Why Virtual Talent Communities Represent the Future of Sourcing

Nasa photo of "crystal ball" nebula

I’m going to go out on a very firm limb here and suggest that I’ve just seen the future of passive candidate recruiting and sourcing 2012-2015, and it’s amazing. Before I uncover this tasty morsel for all to see and properly digest, let me set the stage, the lighting, and get the orchestra warmed-up. 

Let me start with the basics of networking and the idea of developing a preliminary list of prospects. Most would agree that a pre-qualified referred candidate from a highly qualified co-worker is the standard of perfection. The reason: since they’re pre-qualified, you already know a bunch of important things about the person — e.g., how good they are, their compensation, if they’re looking or not, a rough idea of how they’d fit in your culture, and their team and leadership skills. That’s a lot of good information to know about someone before you even talk with them. And as a bonus, they’ll call you back if you mention the name of the co-worker.

Of course, you still need to engage with and recruit the person, but this is lot easier than having to call dozens of people, most of whom won’t call you back, and even if they do, you have no sense if they’re qualified and/or interested. This concept forms the foundation of the virtual talent community and future of passive candidate sourcing. Automating and scaling represent the hidden ingredients.

Now let’s consider technology as part of the proposed solution, particularly the concept of auto-ERP. This is one of the emerging bright spots in the world of sourcing and recruiting technology. The basic idea is that candidates can now directly connect with an employee they know at a company when they see a job posting of interest. LinkedIn includes this feature with its “Apply Now” button presenting a list of first-degree connections at the company. Jobvite offers this as part of its social recruiting services, and Jobs2Web provides it as part of its interactive sourcing programs.

But this is only half the solution, and the weaker half, at that. Let’s call this half outside-in auto-ERP, meaning candidates find your posting and then try to connect with your employees. In the long-term inside-out has more potential for passive candidate sourcing. In this case, the sourcing starts at the moment a job requisition is created. The inside-out auto-ERP system then searches through your company’s employees’ connections looking for great matches. The inside-out capability is what drives the virtual talent community and allows it to be scaled throughout the company.

PERP is the last piece of the puzzle. This stands for Proactive ERP (employee referral program). The problem with auto-ERP is that most of the existing connections, regardless of how fast you find them, aren’t going to yield as many top prospects as desired. The reason is that most of your employees haven’t made a point of building their networks with the idea of maintaining contact with the best people they’ve worked with in the past. While this might happen now and then, more likely their networks are composed of their good friends, people they know somewhat, a few subordinates, a potential future boss, and semi-casual current and former co-workers. This laissez-faire approach has limited value when it comes to turning these connections into outstanding employee referrals. While some will be there, most will not be. So when the auto-ERP engine starts doing its thing, it won’t find much.

PERP changes the game. The idea here is to set up internal company programs for employees to proactively connect with the best people they’ve worked with in the past, independent of their “friendship” status. Jobvite is doing this with a new for app for your employees to use for Facebook. LinkedIn is a little more direct since it’s designed to be a professional network of business associates. Regardless of the social media platform, PERP allows you to dramatically expand your employees’ network of top people.

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Combining PERP, inside-out auto-ERP, and the concept of only calling pre-qualified referrals, represents the Virtual Talent Community, and in my mind the future of passive candidate sourcing and recruiting. Having a database of resumes, aka a “talent community,” is less advantageous than having a deep network of direct connections to the best people pre-qualified and referred to you by your own employees. With this type of virtual talent community in place, once a requisition is opened you’ll instantly see a pool of potential prospects emerge. Your employees will be automatically notified that one of their connections could be a good fit for the new career opportunity. They then can decide to contact the person directly, send an email, have a recruiter make the call, or suggest the match is not appropriate. As long as the posting represents a great career opportunity and the connection is a strong match, some type of contact will likely be established. (You might want to sign-up for a number of webcasts we’re hosting over the next weeks on how to implement these concepts.)

Of course, even with a virtual talent community, you still have to engage, screen, and recruit the prospects, but this is required anyway. However, we all know that when dealing with passive candidates, stronger recruiting and closing skills are required than when dealing with active candidates.

While all of this stuff is now being developed, you don’t have to wait to test out the virtual talent community concept for yourself. Here’s how. Search on some of your employees’ first-degree connections for a current search. If you have LinkedIn Recruiter you can do this automatically. You also might want to use LinkedIn to find co-workers you don’t now know who might be connected to the right type of person, and then connect with them. When you get a few good prospects, just call up the employee and ask what he or she thinks. Then connect with those people who are the best. You’ll discover they’ll all call you back, and since they’re pre-qualified, you just need to describe the career opportunity and get them interested. I refer to this as process as cherry-picking, and while what’s described here is manually intense, you quickly see how it could be automated and scaled throughout the organization.

