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Q&A with Sarah Brennan: The Future of Talent Acquisition Is About Finding the Right Candidate

Mike Bollinger

VP, Strategic Initiatives, Cornerstone

From single tweets to Big Data analytics, the latest technologies are changing the way we approach talent acquisition – and for the better. Tools and strategies like social media, mobile technology and people analytics are expanding the ways in which employers can both source and engage with candidates — but while it's becoming easier and easier to find talent, it's becoming harder and harder to actually secure talent.

In many ways, this trend is a force for good. With dropping unemployment rates and more job opportunities, employers are compelled to truly differentiate not only their business strategies, but their people strategies, too. Today, the best talent is constantly on the look for new opportunities, and employers need to offer more than basic benefits and a good salary to compete. Things like company culture and professional development can no longer be afterthoughts — instead, these aspects of your company need to be as strategic and clear as pay and benefits in order to land top talent.

At Cornerstone, we're dedicated to helping companies predict and work with the future of work — not against it. That's just one reason we're excited to announce that Sarah Brennan, a veteran recruiting and HR tech analyst, is joining the company as Principal Consultant, Talent Acquisition on our Global Thought Leadership and Advisory Services (TLAS) team. We sat down with her recently to talk through the impact of analytics on talent acquisition, and how companies can find (and keep) the right talent.

Why has HR has been slow to adopt Big Data analytics compared to other departments, such as sales or marketing?

We've really just seen a shift in talent analytics within the last couple of years on a widespread level. The analytics that were available 10 or even just five years ago didn't truly provide direction for business decision-making, driving results or actually making any type of strategic change. Today, the technology has advanced to a point where we can start looking at the impact—not only of new hires, but on every movement a person makes throughout their career within an organization.

"As talent increasingly becomes a key part of business strategy, with survey after survey of C-suite executives talking about talent as one of their top challenges, it's creating demand for HR analytics starting with recruiting."

Historically, leadership didn't think about analytics and HR—the expectation just wasn't there. But as talent increasingly becomes a key part of business strategy, with survey after survey of C-suite executives talking about talent as one of their top challenges, it's creating demand for HR analytics, starting with recruiting. Now, people are saying, "Wait a minute, why isn't HR doing this when we have to have numbers and metrics for everything else?"

How will people analytics impact talent acquisition specifically?

When looking at business ROI, the biggest reason to have analytics isn't just finding candidates, but finding the right candidates. With analytics, you're able to see where your top candidates are coming from, how much each of those candidates cost, how much training they need to get onboarded, how engaged they are and how much success they have in the organization long-term. You can link all of these insights together and have a direct line of sight on the bottom line.

What other strategies can employers use to attract the right candidates?

Companies looking to make a real impact on hiring and retention should start with Employment Brand. While the focus on employment branding started in the mid-2000s as websites and online applications became more popular, it has really evolved. For a long time, companies were creating employer brands that had nothing to do with their actual culture. They wanted to make their company look like it was the best place to work, but everything was generic and in the end the business ROI was poor. In the last few years, we've seen candidates pushing back a bit and wanting a little more honesty from companies so we have watched a shift towards employer brands being more authentic and truly representative of the culture of the organization. There seems to be a broader understanding by companies of all sizes that it's better to get the right people through the door from the start than be a company where everybody wants to work, but have really high turnover.

"It's better to get the right people through the door than be a company where everybody wants to work, but have really high turnover."

Your recruiting technology needs to reflect this, too. From the wording on your job postings to your social media to the applicant tracking systems and recruiting software you use, any investment you make needs to be supportive of your employment brand. For example, if a candidate follows a link on a mobile device to apply for a job and where they end up is not mobile friendly or auto-connected to social channels like LinkedIn to apply, you not only may lose that candidate, but it also gives the impression that your company is out of date with technology—and will likely be behind when it comes to the rest of your business strategy, too.

What can companies do to communicate their employer brand more effectively?

Be authentic and honest. Not everyone wants to work for the same type of company culture so represent your company as is. First, make sure your website tells a great story. Having a listing of benefits isn’t enough in today’s market. Interviews and pictures of people that actually work there—not stock photos—are a great place to start, because it gives people a feel for the organization. Next, make sure that the application process is simple. Don't ask for information that isn't necessary at the early stages and support multiple devices for apply – like mobile.

"Make sure your website tells a great story."

Then, think about your follow-up and make sure everything from auto-confirmations to personal emails are on message with your brand. A "no" response is better than no response. Last but not least, be found on social media. You don't have to spend a ton of money or time focusing on social media for recruiting or hiring. Just make sure all you are doing isn’t just pushing your jobs out—share information to help people looking for jobs learn more.

What attracted you to Cornerstone when it comes to building the future of talent acquisition?

There are several product tenets that caught my eye, such as the new recruiting roadmap and how that was fitting in with the unified suite of products to provide real business value; but the real turning point was my conversation with Adam Miller, the CEO. As an analyst, I looked at products and talked with the leadership often – I was fully convinced that the recruiting product wasn't just about checking the box – it was about building a best in class solution to compete with the standalone products. It's really a key initiative being driven from the top-down, and to be able to come in and contribute to a team that is striving to deliver a best-in-class ATS is amazing.

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