How to stop cyclical recruitment processes and get proactive about talent

The benefits of hiring from a diverse pool of candidates are well documented, but finding the right mix remains a challenge. Regular columnist and recruitment expert Dr Joanna Abeyie shares her advice

I’ve run an inclusive recruitment and executive search business and a diversity, inclusion and equity consultancy practice for over 14 years. Two questions come up again and again. One: where can we source diverse talent? And two: how do we increase our recruitment of diverse talent?

After establishing what exactly is meant by ‘diverse talent’ (usually referring to those individuals whose identity falls under the Equality Act’s protected characteristics), I begin to point out the obvious: there is a war on talent. Every company wants the best people. Organisations are becoming savvier and more alive because they must work hard to entice that talent. The businesses that have grasped this concept are leaving their competitors behind.

The talent marketplace is bursting with exceptional professionals from various backgrounds who are all for the taking. The challenge is not whether you are fast enough; it’s whether you are preparing enough.

An ongoing challenge

My schoolteacher’s advice to me during revision periods and ahead of looming coursework deadlines still holds true: “Fail to prepare and you will be preparing to fail.” The same applies to attracting and recruiting talent. If you don’t prepare your place of work to respond proactively and effectively to attrition, you will lose your opportunity to find the very best people to grow and build your business. 

Unless you are a particularly lucky organisation – or an incredibly unique one – your need to source talent will be an ongoing activity throughout the year. Understanding this means holding yourself accountable for searching openly, proactively, and consistently to source and engage with talent from a variety of backgrounds.

You may be thinking: “Yes, Jo, we know all this.” Yet here we are. Organisations such as my consultancy are in constant demand to help businesses, small and large, find the best talent, diverse talent, talent that organisations find hard to source. 

I can’t promise to solve all your cyclical recruitment issues in one column, not least because I’d need to dive deep into your people strategy to understand your specific needs. But I can certainly steer you on the right path with practical and anecdotal tips from a passionate, proactive, consistent talent finder.

Seeking the best must be an ongoing exercise

First: have a people strategy contributed to by all the stakeholders relevant to your recruitment process and establish your collective attraction and recruitment values.

A focus on proactivity and consistency must be at the heart of this strategy. Only by committing to look constantly for the best will you remain steps ahead of your competitors. 

There is no harm in constantly market-mapping for critical roles in your organisation. Try to establish who is in your sector and who is on their way to being the best in your industry; this allows you to respond rapidly to existing talent and to establish a pipeline of talent for future roles. 

Set your terms and get everyone on the same page

Next, your team must answer critical questions. Do you practice accessibility, equity, and inclusion in your attraction and sourcing approaches? What do these terms mean to you and your existing people? Is there a consistency in the process and value of these terms – and how do you know? 

Once clear definitions of these terms are established, and effective stakeholder management has ensured that each influencer knows why it matters to the others, we’re one step closer to creating a strategy that everyone feels invested in and can see the value in delivering.

Where to start looking for diverse talent

Then the deep work can begin. Be prepared to look in places you wouldn’t typically consider. Ask yourself: “If I was applying for my dream job, and hadn’t found one yet, what might I do?” 

For me, it might be one or more of the following things:

  • Join an interest group on social media which could create networking opportunities
  • Follow social media accounts and thought leaders who share opportunities or have deep expertise in the subject matter
  • Attend career-related events. I don’t mean careers fairs, I mean discussions on leadership or career progression, for example
  • Establish what organisations I might engage with for their sector-specific webinars and free discussions with industry peers
  • Explore whether there are any organisations – charitable or otherwise – that exist to support talent with their inequity

Once you identify these organisations or spaces, become strategic about creating meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with them. They will be able to vouch for your exact value of diversity and provide you with a mutually beneficial way to plug into their talent pools. 

The above approach will take time; building trusting relationships and establishing your talent pools does. 

Sourcing talent different to your existing profile also requires you to recognise you are sourcing sought skill, not merely candidates who are ‘disadvantaged’. You have to recruit this talent based on the same values you use for other, ‘traditional’ candidates

Getting the word out 

Additionally, it always surprises me how few CEOs, senior leaders or those seen as influencers in their sector share the open job opportunities within their organisation on their own professional social media platforms.

Can your colleagues promote your job, particularly those in the roles named above? I’m sure they wouldn’t be short of cold calls and connection requests from prospective talent.

Thinking in this way can also inspire you when it comes to Google search terms. The saying “Google is your friend” will be extremely helpful at this stage. Using clever and specific search words will pull up a vast number of organisations plugged into talent pools at all stages in their career. Again, invest in understanding who their talent is and where they would fit into your business. 

When you do this level of research as a starting point, you can become proactive about creating opportunities to meet talent throughout the year, encourage speculative and informal chats with them, and know who to reach out to when that inevitable role appears. 

Meeting talent doesn’t have to be a coffee. It could be inviting individuals to a lunch and learn, an internal event or a talk by a senior leader in your business. Start to ask potential new hires to come and get to know your business to show that you are serious about hiring them. Good news travels fast, too, and your best promotion is word of mouth, so this approach has multiple benefits. 

Crucial questions for your recruiters

Finally: put your search firms to the test. Many recruitment agencies have suddenly become incredibly passionate about diversity and inclusion. They have mastered creating shop windows which present the compelling and convincing story that they are committed to inclusive hiring. In reality, some are incredibly hard-working and proactive talent finders. Others are not.

So, when briefing a recruiter, ask them on the spot to outline how they are building diversity into their talent pool? How do they plan on reaching diverse talent? Who were the last five or so people placed into work and what were their backgrounds? Do they have the names of any individuals that come to mind immediately? We would ask for this kind of detail for so many other things in our life – we should apply it here, too. 

The talent marketplace is bursting with exceptional professionals from various backgrounds. The challenge is not whether you are fast enough; it’s whether you are preparing enough

Why not go a step further and ask the talent you are organically attracting about the search firms they hear from, the recruiters they use and why, and the job boards they typically use? Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues these questions. Again, word of mouth is as valuable for you as the talent.

Avoid falling into the trap of using job boards that appear to be for diverse talent. Again, work is required by you. Who uses the website? Will advertising your role on that website get your opportunities seen by the broad range of talent you want to engage with? There are successful job boards out there which specifically target diverse talent, and they do so very well. Make sure you know the difference and don’t assume that diverse talent will only use those that market themselves as diversity job boards. 

Don’t be afraid to include a communications plan in your strategy: all of these activities take time. They require you to try as many unique recruitment pipeline opportunities as possible with as wide a range of talent pools. It might not be an instant result, but how great would it be if you were ahead of the competition when a vacancy comes up, because you were intentional, consistent and proactive?

Want to be ahead of the competition? Stay committed, be relentless in pursuing your people’s ambitions, go that little bit further, and work that little bit smarter.