10 Predictions for 2012: The Top Trends in Talent Management and Recruiting

It’s always better to be prepared than surprised.

By definition, being strategic requires that you look forward — identifying trends, opportunities, and threats. With the December lull looming, now is a great time to plan for the future. I’ve listed the “top 10 talent management trends” I foresee that require your attention.

But you should certainly do your own thinking. I recommend that you start by examining this past year…

2011 Was The Year of Social Media

2011 was a tough year for many in talent management, but despite compressed budgets, organizations continued to hire and develop talent. One factor that seemed to invade nearly every high-level functional discussion was social media. It’s clear that Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter will play a dominate role in recruiting and development best practices in years to come.

Not surprisingly, 2011 saw no fewer than 40 new vendors emerge to help organizations use social media to attract referrals. We also started to see early stage tools to use social media in talent assessment (pre/post hire) as well as applicant/candidate/employee experience management. New tools brought much enhanced visibility into talent issues, but most talent-management metrics continue not to resonate with key leaders outside of the HR function.

2012 Will Be “The Year of the Mobile Platform”

By the end of next year, even the skeptics will have to admit that the mobile platform will have become the dominant communications and interaction platform by early-adopting best-practice organizations. The capabilities afforded users of smartphones and tablet devices grows immensely day by day. Long before unified inboxes existed for the desktop, smart device users could see all incoming e-mail, social messaging, text messaging, and voice and video messaging in a single place.

Tablets will become the virtual classroom, and an emerging class of tools will let employees manage almost every aspect of their professional life digitally. During the next year, talent management leaders need to invest heavily supporting execution of talent management initiatives across mobile.

The Additional Top Nine!

Intense hiring competition will return in selected areas — global economic issues will persist for years to come, but the global war for talent will continue spiking in key regions an industries. While growth has slowed somewhat in China, Australia and Southeast Asia — including India — continue to see dramatic demand for skilled talent. In the U.S. and Europe, demand is still largely limited to certain industries where skills shortages have been an issue for years.

In high tech inclusive of medical technologies, 2012 will see a significant escalation in the war for top talent. As innovators and game changers step out of established tech firms like Facebook, Apple, Google, Twitter, and Zynga, a whole new breed to tech startups will be born each vying for the best of the best. While recruiting will move forward at a breathtaking pace, so too will “rapid” leadership development.

Retention issues will increase dramatically — almost every survey shows that despite high engagement scores, more than a majority of employees are willing to quit their current job as soon as a better opportunity comes along. I am predicting that turnover rates in high-demand occupations will increase by 25% during the next year and because most corporate retention programs have been so severely degraded, retention could turn out to be the highest-economic-impact area in all of talent management.

Rather than the traditional “one-size-fits-all” retention strategy, a targeted personalized approach will be required if you expect to have a reasonable chance to retain your top talent.

Social media increases its impact by becoming more data-driven — most firms jumped on the social media bandwagon, but unfortunately the trial-and-error approach used by most has produced only mediocre results. Adapting social media tools from the business coupled with strong analytics will allow a more focused approach that harnesses and directs the effort of all employees on social media. Talent leaders will increasingly see the value of a combination of internal and external social media approaches for managing and developing talent.

Remote work changes everything in talent management — the continued growth of technology, social media, and easy communications now makes it possible for most knowledge work and team activities to occur remotely. Allowing top talent to work “wherever they want to work” improves retention and makes recruiting dramatically easier.

Unfortunately, even though it is now possible for as much as 50% of a firm’s jobs to be done remotely, manager and HR resistance has limited the trend. Fortunately, managers and talent management leaders have begun to realize that teamwork, learning, development, recruiting, and best-practice sharing can now successfully be accomplished using remote methods. Firms like IBM and Cisco have led the way in reducing and eliminating barriers to remote work.

The need for speed shifts the balance between development and recruiting — historically, best practice within corporations has been to build and develop primarily from within. However, as the speed of change in business continues to increase and the number of firms that copy the “Apple model” (where firm is continually crossing industry boundaries) increases, talent managers will need to rethink the “develop internally first” approach.

