Why I Love Talent Acquisition

February 12, 2013

Editor's note: Jeremy Langhans heads up Global Brand and Talent Attraction for Expedia. He is also President of the Northwest Recruiters Association.

What did you want to be when you grew up? A corporate recruiter? Me neither. Most of us are plain lucky to fall into this profession.

I always wanted to be a photographer. I was obsessed with music and theater too, but at the age of 19, photography became my personal hobby-turned-profession. I was hired by different modeling agencies, one of which took me on as a talent scout. My job was to book models for clients like Nordstrom and Nike all over the northwest.

Booking models is like recruiting: you go through a pool of talent for your client and try to find exactly the right fit for an assignment. I know what you’re thinking – “Poor Jeremy! Rough life.”  - but you’d be surprised. There I was at 21, working 100 hours a week in a job that didn’t pay so well. I clearly recall thinking, “I’ve got to do something different.”

My transition to Talent Acquisition happened for shallow reasons. One of the model’s moms drove a Mercedes and was always there to pick her up, as if she had all the time in the world. I asked her one day, “What do you do?” When she told me she was an IT recruiter, I responded right away: “How do I get into that?”

Soon enough I joined her at Volt, and then I switched to Robert Half where I became the youngest division director. I’ve held a variety of corporate positions since then, and in the last five years I’ve also picked up a focus on brand. So there it is – a 15 year career spurred by some model’s mom and her Mercedes.

And I love it. I love Talent Acquisition. Even though I’m no longer a req-based recruiter, I’m deeply passionate about the matchmaking aspect of it. You’re helping someone get talent for their business, and at the same time you’re offering candidates economic opportunity, a better job than they’ve had previously. That’s a higher calling, not just some process we follow.

Beyond the humanity of it all, it’s about impact. At Expedia’s portfolio of businesses – including Hotwire, Hotels.com and Venere.com - we don’t make anything.  No widgets, no lattes. Our business, at its core, is talent. We work with 155,000 hotels in 60 countries, along with a whole host of other travel businesses. Our people build relationships with those partners through whom we generate revenues.  Without talent, we’d come to a grinding halt.

In my capacity as the brand representative, the marketing guy inside Talent Acquisition, I know all about impact too. I can say that every other day I make a hire on LinkedIn. Every 30 seconds someone touches my brand on LinkedIn. Cool stuff.

I’d argue that our field has never been more exciting. My role, which integrates marketing and recruitment, is a foreshadowing of what’s to come. It’s becoming less about outdated systems – who wouldn’t love to blow up their ATS? – and more about personalization, communication, pipelining, branding.

What’s more, I see Talent Acquisition becoming less subservient. I’ve had the fortune to sit down with our CEO and CFO twice in the last 10 months, and they had a long list of questions for me. That wouldn’t have happened a few years ago. At a company like Expedia, where our candidates are our customers, we’re getting that “seat at the table” that we’re all so fond of talking about. Hate that term, love our direction as an industry.

And subtle as it might be, I think framing ourselves as Talent Acquisition professionals is helping the cause, for three reasons:

  • “Talent Acquisition” evokes the right reaction in our clients. What we do is more than recruiting process. It’s about business results and the people that drive it. The term has more rigor, strategy and maturity to it.
  • “Talent Acquisition” feels like action. “Recruiting” sounds like churn. I am acquiring talent, which is all-important to our business.
  • “Talent Acquisition” feels fresh to our audience. Even if 80 percent of the role is the same as traditional ‘Recruiting’, by being a Talent Acquisition leader I feel justified in sharing talent-related insights with the c-suite.

So take a tip from a brand guy, and consider rebranding yourself as a Talent Acquisition leader, if you haven’t already. And start thinking about how to deliver more value than any other function at your company. Given what we do, that’s 100 percent within our grasp.