It’s All About Talent Communities

Subtle as it may seem, there is Grand Canyon of difference between a database of prospective candidates and a community of talented prospective candidates.

Recruiters frequently tell me they have a talent community, when further investigation reveals that they have a huge database of people they do not know at all. These databases have been built up using impersonal methods including the career website, profiles gathered through the applicant tracking system, and perhaps referrals from other employees.

Databases suffer from two major problems when it comes to being effective recruiting tools.

First of all they tend to get old very quickly, and the data about the people is frequently not current and often not even usable at all. While no one that I know of has done actual research on the quality of the data in corporate resume databases, I know from experience and from working with many clients that it is poor.

The second problem databases have is that they tell you very little. All a recruiter knows about the candidate is whatever is in the resume/profile itself. There is no additional information, no personal observations, and seldom any useful reference data. Because the resumes have been added mostly through impersonal methods, the candidates are unknown to the recruiters. This means that the qualification and assessment of a candidate begins after the resume is retrieved (assuming it is retrieved, which is very seldom) and may take quite a bit of time, assuming the candidate can even be contacted. Candidate quality is often poor, and the time to find candidates can become very long, especially for hard-to-fill positions.

Most recruiters do not really actively use their talent databases and instead turn to Internet search, cold calling, or hire a sourcer or a third-party recruiter. In effect, a talent database is a legal storehouse, suitable for printing reports and showing compliance, but of little practical value in hiring — especially the hard-to-find candidates.

You might make the case that a good recruiter should know this and develop his own community of candidates. It might be possible to maintain data on and build relationships with 50 to 100 potential candidates, but doing that would be a full-time job.

What makes the talent community I am talking about different is its ability to take advantage of technology to achieve levels of personalization that could not be achieved without it.

There are three distinctive features of corporate talent communities that make them more valuable than databases.

They can serve as initial screeners: A talent community is always growing and changing. People can become a member of a talent community in several ways, but each requires them to learn more about the organization and provides the recruiter with more information about them. For example, candidates who come to the corporate Facebook fan page and then are referred to a targeted career site are likely to be much more interested in your organization than someone just dropping by the career site to drop off a resume.

Interest is a type of screening, and combined with the right tools a career site can quickly assess a variety of things, including aptitude for the job and skill level. People who achieve certain scores or meet other criteria can be referred directly to a recruiter. This way no one is asked to just “dump” their unevaluated resume into a hopper and wait for a follow up call — which usually never comes.

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This ensures that everyone who ends up in the talent community has been evaluated at some level and knows that they meet the basic requirements for employment in your organization. They have had a positive encounter, although that was entirely or almost entirely without actual contact with you or any other recruiter.

Years of experimentation and use of these tools show that most candidates respond very positively to the immediate knowledge of how well they meet requirements and are often surprised to get a phone call or personal email from a recruiter because the software has alerted the recruiter to the quality of candidate.

They are much more personal and dynamic: Candidates actually perceive talent communities as very personal. If the talent community is set up well, candidates will frequently get emails and other messages about jobs and about the status of their own candidacy. They may receive periodic requests to update their personal information and keep their address and email current. This means that information is up to date. Candidates can add more information about themselves, and recruiters can ask questions about specific skills or interests. All of this information is kept in the candidate record, and any recruiter can access this. If a new recruiter stats recruiting for a position, there may be many candidates in the community who she can learn a lot about very quickly.

Talent communities are like living organisms. They are always changing and becoming more mature and sophisticated. Recruiters may have never met a person face to face and yet know much more about them than if they have had two or three personal interviews. This computer-aided interaction, as well as testing and assessment, can provide hiring managers with a very complete picture of a number of candidates.

They are far more flexible
: All of this means that talent communities are far more flexible than databases. Candidates who may have applied for one position are frequently referred to different ones after the recruiter knows them better through the interaction and testing. One candidate may be an ideal candidate for several positions, and fewer candidates get pigeonholed into a particular channel and thereby missed in the search.  Vigorous and thorough screening and assessment means that quality is as high as it can be and even higher than the quality that comes through employee referral or headhunters.

It is getting easier to set up talent communities every day. Tools such as LinkedIn or Google groups may serve as rudimentary communities. Tools such as Ning can be modified and put to work as active communities. Some organizations build their own.

Communities of candidates are powerful and reduce the need for special sourcing or the use of outside recruiters. They can increase the number of positions a single recruiter can handle and provide higher quality candidates in a shorter time. They always trump databases.

But the hardest part is not the technology or the screening and assessment tools or the acceptance of the idea by candidates. What proves to always be the hurdle that is hardest to overcome is the resistance of recruiters to using the tools and embracing the concept as a way to do what they do better than ever.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


10 Comments on “It’s All About Talent Communities

  1. I used to say that databases aged at 20% a year. With this economic tsunami that’s passing over us I’d estimate that most databases are 50% defunct over last year’s entry and when this is over will probably be in the 75% range of uselessness.

    Now, that’s not to say that those people haven’t gone somewhere else. But without home/cell/personal e-mail info it’s going to be mighty hard to track these people forward, even with today’s technology. This is one reason why I foresee a huge future need for sourcing to correct the inaccuracies contained within many of those databases.

