Keeping in touch with the talent pool

When it comes to finding the right people at the right time, having prior
knowledge of who’s available is essential, says Liz Simpson

When headhunter Bob Lambert was chief HR officer for the Stride Rite shoe
company, he worked with a ‘world class’ director of executive recruitment named
Mary, who focused her energies on extensive networking. Her Rolodex crammed
with 10,000 names, proved that she knew everyone who was anyone in the footwear
industry. That way, she could find out which people were unhappy in their jobs
and which bosses regularly drove their staff to seek other positions.

Mary’s skill in building trusting relationships, honed and refined over 20
years, enabled Stride Rite to target suitable candidates for jobs even before
they had decided to leave their current company. Although not always a fair
assessment, the best talent is typically either working already or only
unemployed for a very short period.

Whether you’re operating in a market of 4 per cent or 10 per cent
unemployment, the challenge of passive recruitment remains the same: How do you
find the right candidates at the right time – which may involve a completely
different pool of individuals than those actively responding to current job
openings – when you don’t have the benefit of a ‘Mary’?

Now head of executive search firm Christian & Timbers’ Southern
California office, Lambert says there’s no substitute for the personal touch,
but he acknowledges the advantages of technology that enables companies to
attract, communicate with and – when appropriate – target passive candidates
who otherwise would be off their radar screens.

Passive recruitment is a way of maintaining relationships with potential
candidates who may not be ready to move into your organisation right now – but
could well be in the future. And thanks to the internet, building such
relationships is easier than ever before.

The biggest advantage of this internet-based technology lies in enabling
users to create a ‘community’ of passive candidates who might be willing to jump
ship if the position and price are right.

Jay Rombach, corporate HR consultant for Royal Caribbean Cruises’ shore-side
recruiting system in Miami, Florida, US, explains how it works for them.

"We went live on 1 March, 2001 with’s automated website
solution. We get around 450 people visiting our jobs website every day, which
gave us the capability to build an online database of individuals who are
intrigued about our company and may wish to work for us," he says.
"The fact they don’t need to post a CV but can fill out a personal profile
that’s as anonymous as they wish it to be is certainly a big enticement.

"Within six months the system got its first real big test. We’d redrawn
our sales regions to create a new area which opened up 15 sales positions. We
obviously needed to fill them quickly, given that these positions drive
revenue. We filled all but two of them – which came from employee referrals –
using’s technology. The moment a job becomes available the system
sends an e-mail to each well-matched individual in our existing passive pool to
ask if they’re interested in applying.

"From the time we posted these positions to the moment we got the right
people on board was around 45 days – which included flying them to Miami for
interviews. What also marked this as a huge success was the fact the monthly
subscription fee we pay for this service is significantly less than what we
would have paid in agency fees had we outsourced this recruiting instead,"
he added.

Rombach, who’s been a recruiter for 15 years, points out that in the ‘old
days’ someone might have faxed in their CV for a position they’d seen in a
Sunday newspaper which, if it didn’t meet those specific requirements, ended up
stagnating somewhere in a filing cabinet. Not only does this technology help
you maintain a more effective database, he says, but at the touch of a button,
the system can identify those individuals who may have contacted your company
about a different job at an earlier time and now match the criteria for a
current vacancy.

But specific jobs are not the only things attracting passive candidates to
career sites. In the wake of the recent corporate scandals in the US,
increasing numbers are saying they are most interested in working for
organisations with outstanding employer brands – those known for their ethical
standing and excellent employee relations.

Kim Peters, president of Toronto-based Workopolis, a leading Canadian
internet recruitment and job search firm says: "I would say that the early
adopters of this technology are large organisations with recognisable brands,
which could not keep track of the overwhelming response without it. Even if
they don’t have an opening for that person today, they may need them in the
future and so it’s advantageous to be able to maintain a ‘virtual’ relationship
with them over time.

"It’s also a strategic tool that can help any organisation build for
the future. As it matures, it will provide rich data on how long it takes to
fill jobs in certain geographical areas or categories. In that way recruiters
will have a more accurate handle on the sort of lead times they need."

There are other knock-on benefits to HR professionals, as Sara Mateer,
employment manager at engineering services and satellite hardware manufacturer
Swales Aerospace near Washington DC, explains: "Once a member of our
talent community has expressed interest in a particular position, the relevant
hiring manager will require them to answer a set of qualifying questions
online. These include standard questions around citizenship and education as
well as highly specific ones related to the duties and responsibilities of the
position offered. These responses flesh out the profile and information we have
about that candidate in the same way as a preliminary phone screening,"
says Mateer.

