on Filling Roles Is Killing Recruitment: How to Create a Candidate-Centric Pipeline.” Register here.

Vadim Liberman is editor of ERE.net and TLNT (the devil wears TJ Maxx) — a workplace renegade advancing how we think, work, and live. He has previously worked as a strategy consultant to HR and recruiting tech companies at The Starr Conspiracy, as a talent management professional at Prudential, and as senior editor of The Conference Board Review, a magazine for business leaders. Vadim loves to talk about all things HR, talent acquisition, and Bravo TV shows. Bring it!

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