    In many instances it might be easy to just start over. If you choose this route, make every effort you can to get the personal information I talked about above into the entries. You’ll be glad you did.

    Social networking sites that emerge in the near-term are going to be ever-more valuable as their membership bases are going to be fresh. Go ahead and try to find someone these days on Zoom, spoke or LinkedIn. The chances are better than 50% in many instances that the person is no longer “at” the last place they listed themselves. It’s going to get worse as these databases age more. Gettin’ old ain’t pretty.

  2. Establishing talent communities (notice I use this in the plural) within an organization is a good idea. The challenge is moving from the planning stage to the execution stage. VPs’ and Directors of Talent Acquisition often don’t see the speedbumps and obstacles encountered by the (typically) junior-level recruiters who wind up ‘handling the channel’.
    Talent communities are also an investment, both directly and indirectly. The truth is that there are only so many critical and pivotal roles at an organization in which a business case can be justified in the first place. Can you justify a talent community aimed at Admin Assistants? Probably not. However, how about a talent community aimed after developers talented within a new application suite your organization is implementing? Probably . . . particularly if we’re talking the huge dollars associated with enterprise suites such as SAP.
    A single community (typically a FB group) that extends the (typically) singular, overarching employment brand is nothing more than much of the same. Also, consider who “owns” the community.?. Or do you own one subgroup while I own another? What about potential liability . . . such as the turned-down Gen-Y’er that decides to blast the organization because they are disgruntled? One must consider the totality of community concept.
    Within competitive talent niches and nooks, potential candidates are looking for specialized (and sometimes, customized, such as Deloitte’s mass career customization model) Employer Value Propositions. The days of one-line EVPs’ are gone with the Brontosaurus. Talent doesn’t want to hear platitudes of yesteryear – increasingly, they want to know what you can do for them in this newfound “Free Agent Nation”.
    What I’m describing here is market segmentation and a portfolio approach to talent acquisition. There may be zero business case for Talent Pool A . . . however an overwhelming one for Talent Pool Z.
    P.S. I don’t believe we can make any form of accurate assessment as to how quickly a db ages – there are many variables involved. For example, there is little to nothing in common between GM’s db and Accenture’s. However, I have seen recent data that suggests that average tenure per position has dropped to 14 months today, versus 28 months just 5 years ago. This is a staggering statistic . . . at least for me personally.

  3. This is a terrific article – our business is predicated upon managing Talent Communities by function and level for our clients (all by direct contact using the latest technologies), and Kevin hits all the right notes with his advice. We made Talent Community Management our business model predominantly based on the fact that our clients were getting swamped with thousands of applicants each month and could not manage to keep up – let alone build any sort of Network. Their databases quickly became out of date and they didn’t have the time to do much more than send an automatic thank you and work on open reqs. Around our neck of the woods – database – is a dirty word…

    We are so convinced of the value of Talent Communities that we are launching an online Talent Community site this summer…

  4. Absolutely spot on, Kevin. As an external recruitment trainer/coach I can echo your comment;

    ‘Recruiters frequently tell me they have a talent community, when further investigation reveals that they have a huge database of people they do not know at all’

    Why recruiters spend 95% of their ‘candidate’ time trying to find new candidates rather than talk to the candidates they already know, is beyond my comprehension.

  5. A great article Kevin with many varied and valid comments offered. Whilst some organizations are volume and transaction orientated, others are starting to segment their talent pools and are seeing the value in developing relationships. They understand that more is not necessarily better and that quality connections, communication, trust and relationships are now what matters.

    Unfortunately we live in an age of excess. This is reflected even in how organizations recruit. They buy everything in bulk from job ads to big recruitment databases, add on software and spend a lot of money doing so. Perhaps they feel they need to get their money’s worth by filling them with thousands of candidate resumes! This is the easy (though costly) way to recruit however it does not necessarily translate into attracting the best people.

    No doubt we will see more organisations develop Talent Communities over the coming months as now is the ideal time for them to be doing so.

  6. “What proves to always be the hurdle that is hardest to overcome is the resistance of recruiters to using the tools and embracing the concept as a way to do what they do better than ever.”

    I always find this the most challenging part of any implementation of a proactive sourcing solution and one that requires constant education and motivation of the team. Ensuring their KPIs reflect the use of the technology seems to be the only way to ensure they do.

  7. Cell phone numbers now stay the same- in fact its a little game folks have to find out where you were in the early 2000’s by your original cell phone area code and exchange, regardless of where you might be now….

    Also it’s a semantic difference between a database and a talent community if all you are talking about is auto-updating via email campaigns- that’s a database feature (an important one, no doubt). Many of the key features in our solutions are built for that purpose, but the practice of actually getting to know candidates (or would-be candidates) on a personal level is a whole other story.

  8. This article is right on the money. I couldn’t agree more about the need for a change in the current system. Engaged talent communities make sense on every level for both students and employers.

    This is exactly what we are going to do at ( By providing an avenue for companies to seek, engage, and retain talent we hope to change the current model of recruiting.

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