May 21, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Subtle as it may seem, there is Grand Canyon of difference between a database of prospective candidates and a community of talented prospective candidates.

Recruiters frequently tell me they have a talent community, when further investigation reveals that they have a huge database of people they do not know at all. These databases have been built up using impersonal methods including the career website, profiles gathered through the applicant tracking system, and perhaps referrals from other employees.

Databases suffer from two major problems when it comes to being effective recruiting tools.

First of all they tend to get old very quickly, and the data about the people is frequently not current and often not even usable at all. While no one that I know of has done actual research on the quality of the data in corporate resume databases, I know from experience and from working with many clients that it is poor.

The second problem databases have is that they tell you very little. All a recruiter knows about the candidate is whatever is in the resume/profile itself. There is no additional information, no personal observations, and seldom any useful reference data. Because the resumes have been added mostly through impersonal methods, the candidates are unknown to the recruiters. This means that the qualification and assessment of a candidate begins after the resume is retrieved (assuming it is retrieved, which is very seldom) and may take quite a bit of time, assuming the candidate can even be contacted. Candidate quality is often poor, and the time to find candidates can become very long, especially for hard-to-fill positions.

Most recruiters do not really actively use their talent databases and instead turn to Internet search, cold calling, or hire a sourcer or a third-party recruiter. In effect, a talent database is a legal storehouse, suitable for printing reports and showing compliance, but of little practical value in hiring — especially the hard-to-find candidates.

You might make the case that a good recruiter should know this and develop his own community of candidates. It might be possible to maintain data on and build relationships with 50 to 100 potential candidates, but doing that would be a full-time job.

What makes the talent community I am talking about different is its ability to take advantage of technology to achieve levels of personalization that could not be achieved without it.

There are three distinctive features of corporate talent communities that make them more valuable than databases.

They can serve as initial screeners: A talent community is always growing and changing. People can become a member of a talent community in several ways, but each requires them to learn more about the organization and provides the recruiter with more information about them. For example, candidates who come to the corporate Facebook fan page and then are referred to a targeted career site are likely to be much more interested in your organization than someone just dropping by the career site to drop off a resume.

Interest is a type of screening, and combined with the right tools a career site can quickly assess a variety of things, including aptitude for the job and skill level. People who achieve certain scores or meet other criteria can be referred directly to a recruiter. This way no one is asked to just “dump” their unevaluated resume into a hopper and wait for a follow up call — which usually never comes.

This ensures that everyone who ends up in the talent community has been evaluated at some level and knows that they meet the basic requirements for employment in your organization. They have had a positive encounter, although that was entirely or almost entirely without actual contact with you or any other recruiter.

Years of experimentation and use of these tools show that most candidates respond very positively to the immediate knowledge of how well they meet requirements and are often surprised to get a phone call or personal email from a recruiter because the software has alerted the recruiter to the quality of candidate.

They are much more personal and dynamic: Candidates actually perceive talent communities as very personal. If the talent community is set up well, candidates will frequently get emails and other messages about jobs and about the status of their own candidacy. They may receive periodic requests to update their personal information and keep their address and email current. This means that information is up to date. Candidates can add more information about themselves, and recruiters can ask questions about specific skills or interests. All of this information is kept in the candidate record, and any recruiter can access this. If a new recruiter stats recruiting for a position, there may be many candidates in the community who she can learn a lot about very quickly.

Talent communities are like living organisms. They are always changing and becoming more mature and sophisticated. Recruiters may have never met a person face to face and yet know much more about them than if they have had two or three personal interviews. This computer-aided interaction, as well as testing and assessment, can provide hiring managers with a very complete picture of a number of candidates.

They are far more flexible
: All of this means that talent communities are far more flexible than databases. Candidates who may have applied for one position are frequently referred to different ones after the recruiter knows them better through the interaction and testing. One candidate may be an ideal candidate for several positions, and fewer candidates get pigeonholed into a particular channel and thereby missed in the search.  Vigorous and thorough screening and assessment means that quality is as high as it can be and even higher than the quality that comes through employee referral or headhunters.

It is getting easier to set up talent communities every day. Tools such as LinkedIn or Google groups may serve as rudimentary communities. Tools such as Ning can be modified and put to work as active communities. Some organizations build their own.

Communities of candidates are powerful and reduce the need for special sourcing or the use of outside recruiters. They can increase the number of positions a single recruiter can handle and provide higher quality candidates in a shorter time. They always trump databases.

But the hardest part is not the technology or the screening and assessment tools or the acceptance of the idea by candidates. What proves to always be the hurdle that is hardest to overcome is the resistance of recruiters to using the tools and embracing the concept as a way to do what they do better than ever.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
The longest running and most trusted source of information serving talent acquisition professionals.