How to Build a Strategy for Talent Acquisition

Talent Acquisition

Written by Stuart Jones

Stuart spends most of his waking hours writing, reading or talking about in-house recruitment transformation. In 2015, he launched InSource Talent (a consultancy & training firm) to help companies develop the skills and strategies they need to build specialist in-house recruitment functions.

I watched a great TA Talks episode with Johnny Campbell of Social Talent and Darren Lancaster of Hudson RPO recently. In it, they discuss the key components of a specialist in-house Talent Acquisition (TA) function.

They cover many topics but ultimately decide the essential building blocks are:

  1. A decent ATS (ideally with CRM capability)
  2. A clearly defined EVP & brand messaging
  3. Some form of workforce plan / hiring plan
  4. A robust process (from sourcing through to onboarding)
  5. An eye for candidate experience

It’s a great chat and definitely worth a watch (I’ve added a link in the footnotes), and if you’re the leader of a Talent Acquisition function it raises a couple of pretty fundamental questions:

1) How do I build a great TA function?


2) What should my strategy (or plan) look like?

These are great questions, and ones I try to answer during my own sessions with in-house recruitment, TA & resourcing leaders (link to that workshop available in the footnotes).

There’s no industry ‘norm’ for what goes into a good TA strategy, or what it should look like. To my knowledge, none of the CIPD, REC, IOR, CEB, Bersin, The FIRM, LinkedIn or any of the ‘Big 4’ offer a guide or framework for TA strategy design (correct me if I’m wrong).

As a result, many companies don’t have a formal strategy in place for the development of their TA function. The ones I have seen over the years range from a three-word statement to a 20-page word document.

So, for what it’s worth, if building a strategy for Talent Acquisition makes its way onto your To-Do List, here’s what I suggest…

Step One: Review Your Core Activities

Johnny & Darren’s discussion was on point: we need to start by identifying the building blocks of a successful TA function. What activities should TA deliver?

They highlight a few: Employer Branding, Workforce Planning, Sourcing and Onboarding. I’m going to add Assessment & Selection to the mix as well.

(They also mention the ATS and Process elements but, to me, they’re not TA activities – they’re part of the delivery infrastructure, which we’ll get to later.)

So, as a first step, list out your activities and think strategically about each one. Here are a few pointers & things to consider to kick things off:

1) Workforce Planning / Demand Planning / Role Planning. Who are we going to need to recruit? Can we group these into categories? What timescales are we talking (3 to 5-years? Annually? Quarterly? Monthly? Or wait to find out at the intake meeting?) What data do you already have access to? Where are the gaps? Who needs to be consulted? The more foresight you have the more successful your entire TA strategy and function can be (pretty sure Danny Hodgson will back me up on this one!)

2) Employer Branding & EVP. Do we have a defined Employer Brand & EVP? What content do we need to project & communicate this (internally & externally)? Have we linked in our leaders & HR to ensure it’s being delivered & measured? Do we have any gaps in content or messaging? How are we positioned against our ‘talent competitors’ within market? And crucially, are these messages aligned & relevant to the skills identified in our workforce plan?

3) Candidate Attraction & Sourcing. How are we going to source & attract candidates for our roles and opportunities? How much of our work will be reactive responding to the vacancy & where will we work proactively ahead of demand? Will we be targeting both active and passive candidates? Which channels will we prioritise (internal / direct external / indirect external)? Are these channels & activities proven to attract the skills required in our workforce plan? Where are the capability gaps? Do we need to innovate and explore new options to recruit the skills in our workforce plan? Will our sourcing activities reflect our EVP & brand messages?

4) Assessment & Selection. Once candidates have applied, we then need to ensure we select the most suitable ones for each opportunity. Are we 100% clear on what we’re assessing (what good looks like in terms of values, motives, behaviours, skills & experience)? Have we got appropriate tools & methods in place? What will the TA team be responsible for (sift, screen, assessment?) Which activities will we control & which will we need to influence? Where are the risks? Is everything aligned to our workforce plan, will it reflect our EVP & brand, is it suited to our sourcing strategy?

[Eg: your 4-page online application form is definitely NOT matched to your passive candidate sourcing strategy. But is a one-click application process any better? Check out Theo Smith’s article on the perils of application process design – link in the footnotes]

5) Pre-boarding, On-boarding & Induction. With our top candidate/s selected how are we then going to optimise their journey into the business? This starts at offer stage and ends………when? Day one? Probation? Ongoing? What happens currently? When do we lose talent during these stages? Who owns the process? What’s TA’s role? Where are the risks? Check again, is this stage of the process adapted to suit the type of skills / talent identified in our workforce plan, will it reflect our Employer Brand, our sourcing & assessment activities?

[Eg: if you’re hiring top talent but it takes 3 weeks to get an offer out, they’re probably going to end up elsewhere. And if you’re tapping up passive talent from direct competitors, you’ll want to be comfortable handling counter-offers.]


That’s a lot of questions, but it’s not an exhaustive list. Some will be more relevant to your business than others. As a TA leader, can you answer them all? Where are your own knowledge gaps? Who else should be consulted?


The objective here, is to map at a high-level what’s required of TA at each stage (and to identify any obvious capability gaps, red flags & contributing stakeholders). Inevitably, you’ll start to identify some strategic objectives, but also – crucially – you ensure that those objectives are aligned across all of your activities.

Okay, step one complete.

Step Two: People, Process, Technology – the delivery infrastructure.

Now we need to look behind the activities to make sure we have the infrastructure in place to deliver them effectively.

Johnny & Darren called for a great system and a clear process. Absolutely. I’m going to throw people into the mix as well: you need the right people & skills.

Put them together and we’re talking about the classic People, Process, Technology triangle.

