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Jul 11, 2022

I have been writing and talking about talent acquisition for more than seven years and leading and transforming talent teams for almost 20 years. In all this time, one thing has not changed: As a profession, we still are not consistently leveraging our most valuable asset with prospects and candidates — the relationship. We still have not mastered the art of designing and executing purposeful engagement strategies to build relationships. 

I used to be confused about why this didn’t happen. You would think understanding the psychology and impact of human relationships would be at the center of a field focused on connecting people to jobs. 

I’m no longer confused. 

Transaction Junkies

I know why we don’t step up and do the one thing that could make a real difference in our TA outcomes: It’s hard, it takes planning, it requires resources, it is hard to measure, and the No. 1 reason? It takes time. 

We are an industry that is about people, but we behave like an assembly line delivering widgets, measuring our value in time to fill, cost per hire, and process efficiency. We live for the fast and immediate win, like slot machine junkies. 

We have convinced ourselves that it is more efficient to just source candidates per requisition and cross our fingers that we can land a jackpot: the right person for our open job at the right moment. We hope they will open our InMail right when we need them to. Then, they will drop everything, run to our website, fill out our application forms and patiently wait for us to reach out and tell them they are wanted. 

We have survived so far, treating TA like an on-demand transaction, and when it has been harder to hit the jackpots, we have doubled down on our approach and hired more recruiters and sourcers. 

We have been transaction junkies.

Then the world turned upside down. In a world where job-givers used to have the power, now they do not. The workers, the employees, and the potential candidates have started saying, “No thank you” in numbers that make it impossible for us to hit enough “jackpots.” 

Candidates have switched the game on us. They now treat work as transactional and see themselves as the ones in control of the transaction. Simultaneously, TA teams face huge numbers of roles to fill, along with more wary and savvy candidates who are unwilling to jump through our “process steps” or wait for us to call. 

To win in this new world, TA teams need to leverage the psychology of relationships to build connections and win the hearts of top talent. Recruiting as a relationship-based endeavor is no longer a nice idea to talk about on the conference circuit. It became the strategy that will elevate your TA effectiveness.

Here is my recipe for building engaged relationships with candidates that lead to good hires. 

Understanding the Rules of Relationships 

Because the purpose of engagement over time is to build relationships, it’s important to keep in mind that:

Relationships are a two-way street. They require two people to be invested to make them work.

Relationships are dynamic. They change over time, and every interaction or experience that occurs during the course of a relationship impacts its strength and how each party feels about the other.

Relationships involve emotion. Meaningful connections are built when people attach an emotional response to an interaction. When the emotion is positive, the relationship takes on that vibe. When the emotion is negative, well, you know how that ends.

Relationships take time to build. They do not happen in one interaction or over one email exchange. Relationships are built through multiple interactions that generate enough cumulative experience for the participants to build an expectation of how they can rely on each other.

Ultimately, relationships imply there is mutual respect between both participants.

Creating an Interaction Plan 

If your overarching goal is to build engagement with candidates and learn more about them, how will you interact with them? Which candidates will you interact with? How personal will the interactions be? Who will initiate the engagement? How frequently will you seek interaction? These are all decisions that factor into establishing the tone of the relationship. 

Your candidates and potential candidates have preconceptions about engaging with you. Ideally, you will surprise them in positive ways. Maintaining consistency and creating value for both of you is a solid base to build upon. 

Plus, a holistic interaction works better than one that is fragmented and has obvious gaps. You can incorporate the elements listed below in your engagement plan by considering how they fit together for your target candidates: 

  • What should the key touch points be? Are they driven by a combination of the timeline from the first contact and the responses of the candidate? 
  • Which interactions should be more personal rather than generic? For example, if you have candidates who expressed strong interest in moving up, you might cc them when you tweet about internal promotions. 
  • Can you automate some interactions, sustaining the engagement between more personal communication?
  • Regarding frequency of interactions, wIll you cluster candidates into groups that have different cadences of engagement?
  • Who will you assign as the frontline engagement leader for the candidate?

Prioritizing Candidates for Engagement 

You have limited time and resources, so it’s wise to define the criteria that will guide who regarding whom you engage more personally, apart from automated interactions. When you deal with real people, a one-approach-fits-all doesn’t work out. It makes candidates feel they are items moving through your transaction pipeline. 

