How important are talent communities? We asked the experts.

July 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

by Cyndy Trivella

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with K.C. Donovan, CEO of Upwardly Me, a talent community engagement solution, and Patty Van Leer, Executive Vice President of Interactive & Creative Services at NAS Recruitment Communications.

K.C. Donovan is one of the most passionate people I know when it comes to helping companies recruit using long-term benefit strategies. Active in the field of human resources for more than a dozen years, he believes that companies cannot attain true culture richness without the benefit of hiring and retaining people who will be ambassadors of the organization’s values, mission and spirit.

Patty Van Leer is one of the brightest minds in the digital space. More than 25 years of recruitment marketing experience have given Patty in-depth knowledge that she uses to help clients source, reach and engage the talent they want and need. Always focused on emerging interactive tools and technologies, she leads a team that creates strong employment brands, develops effective strategies and measures results for clients across North America.

The following is part of my conversation with these two recruitment thought leaders:

Cyndy: Describe how building a talent community is a far more effective way of attracting the right candidates for employers.

K.C.: Like all great relationships, talent communities revolve around sharing ideas and interests. Companies share what they’re like to work for, and what the people are like who work there, and job seekers who show their passions, motivations and interests. Talent communities are a great place to mix these things together in a professional, easy-to-manage, event-based environment.

A pre-hire conversation with an executive or hiring manager at a particular company is something the average job seeker simply can’t make happen. Yet in talent communities, these exchanges happen every day. And they aren’t merely informational interviews—they are one-on-one chats or group challenge events designed to find right-fit talent to fill current or future positions. As talent community members, people have opportunities for multiple interactions to see if a fit is possible. That is the key reason that talent communities are so attractive to job seekers and employers.

From a corporate perspective, the talent community is very different from the 60-year-old, inefficient talent-acquisition method that involves a resume, a phone screen and an interview. The traditional method is so cumbersome and time consuming that today, less than five percent of the U.S. workforce does any career building except when they are actually looking for a new job. Basically, we’ve told generations of job seekers, “Go away. We don’t want you.” We’ve also conditioned members of the workforce to think that you have to “game” the system to succeed—stuffing resumes with keywords, hard-selling yourself during phone screens and exhibiting certain job interview behaviors that will get you closer to an offer. Job seeker “To-Do” blogs typically list everything except actually telling a prospective employer what you love to do and what you’re great at doing.

Well-run talent communities are the exact opposite of traditional recruiting methods. They have little to do with resumes. Instead, they position people so they can get to know one another, and job seekers can better predict what to expect if they make a career move. All good!

Patty: While everyone seemingly understands the importance of building relationships, HR had visions of how strategically managing talent community members would allow recruiters to build and improve relationships with potential hiring audiences. The hope was that those relationships would in turn make job seekers more interested in the company’s career opportunities. Instead, what occurred was a boom in integrating yet another database into the existing HR technology platform aimed at managing and measuring talent community members. Relationship building often fell by the wayside. But the fact of the matter is, if you don’t have a real relationship with a potential candidate, you don’t stand a chance against employers who are building those relationships. The secret to making a talent community effective is having a well-defined strategy and an implementation plan—a plan that I believe includes the following:

1.         Two-Way Communication: Listening is just as important as telling. Think about how often you actually speak with your talent community. Ask yourself, “Am I only calling when we need to source a candidate?” Do you contact community members when you have a newsletter or new benefit to roll out? If you make your community members feel involved and yes, wanted, they’ll feel as though you’re sincere about building relationships and finding the right jobs for the right talent. It’s about letting community members know you care about more than just getting a requisition filled.

2.         Emphasizing the Human Connection: Everyone remembers the theme song of the popular television series Cheers. Well the lyrics contain an important truth—creating a “place where everybody knows your name” and keeping your interactions personal is the key to successful hiring and long-term employment relationships. Occasional, cookie-cutter, automated email blasts just won’t do it.

Cyndy: What have you experienced as the biggest road block when approaching companies to speak with them about the value and longevity of talent communities?

K.C.: Well, there are three actually. The first and biggest challenge is overcoming the outdated tactical approach to talent acquisition and erasing the notion that a strategic approach is too time consuming. As an industry, we’ve been doing a yeoman’s job with poorly designed and extremely inefficient tools for decades, and we’ve conditioned line management to accept that this is the best we can do. When we come in and talk about a strategic hiring plan with efficient tools and guaranteed results, this goes against the mantra that has been preached since the 1950s. Not surprisingly, we sometimes get a chilly reception. Creating a pool of talent makes intuitive sense to anyone, but few are willing to invest in the new strategic approach needed to achieve the desired result.

The second road block to community-based hiring is what I refer to as “community charlatans” who make ridiculous claims that no community, or other approach, can ever live up to. Even with all of the industry buzz surrounding talent communities, it’s still very early days and there’s no cookie-cutter approach that will solve all problems. Of course, this roadblock is not peculiar to talent communities—most new concepts attract charlatans trying to earn an easy buck by making unfounded claims.

Third, the term “community” has multiple meanings that change depending on context. It’s important that companies understand how the term “talent community” is being defined and how it can work successfully as part of their talent acquisition strategy. For me, a talent community is built for a specific company, talent function and geography—a virtual place, where member identity is protected. Members can interact directly with company employees during engagement events, participate in talent challenges and share their attitudes, interests and motivations in profiles that are searchable by recruiters and hiring managers.

