The Talent Community Conundrum

About seven long years ago, in one of the most remote city in the world, Perth, I became a Sourcing Manager with Sinclair Knight Merz (now Jacobs) and part of my job involved building talent communities. I had no idea how to.

It was a relatively new concept back then and no one had actually gone much into it. Without any solid reference to guide me, I had to do heaps of research to find out about relationship building and, not just how to create, but also how to maintain a community. It was very interesting as I learned how to engage people using a variety of low, medium and high touch tactics to establish a community of professionals that I could draw upon as and when required.

Fast forward to today, you hear the phrase ‘talent community’ much more frequently. Seems almost anyone and everyone is doing it to some extent. But are they really?

Before we go further, let’s take a step back to define what is a community? Oxford dictionaries defines it as a group of people living in the same place or having characteristics in common. Same for

Could we therefore say that a bunch of candidates sitting within a piece of software is a community? I guess you could. It is after all a group of people in the same location, with a common interest of securing a job. But isn’t that the same thing as your applicant tracking system?

BINGO. Most talent communities become just that, yet another repository of candidates that your recruiters or sourcers have to search. In other words, another database, another cost, another failed HR initiative.

In my opinion, a good talent community has to represent more. Some of its characteristics include:

  • Employers are constantly engaging talent with low, medium, high touch tactics;
    • Low – email updates which might include the company newsletter as an example;
    • Medium – Invitation to attend a company event to network, personalised communication;
    • High – One on one meeting with a senior employee, invitation to share or collaborate at a round table.
  • Employees and people in the community are constantly sharing news, exchanging ideas, introducing networks (referrals), potentially generating new business (referrals);
  • The community manages itself without having the employer to constantly moderate the group;
  • The community becomes less about the next job, and more about creating value for one another through collaboration.

I came across this San Francisco-based start-up HoneyBook recently and I was really impressed with their efforts in building a community around their product and vendors. They stood out for me because of their emphasis on community over competition and how genuinely committed they are in providing support and education.

All these don’t come easy and as you can imagine, setting up a successful talent community takes a lot of time and resources! If you are thinking about venturing down this path, tread with caution. Here are a few considerations to ask yourself, and ask your business:

 Do I have the resources?

More than likely – no. No you don’t. An operational recruiter smashing out those job ads, reacting to those replacement roles, screening, interviewing, reference checking will not have the time to source and engage a talent community.

Now if you changed your model so that the focus on was on sourcing, and moved the operational recruitment activity to say your hiring managers (trained of course), then you’ll stand a better chance. But there needs to be a transition, a budget for all these activities, and a bloody good plan. You can’t build a community in a day!

 Are we in the right industry or sector?

I’m not convinced every industry needs a talent community.

For example, would a group of, say, truck drivers be actively engaged in a talent community? No, I’m not talking about them getting together at the roadhouse or pub. I’m referring to a community that shares information and engages with various content that are produced specifically for them. Or would they be happy to get the odd email now and then and basically sit in the database until such time a job is ready? No disrespecting to hard working people doing hard job, but I just don’t think they are interested in what a talent community might provide, because it wouldn’t provide them with much in the first place.

Professional groups are better suited for talent communities at this point in time, in my opinion, as they are more used to different content approaches and engagements. Lawyers, marketers, recruiters, accountants, engineers – these are the people who would be more likely to engage with the content, share it with others, attend learning events, meetups etc.

 What roles should we build communities for?

You need external talent pools to back up any gaps in your internal succession planning should a high potential employee or critical position depart on short notice. That would be your first port of call. Then assess which other roles are critical to the business, roles where there is a skill shortage and high demand.

 How do I keep people engaged?

Remember, people join a talent community because they hope to secure a job in the near future. With that being said, the key to success isn’t spamming them with jobs. Here are some ways to keep people engaged for sustained periods of time;

  • Newsletter promoting recently community member hires;
  • Involving members in round tables, work functions, networking opportunities;
  • Coffee catch ups with senior stakeholders;
  • Birthday cards for them and/or family members if known;
  • Access to staff benefits where possible;
  • Referral bonuses to community members.

There are many, many more, and if you would like to share with our readers please do.

 Do I need technology to do this?

Hells yeah. I won’t name products here but you’ll need a CRM type system to manage the community. Traditional applicant tracking systems don’t provide the capability in most cases. Do your homework!

In summary, talent communities can be an effective resourcing tool which provides many benefits from time to hire, quality of hire, retention and productivity. However, they take a lot of time to establish and require a lot of resources. You might think that sending out the odd email or company newsletter to your database of candidates would suffice and that it amounts a managing a talent community – you are sorely mistaken. It’s much more than that.

Most recruiters with medium to high vacancy workloads simply do not have enough bandwidth to source, develop and nurture talent communities. But if you see a need for it, the possibility is out there. Don’t be afraid. Go make something.

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2 Responses to “The Talent Community Conundrum”

  1. Interesting read. In our work with building talent communities, we have found that conversations with SME are a great way to keeping people engaged. As it turns out that conversation is really a type of content that can be saved and accessed in the future in lieu of FAQs. One lesson that we learned that the more the community is about the community members and not about us, the greater the success. In other words, if we align a community around a profession and provide relevant and valuable information about their profession to the community, great things can happen. On the other hand, if the content and the conversation is centered about us (our brand, our jobs, our mission, etc) then engagement in the community is short lived.

    • Exactly Marvin. The group becomes a community managed by the group. I personally don’t believe a community is one where the employer sprouts off self interest. Thanks for your comment.


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