The future of passive candidate sourcing and recruiting will accelerate with the development of the virtual talent community as described here. Of course, once everyone has the same tools and processes, they won’t help much from a talent acquisition standpoint since all your best employees will be connected with everyone else’s. The key then will be to make sure you’re providing your employees the best career opportunities. But until then, whoever has the first and deepest virtual talent community will have a field day.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


35 Comments on “Why Virtual Talent Communities Represent the Future of Sourcing

  1. I would have to agree. 18 months ago most clients were asking us for strategies to deploy social media in the recruitment process. Now that many direct resourcers have their social sourcing and branding tools and training in place the focus is now on online engagement based much of which is around content driven communities (not openly called talent communities) that connect specialist internal and external talent so they can have sustained communication.

    In-house recruitment teams are becoming empowerers of hiring managers as opposed to facilitators of the whole process and the forward thinking internal recruiters see that empowering their existing talent to talk to external talent is where recruitment is moving to. Put the tools and trIning in place and empower your hiring managers to do the rest with your support.

  2. @ Colm: An unexpected side effect, as hiring managers get empowered, in-house and contract sr. recruiters are being decreasingly sought out for advisory and consultative functions, and are being replaced by more junior (cheaper) recruiters performing more basic-transactional functions.


  3. Couldn’t agree more with this article, excellent as usual Mr. Adler. First Advantage was one of, if not THE, first to bring a fully functional, recruitment specific Candidate Relationship Management platform to the market several years ago, and we’ve been improving on the UI, integrations, and capabilities ever since. For those who are serious about developing a passive talent pool, check out http://crm.yourjobchoice.com/ or http://fadv.com for more details.

  4. At TalenTTipper we follow the idea of building Talent Pipelines via proactive referrals. We’ve added a service to ensure that referrals are getting the follow-up they deserve. http://www.TalenTTer.nl for further information on the idea of building talent communinities to ensure that passive candidates are identified in an early stage. It requires recruiters to focus on the employee networks rather than building their own on behalf of the company. Recruitment moving from a single departments job to a total company effort, co-creating a talent pipeline.

  5. This has been an interesting exchange of ideas but I’d like to explain why I think we might be missing the point with VTC’s

    Lets start by examining the definition of a virtual talent community or VTC.

    VTC’s are a combination of different recruitment methodologies, combining Employee Referral schemes, Social Network resourcing and targeted advertising campaigns as well as exploiting personal networks.

    The concept is that by “tapping” into the networks of your employee’s and fellow workers you will uncover “pre-qualified” candidates to fill the skills gaps in your organisation.

    Many of the existing social media sites who claim VTC’s as their own aren’t really communities at all, instead they are generalist networks. Their users come from wide ranging backgrounds and industries. The only sense of community exists in the fact that you are all using the same site.

    My own network on one of the best known sites tells me I have over four hundred “connections” giving me access to more than four million users. That sounds impressive but look behind the “Network Statistics” and you will see that more than half those in your network have little or no connection with your business sector.

    This problem is amplified still further when we move away from the traditional business networks and look at the true social sites like Facebook. Here we can see millions of people linked together by a common thread they all use Facebook.

    Even in today’s online world the word virtual is seen by many to have negative connotations, as something that doesn’t really exist. Leading some to see the concept as “flaky” or just an interesting idea that probably won’t work in the “real” world.

    Perhaps though my biggest issue with VTC’s is that we talk about “passive” candidates. This term has been around for a long time and doesn’t do justice to those open minded individuals who aren’t actively looking in the jobs market but who are none the less interested to hear about roles that match their aspirations.

    By their very definition these individuals are unlikely to openly advertise their interest in changing their job. After all these are the people who are achieving great things, they spend their day contributing to the success of their employer. They are probably well rewarded and almost certainly valued. They also make up 84% of the talent in your industry.

    The social networking sites, like the old fashioned CV rely on what someone has done not what they want to do. Take a look at one of the biggest social media sites for business users and you will see the Profile reads like an account of their past but says nothing about their future. As a hiring manager you need to find the talent that is not only able to fill your vacancy but who wants to work for you.

    These selective individuals don’t send their CV’s off to recruitment agencies. Many of them don’t have a CV. They spend little or no time looking at the Job Ad’s, but ask about their aspirations and they will share with you a “wish list” of things that would entice them away from their current employer. It seems everyone really does have a price.

    The concept of the VTC is however gaining momentum and has huge potential not only for recruiters and Hiring Managers but also for individuals who want or need to develop their careers.

    The challenge then is to tap into the “selective” talent in your market sector. To identify those who have the potential to fill your vacancy and then match the skills and the wish list of the individual to your requirements.

    For me, the future of recruitment in niche industry sectors will see new online communities that combine the best of the traditional job sites with the best elements of niche social networking. Communities that allow candidates to talk openly about their aspirations without having to disclose their identity for all to see.

    So perhaps we should already lay to rest the VTC and instead create communities that recognise that passive candidates are “selective” candidates. A Selective Talent Community.

  6. The proposed Inside-out approach to ERP is a big part of the success of our users at matchFWD (http://matchfwd.com).

    We use both Facebook and LinkedIn API to suggest co-workers and employees to share their job opportunity with and then provide the latter with the best candidate suggestions we’ve identified in their own network.

    A little virality in your recruiting arsenal. And we do it for people outside your company also.

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