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How (and why) to build your talent pipeline during a hiring freeze

Lauren Shufran

Lauren Shufran

Content Strategist

Posted on

Nov 15th 2022

The past two years have largely been a job-seeker’s market: the rate of involuntary unemployment dropped steadily, and businesses raced to offer the best perks to entice workers. That run appears to be over, according to unemployment numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Tech companies were the first to institute layoffs and hiring freezes this year. That trend may be spreading to other markets.

Recruiters and talent acquisition professionals must re-prioritize their work when a hiring slowdown or freeze is called. There are plenty of ways for you and your team to add value even when your company isn’t hiring. One of the most important things you can do is double down on building your talent pipeline.

Talent pipelines are a key tool to help recruiters find and land the best candidates because they’re a way to build your brand with talent over time—whether or not you’re hiring at the moment. Without a talent pipeline, you have to hope qualified candidates will find you and decide your company is worth taking a chance on—and you’ll be racing to catch up to the companies that are spending this time building and maintaining relationships with talent when hiring picks back up again. To be sure, some fantastic hires happen with inbound candidates. But expecting that’s what will happen when the market swings back leaves too much to chance.

“In this market, my team is going to our hiring managers and saying: We just pushed out 10 roles from your hiring plan. What does that feel like? Which resources will be stretched? Which skill sets are we short on expertise in? My team absorbs those answers and takes them to market. That’s the pipeline they’re looking for. The work doesn’t stop just because we don’t have immediate openings.”

- Abigail Chambley, Director of Talent Acquisition @ Mission

A hiring slowdown is the perfect time to focus on your talent pipeline strategy. There won’t be an immediate payoff—but during a hiring freeze, you won’t need it. A full talent pipeline means you’ll have a line to some of the best professionals in your industry when your company is ready to start hiring again. Here are the steps you should be taking now to set yourself up for future hiring success.

Use historical data to guide your sourcing efforts

Start preparing for your company’s future employment needs by looking back at historical hiring data. You likely already have a feel for the roles that come up often; during a slowdown, you have time to get hard numbers. Counting past job requisitions from each team or for each position is a good starting point. Then look at metrics, including candidates per hire, quality of hire, and candidate retention rates, to see how well you’ve done at filling past roles. Any job that’s historically been tough to fill is one you should focus on building a quality talent pipeline for.

Candidate passthrough rates and offer acceptance rates are two more data points to look at. These figures will help you approximate how many candidates you’re likely to need to make a good hire—and thus, the minimum number of potential applicants you should have in your pipeline. Gem’s Pipeline Forecasting calculator allows you to easily calculate what you need throughout your funnel, based on historical data, to get the hires you need. You can also input the number of hires and the passthrough rates you think you'll achieve, and Gem will output a forecast to help you better plan and allocate resources.

Pipeline Forecasting
Pipeline Calculator

Building a data-based strategy now will help you be more prepared when hiring picks up again. Of course, there will always be surprises. But a solid pipeline means less time spent sourcing and screening candidates for the roles you know you’ll eventually be hiring for, and more time to spend on those unexpected hiring needs when the reqs start rolling back in.

Evaluate your sourcing methods, and focus on the strongest ones

Sourcing is a big part of building a talent pipeline, but especially now—when budget is likely even tighter than usual—your team should be focusing on the most effective sourcing methods. It’s time to dig into the data and look at which strategies and tools have historically brought the highest percentage of successful candidates to your company.

The strategies that brought in your high performers are the strategies you’ll want to use for building talent pipelines. Ideally, a pipeline is a shortlist of the best talent; don’t spend time using sourcing methods that have historically delivered mostly mediocre applicants. Instead, make sure team members are trained on how to use your preferred tools to get the best results.

This analysis is best done during a hiring slowdown when you have time to gather and comb through the data. A tool like Gem that tracks data like most effective candidate source will help you uncover trends.

Offer accepts by source

Reach out to potential candidates with an honest note

Candidate outreach done during a hiring freeze is all about building trust and relationships. Start with an upfront admission that you’re not currently hiring. Follow that up with a genuine discussion to learn about the potential candidate and introduce them to your company. At first, you’re just looking for basic compatibility. Where do they see themselves 6, 12, or 18 months from now? What's their dream career trajectory? Would they be interested in what your company has to offer once you start hiring again?

If so, start to pitch your company to them. Talk about how their skill set matches what your hiring managers will need, introduce interesting challenges and opportunities they could expect to face in a future position, or share your company’s culture as it aligns with their expressed values. Ask about their career goals and what they ultimately want from a culture or a team, then show how your company can provide just that. 

Candidates who want to stay in touch should be added to your talent pool so you can nurture those relationships. Those who aren’t interested deserve a thanks for their time and cordial goodbye—even if they aren’t a good fit now, you don’t want to burn any bridges.

These discussions are a good use of your time during a hiring freeze because they lay the groundwork for long-term relationships. Recruiters are often too busy to connect with top talent while in the midst of hiring. You’ll set yourself apart from competitors by taking the time to introduce yourself when you have the time to make a good impression. 

Create and automate personalized candidate nurture journeys

Successful outreach must be followed by candidate nurture, or you risk losing the relationship before you even have a chance to build it. Keep prospective candidates engaged with personalized journeys based on current job, career goals, where you met them, or other applicable groupings. Personalization isn’t just about showing you care; delivering content that matches a potential candidate’s interests makes for a better candidate experience.

There are multiple ways to nurture passive candidates:

  • Sending emails a few times a year to say hi and check in with a passive candidate

  • Distributing a newsletter that shares company updates

  • Creating a series of introductory content created by employees and execs to share your culture

  • Sharing free resources relevant to the recipient’s job and/or career goals

Your nurture should tie in with your larger recruitment marketing strategy for two reasons. First, you want to ensure the continuity of your employer brand across every potential touchpoint a candidate might have. Second, you can often use or repurpose marketing content as part of your nurture journey.

Rather than manually sending each update out to every candidate in your pipeline, use a tool like Gem to automate your nurture campaigns. Gem allows you to customize emails by auto-filling information like name, title, company, and more. You can also schedule an entire candidate journey—emails will be sent according to triggers like reader interaction or on a set timeline. 

Putting together a candidate nurture journey is a time-consuming task best done when you have fewer competing demands. The emails you write and schedule now will help you build relationships far into the future. And the closer you become with a potential hire during this time, the more willing they’ll be to hear you out and take a chance on your company when you get the job requisition they’d be a great fit for.

“I have a shortlist of people—director level and above—whom I’m nurturing long-term, sending product release updates to, and checking in with. It’s helpful for us to continue to source regardless of what the market is doing; even if we’re not actively reaching out to people, list-building is still a great use of our time. From there, it's about keeping track of that talent so the second we open a role, we’re ready to go.”

- Shannon Toomey, Senior Manager, Recruiting @ Descript

"Hiring freeze" doesn't mean "recruiting freeze"

Building effective talent pipelines is only one way to set yourself up for better hiring once you’re given the green light again. You should dive into recruiting metrics to find weak points in your hiring process. You should look at your team’s past performance and plan training to make sure everyone is up to speed. And you should revise your job descriptions to use inclusive language and practices. Every interaction between your candidate and your company matters, which means there’s no shortage of processes and practices to improve.

Improvements like these invest in your future—the same thing a talent pipeline is meant to do. So don’t look at a hiring freeze as a shutdown of operations. All you’re doing is extending the pre-hire process—take advantage of the extra time to make it as good as possible.

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