How To Build An Effective Talent Pipeline


December 17, 2022


180 Engineering

The evolution of the workplace is in full swing and it is proving to be a rocky ride. Employers and workers alike have been scrambling to keep pace with the changes. From the sudden switch to remote work in March 2020 through the Great Resignation to today’s economic turmoil and mass layoffs in the tech sector, change has been fast and furious. The only thing that experts agree on is that the workplace as we knew it prior to 2020 will never be the same.

If building a talent pipeline prior to 2020 was important, it is now critical. Employers and recruitment professionals had a tough time filling open roles for much of 2022, as workers quit their jobs in droves, using their leverage and new-found insights about work/life balance to seek greener pastures. And even with mass layoffs in the tech sector frequently making the news in 2022, unemployment in that field remains low and skilled tech workers remain in high demand.

A well-established talent pipeline can help manage this volatility and fill open roles as quickly as possible. Even if you already have a pipeline in place, it can be worth your while to reassess your strategies given today’s realities. Some of the tactics you use may need to be adjusted to better adapt to today’s workplace.

What Is A Talent Pipeline?

If you’re completely new to the concept of talent pipelines, a definition may be helpful.

A talent pipeline is a group of passive candidates who have the skills and talent to fill open roles in your company, whether those roles are currently posted or may become open in the future. The candidates can be either external or internal.

To maintain an effective talent pipeline, it’s not enough to simply identify possible candidates and keep their information handy. It’s important to engage those candidates through an initial discussion where you let them know that they have skills and abilities that your company needs. And then, when a candidate shows interest, you should maintain engagement to foster a connection by periodically providing updates and information about your company that will keep them interested. As pointed out in a blog piece at InStride, a talent pipeline is “more than a list of names – it’s a vehicle for engaging with prospective job candidates. Consider it an opportunity to cultivate the highest-potential candidates to step in – and step up – at a moment’s notice.”

Ultimately, a talent pipeline is the most effective way for your organization to decrease the time required to source, recruit, and hire candidates since you already have a bank of qualified talent to invite to apply for open roles.

Why Is A Talent Pipeline Necessary?

Partly because of the digital age and partly because of the evolution of the workplace, the way candidates “shop” for jobs has changed dramatically in recent years.

Some candidates still search for job postings and apply organically. However, it’s much more common  – particularly for top talent and in industries that struggle to fill open roles  – for recruiters to approach talent on platforms such as LinkedIn, hoping to add passive candidates to their own talent pipelines.

Once part of a talent pipeline, a candidate’s job search eases considerably. Since plum roles are presented for them to choose from, there’s no need for them to spend time scrolling job boards. If they are approached for an open role via a talent pipeline, they have assurance that they are qualified for the role and that they have a good chance of securing the job without worries about wasting considerable time and energy on interviews only to be told that they are not right for the role. And, finally, because of the engagement that’s part of the pipeline process, candidates will have a good feel for the company and its culture, helping them decide if the role could be a good fit.

It’s clear that in order to stay competitive and attract and hire top talent, employers need a strong and effective pipeline.

What Are The Benefits Of A Talent Pipeline?

Ultimately, as explained above, a talent pipeline will help to decrease the time required to source, recruit, and hire candidates for open roles. But there are several other, related, benefits as well.

Better Candidates

By nourishing a talent pipeline, companies have access to the best possible candidates whenever a role opens. An employer is no longer required to quickly assess applications, trying to figure out who has the best abilities, skills, and fit for the role. Through the engagement process within a talent pipeline, an employer will have a good feel for a candidate’s competencies and fit. With talent pipelines, serendipity is no longer a factor in finding the best possible candidate.

Strong Employer Brand

Employers aren’t the only ones seeking a good fit. Candidates want a good fit too. Assessing an employer’s brand is a pivotal way for candidates to determine if a company and its culture are the right ones for them.

While branding can be communicated in a variety of ways, there’s often little time for candidates to assess that brand before applying for an open role. By engaging with candidates in their pipelines, companies have time to pitch their brand and sell their company as a terrific place to work.

Meeting DEI Objectives

Many companies struggle to fill their own Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) objectives. In many cases, companies don’t even realize that they have recruitment and hiring practices or that they use language that unintentionally creates bias and limits certain groups of candidates from applying.

