What is talent acquisition?

Talent acquisition is often considered the same thing as recruitment—the process of finding and hiring talent. However, in a forward-thinking organization, talent acquisition is much more than that. Recruitment is about filling vacancies. If an organization focuses only on short-term recruitment, they can end up with high turnover rates and stunted growth. By contrast, the talent acquisition process is more complex. It requires organizations to deeply understand their business priorities and use this knowledge to plan for future workforce needs. In short, it aims to align in-house talent with company vision.

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What is the difference between talent acquisition and recruitment?

Think of recruitment as a bandage. There's a gap in your company, and it must be filled. Your recruitment team can put in the time to find the right person for the job and make sure they fit the company culture, but it can be a short-term solution. While your hire may be perfect for your immediate vacancy, their skill set may not align with your company’s long-term plan for growth and overall vision.

Recruiting tends to be reactive and is a component of the larger talent acquisition process. When you’re trying to find candidates to fill a vacancy or identify the best applicant for a role, you’re recruiting.

Talent acquisition, however, is proactive and involves planning. It’s less about quickly filling a gap and more about bringing aboard the specialists, leaders, and innovators needed to push your organization forward.

Talent acquisition best practices

Start with networking

At its core, talent acquisition is about making connections, which is why networking is such an important lead generation strategy for talent acquisition specialists. Start by attending industry events where you’re likely to find the talent you’re searching for. Every networking event is an opportunity for you to share your company’s story and meet and attract potential candidates. As a rule, people like to talk about the work they're doing and the goals they want to achieve, making these events great opportunities for identifying top talent. When you connect with talent you find impressive, be prepared to share a compelling job description.

Build relationships

When someone takes the time to connect with a company about a job, they want their time to be respected—whether they receive an offer or not. With the right approach, you can ensure that every applicant has a good candidate experience, regardless of the outcome.

Start by making sure that you're forging relationships with candidates. Even if someone isn't the right fit for your company's needs now, that doesn't mean they won't be in the future. When you're reviewing the established talent pool, remember that you're advertising your company, and people will share their experience with others.

Even if you decide not to hire a candidate, be sure to treat them with dignity, reaching out to them after the networking event no matter the final hiring decision. You can always have a templated message ready to send to applicants thanking them for their time. As a talent acquisition specialist, your every move gives people a story to tell. These approaches will ensure that it's a good one.

Ask applicants behavioral interview questions

When you're recruiting, many of your interview questions will likely focus on hard skills and the traits needed to succeed in a particular role. Questions aimed at assessing whether a potential candidate will mesh well with existing team members and leadership are often lower priority.

When you’re participating in the talent acquisition process, you must make sure that someone is the right fit for your company's culture, strategy, and vision. It's a different mindset, but one that pays off.

To reap the benefits of this approach, focus on behavioral and example-based interview questions such as, ‘What was one time you disagreed with a peer or manager? How did you handle it?’ Hearing someone explain how they handled a situation and why they chose to behave as they did can tell you far more than polished answers to more straightforward questions about their work history and abilities.

Check references

Talent acquisition processes must be very thorough to ensure you onboard the correct people. In many cases, you've likely been planning to make this hire for the past several months. It’s critical that the successful candidate will thrive in the position and at the organization.

It may sound basic, but be sure to check references, and consider reaching out to references beyond the candidate’s managers. Where possible, ask for references who are clients and coworkers. How someone interacts with their peers or clients can tell you a lot about what they’re like to work with and give you a more complete view of the candidate—beyond how they perform under authority.

Remember that you're building a culture not hiring a quick fix. Knowing how someone will contribute to that culture is a huge part of talent acquisition.

Involve others in the talent acquisition process

Some jobs are more complex and, as a result, more challenging to fill than others. Relying solely on the talent acquisition, recruitment, or HR departments for talent acquisition can mean relying on the same siloed talent pool, which might not contain the talent you need to achieve the company’s long-term vision.

When appropriate, consider making talent acquisition a companywide initiative. An employee referral program is a popular and cost-effective way to identify top talent. If your workplace is truly remarkable, employees will recommend it. And if they’re rewarded for successful referrals with a monetary bonus or extra time off, they’ll be even more motivated to help find critical hires.

The importance of talent acquisition

In the end, the difference between recruiting and talent acquisition is short-term execution vs. long-term planning. When you recruit, you’re often reacting to an immediate need, focusing on finding talent to fill an opening rather than assessing a candidate’s fit with your company’s broader vision.

When you're constantly stuck in a state of reaction, it’s nearly impossible to be thoughtful and proactive when hiring. Instead, you'll be constantly responding to crises, trying to stem a high turnover rate, and retraining new hires. With talent acquisition, you're acting—not reacting—and helping your company achieve its long-term vision with a strategic hiring plan.