What is talent acquisition? A complete guide to hiring your next "A Player"

Posted on June 21, 2022

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If you’re in charge of hiring, you’ve got a catch-22 problem. A large chunk of the global population is on the hunt for new work opportunities (with reported figures up to 65% in some places), but filtering through hundreds of applications to find the most qualified candidate is an arduous task.

There’s no easy formula you can follow to find the right person for the job, but there is a way you can plan your recruitment efforts and hire someone that’ll help your business grow and succeed.

The answer? Talent acquisition.

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about talent acquisition. We’ll show you how it’s different from recruitment, how to implement talent acquisition in your business, and what the future looks like for hiring.

Table of contents

What is talent acquisition?

Talent acquisition is a long-term human resources strategy for hiring the best and most relevant people for your organization.

Instead of simply finding someone with a bullet list of skills to fill an available position, the hiring process is driven by business growth and success. A talent acquisition hiring manager prioritizes business longevity over filling roles.

Think of talent acquisition in terms of employee retention. When an employee stays at your company for many years, it usually means they’re engaged and invested in their work.

According to Quantum Workplace, 88% of highly engaged employees agree they'll still be at their organization in 12-months’ time, compared to just 49% of disengaged employees.

Stat showing the percentage of employees that will sill be at their organization in a year

Basically: the better fit the employee, the more likely they will stay and grow with the company. As a result, when you invest in talent acquisition, you're more likely to see stronger long-term results.

How is talent acquisition different from recruiting?

Although talent acquisition and recruitment both sit under the umbrella of human resources (HR), they’re not the same.

Talent acquisition is a long-term business strategy, whereas recruitment focuses on the immediate need to fill a position. Recruitment processes often come into play months or years after a talent acquisition strategy has mapped hiring needs. For example, your three-year talent acquisition plan may forecast a need to hire a marketing manager in two years’ time. When that time comes around, the recruitment process will use findings from that talent acquisition strategy to fill the vacancy.

Talent acquisitionJob recruiting
An HR strategy that focuses on how people can play a long-term role in the growth and success of the company. A recruitment strategy that addresses a company’s short-term hiring needs.

While talent acquisition and recruitment often go hand in hand, not every role needs a talent acquisition plan. Sometimes, you simply need to fill a gap with a role that doesn’t require a long-term growth mindset.

For example, imagine that a partner at a law firm needs an intern for short-term administrative work. With recruitment, you look to hire someone for the position as soon as possible. You simply find someone suitable to fill the position and focus on getting from A to B (e.g. conduct data entry for two months to help fill a gap).

If the work this intern is doing proves valuable beyond short-term gains, you may realize there’s a need to make this role more permanent. This is where talent acquisition comes into play. Here, you would evaluate and map why this role is valuable and what type of skills are required to execute it well.

Now that the role is more “official,” the next time you hire somebody for it, you’ll focus on hiring a person that not only has the skills to do a great job right now, but will be eager and excited to contribute and grow with the company long-term.

The talent acquisition process

No matter your business goals or the industry you work in, the talent acquisition process remains the same for everyone. Here’s what it involves:

  • Forecasting future roles
  • Candidate generation
  • Attracting the right talent
  • Interview and assessment
  • Evaluating references
  • Selecting the best candidate(s)
  • Hiring and onboarding

Let’s dive into each step of the process in more detail.

Forecasting future roles

The first step of an effective talent acquisition strategy is to think about the future. Unlike recruitment, the process involves strategizing. You’re thinking about where your business will be in the future and how new roles will help you get there.

But how exactly can you forecast staffing needs?

There are various ways to do this. You can review projected sales, future performance, company growth, or attrition.

Ultimately, you can forecast future roles based on any factors that affect the revenue and growth of the company. From here, you can identify when you’ll need to hire more people, what the roles should be, and what skillset the individuals will need.

Using Topgrading Scorecards is a great way to figure out exactly what skills and responsibilities your future roles will need. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it outlines all the following information:

  • Role. The position in the company.
  • Role competencies. The skills required to do the job well.
  • Mission. The purpose of the job.
  • Outcomes. What the deliverables should be.
  • Cultural fit. Desirable personality traits.

With these bullet points, you can gather a team to create in-depth job descriptions with clear accountabilities. Your talent acquisition team can see exactly what the role needs to be and the skills the person needs to do it well. They can then use these metrics to grade candidates in the interview.

Feel free to add any other relevant criteria to your business (it’s not a definitive list).

Candidate generation

Candidate generation, also known as sourcing, involves finding highly relevant candidates for available roles. For example, you might look at social media platforms (such as LinkedIn), review past applications to see if any previous candidates could be a good fit, or look at job sites and job boards.