Criteria for prioritization can include the urgency of the hire, the scope of responsibility, and the expected degree of difficulty in finding qualified people. 

Candidates seen as top talent for key roles should receive more direct engagement to move them into the conversion stage. By contrast, those who are interesting and qualified but for whom you lack a current role can be nurtured via automated engagements focused on getting them to complete their profile or basic assessments. 

To form your strategy for prioritizing candidates for different types of engagement, decide which candidate segments are most important in the overall talent strategy. For instance, do you need to give special attention to referrals or alumni? Additionally, to determine whether a candidate belongs in a particular priority segment, do you need an interaction to find out more about them? 

Creating Collateral That Engages Rather Than Advertises 

Great advertising material is what you don’t want. Be aware that recruitment engagement content should motivate the recipient to engage with you more deeply and usually requires delivering something of value to job-seekers. Advertising content has a different purpose: driving conversion actions. Thus, advertising typically will not create the more in-depth relationship you need. 

The main purpose of engagement collateral is to entice candidates to share more about themselves. You are after their data. If you deliver something valuable, they are more likely to inform you about themselves. The opportunity for a 15-minute Q&A with a couple of potential colleagues might be compelling. Or propose a chat session with other candidates and a company leader. Or an invitation to a skills workshop.

Give careful thought to what your candidates will value and find impactful. What will stand out in their Inbox enough to lead them forward on the path to a profound career decision? As you plan your engagement collateral, look at these factors:

  • What is your message? What do you want to say to the candidate at that moment in the relationship?
  • How should you deliver your message so that it will be received and interacted with in the way you intend? Define your delivery vehicle carefully.
  • Engagement means there is a two-way dimension to your interaction. What will be your call to action or mechanism to engage with candidates and solicit information from them?

Leveraging Assessments As an Engagement Tool

Today assessment strategies are often employed during the interview process and sometimes leveraged to support screening activities by sourcers. Often, they come too late in the process. 

However, assessing candidates earlier can overtax the candidate relationship before it is strong enough, and it can generate false expectations. 

Nonetheless, assessments can be layered effectively into the candidate relationship over time. Be purposeful in where you include an assessment, which type of assessment you use, and how you collect and manage the assessment data. 

Also be aware that neglecting to refresh assessment data at the right time could lead to misrepresenting a candidate’s skills or capabilities. A year-old assessment might not be accurate in some sectors or job profiles because of how quickly new skills are achieved or advanced. 

In addition, self-disclosure assessment questions can be part of your initial interactions with candidates. The process can also be more natural and less tedious if you conversationally obtain skill disclosures during early engagements without having candidates complete checklists or forms. 

It’s also worth keeping in mind that your assessment process can provide value back to candidates and boost engagement. For example, upon completion of a competency assessment, you could provide candidates with free access to a training webinar so they can enhance their skill set. 

Points to consider in planning assessment as part of your candidate engagement strategy include:

  • At what time should you conduct screening of candidates?
  • Are there touch points in your engagement with a candidate where including an assessment would be less intrusive?
  • What will an assessment tell you? Which insights into your candidate are you seeking, and how will they help you?
  • Where can you leverage assessments to validate the information that a candidate self-disclosed?
  • Can you build a benefit for the candidate into an assessment?

We Can Do This

I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you. Leveraging a relationship-based strategy in your talent acquisition process is not fast, easy, or an immediate adrenaline-inducing jackpot. It is a practice that pays off over time. Engaged relationships will increase the quality of candidates you bring forward to the business. In turns, this reduces the anxiety over where you will find candidates — and your candidates are less likely to feel like pipeline filler. 

While relationship-building can solve some of your biggest TA challenges, it requires connecting with and organizing candidates proactively, not just when you have an open requisition. It will mean you need to demonstrate care and reciprocity to your candidates by giving as much in return as you ask from them in time, effort and attention. By treating candidates as dynamic human beings who change over time, and leveraging your engagement strategy to keep your knowledge about them current and relevant, you will achieve better outcomes.

I have faith we can do this. 

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