Building Candidate Pipelines: The Dilemma and Some Solutions

Sep 2, 2009

Developing candidate pipelines (i.e. having a ready “pool” of candidates available when a position opens up) is a topic that has been talked about for years.

Of late, given the decrease in open positions, the candidate pipeline subject has resurfaced again as a hot topic among many recruitment leaders and hiring managers.

I’ve heard comments like:

“Now is the time to fill the pipeline for future hiring needs.”

“Since the recruiters have extra time, let’s have them build candidate pipelines.”

These comments are being made at companies throughout the country.

What I find most interesting is a growing frustration and disconnect between recruiters and hiring managers regarding this subject.

Additionally, while in theory recruiters with fewer requisitions should have more time to “pipeline candidates,” in most organizations, this is not happening.

Why is this the case? The frustration and lack of candidate pipeline development is a result of:

  1. Managers’ unrealistic expectations regarding candidate pipelines.
  2. Undefined, unrealistic expectations regarding the time it takes to create pipelines and develop a candidate relationship management program.

Regarding the first point, recruiters and hiring managers have different definitions for “developing candidate pipelines.”

If you ask most hiring managers what the definition is, most will say:

“A ready pool of pre-screened applicants interested in working for our organization. When an opening comes up, we call them up, bring them in for an interview and if we like them, hire them.”

My (and I think most recruiters’) definition is:

“A pipeline/network of talented professionals (active and/or passive job seekers, pre-screened or not) that you regularly communicate with regarding opportunities with your organization. A pipeline of candidates, that when an opening comes up, you can immediately contact and engage in discussions about the opportunity and/or to network.”

To maintain a pool of pre-screened, job seekers ready to join our organization with little more than a two-week notice (managers’ definition) is not achievable or realistic.

We need to educate managers of this fact and the potential difference in the definitions.

First of all, taking into consideration that most of these so-called “ready in the wings” applicants would be active seekers, the probability that they would remain interested and available for an opportunity with your organization (before taking another) is very low.

Second, let’s assume you have 50% attrition of this pipeline on a monthly basis (i.e., 50% take another position and/or lose interest in your position/organization). The amount of time required to keep the pipeline stocked with candidates would be very inefficient and most likely be cost-prohibitive.

This concept proposed by managers would be comparable to a grocer acquiring perishable food, only to lose 50% of it before they can sell it! It’s probably not smart business!

Most recruiters (and hiring managers) underestimate the time required to develop candidate pipelines. And relatively few recruiters have calculated the amount of time it takes to identify, contact, and maintain relationships with quality professionals.

To help you quantify the time required, let’s dissect the process:

  • First you to need to find qualified applicants who meet the position specifications (and we all know quality talent is not sitting out on job boards or applying to our postings). This might include performing primary (phone-based) and Internet research to identify potential prospects.
  • You then need to verify that they are potential candidates and validate they are good at what they do (typically phone and/or referral based).
  • Once identified and validated, you need to make contact with them, engaging in discussion to understand their current situation, what would motivate them to move, etc.
  • Once you have established a connection/relationship, you need to create and maintain an ongoing relationship management campaign to stay connected with them.

Of course using your centers of influence (hiring managers, employees), and using technology (including social networking sites) can reduce the time required to build and maintain pipelines, but I haven’t found anyone who has built strong candidate pipelines (as I defined above) who doesn’t dedicate a 5-10+ hours a week to this activity (pending type of recruit, # of job categories you recruit for, etc.).

Are you (or your recruiters) spending this amount of time per week on this task? Do you have a sourcing team dedicated to this task?

So what is a solution to the candidate pipeline dilemma?

  1. Educate hiring managers regarding candidate pipelines, and make sure your definition of a candidate pipeline is the same as theirs.
  2. Educate the hiring managers regarding the process of developing candidate pipelines.
  3. Make sure the hiring managers and employees are engaged in the process: Who do they know in the market who are top performers that we should connect with? Who are the top performers at our competitors? Once we identify potential prospects, run the names by staff members to capture positive/negative intelligence about them.
  4. Do a pure time study to quantify the amount of time it takes to: a) identify applicants; b) verify skills/quality; c) maintain contact with them and build relationships
  5. Develop a data-driven strategy to develop candidate pipelines based on customer demand (time and tools required).

While these ideas outlined probably seem fairly simple and straightforward, you will be amazed at the results of implementing them.

(Editor’s note: Sometimes we see great blog posts on, and when we do, we publish them here with the permission of their authors. This post was originally on David’s blog.)

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