You can even ask for employee referrals and offer rewards for anyone that you hire based on a recommendation.

When you find candidates that fit the bill, you can create a pipeline. This will help you with candidate relationship management. You can track your interactions, monitor their interest in the position, and add any other relevant information or communication.

Tracking information from job posting to job offer (for both long-term talent acquisition and short-term recruiting plays) is easier with a platform like Polymer.

Candidate management in Polymer

Polymer lets you create customizable job descriptions (match it to your scorecard, include FAQs, create a video introduction, and more).

Once applicants start coming in, you can use their simple applicant tracking system to manage all your candidates in one location.

Screenshot of a conversation between recruiter and candidate in Polymer

It’s a great way to streamline the process without losing the human element.

Attracting top candidates

Talent acquisition is all about attracting the right people with the right skills for the job at hand. This means they not only need to have the hard and soft skills to do the job well, but they also need to fit into your big-picture business growth plan.

The best way to attract the right candidates is to clearly communicate your business’s mission, short and long-term goals, and the type of people you want by your side as you scale. That way, you’ll attract the type of people (with the supplemental experience) that align with the vision you’re selling. Importantly, you’ll attract people who really want to work for your organization.

Here are some suggestions on how to do this efficiently:

  • Provide a detailed job description. The last thing any job seeker wants is to apply for a job only to find out the reality of the role is wildly different to what they thought the job entailed. Set proper expectations and keep candidates happy by providing a detailed job description. That way, they’ll know what they’re in for and won’t waste time applying to something that doesn’t align with what they’re looking for.
  • Be open about your salary. Job seekers prefer to know their compensation for the role before the interview to know if it’s worth their time, and companies are starting to catch on. In fact, it’s even becoming mandated in certain U.S. states. It’s better to stay ahead of the curve and advertise jobs with salaries, so everybody is on the same page from day one.
  • Promote your workplace culture. 72% of job seekers say that company culture is important. They want to see this in your job ads, so make it clear what kind of work environment you offer. For example, are you remote-only or maintain a hybrid work culture? Do you employ a four-day workweek? Do you hold company excursions, and if so, how often? Be transparent so that you attract candidates that are excited about your benefits and the workplace culture you’ve built.
  • Create a positive candidate experience. The hiring process is daunting for everyone. It’s time-consuming, nerve-wracking, and mentally draining. It makes a big difference when employers do everything they can to provide a positive hiring experience. To do this, you can set out what you expect from candidates before they apply and map out every step of the hiring process so they know exactly how long it will take and how they can best prepare for it.

Interview and assessment

The interview is an opportunity for you to see if the candidate is a good fit (and vice versa). It presents an opportunity for both the interviewer and the interviewee to ask each other questions and assess if there’s a mutual fit.

Build your interview questions around the skills you’re looking for and the business’s goals.

Let’s say you’re hiring a product designer. You need them to have experience with user research and user testing, but you also want them to help your business grow. One of your business goals is to launch a new product, so you need to consider this outcome when building your interview questions.

For example:

  • “Talk us through how you would conduct user research.”
  • “Can you give us a real-life example of how you’ve changed a product after running user testing?”
  • “Tell us about a time when you’ve used innovation to improve an existing product.”
  • “Have you ever created a new product from scratch? Tell us how you were involved.”

These questions cover all your bases. You talk about their technical skills, as well as how these skills can help your business grow and succeed.

You might also consider running an assessment as part of the interview to see how they use their skills. Suppose you’re hiring a copywriter and you know your company operates on tight turnarounds. In that case, you might set a timed writing task to evaluate their ability to work under a deadline.

How you ask your interview questions also matters. Use a mix of questions to determine whether the candidate has the skills required for the job and how they would approach various tasks. To do this, you can ask situational questions and behavioral questions.

For example, behavioral questions reveal how a candidate has approached tasks and events in the past. These questions generally start with expressions like, “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of a time when….”

Situational questions explore how a candidate might approach tasks and events while working for your organization. These questions are often hypothetical and use starters like, “What would you do if…” and “Tell me how you would handle….”

Designing interviews to get the most out of your time with a candidate can be an art form. Asking a mix of questions to determine how they’ve behaved in the past and how they might react in the future can help you decide if they’re an ideal fit to grow with your company.

Evaluating references

Checking references is an important part of the hiring process, especially if you’re focusing on talent acquisition.

You need to be 100% sure that the person you want to hire has the skills, experience, and knowledge to deliver what you need.