Patty: I think the main roadblock is caused by not defining the type of talent community you need and the goals you have for it. Do you need a platform to manage candidate relationships or manage candidate experience? These two are very different animals and require different types of software solutions. So, decide on needs and goals first, and software that best helps you meet those needs and reach those goals, second. Talent networks can be used to manage talent member contacts, names, emails, phone numbers, etc.  Software that supports this type of network is usually database driven. Talent community membership experience refers to gathering input to better the HR candidate flow.

Cyndy: Talk to me about what talent disruption means to you.

K.C.: You can probably answer that in different ways, but to me talent disruption is the way we need to change the world of work in this country. We need to disrupt the view of what a talented worker means to a company. Today’s employment market is more fractured than at any time in my memory. We have the highest percentage of contingent and freelance workers ever recorded in the workforce. In just a few years the majority of workers will be under the age of 35.  We have the largest generation in history taking over the workforce (Gen Y). This generation is the first since we were cavemen that actually have taught their parents instead of the other way around (Internet/technology). Yet, most of how we manage our employees, their stories of accomplishment, the way we dole out challenges and attract them to work for us has changed little since the 1950s. We talk about collaboration and team building, yet most companies are still hierarchical in their approach. We love to highlight companies from the enlightened few, but they are just that—few.

Talent disruption is breathing life into processes that take advantage of the changes in our work lives and styles. It can happen, and is happening—but we need to speed it up!

Patty: To me, talent disruption means placing the control of engagement and personalization in the hands of potential candidates instead of the talent acquisition team. It is very much how the web works already—users control content, and have the ability to customize their experiences and processes. Today’s talent is as interested in finding information about a company and its culture, and sharing it with others who will offer their own views. Today, when you throw a party, people may show up, but if it’s not what they’re looking for, they’ll disconnect and go home.

Cyndy: You are a very active and engaged participant in social networking. When you speak with clients and prospects, do you find them to be resistant to using social venues for talent acquisition and if so, why do you think that is?

K.C.: This depends on the type of company and the level of job seeker motivation (active or passive). At smaller companies, where there are fewer corporate controls in place; social networking is often embraced, as these companies feel a greater need to take advantage of where their employees are taking them. Smaller, more nimble firms tend to be flatter organizationally, and new ideas that can promote the company’s growth and success are welcome.

At larger companies that possess the resources to challenge change, it is a very different story—mostly about power and turf. Employees at these companies are likely to spend more time and energy moving up the ladder. So there is a tendency for each person to do his or her best to protect the status quo, instead of embracing anything new—even if it might result in a more innovative and productive workplace.

Given the large company model, it’s easy to see why corporate recruiting functions cling so strongly to what has worked for them in the past. It takes a very enlightened and confident leader to bring in a new process that could change or eliminate people and functions.

By the way, many firms say they’re involved in social networking because they use LinkedIn. In my view, LinkedIn moved from social network to job board a long time ago and isn’t very different from CareerBuilder or Monster, except their profiles are resume-like (or light).

Patty: In many respects I believe that talent acquisition teams simply haven’t understood how to engage using the social channels or what engagement should consist of. Instead, social media channels are often used as a replacement for job boards.

Social media is where marketing meets recruitment. This is not your typical HR sourcing strategy playing out in a new medium; it is about building and managing your brand’s reputation and highlighting your employment value proposition. This is the space that allows your organization’s personality to come through and lets audiences in these spaces see inside your workplace. Social media must be approached differently from traditional media channels, because this is where you start a conversation, that you hope goes viral, with the goal of expanding a community that cares about who you are as an employer, what you can share with them and how they can work with you.

Cyndy Trivella began her career in Human Resource Communications on Madison Avenue in New York City more than 12 years ago. Prior to that, she worked in corporate human resources as a recruiter, and as a training and development coordinator. In addition, Cyndy has several years of media planning and account strategy experience at a management level from both the media and agency sides. She is currently the Director and Branch Manager for NAS Recruitment Communications in Kansas City.

Cyndy holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and mass communications, and is currently working towards a master’s in psychology.

Patty Van Leer, Executive Vice President and Chief Interactive Strategist for NAS Recruitment Communications, is an expert in e-recruiting solutions, and is responsible for the planning and strategic direction of interactive initiatives. She also analyzes existing interactive trends, applies them to new situations and oversees research initiatives. In addition, Patty oversees the agency’s creative services division, with the goal of seamlessly delivering targeted employment brands, award-winning creative, interactive solutions and marketing strategies that deliver for our clients.

Holding a variety of sales, executive and interactive positions with NAS for more than 25 years, Patty brings an extensive knowledge of the recruitment communications industry.

K.C. Donovan is founder and CEO of Upwardly Me—a business focused on delivering talent marketing and community management, as well as engagement solutions for career consumers and business partners.

His driving force has always been helping others reach their professional potential or next best career destination. Having spent the last few decades in talent management with some amazing experiences, K.C. is convinced that with our new “engagement economy,” the time is right to make an assault on the incredibly inefficient employment practices corporate America has been feeding career consumers for the last 50 years. The difficult to navigate employment spectrum has over time caused many to avoid career building efforts. By helping companies share an “insider’s view” of what matters most to job seekers, they’ll know if there is a good fit making great connections and even better hiring decisions. Upwardly Me offers the solutions to make this a reality.

Entry filed under: Contributor, Cyndy Trivella, Marketing Strategies, Patty Van Leer, Talent Communities. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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