Talent Acquisition: A Full Guide

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Talent Acquisition: A Full Guide

Successful talent acquisition is arguably one of the most important drivers of a business’s success. In this article, we will explain what talent acquisition is, we show the 9-step talent acquisition process, give an introduction to talent acquisition strategy, and conclude with a set of talent acquisition best practices that you have to have in place to run an effective talent acquisition function.

What is talent acquisition? A definition
Talent acquisition process
Talent acquisition strategies
Talent acquisition best practices
Before you go

What is talent acquisition? A definition

To understand what talent acquisition is, let’s start with a definition. Talent Acquisition is the process of identifying, attracting, selecting, and retaining highly qualified individuals. This means that talent acquisition involves a key part of the employee journey.

Schneider's Attraction-Selection-Attrition (ASA) Theory infographic
Schneider’s Attraction-Selection-Attrition (ASA) Theory

To understand talent acquisition, we take a look at Schneider’s Attraction-Selection-Attrition (ASA) theory. Schneider describes how three interrelated forces determine the kind of people that are working in the organization.

  1. The first force is attraction. Job seekers can apply to all possible organizations but they only go for the ones that they want to work for, as these organizations differentiate themselves based on a number of factors. Examples include a strong employer brand and a strong value proposition for employees.
  2. The second force is selection. Once a job seeker applies, it is the organization’s responsibility to select the candidates that align with both the role and the organization. This is all about person-job fit and person-organization fit.
  3. The third force is attrition. If there is no fit between the person and the job or organization, the person will quit. This means that the organization will only retain people who are congruent with the characteristics and makeup of the organization.

These three forces are the fundamental pillars of talent acquisition. Talent acquisition is aimed at attracting employees and selecting the ones that fit with the organization and job. If this is done well, there is a fit, leading to lower attrition, higher productivity, and increased engagement.

Talent acquisition vs. recruitment

An often-used synonym for talent acquisition is recruitment, strategic recruitment, or corporate recruitment. Oftentimes, these terms mean roughly the same thing and any discussion on differences is mostly semantic.

If we had to point out a difference, the biggest difference is that talent acquisition is a more strategic process aimed at finding highly qualified employees whereas recruitment is the more operational task of filling vacancies. Talent acquisition includes strategic recruitment, employer branding, recruitment process optimization, recruitment process outsourcing, and much more.

The fact that talent acquisition is more strategic than recruitment, is also reflected in the difference between a talent acquisition specialist and a recruiter. Oftentimes, they are involved in the same operational activities. However, this difference is similar to the difference between an HR business partner and an HR advisor. The specialist and business partner are expected to have a more strategic role, while the recruiter and advisor have a more operational role.

Talent acquisition and HR

Another often-asked question is about the differences and similarities between HR and talent acquisition. In most organizations, talent acquisition is part of the HR department. The VP of talent acquisition or recruitment often reports to the CHRO. The benefit here is that the talent acquisition strategy should align with the people strategy (or HR strategy), which in turn aligns with the organizational strategy.

This means that talent acquisition is one of the HR Centers of Excellence (CoE), which is a specific unit that is specialized in talent acquisition. Other talent acquisition jobs that can be found in this Center of Excellence are the talent acquisition manager and the head of talent acquisition.

That wraps up this section on what is talent acquisition. Up next we will dive into the operational talent acquisition process.

A 9-step talent acquisition process

In the previous section, you read about Schneider’s ASA theory. This is a more scientific approach to talent acquisition. In this section we will take a deeper dive into the operational talent acquisition process.

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A talent acquisition process typically consists of 9 steps.

organizational needs analysis

1. Organizational needs analysis. The organizational needs analysis is the foundation of your recruitment strategy and selection choices. Here you take the organization’s mission, vision, goals, and values and translate them into a number of core competencies and values. These help to determine the profile that you are looking for and influence your selection criteria to determine the fit between the person and the organization and job. This needs analysis, also referred to as a skill-gap analysis may already be done and be part of standard HR policies.

2. Approval of the job requisition. This is the starting point of the recruitment process. If there is a need in the organization, a job requisition is the formal procedure to request a hire. The job requisition often comes in the form of a document explaining:

  1. Why the position is needed
  2. Whether it is a new or existing position
  3. Department name
  4. Department name
  5. Hiring manager
  6. Job duties
  7. Pay and budget
  8. Start date
  9. Whether the assignment is permanent or temporary
  10. Whether the position is full-time or part-time

With this information, the job requisition can be formally approved by the direct manager and the relevant director or VP.

