How to build and manage your talent pipeline

Last updated:
July 21, 2021
December 16, 2021
min read
Brendan McConnell
Table of contents

Wouldn’t it be great to always have a talent pipeline full of highly qualified candidates to choose from whenever there’s an open position in your organization? No more scrambling to fill positions, sifting through hundreds of resumes to find the hidden gems, or conducting countless interviews.

This is the kind of hiring utopia that any recruiter would love to call home and one that is very much within reach for those willing to put in the extra work.

Remember too that what goes around comes around. So, by perfecting your talent pipeline construction and strategy, and putting in extra work now, you’ll be under far less pressure to deliver in a much tighter timeframe in the future.

All you have to do is interact and network with professionals in your industry, and keep the lines of communication open if there’s a spot in your organization to fill. Simple, right?

This type of active recruitment is called filling your “talent pipeline,” and it’s becoming an increasingly popular technique for organizations that want to find and retain the best candidates before anyone else.

What is a talent pipeline?

As the name suggests, a talent pipeline is essentially a list of pre-screened or “warm” candidates who you can contact when you have a vacant position. These are people who are active in your industry, who you’ve already talked to, and who you’ve determined are a suitable fit for your company.

Talent pipeline vs Talent pool

The term “talent pipeline” is often used interchangeably with “talent pool,” but there is a difference between the two.

While “talent pipeline” refers to candidates who are well-vetted and known, “talent pool” means a list of prospects who have not been screened yet and are still relatively unknown.

Where can I find people to put into my talent pipeline?

Talent pipeline candidates can be employed elsewhere, passively looking for new work, a current employee, or even a student who shows potential. If you’ve talked to them, and you both have agreed that they would be a good fit for your company at some point in the future, you can add them into your pipeline.

Then, when a hiring manager tells you that a position has become available, all you have to do is pick up the phone and start calling!

Talent pipeline model

Building a talent pipeline model that works relies heavily on communication. It’s important that the senior leadership team collaborate alongside different teams.

It’s also essential that there’s an understanding of the current and potential future strategies the company wishes to implement. Comprehending the direction of the business means you can hire accordingly, and the candidates in your talent pipeline need to reflect this, too.

Then, to build your talent pipeline model, you’ll need to:

  • Pinpoint the metrics that matter – if Quality of Hire overrides Time to Hire, it’s important to know about it as it’ll impact how your talent pipeline functions. This works in reverse, too.
  • Nail down on your company’s core values and cultural fit – in order to assess potential future hires cultural fit, you must first understand and acknowledge the criteria they must hit.
  • Create a method of ranking talent – How are you going to assess the talent you implement into your talent pipeline? Consider the following questions:
  • ~ What soft and hard skills must your candidates have?
  • ~ Which areas will you, as a business, be able to enhance for the people in your pipeline?
  • ~ What knowledge do candidates need to have about your organization?
  • ~ What future challenges may they face?
  • Find talent through networking, referral schemes, and/or online.

The benefits of a talent pipeline

As mentioned, pipelines are a personal dream for recruiters because they alleviate the need to find and screen unknown candidates every time a position becomes vacant. But, on top of that, pipelines also offer many benefits to the health of your company’s recruitment and talent management programs.

Here are just some of the benefits to your recruitment team:

  • They empower the recruiter to be a business partner, not just a CV parser.
  • They can lead to solid referrals from your pipeline contacts.
  • They save time spent narrowing down a talent pool to the ideal candidate.
  • Networking gives the recruiter a strong knowledge of the talent landscape in your industry for future hiring projects.
  • They let recruiters judge cultural fit well in advance of a formal interview.
  • They save money that would otherwise be spent on job advertisements.

Talent pipelines also offer many tangible benefits to your daily business operations, including:

  • Ensuring your company has readily available candidates to fill vacancies when they become available.
  • Minimizing business disruption when employees leave.
  • Improving employee retention and performance by hiring the best candidate the first time.

Once you’ve bought into the benefits of a candidate pipeline, the next step is building your own.

How to build a talent pipeline

Unlike a talent pool, which typically involves collecting unknown candidates through job advertisements, talent pipelines require a bit more strategic thought and hustle.

The goal of a candidate pipeline is to have pre-screened candidates for a variety of roles that may become available in the future. As such, you need to consider your future workforce needs, not just your current ones.

This means that you should be meeting with your executive team and your hiring managers to get an overview of where the company will be in 1-2 years.

You should also get to know your company’s turnover rates, succession plans, and any other factors that may lead to talent gaps. From there, you can determine where your future talent gaps will likely be, and what types of candidates you’ll need to fill them. You can’t fill future gaps without having an indication for what lies in store later down the line.

Once you know who you will need to hire in the future, you can start to build out your talent pipeline. Like all networking, there are a variety of ways to meet like-minded people in your industry to add to your talent pipeline.

Some common techniques to build your talent pipeline include:

  • Joining and participating in industry groups on LinkedIn. Connect with users who show potential and interest in your company.
  • Attending industry events, and discussing your company with fellow attendees.
  • Connecting with future job seekers at college job fairs. For some of the most competitive positions, this is a great way to make contact with the future workforce early.
  • Offering internships to recent graduates. You can either develop them within your company or stay in touch with them afterward while they gain more experience.
  • Ask the hiring managers in your company who to talk to. They will undoubtedly have deep networks in their chosen fields.
  • Any other networking technique you can think of to meet and connect with professionals in your industry.

Now that you’ve filled your pipeline with new potential candidates, the final step is maintaining your connections so that you can reach out to them easily when needed.

Managing your talent pipeline  

The last thing you want to do is build your pipeline only lose track of your candidates when it’s time to fill a position.

Similar to talent pools, the best way to manage contacts in a candidate pipeline is by using an Applicant Tracking System, or ATS.

Once you’ve made a connection with a pipeline candidate, input that person’s contact information into your ATS for safekeeping. When a position becomes available, you can look back into your ATS to see if any pre-screened candidates are qualified, and reach out to them first.

It’s also important to remember that, as with any connection, you should maintain some sort of relationship with your pipeline candidates. This will ensure that, when you do contact them, it hasn’t been a couple of years since they last heard from you.

Plus, keeping your candidates warm ensures a higher chance of interest when a job does come up. It makes the candidate feel valued and recognized pre-interview, meaning they’ll get a glimpse into how your company treats their staff.

Sending your connections a quick message, sharing industry-relevant content, or even just checking in to see if they’ve decided to start looking for a new gig are all great ways to keep your company at the top of their mind.

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