Talent Community or Applicant Database?

Almost every recruiter has a database of potential candidates, but the most successful have gone beyond that. They have developed a community of people who can be placed in the right positions quickly and with a high degree of quality assurance.

There is a huge difference between a database and a community. Imagine the difference between being a principal and a teacher. The principal has a list of student names, can see their achievements and grades, and can access all previous teachers’ comments, but he still doesn’t really know the student.

The teacher, on the other hand, has all of that information and sees the social interaction and classroom participation of each student. The teacher knows all the characters that make up any group of people; the funny ones, the thinkers, the socialites, and the jocks. Who has a richer knowledge set? Who could make a better placement decision?

However, in the corporate world, a talent community is a concept that many recruiters struggle to grasp. They often confuse a talent community for the database that has been built up using many impersonal methods including the recruiting website and mail.

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

  • Problem one. They tend to get old very quickly and the data about the people is not current and often not even useable. While no one I know of has done actual research on the quality of the data in corporate resume databases, I know from anecdotal conversation that it is poor. I would guess that over half the people in the typical database are either no longer interested in a position or cannot be contacted.
  • Problem two. The recruiter has a one-dimensional view of the candidates, generally only from the resume itself. There is no additional information, no personal observations, and no reference data. Because resumes have been added mostly through electronic and impersonal methods, the candidates are completely unknown to the recruiters. This means that the qualification and assessment of a candidate begins after the resume is retrieved 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. Ask yourself how many positions are filled with people you find solely by searching in your ATS database.

The Power of Community

What makes communities special? According to academic research, communities offer a feeling a membership, the ability to influence decisions, the fulfillment of needs at some level and a shared emotional connection to other members. Recruiters can be a part of their communities and create a dynamic Internet space for potential candidates to interact with each other and with employees, hiring managers, and recruiters.

By leveraging technology, organizations can achieve levels of personalization that are almost as good as face-to-face interaction. There are three distinctive features of corporate talent communities that make them more valuable than databases, including membership and influence, connecting and bonding members, and more flexibility.

Membership and Influence

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, if someone comes to the recruiting website and indicates an interest in a particular job, software can quickly assess a variety of things including aptitude for the job, interest, and skill level.

People who achieve certain scores can be referred to more suitable positions, turned away completely, or forwarded directly to a recruiter for immediate follow up. 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.

Organizations can build additional levels of information by allowing members to include additional information about themselves, even create their own personal Web page similar to MySpace.

Connecting and Bonding Members

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. Candidates control their own information and can even drop out of the community if they become disinterested or decide to move on.

Blogs can help raise interest and get candidates to return to the site. Some organizations are trying out virtual work, using it as a method to screen candidates. For example, the Boston Consulting Group has potential candidates work small business cases.

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Having candidates work together remotely on a problem or challenge increases the connections they have and raises their commitment to the organization. Allowing them to communicate freely with the organization’s members and with other candidates, close emotional bonds are forged that increase the likelihood that they will accept an offer.

Talent communities are like living organisms. They are always changing and becoming more mature and sophisticated. They help recruiters “know” the candidate well. This computer-aided interaction, as well as testing and assessment, can provide hiring managers with a very complete picture of a number of candidates.

More Flexibility with Higher-Quality Candidates

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.

It is not a simple process to set up a talent community, and it will take time and effort to make them effective.

There are minor legal hurdles to overcome, but the hardest part is not the technology or the law or the acceptance of the idea by candidates. Recruiters’ resistance is the toughest hurdle to overcome. Using these tools, and embracing the concept, can help all recruiters do what they do better than ever.

Kevin Wheeler

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.