The 8 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Talent Acquisition

This article originally appeared on, June 6, 2016

By Matthew Kosinski

In today’s knowledge economy, recruiters have even less room to make mistakes than they ever had before. Business value depends on getting top talent into critical roles, and if recruiters can’t do that, the companies they work for will suffer tremendously.

“If you’re Turner Broadcasting, and you can’t find the best animators, it’s not just, ‘Oh, we have a bunch of vacancies, what a bummer,’” explains Linda Brenner, cofounder and managing director at Talent Growth Advisors. “That’s going to destroy your business.”

Recently, I had the chance to speak with Brenner about eight common mistakes made by talent acquisition departments. These are mistakes that could be costing you and your organization big time, so read up, evaluate your recruiting strategy, and fix what’s broken.

1. Not Radically Changing What You’re Doing

Stagnation is never a good thing, but it’s especially bad in the recruiting industry.

“If you’re doing hiring the same way you did three years ago, or 10, or even longer, it’s going to be almost impossible to compete today with these candidates and the types of jobs and skills companies are looking,” Brenner says.

Companies need to make sure that their recruiting processes are keeping up with the times. Not sure if your processes are up to date? Brenner says you’ll know you have a problem when you can’t find the talent you need.

“If you’re looking at your work and saying, ‘I have 30 reqs open, and no one has applied,’ then you have to try something different,” Brenner says.

Brenner stresses that keeping your processes current has to be a team effort. Individual recruiters can’t be expected to do it on their own.

“If companies don’t get ahead of it, every recruiter has to figure it out on their own, which is totally inefficient,” she says.

2. Treating Every Req the Same

“Many companies treat them like milk: first in, first out,” Brenner says.

In other words: Most recruiters fill reqs according to when they were opened, not according to how critical each req is.

“We need a framework for determining the criticality of each job,” Brenner says. “Every role is important – it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t – but some jobs are essential to creating business value.”

Rather than filling reqs chronologically, recruiters should be filling them according to criticality.

3. Starting Each Job Search With a Job Posting

When a hiring manager comes to you and says, “Becky just quit, we need to fill her role,” you need to do some reconnaissance. You can’t just dust off the job posting you used to hire Becky two years ago and repost it.

“You have to have an approach for defining the right talent for the job,” Brenner says. “If you just post a job because there’s pressure to do so, you’re not going to get the best candidates.”

Brenner’s advice is to sit down with the hiring manager and try to answer questions like:

- How has the job changed?

- Why did the employee leave?

- What’s most important about the job?

- Where do the best people come from?

These answers to these sorts of questions will help you determine what kind of talent you need and the best way to source that talent.

4. Lack of Skills Required to Hire Top Talent

This is more of a mistake made by the organization or agency hiring the recruiters than the recruiters themselves, but it’s still an important one to be aware of.

“You have to be pretty good at your game if you want to hire people with scarce and highly wanted skills,” Brenner says.

For example, hiring a skilled developer requires doing a lot more than posting on a job board. It requires knowledge of the market, sound persuasive skills, and the ability to really sell an opportunity. Recruiters who can’t do these sorts of things aren’t cut out for the modern recruiting industry.

Brenner believes that the key is to hire the right recruiters from the start. In today’s fast-paced and highly competitive talent market, most companies don’t have the time to train recruiters. They need people who can get up to speed immediately.

“I don’t think companies have the time or stomach or money to train recruiters anymore,” Brenner says. “You have to hire for that high level of competency.”

5. Repelling, Rather Than Attracting, Candidates

Imagine you’re happily employed when, out of the blue, a recruiter sends you a LinkedIn message about a new opportunity. You figure you might as well check it out.

But then you go to the online application portal that they linked you to, and the process is 45-minutes long, requires you to describe the last 10 years of your work history, and puts you through the most ridiculously in-depth personality assessment you’ve ever seen.

“There’s no way you’re going to finish that,” Brenner says. “You have to be a very motivated candidate to go through some of the hoops these companies create.”

While some positions simply do require that level of vetting, recruiters should always be wary about putting candidates through such arduous processes. Especially when it comes to passive candidates, overly long and complex applications are a good way to lose the very talent you seek.

6. Company-Focused Employer Brands

Most organizations know how critical employer branding is today, but few know how to brand themselves properly.

“Go to any company’s website, and you’ll see it,” Brenner says. “They put a lot of time and money into their messaging, but many of the sites are company-centric.”

Rather than building a brand around what you think is appealing about your company, you need to treat your employer brand the same way you would a product brand.

“Go out and find the type of candidates you need,” Brenner says. “Get data from them about what they want, and use that to drive your brand.”

7. Unclear Accountability

A lot of recruiters simply don’t know what their goals are. What metric matters the most? Cost? Quality? Diversity? Many organizations never make this clear.

Furthermore, some recruiters don’t even know who ultimately owns the recruiting process. Is it them? The hiring managers? HR?

What talent acquisition departments need is clarity. And that clarity has to start at the top.

“The strategy for finding and keeping talent has to connect to the business plan,” Brenner says. “For example, if we’re expanding into 50 countries, what kind of talent do we need to do that? We have to say, ‘We are going to have this kind of candidate experience, this kind of process, this kind of hiring manager involvement, and these metrics.’”

Brenner doesn’t expect senior leaders to own this effort – they’ve got enough on their plates already. Instead, she suggests that a leader in talent acquisition or HR inspire the conversation with leadership, and then build the strategy out from there according to the sorts of metrics and ownership that the C-suite cares about.

8. Lack of a Continuous Improvement Orientation

Talent acquisition departments need to be machines. They can’t be collections of people who are just doing their own things based on their skills and interests.

“You have to build sustainable, scalable, measurable processes,” Brenner says. “You need to continually assess and identify room for improvement.”

That doesn’t mean everyone needs to be doing the same exact thing. Recruiting strategies should be differentiated based on the roles that need to be filled. However, recruiters need to follow established processes for each role. They can’t be winging it.

“You should have four or five different processes humming along at once,” Brenner says.

The stakes have never been higher for recruiters – and neither has the cost of erring. That’s why all recruiters, talent acquisition professionals, and anyone else involved with hiring should be aware of these common mistakes.

The first step toward building a powerful recruiting machine is admitting you have a problem.


Contact us; we'd love to hear from you.  You may also want to download our Recruiter Workload Calculator and read Talent Acquisition Audit: Six Signs You Need One.

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