Here’s a framework of what to assess when speaking to references:

  • The candidate’s skills. Can their previous employer validate the skills the candidate has?
  • The candidate’s workplace demeanor. How would the previous employer describe the way they behave in the workplace? Are they encouraging? Helpful? Collaborative?
  • How and why the candidate left their role. Can the employer confirm the candidate's reason for leaving their position? Was it voluntary? On good terms?

Once you’ve spoken to their references, you can feel more confident in your hiring decision. This leads us nicely to our next section.

Selecting the best candidate(s)

Choosing the right candidate is tricky, especially if you’re trying to pick between several strong choices.

To ensure you’re choosing the right candidate, it helps to have an internal grading system (like the Topgrading scorecard mentioned above). Systems like this help you assign value to different skills and traits that you consider valuable.

Here’s how an internal grading system might work for an Operations Manager (the scores are marked out of 10):

CANDIDATE #1
SKILLS/PERSONALITY TRAITSSCORE
Planning8
Delegation7
Time management9
People management8
Problem solving8
Teamwork6
Experience with operations software10
Ability to work under pressure6
Personable9
Inquisitive9
TOTAL SCORE80

This is just one way to choose the best candidate for the job. You should also listen to your gut and take your intuition into account. It’s often a sixth sense that tells you when someone is a good fit for your position and your company culture.

That said, our guts can also be steered by implicit bias. This is when our brains subconsciously make generalizations based on predisposed thought processes. To ensure we don’t let our implicit biases steer decision-making, it’s helpful to have more than one person involved in making the final decision.

You might think a candidate is incredibly personable, but colleagues may see things differently. You need to have open discussions and weigh gut feelings against scorecards, so that everybody is on the same page and you’re making balanced decisions.

Hiring and onboarding

In his book The ROI of Human Capital, Jac Fitz-enz establishes a connection between staff onboarding and employee retention. His research shows that the better the onboarding process, the more likely the employee will stay at the company for a longer time.

This goes both for in-person and remote employees. A streamlined onboarding process gives employees a good impression of your company, showing them that you care about their experience within the business.

When it comes to providing a good onboarding experience, you want to provide as much detail as possible without overwhelming your new hires.

A great way to streamline the hiring and onboarding process for new employees is to automate it.

With Polymer, for example, you can create custom hiring flows, automate group messages to new hires, and generate unique message templates. All of these features ensure you’re sharing key knowledge with the right people at the right time without spending hours each day manually managing the process.

There’s more to talent acquisition than meets the eye

Talent acquisition is a complex process.

We’ve covered a lot so far about how to build your immediate hiring processes, but there are also hiring philosophies that will take your talent acquisition to the next level.

Develop your brand’s presence

Employer branding efforts, often led by marketing, communications, or HR departments, are a hugely important part of attracting top talent and making them want to apply.

Put yourself in the shoes of a candidate. Two companies are hiring for the same position. One of them is a well-known brand with great employee reviews. The other doesn’t have much of an online presence.

Which would you choose to apply for? We know who we’d pick.

A great way to enhance your brand’s presence is to build experts within your organization and encourage thought leadership campaigns on sites like LinkedIn. The idea is to establish your organization as an industry leader but also an attractive brand for talent.

Take a look at CXL as an example.

CXL offers expert courses for marketers looking to develop their skills. The company’s founder, Peep Laja, posts content on LinkedIn that challenges the way we think about our marketing practices:

LinkedIn post by Peep Laja
Source: LinkedIn

His posts position the brand as a forward-thinking and exciting company to work for.

Specify, specify, specify

When it comes to forecasting future roles and writing job descriptions, be specific.

Niche roles in specialty industries narrow the pool of candidates way down—particularly in tech, cybersecurity, medicine, law, and finance. And, a smaller talent pool will make outreach and networking efforts more manageable.

Think about it. If you’re looking for a Finance Manager, there’ll be a lot of candidates. Why? Because it’s a broad job title. And chances are, not all of the applicants will be qualified. If you can narrow it down and be more specific—for example, a cryptocurrency portfolio manager—you’ll get a smaller group of qualified applicants.

This won’t be necessary in all situations. Sometimes you will need a general Finance Manager. But when you can, try to be as specific as possible.

Go internal

Instead of looking outward to find new talent, sometimes the best place to look is inward.

Companies of the future will invest in their current teams rather than rushing to bring in new talent. Not only is this a smart business decision (it costs much less to promote somebody that already works for you than to start from scratch), but it also promotes a stronger company culture. If employees that work hard day in and out are never considered for promotions or to fill a new role, they may come to resent leadership.

