How to Build and Maintain a Pipeline of Warm Talent When Hiring Has Slowed

November 5, 2020

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With hiring on pause at many companies, some recruiting teams are focusing on building and maintaining their talent pipelines to ensure they’re not left playing catch-up later.

This is especially important for hard-to-fill positions, where pausing pipelining efforts altogether could set teams back months. Many recruiters are also recognizing that they need to improve the diversity in their pipelines to support their companies’ wider diversity and inclusion goals. 

To help you optimize your pipelining efforts and make the best use of your time, here is a six-step framework for building and nurturing a warm bench of talent — and providing a great candidate experience to all.

1. Connect with leaders, hiring managers, and the rest of the team to align on candidate profiles and pipelining goals

Before diving into pipelining, take the time to connect with leaders and hiring managers to go over your candidate profiles and overarching goals. 

The current labor market means that for many positions, there is a superabundance of candidates. “The first step we take is make sure we’re aligned in terms of what’s the right talent we want to attract and what are our goals from a nurturing perspective,” says John Karas, a recruiter on the executive search team at LinkedIn. “So, really discussing the right candidate profile and making sure that we’re engaging the right people. Then agreeing on what are some of the right metrics for this process.”

You should also get clear with your team on whether they should proactively source candidates for future roles and, if so, how much time they should spend on this. For example, if you do continue with proactive pipelining, it might be a better use of your team’s time to focus on finding and nurturing four or five exceptional candidates, rather than sourcing a dozen. This will also give your team more time to focus on strengthening the diversity of its pipelines and on building relationships within the underrepresented communities you most want to speak to.

2. Review your employer brand to ensure it appeals to a diverse group of candidates

Your employer brand plays an integral role in pipelining efforts, helping you get the conversation started with candidates and encouraging them to invest time in building the relationship. But if your brand hasn’t been updated in a while, it may not be sending the right message about your company.

Conduct a review of all your employer branding channels — including your career site, LinkedIn Page, and other social media accounts — and assess whether the written and visual content you’re sharing will appeal to a broad group of candidates. Even if your company is fairly diverse, if all your photos focus on young men, candidates who don’t fit that description may feel like they won’t belong, making them less likely to respond to your outreach.

Elevating the voices of underrepresented professionals can also send a powerful message to candidates. For example, the employer branding team at Netflix recently shared a video in which employees explain what being Black means to them. LinkedIn data reveals that candidates are paying attention to companies that are actively talking about diversity, so if you have authentic stories to share, put them out into the world before beginning your pipelining efforts.

3. Reevaluate your sourcing strategies to ensure they don’t limit the diversity of your pipeline 

If hiring has slowed down, take the opportunity to reassess your team’s sourcing strategies, as they may be inadvertently making it more difficult for you to diversify your pipeline. For instance, if you’re primarily targeting candidates who’ve worked at certain companies or graduated from specific schools and those companies or colleges aren’t particularly diverse, you risk limiting your talent pool before you’ve even begun.

To find qualified candidates from underrepresented groups, sourcing expert Glen Cathey recommends strategies like building Boolean strings around diverse association groups, fraternities, and sororities. And if you typically rely heavily on referrals, be mindful of the fact that, in the United States at least, networking disproportionately benefits white men. To level the playing field, look for ways to diversify the referrals you’re gathering — such as approaching your ERGs (employee resource groups) for referrals

4. Create a candidate engagement plan, including who will reach out, how often, and how you’ll track it

Before you start reaching out to candidates, develop an engagement plan for each audience segment. “Establish a game plan,” John says, “of what do we want the candidate experience to be. What are the right touchpoints and how frequent are they? Is it primarily just the recruiter building the relationship with this individual, or do we want to involve the hiring manager or a leader for that organization?”

Different audiences will respond better to different tactics, so it’s best not to set hard-and-fast rules. Instead, consider letting recruiters develop their own strategies, touchpoints, and timelines depending on factors like how long positions will reopen and how often candidates indicate they want to receive updates. 

Make sure that everyone is tracking their efforts consistently — otherwise, you may end up with blind spots that result in problems like candidates receiving duplicate messages. If your team uses LinkedIn Recruiter, the tagging feature is an easy way for team members to note which nurture touchpoints they’ve hit, ensuring candidates feel neither forgotten nor overwhelmed with messages.

“There  are  candidates who are talking to two different teams at the same time,” points out Natalie Lynch-Clark, a director of talent acquisition at LinkedIn. “Recruiter enables these teams to collaborate. So, if someone on a different team just reached out to a candidate, the recruiter should connect with that other team to learn how the conversation with the candidate went and what their next steps are, and a plan should be built from there. Especially now, we don’t want to inundate anybody.”

It’s also important at this stage to work with leaders and hiring managers to understand how involved they’re willing to be. “One of the things we’ve done on the exec search team,” John says, “is get commitment from our leaders to allocate anywhere from two to four hours a month to meet with candidates informally. So, this could be sitting down with a candidate for an hour over coffee or lunch and keeping it informal.” 

