Recruiting's Reinvention

As the talent-acquisition field continues to undergo changes, the 2016 Recruiting Trends and Talent Acquisition Technology Conferences gave attendees the opportunity to learn directly from experts and network with their peers. 

By David Shadovitz and Andrew R. McIlvaine

Today's job market is a candidate-driven one, with the unemployment rate at its lowest level in more than eight years and millions of jobs going unfilled due to a lack of qualified talent. Amid this competition, talent acquisition is becoming more like marketing, as recruiters focus on engaging passive candidates through social-media channels and tools such as candidate-relationship management systems. Recruiters are increasingly expected to understand how to use big data to help find the best matches for their companies' open positions. A new era of transparency -- in which a poor interview experience can go viral -- is prompting recruiters and the organizations they work for to treat their job candidates more like customers than job applicants.

Against this backdrop, the capital city of Texas played host to two of the most dynamic educational and networking events ever held for recruiters and talent-acquisition leaders under one roof: the 2016 Recruiting Trends Conference (acquired by Human Resource Executive publisher LRP Inc. in 2015) and the inaugural Talent Acquisition Technology Conference (launched as a recruiting-focused spin-off of the popular HR Tech Conference). The combined conferences, held at the Hilton Austin in Austin, Texas, Nov. 15 through 16 featured more than 50 breakout sessions with case studies on everything from video recruiting to talent analytics to onboarding, four keynote presentations from talent thought leaders, peer-to-peer networking sessions and an expo hall filled with nearly 60 vendors offering the latest and greatest in talent-acquisition tools and services.

What follows are a few of the highlights from both conferences.

The Importance of Data

It's impossible to have a conversation about recruiting these days without talking about the role of data.

So it was no surprise, then, to hear John Sullivan, author and professor at San Francisco State University, focus his opening keynote presentation at the Recruiting Trends Conference on the role of data in the hiring decision-making process.

During his presentation, titled Forget the Hype: Data-Based Recruiting Reveals What Actually Works, Sullivan told attendees that employers need to be much more data-driven.

If you ask CEOs about the biggest challenge they're facing, human capital turns out to be No. 1, Sullivan said. "What's not so good is [that's] been a challenge for four straight years," he said. "And if you've [had] a challenge for four straight years, it means something needs to change."

These same CEOs also said they believe recruiting the right talent has a huge impact on business success, Sullivan added.

So, if the impact is that significant, he said, that begs the question, "How come [recruiters] have no money?"

"I would argue it's because we don't make a very good business case," Sullivan said. "We say we hired 20 people, but we don't say those people brought in $20 million."

In a fast-changing world, he said, data tells you what works and what doesn't. But you need to be looking at the right data. Google used to scrutinize a candidate's GPA, but the research found that grades made no difference in the quality of talent it hired -- so it stopped paying attention to that metric.

"Stop having opinions about what the best source for hiring people is," he said. "Sure, you can have opinions, but if you want to influence hiring managers, you're going to want to have facts that back your recommendations up."

Sullivan also pointed out that CEOs care about quality of hire, and other business leaders should, too.

Most employers pay close attention to metrics such as the cost of hire, he said, but they should be focusing their attention instead on measuring the impact of their hiring decisions.

When you hire Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star LeBron James, what you should be measuring is the impact he's going to be having on your organization over the next 10 years, he said.

In other words, employers need to be thinking about the big picture.

Sullivan also pointed out that most companies don't measure the failure rates of the people they hire, but should.

Peeling Back the Curtain

If employers really want to stand out from the pack, they need to begin to tell their stories in open and authentic ways. That was one of the messages shared by Stacy Zapar in her closing keynote titled Using Technology to Supercharge Your Employer Brand at the Talent Tech Conference.

Put simply, great employer branding means peeling back the curtain and showing everyone on the outside what it's like on the inside, said Zapar, founder of Tenfold and a specialist in employer branding.

"We're not using tinted windows or filters to hide our wrinkles," she said. "We're not pretending to be something we're not. We really want to make sure that what's on the inside is going to push out to the outside."

Zapar said it's all about being more real: "I think we [need to] embrace our imperfections." Cindy Crawford's mole, David Letterman's gap between his teeth and Iman's long neck -- these are traits that make these celebrities stand out.