3. Vacancy intake. The next step is arguably the most important step in the talent acquisition process: the vacancy intake. In the vacancy intake, a job analysis is conducted in order to collect all the relevant information to make a good hire. This includes:

  1. The job description, including all required skills, competencies, and daily activities for the job
  2. The person specification, which is a description of the qualifications, skills, experience, knowledge and other selection criteria for a candidate. This includes the must-haves and the nice-to-haves. Based on this a candidate persona can be created.
  3. The competency framework, which lists the required minimum and required competencies for the job. These help in creating the person specification and are the bases on which the direct manager can do performance appraisal.

The difficulty of the vacancy intake is that a proper intake takes time and may delay the recruiting timeline. This makes it an undervalued step. A great vacancy intake determines the selection method

4. Determining selection criteria & methods. Based on the vacancy intake, the selection criteria and method are determined. There are many possible selection methods, including a general mental ability (GMA) test, work sample, structured or unstructured interviews, and so on. The table below shows the most common selection methods with their corresponding predictive validity for overall job performance.

personnel measures
Meta-analysis of Schmidt & Hunter (1998) based on 85 Years of Research Findings

Different functions justify different selection methods. For example, for a CFO position a high-profile candidate may be headhunted and selection may happen through a number of unstructured interviews and extensive reference checking and job knowledge testing to see if there is a fit. However, for a junior accountant, a much more standardized process may suffice, involving a GMA test, highly structured interviews, and work sample tests.

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The return on investment (ROI) of selection can be calculated through a utility analysis. This helps to determine the best possible selection measures.

5. Searching & Attraction. Next, the candidate search happens. This is the most visible and recognized part of the talent acquisition process. In general, candidates can be divided into active and passive. Active candidates are actively searching for jobs and may check your careers page often while passive candidates are not. They need more of a targeted trigger in order to become actively interested in your job so different methods may be used to attract these different groups. The most effective recruitment channels are based on the candidate persona we mentioned earlier. For instance, if you are looking for a starter position, you may have more success recruiting through campus recruiting and leveraging the advertisement functionality of channels like Instagram or TikTok. At the same time, a senior and experienced candidate who is usually quite a bit older is more likely to be on Facebook or LinkedIn.

6. Administer selection methods. Once the candidate applied, selection methods are administered. These include pre-selection, the traditional interviews, but also background and credit checks, and more.

7. Hiring decision. Once a candidate is selected, an offer is made. This stage may involve some back-and-forth negotiation before the offer is accepted. The key metric for this phase is the offer acceptance rate, a well-known recruitment metric, which is the percentage of offers that are accepted divided by the total number of offers made.

8. Onboarding. The next phase in the talent acquisition process is the actual onboarding. A great tool is a 30-60-90 day plan for candidates. This can be defined based on the vacancy intake and is helpful in two ways. First, it helps the manager to clearly express their expectations. Second, it makes it clear to the candidate what is expected of them, structuring their onboarding process. Oftentimes, these expectations are unclear to both the manager and the candidate.

9. Evaluation. The final stage of the talent acquisition process is the evaluation. Here the candidate is asked if the job and organization match their expectations. This offers a great opportunity to check back in with the candidate. Mismatched expectations should be addressed, both with the candidate but also when it happens more often in a structured way. It could be that communication is unclear, or things are promised by recruiters that managers are unaware of.

Talent acquisition strategies

There is a lot that we can say about talent acquisition strategy creation. For an extensive explanation about this, see our article on HR strategy. However, we do want to zoom in on different talent acquisition strategies.

Generally, when developing a talent acquisition strategy, it is relevant to determine your dominant strategy. It is called dominant as it implies that you can use other options as well. In general, we see three dominant talent acquisition strategies, called Make, Buy, or Steal (also referred to as build, buy, borrow, and bridge). These strategies are derived from the well-known make-or-buy decision. A make-or-buy decision is an act of choosing between manufacturing a product in-house or purchasing it from an external supplier. The same applies to candidates.

The first option is Make. When make is the dominant talent acquisition strategy, the organization will recruit people who do not have much relevant work experience and put them in an extensive learning and development program. Many organizations, like banks, consulting firms, and accountants use this as their dominant strategy and offer traineeships to recent graduates. This way they can mold them into the potential perfect designed profile, to become a perfect banker or consultant. Working in those companies is often a rat race to the top and the strong ones survive and make it to partner, VP, or even C-level. In those company’s senior management all started as a trainee and companies are proud of their monoculture. Campus recruitment is a clear example of this strategy.

The next option is the Buy talent acquisition strategy. This is used when you are recruiting experienced people. Talent is either working at the competition in a similar job or want to make a career step to a more senior job. In order to motivate these candidates to make a move, they need to be tempted. You need to buy them, not per se with money, but with an attractive employer value proposition (EVP). In general, this EVP is a combination of compensation and benefits. An alternative to this buy strategy is the rental (or ‘borrow’) option. This way you don’t hire the person as an employee but as a contractor, providing high-quality services in a flexible way.

