People moving quickly in office

A more agile approach to talent acquisition

Jaime Klein | FEB 17, 2023

If your head is spinning from the cycle of talent shortage, hiring freeze, layoff, repeat, you’re not alone. Each week we hear about substantial layoffs from Meta, Salesforce, Zoom, Google and others, but recruiters are still struggling to fill open roles elsewhere as unemployment sits at its lowest level since 1969

For talent acquisition pros, it’s a struggle to identify the market today, let alone predict the market for tomorrow. A glossy, 12-month talent acquisition plan tacked to the wall doesn’t do much good when so much is changing so quickly, like:

  • Emerging and shifting skill needs. Each company is in a different stage of digital transformation, and that journey is going to prioritize some roles while making others less efficient. 
  • Economic uncertainty. Politicians tell us we’re ok, as tech companies signal that they don’t believe it. In the midst of all of this uncertainty, HR leaders have to juggle the threat of downsizing in the near future with the need for additional skilled talent today. 
  • Globalized vulnerabilities. Think about how another burst of record-high temperatures in southern Asia could affect that local power grid. Or, migratory patterns, political instability, and environmental disasters could decimate communities where your potential employees live. 

A modern, more agile approach to talent acquisition acknowledges that today’s market is likely substantially different from what you’ll experience 6 months from now. And with so many unknowns, we can’t predict what those changes will be. 

So, how can you build the modern talent acquisition function you need in this market? 

These are the most crucial areas we tell our clients to focus on first:

 Shift from annual planning to continuous listening

A modern, agile approach to talent acquisition doesn’t mean an end to planning. It’s just the opposite. 

Rather than ditch the idea of planning all together, it’s time to appreciate the process of planning more than the plan itself. 

The old system of talent management relied on a top-down requisition to trigger the hiring process. Today’s market requires us to shift our focus to the bottom-up market needs. And this is where your planning process shines. 

Think about the work you put in to create a well-informed plan:

  • Workforce development meetings to understand what is coming up in each of your business units
  • Tapping into strategic discussions about where the company is headed
  • Analyzing shifts in your talent segments 

These are the activities that feed your talent acquisition strategy. So why are they relegated to an annual planning process? 

Photo of Shiloh Burchill of the Ad Council
Shiloh Burchill, Director, People Operations, Ad Council

Shifting from annual planning to continuous listening means your talent acquisition team is asking questions throughout the year, embedded into the teams and at the tables where forecasting happens, and sourcing diverse talent before you even have an open role. It means your team is able to shape strategy and break out of reactive mode. 

Flexible planning doesn’t mean you don’t have fixed metrics, either. Shiloh Burchill, Director of People Operations at Ad Council, points out that the essential factors in developing a magnetic employer brand remain constant, most notably: reducing time to hire, increasing diversity, and improving the candidate experience.

Hire for skills, not degrees

With calls to hire for skills, not degrees coming everywhere from Davos to the White House, is 2023 the year to tear the paper ceiling?

The paper ceiling refers to an invisible barrier that exists for people with skills, experience and diverse perspectives who do not have a bachelor’s degree. 

The problem is, when you hire based on a person’s college degree, you’re hiring for skills developed four or more years ago and from a talent pool that lacks diversity. 

Tom Connolly, CHRO
Tom Connolly, CHRO, Kingsley Gate Partners

During a recent session of Inspire Live, Tom Connolly, CHRO at Kingsley Gate Partners, shared that according to his firm’s research, job specs have a shelf-life of 6 months. “The job that you’re hiring for today is not the thing that you’re asking that person to do 6 months or one year from now,” Tom said. Not only can today’s skills become obsolete in less than one year, emerging fields require such specialized skills that large enough talent pools do not even exist yet, Tom adds. 

We have to shift away from the old model of hiring according to the last person who was successful in the job and instead appreciate and source for adjacent skills, resilience and adaptability. This means qualifying skills learned on the job, through military service, in apprenticeships, community college and more. 

Talent is already moving in this direction. According to Gallup’s State of Higher Education Report, 50% of Gen Z participants surveyed reported that they are open to associate degree and certificate programs as alternatives to bachelor’s degrees.

Build an elastic talent resource 

Does it ever feel like talent acquisition is a binary choice? You either hire someone or you don’t? 

With an elastic workforce, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can stretch to seize new opportunities or contract to insulate yourself from risk in an uncertain economy. 

Here are three ways to build elasticity into your workforce:

Cross-train employees

Many employers we speak with are fearful of stretch assignments, for good reason. Too often we have seen employees stretched continuously, without proper compensation, ultimately leading to burnout. 

Cross-training employees is different. It is an intentional process, built into employee expectations (rather than heaped on top), and is designed to build new practical skills in an area where you may have a shortage. This may seem like an obvious move, but there is a major gap between intention and execution.

According to The University of Phoenix’s Annual Career Optimism Index 2022, 49 percent of employees want to develop their skills but don’t know where to begin, up 6 percentage points in just one year. Talent management leaders can build elasticity into their workforce and also boost retention by carving a path for employees to develop the skills they desire. 

Maintain flexible work schedules

It’s ok to have occasional sprint phases that require some long hours. It happens in every field – just ask your accountant friends. They know tax season comes around each year, but they also know, for the most part, there is balance during the remainder of the year. 

Give your team the autonomy to manage their workload, and to enjoy downtime when work is slow. Resist the need to fill up a team member’s schedule when they may be in a slow period, and let them charge up for when they’ll need to be working at a faster pace. Then, you’re building trust and an expectation that the team works hard when there is hard work to be done, not for the sake of punching out late to impress the boss. 

Engage interim talent

Interim talent has traditionally been used to cover for employees on leave or to fill gaps when a position is open for too long. And these are still popular reasons companies engage interim talent. At Inspire, we have filled more than 30 family leaves with one company alone. 

There are additional benefits though, that have caused many HR leaders to build interim talent into their overall talent management strategy. Companies are increasingly turning to interim talent to pilot new initiatives or test new markets without the risk of building a full-time product team. And we hear from countless HR and business leaders who engage Inspire that the most valuable assets we bring to the table are a unique perspective and the ability to upskill the team we’re working with. Interim talent can break through a culture of complacency and inject some energy and innovation.  

Interim work is growing in popularity at every level of expertise. McKinsey reports that 36% of employed respondents to their American Opportunity Survey identify as independent workers. And AARP finds that 27% of individuals ages 40 and older are doing some kind of independent or gig work. 

As a business that provides senior-level, fractional expertise, we include within our ranks former CHROs and HR leaders from companies like Pepsi, NFL, Berlitz, and American Express. These are senior leaders who have found a way to strike the right balance between professional and personal. And senior leaders across all functions are increasingly delaying retirement and instead shifting into contract work – a major plus for the company who retains all of that institutional knowledge.  

As HR and business leaders, it’s on us to adapt because there is no returning to the way things were at the start of our careers. With a modern, agile approach to talent acquisition you’ll be positioned to thrive in today’s market and whatever comes next. And, bonus, you’ll be able to get back to what got you into HR in the first place: putting people at the center of your work.