A great way to set your team up for success and climbing the ladder is to document processes and expertise from day one. This way, you’re empowering employees to learn and develop as much as possible on the job, which gives them the foundational knowledge they need to grow within the company.

But to encourage employees to be excited and motivated to stay in the company long-term, you need to make this career trajectory worth their while.

Employees want fair compensation, benefits, flexibility, and career progression. If they don’t get these things, they’ll consider looking elsewhere.

PwC employee retention and expectation stats

Take all these into account, and you’ll be better placed to retain your current workforce and help them move up in the business.

What does the future hold for talent acquisition and hiring?

The way we work has changed drastically over the last couple of years. With more people working in a remote or hybrid workspace, employees have more freedom and flexibility than ever before.

Let’s look at what this means for the future of talent acquisition.

The “death of the resume”

The “death of the resume” is a phrase coined by David Wilkin, an entrepreneur with award-winning campaigns under his belt. Although the phrase originated from Wilkin, the concept has been around for a while.

The idea is that job seekers don’t need resumes to reach new opportunities. Instead, they can apply for jobs in unconventional ways. For example, creating a portfolio, having a casual chat over a coffee, or creating a video showcasing your professional skills.

So, is this helpful for employers?

Yes and no.

Resumes limit your ability to understand who the person is. You don’t get to see the candidate’s character, integrity, or ability to collaborate or work under pressure. These new approaches give you a better understanding of who people are outside of the resume.

The lack of structure can make it harder to monitor the hiring process. It’s not impossible to manage, but it’s certainly not as straightforward as a simple “send your resume, and we’ll get back to you.”

On the plus side, these unconventional methods can give you access to a wider pool of talent.

Word of mouth, proof of work, and portfolios are all examples of how candidates can apply for jobs without using a resume. On a resume, these potential candidates might not have fulfilled your checklist of criteria. But their tenacity and creativity might make you reconsider.

All of this leads us to believe that the hiring process will continue to evolve. It’ll become less static and more open to change. Employers will move away from the traditional job application process, giving themselves access to a wider pool of candidates. It’s a win-win for everyone.

New platforms and technology

The global HR market is expected to reach $43.29 billion by 2028, with the growing adoption of HR software as one of the main driving factors.

Stats showing the HR management market

There are many forms of talent acquisition technology emerging, such as:

  • Polymer. Polymer gives businesses a customizable job board to attract the right talent and an organized dashboard where you can share thoughts with colleagues and easily track candidate application status. Polymer streamlines the entire candidate lifecycle, from job posting to initial offer.
  • We Work Remotely. For job seekers and job posters alike, WWR is a job board exclusively for remote work. With so many of today’s job seekers preferring at least somewhat flexible work, a remote-exclusive job board is certainly useful.
  • Polywork. Touting itself as “a new kind of professional network,” Polywork is a community platform where users can post their own accomplishments and comment on others’ progress and milestones. This makes it a great place to showcase work and meet potential colleagues.
Polywork opportunities page screenshot
Source: Polywork

All of these platforms give employers access to a wider pool of talent, and vice versa. It’s creating transparency in the job market, making it easier for everyone to find what they’re looking for.

New technology also makes it easier for talent managers to hire remote employees. We’re seeing cloud-based platforms growing and developing, allowing employers to manage the entire talent acquisition and recruitment process online.

Tech will continue to play an important role in talent acquisition. The platforms and networks that are out there only make it easier for companies to improve their talent acquisition efforts, and we don’t see this slowing down anytime soon.

Job mobility and fluidity

Job mobility and fluidity involve looking internally to find the best talent for the job instead of going for an outside hire. It boosts retention and allows employees to move in different directions.

Moving up the career ladder isn’t the only career trajectory. Lateral moves are just as important, and employers should now recognize that.

It also includes initiatives that empower employees to work how, where, and when they want. There are exciting things happening in the hybrid space, where tech is being built for teams to work and communicate asynchronously. This makes it easier for employees and employers alike to find the perfect work-life balance.

Step up your talent acquisition game with Polymer

Talent acquisition helps hiring businesses attract the best people to help them achieve their long-term business plans.

To successfully execute your talent acquisition strategy, you need tools that’ll make the process easier to manage. Technology is swiftly advancing to meet those hiring, tracking, and onboarding needs.

With Polymer, you can create a beautifully branded job board with customizable landing pages for each open position. Streamline your hiring process and spend your precious time and resources growing your business in other ways.

Get started with Polymer today

No matter what type of organization, from local brick-and-mortar shops to distributed tech startups, Polymer is the best way to grow a team.

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