What's more, Zapar said, employers need to make sure job candidates have a clear picture about the company before they even start their jobs. The earlier in the process, the better it is for everyone, she said, adding that you don't want someone to begin their job and say, " 'Oh, this isn't what I thought at all! I hate it here!' "

Zapar told attendees that a good employer-branding road map needs to identify the recurring challenges: "Where are we spending too much money? Where are we inefficient? Where are the end points? Who are we not hiring enough of or fast enough? Do we have diversity challenges? Do we have a retiring workforce? Do we need to target millennials? What are our challenges as an organization from a recruiting perspective?"

In addition, Zapar touched on the importance of the employee value proposition. Recruiters, she said, need to do a much better job of making sure that proposition is clear to those they're trying to attract. "If people come to work for you, what do they get out of the deal?"

In other words: What's in it for them?

Zapar said it doesn't need to cost a lot to get that message out there. "I don't believe I've had a budget of more than $300 at any of the companies I've worked at," she said.

On the subject of technologies and tools, she suggested that recruiters tap some of the resources they already have at their disposal, including many of those that are free.

"Not everything has to be sanitized and slick, and produced by the marketing team," Zapar said, adding that communications can include content coming directly from employees, unedited and in real time, through tools such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook Live.

Building a Better Experience

A lousy candidate experience can be costly to your organization's bottom line, regardless of whether its business is selling products or services directly to customers, said Elaine Orler, CEO and co-founder of Talent Function Group, during a panel discussion at the Recruiting Trends Conference.

"Even if you're not a consumer-facing business, the comments we've seen from candidates will hurt you -- things like 'I will tell my community of scientists to never apply here,' " said Orler, citing research by the Talent Board (of which she is also co-founder). During the panel, moderated by Orler, talent acquisition leaders from four companies shared what they're doing to make the process of applying to jobs at their companies easier, more informative and less intimidating.

At Delta Air Lines, which receives more than one million job applications per year, one of Talent Acquisition Director Glen Johnson's first initiatives was to revamp the style of its messages to job candidates, which had been filled with legal jargon that left many candidates feeling cold, he said.

The sheer number of candidates who apply to jobs at Delta each year represents about $300 million in potential airline business, he added, "so we needed to change what we say."

"[Our candidate communication] was originally written by lawyers, so we had to kind of 'de-criminalize' it, so to speak," said Johnson.

At Fiat Chrysler, the company typically hires only 9,000 of the roughly 300,000 applicants who apply there each year, said Stefanie Thornton, head of talent acquisition. "That means the vast majority will not have a positive outcome, so we focus on making the experience a positive one so at least they won't say, 'I will never buy a car made by this company ever again,' " she said.

Like Johnson, Thornton has made improving her company's candidate-communication efforts a priority. Fiat Chrysler audits its candidate communication on at least a quarterly basis "to ensure the experience is fresh and not cookie-cutter," she said.

At SWIFT, the company helps hiring managers provide direct feedback to internal candidates who weren't selected for the jobs they applied for, said Chris Marquardt, senior HR specialist. "They advise them on where the gaps [in their experience] lie and what they can do to be successful next time, and I think it's working well."

Similar to Fiat Chrysler, Delta has far more applicants than available jobs, said Johnson. The airline tries to encourage candidates to "self-select out" by creating videos that give realistic previews of what its jobs actually entail on a daily basis, he said.

"We want to make sure they understand that these jobs -- flight attendant, ground mechanic, ticket agent -- may seem cool, but they also have downsides, so that candidates are better prepared to understand whether they really want a particular job," said Johnson. The company has also created a video that coaches candidates on what to expect during a job interview, he said.

In addition, Delta is focused on making its application process much more candidate-friendly, although it's still a work in progress, said Johnson.

"If you went and secret-shopped our process, you'd wonder why we're up here on this panel," he said, adding that he is currently working with "ATS technology from 2005 combined with an HR system from 1978." The airline is upgrading its system, however, with the goal of "one-click apply." "We believe that if we do it right, we'll create an engaging process that will narrow the [applicant] funnel without taking too much time."

Among the most important things companies can do, said Orler, is to treat candidates with dignity.

"One of the positive comments we've seen from candidates who applied to a company is, 'The recruiter rejected my application but did not reject me as a person,' " she said. "Try to say 'no' with as much respect as possible."

Candidates appreciate efforts to keep them in the loop, said Marquardt.

"People always want a response, even if it's 'no thank you,' because it closes the loop," he said. "Candidates have actually written to us saying 'Thanks for letting me know.' "


The 2017 Recruiting Trends & Talent Technology Conference will be held at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., Nov. 28 through Nov. 30. Go to and to learn more.


Feb 13, 2017
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