"But instead of a third party relaying the intelligence to the hiring
manager, the moment the candidate hits the ‘submit now’ button, their
information is delivered immediately to the manager’s desktop, with a copy to
HR, and is scored in a way that helps the manager decide which ones are worth
interviewing," she says. "This is much quicker and effective than the
traditional paper process which helps the hiring manager stay in control of
their hiring needs – especially important in a highly specialised industry like
ours where we continuously need to source qualified candidates ahead of

As with all technology, however, the system is just an enabler warns Tony
Lee, editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal’s on-line career site,

"The internet has certainly made it easier for people to identify
opportunities and investigate them in a way that helps protect their anonymity
until an appropriate time – and there are advantages for companies using this kind
of technology," he says. "But if you want to engender any sort of
loyalty from passive candidates, sending them an occasional automated e-mail
won’t cut it."

Many companies have successfully maintained a relationship with outside
talent through a good old-fashioned ‘buddy system’, he says. "When
companies receive an enquiry or a CV from someone, they assign a current
employee as a ‘buddy’ to e-mail them on a regular basis, keeping them
up-to-date with the organisation and establishing a personal relationship with
them over time.

"There are advantages in using this kind of technology, but it can also
backfire as it leads to expectations that you may not be in a position to
fulfill," Lee adds. "For example, you could regularly correspond with
1,000 people, but over the course of two years only hire 10 of them. That
results in more bad will than good will."

Like most new approaches, online talent maintenance will develop and mature
over time and is a big improvement on a paper-based system that did the recruiting
department no favours in trying to find and capture the right kind of talent at
the right time.

As Christian & Timbers’ Lambert points out: "HR should not just be
order takers, simply trying to find candidates who are interested, qualified and
available is a full-time job in itself. Hence there’s a lot of potential in a
process that sources and automates an ongoing communication with large numbers
of passive candidates."

From that point on, the more ‘high touch’ you can be with your existing and
potential talent, the more likely you are to capitalise on what comes to you
through high tech.

Royal Victoria Hospital, Barrie Canada: Keeping the CVs flowing

Like many others who forecast,
recruit and retain qualified staff in the healthcare field, Richard Kelly, HR
director at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie, situated 120km north of
Toronto, Canada, faces many potential challenges. And the unprecedented growth
of this highly desirable city, has had a knock-on effect on the hospital. The
increased demand for medical workers, required to serve an ageing population
that is living longer and requires more medical services, currently corresponds
with a scarcity of family practice physicians, pharmacists and laboratory
technicians, as well as some specialist nursing skills.

Since it was opened at the end of 1997, demand for most of the
medical services and programmes that this community hospital offers has
increased by 68 per cent. And despite low turnover and long service employment
it doesn’t take a genius to work out that something must be done – sooner
rather than later.

Kelly therefore entered into a relationship with Workopolis,
whereby potential candidates can be connected to career opportunities at the
hospital – either via Workopolis’ website or the hospital’s own. As a result,
the hospital’s search has been able to take on international dimensions.  

"Our recruitment efforts are very much at an international
level," explains Kelly. "The internet gives us broader exposure to a
greater source of candidates, but most importantly, it allows us to maintain a
relationship with people with rare skills.

"For example, we may be looking for more family
physicians. When someone with such skills contacts us or applies for a
particular position, we can arrange for the system to automatically flag them
for attention. One of the reasons we entered into this programme was to have a
better way of managing the CV flow we currently receive."

Once candidates have registered their information on the hospital’s
career site, any future contact automatically updates that information. This
constantly updated database allows regular e-mails to be sent to passive
candidates to see if they’re still interested in working at the Royal Victoria.

"The nature of the communication depends on the
candidate’s level of interest," Kelly says. "It can be short and
routine or, if there’s someone we particularly want to establish a relationship
with, we’ll send them a kit offering information about the hospital and our
community. Whenever we have an opportunity to bring folks to the hospital to
check out our facilities, we arrange for their spouses to be taken on a tour of
the city. We tailor that to their interests by sending an e-mail questionnaire
in advance so we know what they’d like to see while they’re here."

Not surprisingly, Kelly reports a high conversion rate between
passive candidates and future employees. 
Being ahead of the game is an vital to that success.

"A key part of recruitment is ensuring that we have our
full complement of people with appropriate skills, and we’ve been able to
manage that up to now.  But we’re right
on the edge when it comes to nursing and pharmacy personnel, and therefore have
to keep on top of this situation. That’s meant taking a much more progressive
and innovative approach than we may have done in the past," Kelly adds.

"We’ve more than 200 family physicians in the area and
when they go to conferences they distribute information and refer to our
website. Once suitable individuals come online we maintain regular contact."

– Christian & Timbers, global executive search firm – online
recruiting technology
Canadian provider of internet recruitment and job search solutions – Swales
– The Wall Street Journal online career site

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