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Talent Pipeline

Defining and Building a Robust Talent Pipeline

What Is a Talent Pipeline?

Hiring is one of the most important yet unpredictable HR processes. We tend to focus on the results of hiring, and for good reason. But those outcomes are shaped by the planning you put into your talent pipeline strategy. If you want better hires, especially in high-volume hiring situations, start by examining whether your pipeline is working as designed.

Learn about talent pipeline basics, how to develop your pipeline strategy, and how to keep your pipeline full with the right people.

Talent Pipeline Recruitment Basics

A talent pipeline is a group of passive candidates who prequalify to fill a specific role. Talent pipeline recruitment is a proactive approach to recruiting. Instead of waiting for candidates to apply for openings, building a talent pipeline empowers your organization to have a handy list of vetted talent ready to fill specific roles. This preparation up front reduces time to hire and gives you greater control over hiring outcomes.

Talent Pool vs. Talent Pipeline

The terms “talent pool” and “talent pipeline” are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing.

A talent pool is a larger group of potential candidates who are interested in working for your organization. This is essentially your total market. You haven’t necessarily vetted these people for specific skills or put them through any sort of qualification process yet.

A talent pipeline is more targeted, comprising candidates who you know are qualified for a specific role. These job candidates aren’t always first-time applicants, either. For example, someone who qualified for a customer service agent position but didn’t get the job is prequalified to reenter the talent pipeline for a future customer service opening.

Existing employees can also make great additions to your talent pipeline. You already have plenty of information on their skills, abilities, and qualifications, as well as historical performance records. Identify internal candidates who would be ideal additions to your talent pipeline, and supply their managers with talking points or conversation prompts to help those employees understand the opportunity.

How to Build a Talent Pipeline

To build a talent pipeline, you need to identify the specific skills and competencies you need for the role you’re trying to fill. While each role is different, you want to identify common criteria for evaluating candidates and deciding whether they’re a good fit.

Use the job description as a starting point for determining what you need in the talent pipeline. Finalizing this criteria should be a collaborative process between your HR team and the hiring manager. You can even talk to people already working in the role. They can tell you what skills are most important to their daily work — after all, who knows more about their job than they do?

How to Fill a Talent Pipeline

Once you’ve identified the criteria you need from qualified candidates, you have to start looking for the right people to fill your pipeline. That requires more than passively attending the local college job fair you’ve always gone to. You also need recruiters to actively develop relationships with top candidates through channels like LinkedIn, community events, and online office hours.

You probably have qualified candidates just waiting in your talent pool. For instance, some people in your talent pool have shown interest in a sales role within your company. If further investigation shows them to be qualified, move them into your talent pipeline and invite them to apply to the next job opening.

4 Elements of a Successful Talent Pipeline Strategy

What makes a talent pipeline successful? These four elements are crucial to a successful talent pipeline strategy.

Alignment With Long-Term Goals

Envision the future before putting serious work into developing your talent pipeline: What does the business have planned? What economic or industry trends is your business anticipating? Once you know where the business wants to go, you can determine where to focus your efforts and energy.

  • Consider the following scenarios.
    Are you restructuring and eliminating some roles? In that case, don’t prioritize a talent pipeline for those roles that won’t be around much longer.
  • Are you looking at an acquisition or some other big change that could drastically affect your talent strategy? If your organizational structure changes, so will when and where you develop talent pipelines.
  • What skill sets and workforce capabilities does the business need to reach its long-term goals? If the skills you need are changing, so will what you look for in pipeline talent.

Clarity Around Your Purpose

Talent pipelines attach to specific roles in your business. But not all roles need pipelines, and you probably only have limited resources to spend. Before sourcing talent willy-nilly, take time to decide which roles would benefit most from a talent pipeline. Which vacancies would hurt the business most if left open because you couldn’t fill them quickly?

Roles with high turnover are typically high priority for talent pipelines. A quick turnaround between a worker’s exit and their replacement starting reduces the cost of hiring and results in less disruption to daily operations.

