What is a pipeline of candidates? It's bigger than a breadbox…

We spend a lot of time talking to companies about what they want from their recruiting department, and a common phrase is “we want a candidate pipeline.”

Many of them have been talking to contingency recruiting agencies, staffing firms or applicant tracking system vendors, and they’ve been pitched the idea that the vendor’s product or service will either leverage an existing pipeline of candidates or help them build a recruiting pipeline. Countless companies have risen and fallen on the promise of the elusive Candidate Pipeline. Where did the $50 million invested in Jobster go?

When we dig into the candidate pipeline request, we hear a couple of definitions:

1. A list of candidates that at any time, you can pick up the phone and call and one of them will be ready and willing to work for you at a moment’s notice. You know what those candidates are also called? Unemployable. Not unemployed—there are plenty of great employees without jobs. It’s unlikely that you’ll have a long list of top-tier candidates that will drop whatever they are doing and run through your door.

2. A database with resumes of candidates that fit the profile of jobs for which you typically hire. This is also known as a resume database, and anyone that’s ever had an applicant tracking system or access to a job board resume database also has the same candidates. When it’s time to hire, most companies never tap into the bazillion resumes they’ve passively collected through their own website. Applicant tracking systems may collect resumes for you, but someone has to filter through them all and decide who to call. Once you’ve done that, you have to actually connect with the person and build a relationship.

3. A secret list of A-list professionals to which nobody else has access. This list of people resides on a remote tropical island with Tupac, Nessie, Elvis and the Abominable Snowman. They ride unicorns all day and chase leprechauns at night. This definition is a complete myth. Any recruiter that tells you they have a list of people that nobody else has should be reported for human trafficking.

My definition of a recruitment pipeline? It is a group of professionals with a few criteria:

1. I have met with them in person, vetted their background, and if I had an opening that fit their skillset I would be interested in moving forward to a final round of interviews (not straight to an offer)

2. I have a relationship with the candidate that goes beyond what’s on his/her resume

3. My company has a relationship with them and they view it favorably, so in the event that I leave to start that worm farm in Alaska, it’s easy for my replacement to establish a relationship; read up on drip marketing

4. I have a simple way to track my interactions with them—calls, emails, newsletters, press releases, special deals on PLEASE BUY FROM ACCOLO bumper stickers, etc

Once you’ve put in all the time and effort to build this candidate pipeline, you’re not going to have a stadium filled with candidates ready to go. If you’re really good at it, you will have 5-10 for every major job you have to fill, with 3-5 being a more realistic expectation. When you pick up the phone and call, they may not be ready to answer. The people you want have lots of options, and you are hopefully toward the top of the list, but there is no guarantee.

Candidate pipelining can and should be an integral part of any company’s recruiting efforts. Finding ways to build relationships with the candidate pool as a company—newsletters, personal outreach, discounts, etc—is essential to your success in building a repeatable and scalable hiring infrastructure. That being said, hiring occurs when the right opportunity collides with the right person at the right time. Your recruiting infrastructure should create every possible opportunity for those things to intersect. Make sure pipelining is one of the bullets in your gun and not the only one.

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  1. […] candidate pipeline is a list of qualified professionals who know your company and who you have a working relationship […]