By engaging candidates in a talent pipeline, companies bypass some of the issues that create bias (such as language in job postings). They also have a chance to create a more welcoming environment for all candidates.

Better Candidate Experience

Candidate experience during the recruitment and hiring processes is a big determinant in whether a candidate will accept an offer. If a candidate feels nurtured in the pipeline and has the opportunity to learn more about the company prior to being approached about an open role, it’s less likely that they will drop out of the interview process and it’s more likely that they will accept an offer.

How To Build An Effective Talent Pipeline

Building an effective talent pipeline will take a considerable amount of planning, time, and effort. But it can be broken down into three very basic steps: plan ahead and identify your ideal candidate(s), fill your pipeline, and engage those in your pipeline.

Planning Your Pipeline

Start by determining which roles within your company would benefit from a pipeline. In a blog piece at Workable, Nikoletta Bika suggests that pipelines are best for roles that have high turnover and roles that are often difficult to fill, such as those requiring highly specialized skill sets and executive roles.

Next, a piece by the Beamery Team suggests creating a candidate persona. As explained in the piece, a candidate persona is a “semi-fictional representation of your ideal candidate. This persona is formed by defining the characteristics, skills and traits that make up your perfect hire.” To create the persona, you will need to analyze traits of your successful employees and consider the types of companies that your ideal candidates might work at. Specifically:

  • Study the demographics of your successful employees, including their education, interests, views, goals, and the prior experience they brought to your organization.
  • Investigate where your successful employees worked before joining your team. Based on this information, there may be specific companies that you can target for passive candidates.
  • Are there any activities or organizations that your successful employees devote time to outside of work, such as gym memberships, political/social organizations, or watering holes that are popular for a specific sector of employees? If so, those places could also be targeted for passive candidates.

Filling Your Pipeline

While it’s pretty obvious that you have to fill your pipeline in order for it to be effective, how exactly do you do that?

Adding to your talent pipeline should be an ongoing process; after all, the whole point of a pipeline is to have a group of candidates who are qualified and ready to be considered for a job. They should already be well-vetted – prescreened, active in your industry, and known to be a good fit for your company. This takes a considerable amount of time and proactive planning.

Sourcing candidates for your pipeline is much the same as sourcing them for open roles. Try:

  • Using different social media platforms for networking purposes. Join industry groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Reddit; follow relevant hashtags on Twitter; and don’t underestimate the potential of platforms such as TikTok and Slack.
  • Meeting candidates in person, either at events that you host yourself or at industry events and job fairs.
  • Re-engaging with “silver medalists”  – those candidates who applied for past roles but who narrowly missed out being hired.
  • Asking for referrals from anyone who might know passive candidates in your industry, including your hiring managers, current and past employees, those browsing your website, and your industry connections.

Once you have candidates in your pipeline, it’s important to keep them engaged with and interested in your company so that they are ready to tap when a role becomes available.

Engaging With Your Pipeline

Keeping candidates within your pipeline engaged can be a bit of a balancing act. As with any communications strategy, you don’t want to come off as spammy. It’s important to keep the messages relevant and to be respectful of the candidates’ time.

When you first reach out to a potential candidate, be honest and tell them that while your company isn’t presently hiring, you’re always looking for talented people. If they’re interested in staying in touch, your initial content should be about your company, so that they understand why they would be a good fit. As you build your relationship, show genuine interest in their career goals and gather information that will help you personalize the content that you send. And, when you feel like they might be ready to learn more about specific opportunities or even apply, it’s time to provide content that helps them understand your Employee Value Proposition (EVP).

As pointed out in the piece by the Beamery team, “it can take as many as 8 brand touch points to influence a decision. Nurture is a long-term investment – you have to persevere with it to convince candidates to apply.

How To Fast-track A Talent Pipeline

There’s no doubt that creating and maintaining a talent pipeline takes significant effort. If your company doesn’t have the resources to devote to nurturing a pipeline, partnering with a well-regarded recruitment agency is the best way to fill this gap. Because it’s in the best interest of a recruitment agency to fill roles quickly and with the best possible fit, most will have well-established pipelines that they can tap into on your behalf.