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Employers turn to internal candidates to fill open positions

Sometimes an applicant isn't the right fit for a job at the time, but may be a good choice for a different position in the future. Employers should give these candidates a second look.

In their scramble to fill open roles, more employers are applying recruiting technology to their candidate databases. Not only are they sifting through the profiles of internal candidates, such as current employees or company alumni, they're examining past applicants who, for one reason or another, didn't make the cut the first time.

Some people might think that's counterintuitive. However, recruiters point out that solid candidates may not receive offers for reasons that have little to do with their skills, experience or overall personality. In some cases, for example, a perfectly reasonable hiring manager and a perfectly reasonable professional may not be comfortable working with each other. In others, the applicant's salary requirements may be out of sync with a department's budget. Such circumstances, recruiters say, don't always mean the candidate can't succeed with a different opportunity.

For recruiters struggling to fill positions, internal candidates or those who have previously moved down the hiring funnel offer the chance to make more educated decisions about whether they can address a company's current challenges. That's especially true today as employers step up the pace of data gathering in the search and employee lifecycle.

Talent rediscovery in the candidate database

Employers today create worker profiles that draw on performance data, salary history, promotion records and project successes. That information can be examined within the context of a job description, said Karen Williams, executive vice president of products and customer success for Saba Software, a provider of talent management tools.

"No one knows more about a particular employee than the employer," Williams said. "You just have to take what you know about them and apply it against the job that you're trying to fill." Many employers, she added, prefer to promote from within because doing so is less expensive and time-consuming. "Investing in their existing employees, reskilling them and moving them toward a new role is much more cost-effective than going outside and hiring a brand-new person who needs to start at the beginning."

A similar argument can be made about previous applicants. Candidates who've been interviewed, tested and otherwise vetted come with a more detailed set of data attached to them. However, employers must bear in mind that the rules of good data management are an important contributor to successfully utilizing the candidate database.

No one knows more about a particular employee than the employer.
Karen Williams Executive vice president of products and customer success, Saba Software

For one thing, a large number of résumés doesn't offer great value if they've all been submitted blind and have never been evaluated, said Greg Ambrose, co-founder and CEO of Stack Talent, a Chicago-based technology recruiting firm. "If you don't segment candidates upfront, it's hard to uncover the people you want in future," he said. "It's a matter of careful curation when they arrive and nurturing them as time goes on."

By nurturing, Ambrose means keeping profiles and relationships up to date. Addresses, job titles and interest in new opportunities all change over time. "Rediscovering means keeping the data up to date," he said. "Keeping track of these people is much more important than simply rediscovering them."

The situation becomes more challenging if candidates who submitted a résumé never heard back from the company in the first place. Those people don't have much of a relationship with the firm, and may feel that they've had a poor experience. To keep the best candidates in the realm of possibility requires employers "to keep them positive about their experience from the first moment," Ambrose said.

That means paying attention to candidates from the first contact: acknowledging résumés, keeping the decision-making process on track and staying in touch even with those who didn't receive an offer.

"If you contact someone three or four years later, your company may be just a vague memory," Ambrose continued. When re-approaching candidates, "you first have to share the role, discuss their aspirations relative to role, then nurture them to the point of becoming an active candidate," he said. "Engagement is a one-on-one, personal process."  

Chad Sowash, a recruiting consultant and co-host of the recruiting-focused Chad & Cheese Podcast, goes further. "Individuals who've replied to your brand or your position, they've already had an experience with your organization, either good or bad," he said. "That's why it's incredibly important for us to understand, as recruiting professionals, that we should actually ensure that those people spending time with our brands get a good experience. They should be seen as customers, as opposed to candidates, because you never know. They may be buying goods and services from your company."

It's all about the data

Two or three years ago, some recruiting software providers focused their efforts on talent rediscovery. More recently, many have widened their approach to attack talent rediscovery as more of a data challenge than a technical one. Matching technologies can be used effectively for external and internal candidates, Sowash said. Either way, they must be tightly integrated with an employer's applicant tracking system (ATS).

That's become increasingly important as advanced technology is put to use searching and analyzing data. "We've had big data forever, but we haven't had the machine learning or deep learning that we do now," Sowash observed. As machines have grown more sophisticated in how they handle data, they've also become faster, more efficient and more scalable than people.

Not only that, Sowash pointed out, but the candidate database has already been paid for. "You can search Monster or CareerBuilder or what have you, but you're going to spend additional money and probably find the same people that you've already paid for two to three times over, and their résumé is already in your ATS," he said.

Finally, talent rediscovery also takes advantage of an employer's previous investments, Sowash said. Many enterprises have spent millions, or even tens of millions, of dollars to build their candidate databases only to have them "just sit there and atrophy." Searching those databases is "the solution to a problem that companies didn't even think they had: They've spent millions of dollars on this database and their recruiters don't touch it."

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