It’s important to have a pipeline for roles that are critical to the business, too. This is where talent pipelines intersect with succession planning. If your chief financial officer quits, for example, you’ll want to move someone into that role immediately, at least on an interim basis, to keep business-critical operations flowing smoothly.

Distinct Goals to Track Progress

With strategic alignment and a clear purpose, you can set specific goals to strive for. The tried-and-true SMART goals approach applies here. Set goals that are:

  • Specific: It’s clear what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’re going to get there.
  • Measurable: You’ll know when you’ve made progress toward and accomplished your goals.
  • Attainable: Your goal is achievable given your current resources.
  • Relevant: Achieving your goal will help you move the larger strategy forward.
  • Time-bound: Your goal has a clear beginning and end, and can be accomplished in a set time frame.

For a talent pipeline, you might set a SMART goal for building a pipeline of qualified talent to fill customer service agent roles. You can target a specific number of candidates you want to have, set a deadline for filling the pipeline, and choose metrics for tracking progress along the way.

Strong Focus on Diversity and Inclusion

Don’t leave diversity and inclusion in your talent pipeline to chance. To intentionally build a diverse talent pipeline, you have to reach quality candidates from a variety of backgrounds — and prioritize this outcome as a goal.

Start by contacting associations, trade groups, and professional societies to source potential talent. If you’re a software company and need a pipeline of engineering talent, for instance, build relationships with organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers or the Society of Women Engineers. Internally, your organization’s employee resource groups (ERGs) can be a powerful resource. As you build role-specific talent pipelines, ask your ERGs to refer people in their networks for consideration.

3 Ways to Keep Your Talent Pipeline Full

There’s more to keeping your pipeline full than periodically updating your careers page or performing standard recruitment tasks. Here are three ways to fill your talent pipelines.

Build Out Your Employer Brand

Your employer brand, which includes your culture and employee experience, is what makes you unique. No one can offer what your organization does, but the challenge oftentimes is getting the word out. Work with your communications or marketing teams to develop content that exemplifies who you are as an employer. Be intentional about building a brand that showcases and attracts a diverse workforce.

Lean into your culture and values to design a meaningful employer brand. Many people want a personal connection with the work they do. If they feel like their values match yours and that they can live them every day, they’ll be more likely to show interest. The same goes for your mission and purpose: If your mission resonates with people, they’ll be more interested in working for your organization.

Be mindful of critical experiences that communicate your employer brand, such as the candidate experience. If job candidates feel they’re not getting a fair shot during the recruitment process, they’re likely to associate that negative experience with your overall employer brand. This not only affects your ability to hire them, but also your prospects with anyone else they talk with.

Nurture Qualified Candidates

Just getting people into your pipeline isn’t enough: You also need to keep them interested and engaged so they’re likely to apply to future openings.

Based on your employer brand, develop a stream of dynamic content. Invite qualified people to join an email list, for example. A monthly newsletter can deliver sneak peaks at your company culture. Tell powerful stories in those emails, your website, and other channels. Photos and videos from group activities, or stories in employees’ own words, are just a few of the ways to share your story.

You can also distribute role- or industry-specific advice to potential candidates in your pipeline, along with updates about job opportunities.

Any content you create for external pipeline candidates can help managers open conversations with qualified internal candidates, too. Often, employees aren’t aware of the opportunities for growth and development within the business, and lateral moves can be especially challenging for managers to address. Content you develop for your talent pipeline can provide direction for curious employees to explore their job options within the organization.

Stay Connected With Top Talent

Finding the right people is a long game. You have to be patient and persistent to win them over. Passive candidates are often employed elsewhere, and they might not be ready to leave on your initial timeline. Focus on building long-term relationships with potential hires. Create and sustain trust over time through frequent engaging interactions.

A lot of this relationship-building falls to recruiters. Encourage them to check in with high-potential candidates regularly, asking them how they are doing and what they want in a career. Online events like open office hours or webinars can help candidates learn more about your organization and the specific roles they’re interested in.

Fuel Your Talent Strategy

Proactive talent strategies require creating a talent pipeline strategy. Business success is all about having the right people in the right place when you need them most. Building your talent pipeline allows you to plan for the long term, source the right people, and activate them when the right role comes along.