Time for our second review:

1) Processes. Have you got clearly defined processes mapped out (or at least defined & followed) across each of your activities? What does this look like for Workforce Planning, EVP & Brand communication, Sourcing & Attraction, Assessment & Selection and Onboarding? Do TA have control of those processes? Who does? Should you be involved? Where are the bottlenecks in your process? Is each step swift & efficient? Does it optimise the user-experience? Process reviews might not be the sexiest topic in talent acquisition, but if your process is broken so is your recruitment.


2) People & Skills. It’s hard to map a process without allocating responsibilities at each stage. So, who’s responsible and/or accountable and are their actions trackable? What will the TA team be responsible for and what sits within the business? Do those people responsible have the skills they need? The speed of change in the in-house sector recently has changed the role of ‘recruiter’ almost beyond recognition. Think about the intricacies of the specialist activities we reviewed in Step One. Where are your capability gaps, and what training & development will the team (& business) need to be successful? Do you need extra headcount? External support?


3) Technologies. Are your people & processes intelligently supported by technology. Johnny & Darren quite rightly highlight having a sophisticated CRM / ATS system as an essential building block (once you scale beyond a certain size). But where might you need additional tech support? Do you need Foresight to automate your hiring plans? Machine learning tools to augment the team’s sourcing & outreach activities? Talent pipelining software? Online assessment & video interviewing? Onboarding & induction platforms? In short, does your recruitment tech-stack fully support your end-to-end process? You might not need (or have budget for) it all, but at the very least you have to ensure your tech isn’t holding your team back and handing the talent advantage to your competitors!


As a TA leader, reviewing each of these areas in turn (against each of your core activities) will inevitably throw up some skills, process & technology gaps that need fixing. These will also need to be built into your plan.

[For extra reading here, be sure to check out Rob McIntosh’s three-part series ‘Building an Advanced Talent Acquisition Function Today’ – and also join Jacob Sten Madsen’s ‘Recruitment Evolution’ group on Facebook for more regular updates. Links to both in the footnotes.]

Step Three: Data, Metrics & Management

If you’ve followed the steps above, you’ll no doubt have a long list of strategic & tactical objectives based around your core activities & infrastructure.

Each of these objectives should now be:

1) Prioritised. You won’t be able to tackle everything at once. Decide which carries the biggest risk (or offers the biggest benefit) and focus your efforts where you can have the biggest impact.

2) Made SMART. There’s no point aiming to “reduce agency reliance” or “recruit more passive talent” or “build our employer brand on social media”. Why not just say you’re going to “do recruitment better” and leave it there? No, to be of value, your objectives need to be specific, measurable…. etc. What will good look like? What are your targets? How will we know when you get there?

This will mean a number of things need to be developed & put in place:

  1. Timescales: map out your strategy into quarterly objectives over the next 12 – 24 months. These can & will change over time as business demands shift
  2. Measures: what data needs to be tracked in order to demonstrate the success of your objectives. How will you capture & track this data?
  3. Performance Metrics: the team will also need the right targets in place to drive the right behaviours. Focus on time-to-hire and they’ll fill jobs quickly. Focus on cost-per-hire and they fill jobs cheaply. [Please note: while commonplace, neither of these metrics are likely to deliver the best long-term quality outcomes.]


The activities in step three are essential if you want the business to take your strategy seriously – and let’s face it, a strategy without business buy-in as about as useful as a chocolate tea-cup. Does it mean that every target must be smashed, every deadline met? Of course not. Does that happen anywhere else in the business?

By committing to a strategic plan for TA you have identified your priorities and put the necessary benchmark’s in place to track progress (and respond appropriately) over time. Of course, like all good strategies & plans – it will need to be agile and flex to accommodate changing business / environmental demands.

Nearly there now. One final step.

Step Four: Experience, experience, experience.

Last, but nowhere near least, the very best talent acquisition strategies are the ones that put the user-experience at the heart of everything. By users, we mean candidates, hiring managers & your recruiters. Yes, recruiter experience is an actual thing.

The concept of Candidate Experience is familiar to most businesses but, ironically, not many adopt a truly human-centric approach to recruitment & resourcing (or employment?)

It’s those TA leaders who do that tend to set themselves, and their organisations, apart.

Good TA leaders tend to focus on initiatives to improve the short-term efficiency of the recruitment service & process. Great TA leaders build strategies that prioritise the long-term value, impact & experience delivered by recruitment.

Be sure to keep the user-experience front-of-mind when building your TA strategy. Despite the increasing trend towards automation in recruitment (or perhaps because of it), we need to take extra care to ensure each touchpoint delivers as human an experience as possible – to all stakeholders.


What Should my Strategy Look Like?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what form your TA Strategy takes – it could be a spreadsheet, a word document, a few slides, or a combination of each (although, admittedly, it probably needs to be longer than three words)

What is important, is it’s aligned directly to the business strategy and has the support of the leadership team – so a presentable format is always a good idea.

Follow each of the four steps described above and you’re doing your best to ensure you’re building a TA function that is capable of delivering the skills business needs when it needs them.

Hopefully you’ve found some of this useful. It’s a topic I’m fascinated by, and would love to know what does your current TA Strategy look like? Do you have one? Leave a comment below and don’t forget to check the footnotes for more interesting reading / viewing.



1) Social Talent, TA Talks (Episode 10) : TA Talks Archive | SocialTalent

2) Recruitment & Resourcing Strategy Workshop: Event Listings Here

3) The Dichotomy of the One-Click Apply (Theo Smith): Read here

4) Building an Advanced Talent Acquisition Function Today (Rob McIntosh): Read Part One here

5) Recruitment Evolution (Jacob Sten Madsen): View & Join the Facebook group here

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