This kind of access is particularly important for more senior roles. Finding ways — like taking care of scheduling —  to make this as easy as possible for executives can increase the likelihood that they’ll follow through, giving candidates a chance to get to know their potential future boss.

5. Reach out to candidates you’re interested in for future roles — and be transparent

For teams that are conducting proactive sourcing right now, transparency is crucial. “If you don’t have active roles that you want to consider someone for, make sure that’s clear upfront,” John says. “This is about building a relationship longer term and it’s important to make it very candidate-centric.” Let them know that you want to learn more about their career goals.

For initial outreach messages, the goal should just be getting the conversation started. Here are some of John’s tips:

  • As a general rule of thumb, he suggests recruiters should think like a candidate. Ask yourself what would grab their attention if you were in their shoes, especially for talent with skills that are in high-demand and who are likely receiving several messages per week. 
  • For the subject line, try something that will grab candidates’ attention and perhaps be relatable. For example, if John reaches out to a candidate who worked at Yahoo (where he worked in the past), he’ll write something like “Greetings from a fellow Yahoo Alum!”
  • The body of the message should be succinct and provide enough information to pique candidates’ curiosity, but without providing too much detail that may inadvertently turn them off from speaking with you. For example, when referencing the position, John might say a “marketing leadership role” instead of a “director of brand marketing.” He’s found this can make candidates curious to learn more, as opposed to them dismissing the opportunity because of their assumptions about a title’s level or scope. Additionally, John never includes a job description in this initial outreach. “Oftentimes,” he says, “there are many relevant details about a role that could be compelling but that aren’t reflected in the job description.” Once you have the candidate on the phone, then you can share more details from the job description and learn more about their interests to focus the conversation on building excitement around those areas.
  • When possible, try to identify common interests or mutual connections and use these as ice breakers. Candidates are much more likely to respond when there is a personal connection. Better yet, try to get a warm introduction through a mutual connection whenever possible. While it takes more time and effort, it will yield much greater results in the end. And a subject line like "I've heard great things about you from X" can help ensure candidates open your message.
  • If there is something particularly interesting about their background in relation to the role or in general, go ahead and mention it, but be genuine and avoid sounding like you're pandering.
  • To wrap things up, specifically mention a call to action, such as "I would love to set up a call to chat." For passive candidates, John says it's worth emphasizing that this is an informal exploratory call and doesn't mean they are committing to anything just yet.

When deciding who to reach out to and whether or not to nudge them, avoid making any assumptions about what a candidate might want. While some candidates at all levels might be too preoccupied to speak to recruiters right now, many are open to exploring their options. If you don’t hear back, it’s worth following up after a few weeks. Candidates have a lot on their minds at the moment, so some may have turned off their notifications or simply forgotten to reply. John uses email, when he has an address, for follow-ups to candidates who don’t respond to his initial outreach.

If a candidate is interested in connecting, don’t feel pressured to get right down to business during a preliminary conversation. “Let the candidate drive what they want to talk about,” Natalie says. “They may just be looking for an outlet, right? They just want to talk about their day. They don’t want to talk about jobs and opportunities.That’s perfectly fine.”

While some candidates may have specific questions, such as how is your company supporting its employees, others may be feeling isolated and just need an empathetic ear, which can help establish trust. There’s always time to talk about their career path and goals later.

6. Deepen relationships with candidates who are already in your pipeline 

Once candidates are in your pipeline, it’s time to deploy your personalized engagement campaigns for each audience segment. “We want to make an effort to keep them warm and part of our broader community, to ensure they’re aware of what’s going on at LinkedIn,” says Lauren Saunders, the head of talent attraction at LinkedIn. “So, when we do have a role, it’s a fairly fast follow-on when a recruiter reaches out and says, ‘Hey, I’ve got this job that would be perfect for you,’ we can convert them quickly.” 

The number and nature of touchpoints in these campaigns may vary significantly, depending on the needs and preferences of the audience. As a general rule of thumb, aim to reach out roughly every 30 days.

For some candidates, a quick status update is more than enough. If the role you were discussing hasn’t reopened yet, let them know and assure them they’re still top of mind for you. In other cases, you may decide to share tailored content that they might find useful or interesting, such as links to free LinkedIn Learning courses that could help them upskill and articles relevant to their career journey. If the hiring manager will be reaching out, talk them through what to say and what type of content to send to help them put their best foot forward.

You could also approach your hiring managers about taking part in virtual events on LinkedIn. This is a great way to connect with many candidates at once and efficiently answer common questions, rather than scheduling dozens of individual calls.

Final thoughts

Some recruiters may be hesitant to work on pipelining efforts when there are no open roles at their company. But candidates understand the situation, and as long as you’re candid with them, most are open to building relationships. 

Be empathetic, be transparent, and keep diversity top of mind. It never hurts to start having conversations — and they may pay off in a big way down the line.

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