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Definition

talent acquisition

Talent acquisition is the strategic process employers use to analyze their long-term talent needs in the context of business goals, identify and develop the best talent sources, then execute the strategy by recruiting, evaluating and onboarding candidates. It is usually a function of the HR department working in close collaboration with talent acquisition specialists, with input from senior executives.

Talent acquisition is often seen as a strategic approach to the early stages of talent management, the process employers use in hiring, deploying, training, evaluating and compensating employees (see Figure 1).

Pillars of talent management
Figure 1. Talent acquisition deals mostly with recruiting and onboarding.

Why is talent acquisition important?

Talent acquisition is important because finding and hiring the right people is a crucial element of an organization's business plan and directly affects its success. Without the right employees, a business is likely to struggle with poor productivity, bad decision-making and unmotivated staff.

Talent acquisition is forward-thinking. Instead of simply hiring a candidate to fill a current opening, a talent acquisition team considers the potential employee's possible career path in the organization. As a result, talent acquisition ensures the organization hires people who could eventually become managers or make other important contributions.

Talent acquisition vs. recruitment

Recruitment is the biggest component of talent acquisition, and some organizations and vendors use the terms interchangeably. However, while talent acquisition and recruitment share a similar goal -- to fill open positions -- there are important differences. The biggest is that recruitment focuses on the present moment, while talent acquisition focuses mostly on the future.

Recruitment is more invested in filling an open position as quickly as possible, while talent acquisition gives more consideration to the company's goals and takes the time to find the candidate who best fits the business needs. To gain this broader perspective, talent acquisition teams analyze the current skills of prospective employees, as well as their potential future development and role within the company culture.

Smaller differences extend from this essential difference. Talent acquisition:

  • usually requires significantly more time and planning than recruitment;
  • uses metrics and data analytics to improve the recruiting process and make more informed hiring decisions;
  • depends on teams understanding the different roles and segments in a company, as well as the skills and experience needed to succeed in each area (recruiting pays less attention to these details); and
  • spends more time discovering the best places to find talent for specific jobs and initiatives and then building relationships with people in each area, while recruiting is more likely to use general-purpose hiring tools and spend less time on candidate relationship management.

While the recruitment process is mostly reactive and linear (see Figure 2), talent acquisition is cyclical and strategic. Recruitment focuses on current needs, while talent acquisition focuses on creating a talent pipeline in anticipation of future needs.

Recruiting involves seven steps from job description to onboarding.
Figure 2: Recruiting involves seven steps from job description to onboarding.

Talent acquisition strategy

Creating a talent acquisition strategy requires taking specific steps to add a strategic perspective to the recruiting process.

Common steps include the following:

  1. Assessing organizational strategies. Examining the business plan and goals, as well as departmental plans can provide guidance on long-term talent and skill requirements. New lines of business, mergers and global expansion are major drivers.
  2. Gathering feedback. Departmental managers, HR and senior executives are the best source of experience and insight into business processes. They'll also expect to have input into the strategy.
  3. Defining the employer brand. Studying public perceptions of the brand through surveys or by checking sites such as Glassdoor are good ways to evaluate the brand. Organizations should then align the brand image with business goals and have it reflected in the recruiting process.

Examples of talent acquisition strategies

Organizations can choose from a variety of strategies. Here are three commonly employed ones:

Recruitment marketing is a subset of marketing focused on promoting the organization as a desirable place to work, reinforcing the brand and gathering leads, including passive candidates who aren't actively looking. Employees participate in the marketing campaign through referrals, video testimonials and social media.

Source of hire (SoH). Identifying the SoH of top-performing employees can help to focus recruiting on the most productive sources, such as passive candidates, employee referrals and job boards. Often, an applicant tracking system (ATS) is the best place to track and analyze SoH information.

Social media recruiting strategies. Besides helping to promote the employer brand, social media sites like LinkedIn and GitHub serve as communication channels for posting jobs and interacting with candidates in the early stages of recruiting.