In many cases, recruiting becomes a more viable option because there simply isn’t time for current employees to develop completely new skills. As a result, the trend will be to continually shift the balance toward recruiting for immediate needs and the use of contingent labor for short-duration opportunities and problems.

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Employee referrals are coupled with social media — the employee referral program in many organizations is operated in isolation as are the organizations’ social media efforts, but talent managers are beginning to realize that the real strength of social media is relationship-building by your employees.

With proper coordination, employee relationships can easily be turned into employee referrals. This realization will lead to a shift away from recruiters and toward relying on employees to build social media contacts and relationships. The net result will be that as many as 60% of all hires will come from the combined efforts. The strength of these relationships will lead to better assessment and the highest-quality hires from employee referrals.

Employer branding returns — Employer branding and building talent communities are the only long-term strategies in recruiting. True branding is rarely practiced (hint: it’s not recruitment marketing) especially in the cash-strapped function of today, but years of layoffs, cuts in compensation, and generally bad press for business in general may force firms to invest in true branding. The increased use of social media and frequent visits to employee criticism sites (like Glassdoor.com), make not managing employer brand perception a risky proposition. While corporations will never control their employer brand, they can monitor and influence in a direction that isn’t catastrophic to recruiting and retention.

The candidate experience is finally getting the attention it deserves — Organizations have never treated candidates as well as they did their customers, but the high jobless rate has allowed corporations to essentially abuse some applicants. As competition for talent increases and as more applicants visit employer criticism sites like Glassdoor.com, talent leaders will be forced to modify their approach.

At the very least, firms will more closely monitor candidate experience metrics as they realize that treating applicants poorly can not only drive away other high-quality applicants but it can also lose them sales and customers.

Forward-looking metrics begin to dominate — Almost all current talent management and recruiting metrics are backward looking, in that they tell you what happened in the past. Other business functions like supply chain, production, and finance have long championed the use of “forward-looking” or predictive metrics and the time is finally coming when talent management leaders will shift their metrics emphasis. Forward-looking metrics can not only improve decision-making but they can also help to prevent or mitigate future talent problems.

Other Things to Keep Your Eye On…

In addition to the major trends highlighted above, there are 12 additional “hot” topics to keep your eye on:

  • Risk identification — almost every other business function has already adopted a risk management strategy. So the time is coming when talent management will be forced to adopt a similar strategy and set of metrics. This program will not only cover HR legal issues but also the economic “risk” associated with weak hiring, the absence of developed leaders, and the cost of turnover of key talent.
  • Prioritization — continued budget and resource pressure will force talent management leaders to prioritize their services, business units, key jobs, and high-value managers/employees.
  • Integration — there will be increasing pressure for talent management functions to more closely integrate and work seamlessly.
  • Expedited leadership development — as more baby-boom leaders and managers actually begin to retire, there will be increased pressure for expedited leadership development — specifically solutions that develop talent remotely using social media tools and within months rather than years.
  • Competitive analysis — the increasingly competitive business world has forced almost every function to be more externally focused. Although HR has a long history of being internally focused and not being “highly competitive,” there is increasing pressure to become more business-like and to adopt an “us-versus-them” perspective. That means conducting competitive analysis and making sure that every key talent management function produces superior results to those at competitors.
  • Contingent workers — as continuous business volatility becomes the “new normal,” the increased use and the improved management of contingent workers will become essential for agility and flexibility.
  • Unionization — there is a reasonable chance that actions by the NLRB will increase union power and make it easier for unions to gain acceptance at private employers.
  • Recruiting at industry events — as industry events return to popularity, recruiting at them will again become an effective tool for recruiting top and diverse talent.
  • Location software — talent managers will begin to realize that software that allows you to check-in and see who is within close geographic proximity has great value and many still unidentified uses.
  • Hire before they do — most firms will restrict their hiring until the turnaround actually begins. However, your firm must have a talent pool or pipeline developed, so that you can hire immediately and capture the top talent right before your competitors realize the downturn is over.
  • Assessment continues to improve — vendors, software, and tools continue to improve in this area that will become increasingly important.
  • Increase your revenue impact — increased economic pressures will continue the trend of forcing all functions (including talent management) to convert their functional results into business impacts in dollars. Talent management will face increasing pressure to directly demonstrate how their hiring, retention, development, etc. is focused, so that it directly increases and maximizes corporate revenues.