The third talent acquisition strategy is the Steal version. This is about taking something that is not yours yet. Stealing human capital is a risky business, especially for your reputation but it is often a very smart way to go. To do this, ask the hiring manager who in the world they would like to have on the team if they had free choice. The list of candidates of this manager is probably not working for your organization. Even more likely they are working for the competition. Now it becomes tricky because if you would poach or headhunt them yourself it could be very bad for your reputation and you are risking reprimands.

In this case, it is wise to use an external recruiting agency, a so-called headhunter, to approach them without using the name of your organization. This is often a costly way to go, but it can be very effective. You are stealing manpower and knowledge from the competition. This will hurt their operation and the new hire will have a positive impact on your company’s profit & loss, representing a clear immediately visible added value. You see this often in high-end law firms, and for senior roles in large corporate organizations.

Talent acquisition best practices

In this section, we would like to review a set of talent acquisition best practices. These best practices are essentially your talent acquisition strategy pillars as they will be the drivers for your talent acquisition success.

  • Employer brand. One of the key success factors of a talent acquisition process is a strong employer brand. A strong employer brand helps to attract talent. It also drives employee satisfaction, which results in a number of key HR and business outcomes.
employer brand

Gallup found that organizations that invest in their employer branding have a 54% increase in qualified candidates and a decrease by 23% of new hires to leave the company at an early stage. In another study, Gallup found that organizations that invest in the employer brand are 130% more likely to increase employee engagement. Finally, according to a LinkedIn survey, investments in the employer brand establishes an average turnover reduction of 28%. These are tangible proof of how recruitment and HR become synergetic and align to execute the organization’s long-term strategy.

  • Talent acquisition process. The structure of your talent acquisition process is key for your talent acquisition success. We discussed the process earlier. A great exercise is to map the process and identify your current practices – and pain points – per stage, and then sit with the business to identify how these stages can be made business-oriented. Business-oriented focuses on how you can deliver a clear and provable added value to the business for each of these stages, and how the process in itself can maximize the positive impact on the business.
  • Technology. As technology is becoming more and more relevant, it is wise to be aware of all technological developments in the market that can help the recruitment team perform at a higher level. These days your funnel is fully supported by technology so optimizing the funnel becomes increasingly technical. In addition, deciding what new tools to use, buy, and their implementation takes a lot of time and effort. This can make recruitment increasingly strategic and low-touch. Technology is a key element in your talent acquisition strategy.
  • Workforce planning & forecasting. Talent acquisition decisions are influenced by the organizational and workforce developments. This means that workforce planning is key to a successful talent acquisition strategy. Also, being in permanent contact with your hiring managers helps to get a much stronger grip on what recruitment workload can be expected in the coming weeks, months and years. The recruitment team will be able to anticipate what is coming and can be much more successful in hiring the right talent at the right time. This is why workforce planning is a key skill and helps in forecasting.
  • Vendor & agency management. When it comes to corporate recruiting, vendors can play an important role in the process, specifically the search and attraction phase. This is referred to as Recruitment Process Outsourcing, or RPO. RPO is a form of process outsourcing where all or part of the recruitment process is transferred to an external service. Maintaining connections with these agencies even when you are currently not using them, will be helpful as they can be helpful in case of unexpected changes in terms of workforce demand. Vendor management also includes your software vendors. These vendors influence your broader recruitment process.

All of these aspects are critically important in creating an effective talent acquisition function. The goal here is to bring your talent acquisition capabilities as well as the different sub-parts of this process that we mentioned earlier to a level where it helps to drive business objectives.

When this is the case, recruitment is involved in all moves of the organization, delivers a clear and provable added value to the business, has a strategic workforce plan for the coming three to five years, and both data and analytics are fully integrated with other HR practices.

Before you go

To learn more about Talent Acquisition, recruitment data, metrics, and recruitment analytics, check out our Talent Acquisition Certification Program.


What is Talent Acquisition?

Talent Acquisition is the process of identifying, attracting, selecting, and retaining highly qualified individuals. This means that talent acquisition involves a key part of the employee journey.

What’s the difference between Talent Acquisition and HR?

In most organizations, talent acquisition is part of the HR department. This means that talent acquisition is one of the HR Centers of Excellence (CoE), which is a specific unit that is specialized in talent acquisition.

What talent acquisition strategies exist?

In general, we see three dominant talent acquisition strategies, called Make, Buy or Steal. These strategies are derived from the well-known make-or-buy decision.

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