March 6, 2020

The Fall of Traditional Recruiting: 5 Trends Reshaping Talent Acquisition as We Know It


The digital age is rewriting the rules of business as we know them. Economic and geopolitical uncertainty are undermining established models, while emerging digital infrastructures are reshaping the forces of production and consumption. Meanwhile, the expectation economy is redefining the relationship between businesses and their customers.

What does this all mean for recruiters? How are these changes impacting the world of talent acquisition? Here are the five key big-picture trends every recruiter needs to know:

1. The Fundamental Nature of Work, the Workforce, and the Workplace Is Changing

Faster-moving markets require faster-moving workforces, and organizations have far less time to extract value from their talent. The independent and outsourced talent marketplace is growing in relevance, delivering higher-quality solutions more cost effectively and with fewer risks than large, owned, vertically integrated workforces centralized in expensive real estate. As technology decouples location and delivery and sharing replaces owning, organizations will have to leverage disruptive new talent models and brand new talent pools.

The balance of employment power is shifting as technology gives independent workers at the top end of the gig economy access to greater volumes of more satisfying and profitable work. That means a lot fewer permanent heads to recruit. Going forward, a greater proportion of headcount will be aligned to projects rather than roles as businesses seek to acquire specific skills to deliver specific results. Working much more closely with project teams to dynamically link supply to evolving demand, recruiters will need to accurately forecast when, where, and how long certain skills will be needed.

As organizations connect directly with on-demand talent supplies, they will grow less dependent on traditional recruitment suppliers. Instead, in-house recruitment teams will have to engage with a much broader range of work-sharing and freelance talent platforms, investing in stronger collaborative relationships to access richer pools of talent.

2. Reputation Is Everything

As trust in “the establishment” plummets, consumers are increasingly turning to businesses for ethical and social leadership. Positive organizational cultures have therefore become critical for communicating purpose, values, and meaning. Culture is a company’s most powerful marketing asset, for consumers and candidates alike.

Candidates are taking a more active approach to their careers. Focusing on mutually beneficial collaborations, they are more motivated by shared values than financial incentives. They no longer fix themselves to fit in. They have disengaged from generic corporate “push” messaging and are instead engaging with authentic “pull” content created by independent peers.

Employment branding is evolving into talent branding, and candidate attraction is moving away from promotion and sales to advocacy and influence. Recruiters must find new ways of indirectly creating demand while constantly differentiating a wider range of value propositions to much more diverse audiences. Increasingly, recruiters need to think of candidates as assets that will grow in value; they must position their companies and clients as enablers of careers rather than employers with jobs.

Recruiters must build stronger, more intimate relationships with the talent communities that are now forming around opportunities and challenges instead of industries or geographies. They need to encourage advocacy and share compelling, curated, and contextualized content that adds value to their target communities. That’s how you create an ecosystem of engaged and supportive followers.

3. All Experiences Matter

The information revolution is driving greater visibility and accountability, making engagement much harder to win and much easier to lose. On review sites and social media platforms, companies and managers are rated like Airbnb hosts or Amazon sellers. Workers are ignoring corporate broadcasts and turning to independent, likeminded peers for authentic insights. Inconsistencies between what a company says and what it does are quickly shared and immediately toxic.

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Like consumers, talent expects to see an organization’s purpose and values consistently reflected at every stage of the talent journey, not just at “the point of purchase.” Candidates across generations expect more personalized, valuable, and immediate experiences throughout the talent life cycle — and the talent experiences of independent and outsourced workers need to be just as engaging as those of permanent workers.

Recruiters must proactively shape talent experiences to address a much wider set of motivations, in more locations, for more generations, at more career stages. They must collaborate across their organizations to create experiences that are valuable, consistent, and congruent across the entire talent life cycle.

Recruiters must focus on quality of experience, particularly at emotionally charged moments of truth. They need to actively work with candidates to constantly improve experiences. Candidates should be involved in the development of relevant and compelling content. Crucially, recruiters can no longer afford to let candidates linger in the blackhole of an applicant tracking system, endure unnecessarily protracted processes, or navigate pointless digital selection gimmicks.

4. The Value of Talent Has Transformed

Talent is increasingly the key source of competitive advantage. People improve sales by enriching corporate reputations, personalizing customer experiences, and differentiating offerings in crowded marketplaces. They are key to developing essential new products and services, creating new intellectual property, and developing new processes and systems that deliver game-changing results. In short, employees build the holy grails of customer loyalty and trust.

Commercial success is increasingly dependent on a new set of skills and behaviors. The half-life of skills is plummeting as new technologies, new economic models, and new companies disrupt incumbents in every sector. Artificial intelligence and automation are replacing repetitive roles, and functional expertise is supplied cost effectively on demand.

In light of those developments, human capital value is increasingly defined by the great cognitive leaps, divergent thinking, and the rich relationships that humans are uniquely placed to deliver. Recruiters must therefore refocus on candidate quality, not quantity. Job descriptions and advertisements cannot focus on the skills and experiences of the past when it is the ability to create a completely different future that matters. As windows of opportunity compress, selection and assessment approaches must target and accurately assess relevant attributes much earlier in the hiring process.

Recruiters must also shift their focus away from simply putting people in seats to acquiring the candidates that create lasting commercial value. They need to stop prioritizing transactional task efficiency and instead index their success to the performance of new hires. They need to focus on speed to value, not speed to service.

5. Increased Operational Pressure

Many more candidates will flow into organizations as talent is hired into projects instead of roles. Operational complexity will increase as talent arrives through more diverse channels from more distributed locations. Everyday recruitment activities will fragment as project teams demand a more varied range of talent solutions to match real-time demand.

Candidates themselves will be increasingly diverse, distributed, and discerning. They will increasingly own the conversation, deciding which channels they use and directing their own journeys. They’ll use a much greater range of platforms to ask questions, source information, and cross-reference answers.

Recruiters will have to deal with huge increases in the volume, variety, and velocity of interactions. They’ll have to find, acquire, and deploy more talent to fill a broader range of needs than ever before. Recruiters will need to proactively monitor and shape perceptions over many more channels and react quickly and effectively to a much wider range of requests.

Recruiters will have to develop more processes to cope with the diversity of channels in order to accelerate without compromising effectiveness. They will need to update and/or augment legacy tools, systems, and infrastructures with innovative new technologies to cope with increased workload.

As the world of work changes beyond recognition, so must recruitment. The recruiters with competitive advantages will be those with better planning and stronger connections with brand new supply channels. We’ll need new ways to build trust, loyalty, and demand with increasingly autonomous talent. We’ll need to rethink what “good” is — and how we deliver it.

Gavin Russell is the founder of Pepper Moth and the author of Transformation Timebomb.

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Gavin Russell is the founder of Pepper Moth, a talent value consultancy that helps businesses of all sizes build breakthrough workforces. Gavin has a track record developing and delivering strategic and operational improvements to in-house recruitment functions. He has always had a passion for finding solutions to business problems and has worked at leading organizations ranging from technology startups to management consultancies and large multinationals. Drawing on his experience of contrasting commercial environments combined with business community feedback and empirical evidence, Gavin has written "Transformation Timebomb" to provide practical business ideas that can be applied across all manner of businesses and contexts.