Building an Effective Talent Acquisition Function

A framwork for getting it right


Horst Schulze was the founding president and COO of Ritz-Carlton and currently serves as the CEO of Capella Hotel Group.  He revolutionized the hotel industry, creating one of the most recognizable international brands, forever changing the definition of great customer service.  In doing so, he created an environment where patrons willingly paid 2-3x more for a hotel room because the experience was so superior. His definition of great customer service is straight forward and simple at the core.  According to Schulze, great customer service is:

  • A product or service without defect
  • Delivered on-time
  • With a smile

Not only did he define it, he built and empowered a team of leaders and associates to execute against it. Fundamentally, building a superior recruitment function requires the same philosophy.

Create a vision and get your leaders on board

Keeping in mind the Ritz-Carlton model, you should begin with the fact Schulze was a part of an executive team which was committed to a singular vision of creating a premium brand within their industry. If you want to build out a world-class talent acquisition function, at the end of a day you should be working with an organization which actually values talent, seeing it as a true differentiator. Many are quick to say they believe talent is critical to their success as a company, but simply do not commit the energy and resources to actually back it up. Ritz-Carlton backs up their commitment to superior customer service by empowering each employee to resolve each and every customer service related issue (see If this is not how you would describe your current organization’s commitment to talent acquisition, you have a choice to make: 1) continue to just exist, feeling frustrated each day regarding your passion for talent acquisition, 2) pursue a new opportunity with a company where such a culture already exists, or 3) do the hard, tedious work of trying to establish such a culture. If you go to work doing that which is hardest, keep in mind the larger the ship, the longer it will take to turn. Have realistic expectations. Look for articles and resources which you can pass along to the leadership team and hiring managers. Engage them in conversation regarding the topic. Help them understand the value of engaged, high performing talent versus employees who underperform. Do your leaders and managers know the costs associated with a bad hire and/or turnover? Do you have a plan of attack, a vision if you will, to offer as an alternative to the current state? Do you know the cost of building a high performing function? Can you formulate a return on the investment (ROI)? Is the targeted ROI aligned with what the organization values with regard to talent? Share what you know. Help them understand. A few simple Google searches such as “the value of talented employees” and “cost of employee turnover” will open a world of resources for you.

Keep transactional things transactional

Within the context of a recruitment process, there are a number of items which are simply transactional. Transactions should be easy to use, able to be completed at the convenience of the customer (candidate or hiring manager), mobile optimized, timed appropriately and short. Be careful not to confuse that which is relational for that which is transactional. As an example, the completion of an online application is transactional. Engaging with a candidate is relational (more about this later). Many organizations attempt to accomplish too much within the transactional elements of the recruitment process.  As an example, some collect social security numbers (in the US) as a part of the online application process. Why? Many times it is because a consultant or HR person somewhere down the line thought having this data on hand would streamline the background check process at time of hire. While this is true, and collecting a social security number is in fact transactional, it is poorly timed in this example. In a world riddled with identity theft concerns, asking for a social security number at this stage of the relationship is just not ideal. It is the equivalent of an online store requiring you to enter your credit card number before adding items to the shopping cart. Those of us who are in charge of the recruiting process would benefit greatly from approaching each candidate like a customer. With regard to transactional items, we have a tendency to think more about ourselves and what is convenient for us than we do for the candidate. Just take some time to apply to a job on your website. If it takes more than three minutes, it is too complicated. If it errors out because of certain fields not being completed, it is not ideal. If you cannot do it from start to finish on a mobile device, you have a gap. A recent customer of ours had a process which took an average of 15 minutes to complete, and doing so via mobile was not an option. What’s more, if you missed a field and hit the submit button, all of the fields cleared out and you had to start all over again from the beginning. This simply cannot exist if your goal is to achieve an effective talent acquisition process. Every transactional element of your process should be as easy to use as Amazon, carry through to multiple device types, and be executed at a point in time which makes sense within the context of developing a personal relationship. After all, recruiting is a relationship function with transactional elements, not the other way around. Some types of job functions allow for more of a purely transactional mindset because it is sufficient to meet the hiring needs of the organization, so you will need to use some wisdom with regard to this. If there is a wealth of talent available to do the work, you have an attractive employer brand, and adequate applicant flow into the recruiting process than a process driven by transactions may make sense. But, the requirements around ease of use, accessibility and timing remain. A word about assessments if I may. I believe assessments, when properly leveraged, add incredible value to the recruitment process. My concern in today’s landscape is the fact so few of the non-proctored, web based solutions are not able to be executed from a mobile device. Proceed with caution.

Keep relational things, relational

As previously stated, engaging with a candidate, whether active or passive, should at some point become relational in nature. What are some characteristics of a healthy relationship? First of all, there is a focus on mutual interest rather than self-interest. This is a difficult one for those of us in the talent acquisition world, recruiters and hiring managers, to master at times. Why? Because we have a need which needs to be met. There is a critical role which needs to be filled. There is often a timeline or budget crunch which has to be accounted for. As a result, it is easy to become hyper focused on our needs, the things we must accomplish. We should step back and ask ourselves how we feel when we are involved in a relationship where the other person is always focused on themselves … their needs, their wants, their desires. These relationships can be draining, right? Now apply this same logic to the candidate relationship. Are we considering mutual interests of those involved in the relationship? When we call or email, do we only focus on what we want from the relationship? Will we only make ourselves available for meaningful conversations during ‘regular business hours’, or are we sensitive to the fact the candidate may be working and have limited availability during the course of the day? Sometimes in relationships we have to slow down to go faster. You should have team members who excel at relationship building on your team, particularly if you are dealing with a candidate population which is sparse.

Another thing to consider when evaluating the relational elements of the talent acquisition process is taking a look at what we give? How do we serve those with whom we are trying to build a relationship? Do we understand their needs, or have we projected upon them what we think their needs should be? Do we possess the relational and communication skills required to help a candidate discover their needs? Do we give them information, resources and the time to evaluate if required? When dealing with a candidate who may have to relocate, do we understand their passions and desires together with those within their families who may be impacted by such a decision? Building upon this idea of relocation further, do you have relationships with relators who are equally as skilled at understanding the needs of their clients? Are you connecting these two groups of people as an act of service to the candidate? As talent acquisition experts, we should understand the needs of the people involved more than the process. After all, our job is more like that of a matchmaker than anything else.

There it is.  I am a fan of keeping things simple. There is a plethora of tactical items which should be included in every world-class talent acquisition function. One could write a book on all of the different pieces of technology, sourcing solutions, assessments, process steps, metrics, etc. which are involved in building and optimizing the recruitment capability of the organization. However, if these tactics are not implemented within the framework discussed above, you will not fully achieve a high functioning recruitment organization. The overarching goals should be rooted in these three pillars. I heard Chris McChesney from Franklin Covey say recently, “Execution doesn’t like complexity.” Keep this in mind as you address talent acquisition. Get your leaders on board, keep transactional things transactional, and relational things relational. Remember, the purpose is to create a service, delivered on-time and with a smile.  Doing so will increase the probability of you winning when it comes to talent.