Final Thoughts

A recent survey of CEOs rates talent management as the No. 1 area where CEOs expect dramatic change during the next year. Given this increased attention, it’s even more critical that talent management and recruiting leaders set aside time to conduct a SWOT assessment (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) to identify where they are and where they need to be.

The “new” talent management leader must be more strategic, more proactive, and more business-like, and that means getting your entire staff to begin thinking about and planning for the game-changing events, trends, and opportunities that will occur during the next year. It’s time to realize the “but-we-are-overwhelmed-and-too-busy” excuse for not forecasting and planning is wearing thin.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



86 Comments on “10 Predictions for 2012: The Top Trends in Talent Management and Recruiting

  1. Interesting article. CEO focus on talent management as the top priority would be great, but not likely in reality despite frequent surveys that point that out.

    The big trend that I predict for 2012 is the return of the telephone call. Linking via desktop or mobile technologies, online communities, new CRM systems, etc. are valuable additions but talking with a candidate and then meeting them in person is still the only way to really get to know someone and assess fit in my opinion. What do others think?

  2. I agree Steven – Though we don’t meet with our candidate base because it is the whole of Europe – picking up the phone and talking to a person is still the best way of qualifying a job with a candidate – and setting them up for a powerful interview, (and the rest of the recruitment steps).
    These articles always talk about Candidates / sourcing and hiring. Remember that all these methods can be used to get new business and clients and it is by qualifying and identifying strong clients for long term relationships that will pay off in the end..
    Jameel Aslam
    (Semiconductor Recruitment)

  3. Glad to see candidate experience making an inevitable comeback as we come to the end of the ere of the en masse CV and back to candidate engagement. Regarding metrics, agree many recruiters are still only measuring ‘activity’ in the rear view mirror but certainly will have to become forward looking and start to understand how to measure ‘engagement’ performance in a resource pipeline for the future. I fear that talent management leaders will still be behibnd the curve for many.

    The amazing opportunity then and the challenge for Recruiters & employers must be to embace social media and learn to engage recruiter brand with people pipelines, perhaps even learn to listen again and talk (two way) with people even before they are looking [candidates that are passive]. Indeed, it is an amazing opportunity as in 2012 there are some once in a lifetime events which colide together. They are: an impending skills shortage; a generation shift; technology shift; Social Media; Search; Mobile and the merging of mobile with IT to become the new IT..Cloud. Indeed many skills being recruited just 4 years ago are no longer required today and there will be many valid skills today that may be no longer sought after by the end of 2012!

  4. If social media and mobile continue to penetrate talent management/recruiting (and they will) organizations will need to be very careful to ensure that their use of technology provides the utmost candidate experience. While we view of technology such as video interviewing and mobile apply as progress and convenient candidates may perceive them as another way to avoid a face to face conversation.

  5. Thank you, Dr. Sullivan. I find it interesting how a number of things you state as certainties (“will”) rather than as probabilities/possibilities “(should” or “may”). Perhaps you have connections with “Higher” sources than we here at ERE even suspected…

    I also found it interesting that as far as I could tell (except for a passing reference to “global economic issues will persist for years to come”), you did not allude to the fact that macro-economic issues/crises like the European sovereign debt, housing foreclosures, and Washington political intransigence (leading to the “Tea Party” and “Occupy” Movements) will likely lead to a continuing climate of business uncertainty which will greatly retard any major improvements in the American unemployment situation for years to come and continuing to render irrelevant any discussion of a so-called “War for Talent” for any but the “Fabulous 5%”. Consequently unless it’s a musical-chairs type situation, where will this 25% increase in (presumably voluntary) turnover go to work, let alone the existing 20+ million un/underemployed? In summary: Continuing high unemployment should trump any other trends discussed here or anywhere else…..

