Talent Acquisition: Definition, Strategies, and Best Practices

April 22 - 2023 | 5 min read

People make or break companies. They are one of the greatest assets of any organisation.

Having the right people on your team in the right roles is crucial for growth, innovation, and building a positive company culture.

The challenges lie in defining the roles you need for your business to achieve its purpose, and then finding and attracting the right talent for those positions.

Every organisation is different. You will have different people needs depending on the stage your company is at and where you want to get to. This is where talent acquisition plays a vital role.

What is talent acquisition?

Talent acquisition is the strategic process of finding the right people to join your team. It’s about analysing your long-term talent needs, and identifying, attracting, and retaining people who make your company better and help achieve your goals.

The right hire will have the skills and experience to do well in their role. In addition, they’ll be motivated by your mission, have a mindset that matches your brand, and be a strong cultural fit in your team. Talent acquisition is the process that helps you find these people.

As a function, talent acquisition can sit within the HR team, be its own team within an organisation, or come from external services. With talent acquisition, you are hiring with a long-term focus, rather than just plugging vacancies. Having a strong strategy to guide this process is important for:

  • Scoping and prioritising your hiring needs
  • Ensuring hiring aligns with your business strategy
  • Driving sustainable and scalable growth
  • Employer brand and onboarding - to set new hires up for success
  • Enriching people development and L&D practices
  • Improving employee retention
  • Compensation benchmarking
  • Improving diversity and inclusion

Is talent acquisition the same as recruitment?

Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, so it’s easy to confuse the two. Traditionally, however, they are not the same. Recruitment is the practice of filling vacancies. Talent acquisition, meanwhile, is recruitment’s newer cousin that anchors that practice in strategy.

Picture it like this: if recruitment were a plaster, then talent acquisition would be the whole first-aid kit.

Recruitment is largely reactive and focuses on short-term headcount needs. It’s about getting bums on seats.

Talent acquisition on the other hand, is proactive. It’s a long-term strategy that factors in a company’s mission, vision, and goals and acknowledges that people are key to achieving those.

Recruiting is, of course, one part of it. However, it goes far beyond that. Talent acquisition is an ongoing process that assesses a company’s current and future talent needs and focuses on identifying, sourcing, and onboarding high-quality people for specific, well-thought-out roles within an organisation.

Is talent acquisition the same as HR?

Human resources is the department of a company that upholds the interests and needs of the people who work there. This involves supporting existing employees in areas such as training, compensation, employee satisfaction and wellbeing, and company culture.

Talent acquisition focuses strategically on sourcing and hiring new talent. They take a long-term approach to finding the right people to meet the goals of an organisation, and are specialised in finding and attracting good candidates for specific roles.

Talent acquisition can operate as an independent function or sit within a wider department of an organisation. That means that talent acquisition could sit within an HR department, alongside other functions, but it is not the same as HR.

Is talent acquisition an internal or external function?

That depends. The size of a company, the stage of growth it’s at, and the make-up of the team all play a role.

Some companies choose to have internal talent teams, others decide to outsource, and yet others take a hybrid approach. It really depends on your needs and resources.

If you don’t have an internal talent acquisition team, or you have a team that lacks capacity or tech hiring expertise, those are great reasons for considering bringing in external experts (like us!).

What is the talent acquisition process?

The process of talent acquisition will vary depending on your company and the industry you’re in. However, after identifying a hiring need, a strong talent acquisition process can generally be broken down into these 8 steps:

1. Role kick-off

This is where it all starts. You will want to align with your hiring manager to make sure everyone understands the purpose of the hire and the value they would bring to the organisation. Consider where the new hire will sit in the team, the expectations of the role, and any key traits that would make someone a good cultural fit.

Also, remember to discuss practical aspects like hiring process, budget for the role, and next steps. Everyone involved in the hiring process should leave the meeting knowing what to expect.

2. Calibration profiles to align

Put together a list of 5-7 candidate profiles that the hiring manager can consider for the role and ask for feedback.

Include a few different archetypes – profiles that are somewhat different to each other in terms of seniority, career journey, and background. This is critical to encourage honest and transparent feedback. It will help you understand what you need to focus on and what to avoid moving forward.

3. Define a clear scorecard for the role

Use the feedback from step 2 to define a clear scorecard for the role and get buy-in from the hiring manager.

If you’re not familiar with it, a scorecard is a list of 3-5 criteria that encompass what it means for someone to be successful in the role you’re hiring for. It is the foundation of candidate assessment across the hiring process and ensures alignment.

Always refer to the scorecard when giving or receiving feedback and be quick to revise it if the role or expectations are evolving. Quite often, especially working with early-stage start-ups and scale-ups, the scorecard will be reiterated a few times.

Do not assume that hiring teams are always 100% set on what they are looking for. They also learn and align on what success looks like as they get more exposure to talent and the market.

4. Set a clear search and candidate engagement strategy

At this point, you are hopefully feeling comfortable with the ideal candidate profile. Now, you need to decide where to find relevant talent and how to engage with them. Be organized here and prioritize. Think of a dart board and the most ideal candidate is in the centre. As you move further away from the centre, you’re also moving away from your ideal candidate. Decide where your cut-off is.

Next up, engagement. When you write a message and a subject line, think about your target audience. What are their patterns of behaviour and engagement on the market? What about reminders and their frequency? There is a fine balance between spamming candidates and being seen.

5. Interviewing and assessing

Whatever your interview style (ideally structured or semi-structured), consistency is key to ensure a fair interview process. Tailor the interview process around the scorecard so you focus your conversation on what matters. This method also allows for a more objective assessment and ultimately helps reduce unconscious bias.

If you have several rounds of interviews in your process, be mindful of the bigger picture. Take a moment to zoom out and look at the entire hiring process. Ideally, every step will be meaningful and adds value rather than being repetitive. No candidate wants to have the same conversation over and over again. And neither does your team! Having repetitive interviews throughout a process is damaging for candidate experience and employer brand.

This is where you can use your scorecard to help you. Ideally each hiring step and assessment zooms in on a few scorecard criteria. Not trying to cover everything at every stage will help you have more in-depth conversations and avoid meaningless repetition!

6. Ongoing candidate and client management

Talent acquisition managers are in a unique spot – bringing together qualified candidates with employers who are looking to hire. Speaking from experience, we can do some cool things and change people's lives for the better.

Aim to build genuine and honest relationships with your candidates, clients and hiring managers, and keep them in the loop. Afterall, candidates can become clients and the other way around. Show them the same respect you want others to show you.

7. Support offers and hires

Talent acquisition specialists are the main constant in the recruitment cycle of one individual. Candidates meet other people along the way, but this is usually the person they stay closest to. The rapport that develops during this time, puts talent agents in a good position to consult and support with offer creation - regardless of who is extending it. The aim is for both sides to be comfortable with the offer and excited for the opportunity.

8. Onboarding

Although talent agents don’t usually own the onboarding process, there needs to be tight collaboration between them and people teams (or the founders/leadership team where people teams are absent). This allows for a smooth welcome and onboarding that will set new hires up for long-term success.

Talent acquisition with The Big Search

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