Developing a Written Talent Acquisition Strategy

If you’re like me, you probably spend a lot of time reactively addressing questions and requests for information from your customers. If that’s the case, you should feel good; people obviously know where to find you, and someone must have told them you often have answers!

My top three questions generally concern requests for processes and forms; requests for recruiting/sourcing data; and requests for interpretation of policies. Your mix might be different depending upon your job, but I’ll be willing to bet you’re often asked certain questions over and over. Have you ever noticed, though, that the best parts of these conversations usually occur in the last few seconds?

“I’m glad I was able to get that information for you, Sue, but did you know we actually have a program launching later this year that will proactively addresses that concern?”

“I didn’t know that. How interesting! Gosh, I have to run, but maybe we can get together sometime to talk about it?”

I imagine that the outcome you want for your organization is not to deliver value “just in time” as your customers ask for it; you want to anticipate their needs and have solutions in place before they even realize they need them.

I talk to so many talent-acquisition specialists with innovative solutions to current recruiting challenges. Yet many don’t have the resources or the visibility to the right people (at the right time) to launch them optimally. Even worse, they probably have all kinds of great ideas for things they want to do in the future!

To avoid this, and to allow people (other than your own boss) to find out how clever and strategic you are, I recommend you create a recruitment-strategy document.

If your company is like most, attracting talent is probably a key priority. Your CEO is thinking about it from his or her broad, long-term perspective, while your enterprise leaders are thinking about it from their own functional perspectives. People who have grown up within the organization are picturing it the way it has “always been done” there, while the newcomers are already crafting ways to change things to the way it was “where I came from.” If you’ve ever had the experience of discovering “rogue” recruiting brochures, or learning that people are attending career fairs without the knowledge of the staffing department, you know what I mean.

It’s impossible to be physically present for every single water-cooler conversation and every strategic business review where recruiting is discussed. Creating a well-crafted strategy document, however, is an indirect way of influencing your customers even when you’re not around.

By the way, a recruitment strategy isn’t just for corporate staffing departments. So if you work for an agency or run a business, I believe that anyone who has a customer (and that means just about everyone) can benefit from creating a documented strategy.

Recruitment strategies can look any way you want them to, but I believe they should contain several key elements.

An Executive Summary

This goes right on the cover. If you had just 30 seconds to tell your CEO (or your best customer) what three things your company must do to be successful competing for talent in the next one to three years, what would you say? That’s your summary. Resist the temptation to embellish it or make it sound fancy. Simple is best.

An Introduction

This is where you let people know that, while they are experts in engineering or finance or marketing, you are the world’s foremost authority on recruiting (at least within your own company)! What is making it hard for your organization to compete for talent today? Is it low unemployment? Is it a lack of knowledge workers? Describe the current state of recruiting in your particular business. Keep in mind that most of your customers really and truly believe that they are experts in recruiting. You want to acknowledge their enthusiasm and buy-in, but simultaneously establish your own credibility as a subject matter expert.

How Did You Develop Your Strategy?

Did you conduct face-to-face customer visits? Did you purchase survey information? Briefly describe how it was that you selected the specific areas of focus that you’ll be recommending later in your strategy document.

What Best Practices Are You Competing Against?

Today there are many clever ways to use technology and innovation to find and attract talent, yet most of the customers we support are na?ve about them. For example, I’ve had dozens of conversations with fellow staffing professionals about what it might be like to recruit in cyberspace; yet I still have hiring managers who believe a newspaper advertisement represents the ultimate cutting-edge recruiting tool. Use this portion of your document to give your audience a peek at what’s going on in the world of staffing and recruitment. Do this not because you are suggesting that a cyber-recruiting initiative is the direction to go this year, but rather to re-frame what “cutting edge” looks like today.

Everyone has heard the story about how, until Roger Bannister’s record-setting run in 1954, many thought a four-minute mile was not humanly possible. After Bannister ran the mile in three minutes, 59.4 seconds, a number of other runners subsequently broke the four-minute barrier because their psychological limitation had been removed.

Do the same thing for your hiring managers; visit the websites of the 2007 Recruiting Excellence Award Winners (and they’ll be written up in the Journal, online, and some at ERE’s Fall Expo in DC). In your strategy document, describe what you see. Your readers will probably move very quickly from, “We could never do something like that,” to “Do you mean to say that other companies are doing this right now?”

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Barriers to Success

Are there things that could still spell failure for your strategy even if every one of your proposals is implemented? It’s important to capture those, not to “cover” yourself in case your plan fails, but to demonstrate that you understand how to scan the external environment for threats. As I look at my own strategy document, I tend to view my barriers to success with the same weight as my proposed areas of focus.

How Will You Measure Success?

Developing objective, measurable ways of establishing success is a critical part of this process. Using a balanced scorecard, dashboard metrics, or any other data-driven method is perfectly acceptable. The important thing is to ensure you measure the right things from the beginning (quality of hire vs. cost per hire), and to ensure you can tie specific actions to changes in your metrics. For example, “After launching the employee referral program, knowledge of the program as measured by online surveys went up 35%, and actual referrals increased 10%.”

Areas of Focus

Up to this point, you’ve told your reader that you intimately understand the recruiting space in general, that you thoroughly understand your own company and its culture, that you’ve done a competitive analysis on what others are doing, that you’ve already anticipated things that could go wrong, and that you have devised a way to prove what you’re doing is actually working.

Now for the fun part: what exactly do you want to focus on? Is it an employment branding initiative? Do you want to change your funding model? Are you proposing an organizational change? The careful selection of a few important areas of focus will help your customers understand your philosophical approach to attracting talent. Some staffing professionals believe strongly in process and technology; their strategy should imply that. Some believe that recruitment should be functionally aligned; others believe it should be aligned by business. These strategies will look very different. Select things that will have an impact on your business quickly, and reinforce your own high-level views on recruiting.


Briefly re-cap the current situation within your company, talk about where your organization is on the spectrum of current recruiting practice, and explain specifically how your strategy will move the organization along the continuum toward best-in-class. This should be a very short section, and do not introduce new material here.


If you talked about new initiatives, new documents, new procedures, etc., place draft copies of your proposed paperwork in the Appendix. Also, if you used original research, obtained bid information, or want to recommend any further reading, include these in your Appendix. You want this document to stand alone, and not require that people come back to you in order to satisfy themselves that you researched your conclusions comprehensively.

Now, share the document with your boss, and share it with your team. They’ll doubtless make great suggestions, and help you identify areas that require further clarification. Next, “leak” a few copies to some trusted colleagues. You’ll want to know what a typical customer’s initial response is likely to be. This might also prompt some further editing on your part. Finally, print copies and send them to all of your customers (along with your contact information).

A well-crafted strategy document will allow you to continue providing day-to-day support to your customers, but also give them a glimpse of your plans for the future.

It will help people to understand your company’s competitive position in the marketplace, and thus demonstrate why you are making the specific recommendations you are.

Most important, it enables you to participate in conversations about recruiting?even when you’re not there in person.

He started his career as a research chemist in the laboratory. Now, Michael Kannisto has tried to apply a similarly disciplined and science-based approach to the fields of recruiting and talent management. His long-term interests include employment branding, multiple generations in the workforce, and using Six-Sigma methodology to improve recruitment outcomes.

His current passion is the development and use of mathematical models to predict future staffing and development needs (a remarkably more accurate form of “workforce planning” than what is traditionally employed). Call it predictive modeling, call it “big data” ... but the information sitting in your HRMS right now has the potential to change the way you think about talent forever.


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