    Finally, you say: “The candidate experience is finally getting the attention it deserves”:
    From my limited perspective, “the candidate experience” discussion seems to primarily consist of some people on ERE occasionally suggesting it should be improved, a lot of us writing in to tell how bad it is, and me pointing out that if companies cared at all they could hire $3.00/hr virtual assistants to make sure that each and every candidate’s experience is professional if not actually pleasant. I have been deafened by the roaring silence of companies responding to this challenge. Either they are responding very discreetly and quietly in ways which never reach us here on ERE, or (by and large) companies do not care enough to do even a little to improve the typical CE.

    Thank you again for a stimulating article…



  6. Recently I did a research paper in my masters program on Career Development. Interestingly enough career development spans Talent acquisition, management, and development. What I found was that there is a disconnect between what firms think they are doing to retain employees and what employees perceive the firm to be doing. Further, companies intend on increasing retention strategies that are not important drivers of retention for employees. What this means is that unless the disconnect is “connected” employers will through a great deal of money at programs that don’t work. Below are a few links to articles I found with great statistical information on this topic.


  7. Great post here Dr Sullivan! A very comprehensive list, and some good thoughts. From a specifically recruitment marketing point of view as well, I’d like to add that I think 2012 will see a massive increase in use of not just content to engage potential jobseekers, but technology behind that content to make it a very personalized experience for them. Also to effectively put that targeted content into the right place at the right time. This and other points were covered in a recent blog post we did here: http://www.4mat.com/blog/trends-in-recruitment-marketing-2012-blog-13362145227 . Keep up the good work!

  8. Great article. I would love to see an article that compares last year’s predictions with this year’s reality! Did anyone expect mobile and social media to make such an impact back in Dec 2010? Was Facebook on our radar screen as a “business networking platform”?

    My prediction for 2012 is that companies, like employees, will increase their level of collaboration and referrals. The world has gotten much smaller since the recession and in my experience, companies are much more receptive to working together to maximize their network and their lead generation. I spoke about this trend in an article we recently wrote – http://www.turningpointsearch.net/2010/09/collaboration-normal/ – and the response was interesting.

    Thanks for some great insights and we will all be on the lookout for these trends to emerge in 2012.

    Ken Schmitt
    President, TurningPoint

  9. Ken – here’s Kevin Wheeler’s predictions for 2011, from a year ago – https://staging.ere.net/2011/01/03/what%E2%80%99s-2011-going-to-bring/

    Also, if you want, I can send you the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership from a year ago. We had people do exclusive predictive and prescriptive (predictions and solutions) articles for us – John Challenger, Ken Goldstein from the Conference Board, Jeremy Eskenazi, professors at Rutgers, Michigan, and Wharton, Manpower’s CEO, and others.

  10. Thanks, Todd…
    “Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Keith “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”



  11. In the case of consultants, in Europe and in particular in France was, this year, experience a barrier to recruitment particularly in tenders because synonymous of expensive fees. As donors (EC and others) choose always the the lowest bidder, you can easy understand the consequences on the income of some experts, consultants or adviser with experience.

    It appeared new tasks which are to rebuilt the work of an expert selected only for its low cost. In purpose, the expenditure was higher than expected and nobody won.

    Thank you for this very interesting analysis.



  12. With supposedly 36% of the USA workforce expected to be contingent in the next 10 years, I’m surpised ‘contingent’ is the buzz word for 2012. In Australia, 50% of ‘search’ is done using hand held devises so mobile is clearly the pathway forward. Will the ATS providers catch up to allow people to apply vi a mobile? That is the real question because if they don’t and we don’t get to a uniform profile/resume as well then the rest of the discussion is pretty useless. On a positive note though, http://www.uWorkin.com is kicking some goals aggregating all Australian and NZ jobs and enabling mobile and social media jobsharing….the future is here!

  13. Nice article John. All relevant. Might be an interesting discussion to take a look at the unintended consequences of any one of the predictions coming true.

    The shift to job seeker initiated employee referrals en mass vis-a-vis social media for example suggests it might be useful now to imagine what it looks like if nearly every hire has a referral component. in such a case, what (if anything) about the referral (should we collect) to correlate more significantly with future performance?

    Just having a referral won’t be enough when all are referred

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