Talent acquisition tips and best practices

Experts advise doing the following to ensure a successful talent acquisition strategy:

Create a strong brand. Make sure the company's website, culture and social media profiles appeal to both customers and potential job candidates. An appealing brand can be hugely attractive to top candidates.

Make job descriptions as detailed as possible. Requirements should be specific, outlining exactly who the ideal candidate is, which increases the likelihood of finding a good match.

Expand company outreach. Different skill sets and positions require talent acquisition teams to use different methods for sourcing talent. Instead of using general-purpose job sites like LinkedIn or Monster, the company should consider specialized job boards, networking events and academic programs. Teams should then focus on cultivating relationships with the top talent in each group. Doing so will build up the talent pool and employer brand awareness, making it easier to attract new candidates in the future.

Use data analytics. Providing a positive candidate experience and convincing candidates to join the company is just as important as convincing consumers to buy products and services. Data analytics can uncover insights such as where the top talent in the company came from, whether certain questions are preventing candidates from completing applications, and whether adding a video about the company culture will increase applications.

Talent acquisition software

Talent acquisition is sometimes carried out in human capital management (HCM) suites that automate core HR functions like payroll and benefits and have recruiting modules.

Often, however, an ATS is the real hub of recruitment and talent acquisition, managing every step in the recruiting process and providing analytics on candidate and employee data.

Many employers opt for talent management suites, such as Oracle Fusion Cloud HCM and SAP SuccessFactors. These systems are typically delivered from software as a service (SaaS) platforms and offer recruiting, performance management, compensation management, learning management and sometimes succession planning modules. Other big talent management vendors include Cornerstone OnDemand, SilkRoad Technology and UKG.

Another route that employers can take is to use more narrowly focused talent acquisition and recruiting software from vendors such as Recruitee, JazzHR and MightyRecruiter.

Job boards

Another talent acquisition option is job boards, or job marketplaces, such as SimplyHired, ZipRecruiter and Indeed, on which employers post open positions. Longtime participants in this market include Monster and Glassdoor.

Major social media and technology players, such as LinkedIn and Google, are also in the market with strong job-matching, business networking and job-search offerings. Talent acquisition specialists and recruiters increasingly use these platforms for social media recruiting.

Onboarding

After a candidate is hired and becomes an employee, they go through the onboarding process, which includes steps like benefits enrollment, issuing of equipment and training on IT systems, and team introductions. Increasingly, onboarding is conducted entirely online, especially for workers who will always work remotely.

Onboarding has become a universal component of talent management and talent acquisition software suites.

Talent acquisition specialist job description

A talent acquisition specialist can be described as an HR professional who focuses on sourcing, identifying and hiring specific types of employees. They are often hired by companies in competitive job markets that are actively growing and changing, such as tech, healthcare and finance.

Responsibilities of a talent acquisition specialist include:

  • building a qualified and diverse team of employees;
  • organizing and attending recruitment and networking events, conferences and job fairs;
  • anticipating each department's annual and quarterly hiring needs;
  • working with hiring managers and HR to determine staffing needs;
  • creating job descriptions and interview questions tailored to each job opening;
  • determining the selection criteria for open positions;
  • analyzing candidate resumes and applications;
  • providing managers with feedback on resumes and applications;
  • finding potential talent through online channels, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and professional networks;
  • planning interview and selection procedures, which include everything from the initial screening interview to the job offer;
  • building relationships with potential candidates and previous applicants;
  • collaborating with management to ensure hiring procedures are ethical and fair;
  • performing introductory interviews with candidates to gauge their interest level, personality and salary expectations; and
  • guaranteeing the onboarding process is successful and a positive experience for new employees.

Requirements for a talent acquisition specialist typically include a bachelor's degree in a field related to human resource management -- ideally with a specialization in talent acquisition or management -- and at least five years of previous HR experience.

This was last updated in September 2022

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