Proactive recruitment – what does it really mean?

Written by Jeremy Russon

Family and football are Jeremy's two passions - but in his spare time, making a difference, the Udder way, to the world of TA/HR tech is his thing.

There has been, for a number of years, a lot of talk about proactive resourcing, from the in-house community – and judging by conversations I’ve had recently there is a basic misunderstanding about what it actually is! So here’s my take.

Let’s start with the word proactive…



(of a person or action) creating or controlling a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened

 So that seems quite straight-forward – but what does that mean in a recruitment context?

If we consider the “situation” as being the raising of a requisition to recruit a role or roles, in whatever form that takes, this is probably what the timeline looks like.


Now I accept this somewhat simplifies things but the key here is that everything starts with the authorisation of a job and that is not proactive.

I would offer that in recruitment terms proactivity looks a bit like this:


Again, simplified – but the key is in what takes place before the need arises.  I know we all know this apparently, but do we actually know why that’s important?  It’s primarily because it allows us to deliver true business value – not just a set of recruitment metrics, which I expand on a bit later.

Proactive recruitment isn’t something that starts or finishes at a defined point – things change in business and being proactive with planning, etc means you can change with it.

If your workforce plan changes due to winning a new project or opening a new location then being proactive in your discussions with the business and HR Business Partner colleagues is key to allow you to recruit proactively.

What are the benefits of proactivity?

Referring back to metrics…….time-to-hire is one such example of a recruitment metric that doesn’t actually mean too much to the business – until you convert it into a lost revenue/increased cost figure. Each role in your business has one of these associated with it.

It’s easily illustrated in a sales role – the on-target revenue of a salesperson (or whatever the key sales figure is in your business) x the number of days a seat is empty or the role is occupied by a person not delivering at full capacity yet gives a figure that the business truly understands.  But you can do this from a revenue or cost-saving perspective for EVERY role.

If by recruiting proactively you can drive down the number of days a seat is empty, then you can demonstrate a return on investment that genuinely impacts the business’ bottom line. There are plenty more of these metrics that need to finish with a bottom line benefit, but ultimately, the ability to deliver quality candidates in a shorter time is the main reason for proactive recruitment.

Proactive recruitment also allows you to focus on specific challenges in your recruitment – and clearly supporting your organisation’s D& I strategy is one such example.  If you know what you are looking to recruit in advance of when the need actually arises you can drive your content strategy accordingly rather than having to select from whoever is available.

There is also a link between proactive recruiting and retention of course.  Yep!  Proactive engagement with candidates gives them much more time to find out about what it’s like to work for an organisation, the brand, the culture, the products, CSR, etc.

It’s a huge decision to move between roles, and the more time and information an individual has the greater the chance they have of finding a company that suits their needs and wants – rather than having a few days to make that decision……and then finding the situation is very different once you are in there!

So what have I heard people claim to be proactive recruitment that clearly, given the definitions above, isn’t?

  • We create talent-pools on LinkedIn of profiles that we think might be relevant in the future then when we have a relevant role we send them an InMail. Nope!
  • We run really clever Boolean (or similar) searches to find people that we think might be relevant in the future then we email them when there is a job that might fit their profile. Nope – whilst clever and in some cases downright creepy/voyeuristic, sourcing alone is not proactive recruitment.
  • We ask our PSL to let us know when they see good people. Er, no – particularly in contingent world……agencies pipeline for their own needs and unless you have a specific role at that point in time, they will look to place them elsewhere. (Note to agencies – that’s not a dig…..it’s simply your business model).
  • We send out blanket emails to everyone we know through our CRM and we see who opens them because they are engaging with us. Okay, part of the way there……but a CRM by itself can only measure certain levels of engagement (albeit more than an ATS !). Can you really tell whether someone is conversation-ready when you have a specific requisition?
  • When we have a req, we search our database because there are candidates we already know about and who already know about us. No – whilst companies who use their existing database in this way should be applauded for making use of an expensive corporate asset, it’s not proactive……..but it does lead me on to what you need to do to be proactive……

Proactivity in recruitment means you pretty much know who is going to be on your longlist as soon as the req comes in – and there are two key elements that MUST take place to get to that point.

Firstly, you have to know IN ADVANCE when and where the req is likely to arise – this is basic workforce planning and gives you advance notice 3,6, 9 perhaps even 12 months in advance of when you are going to need those people.  In theory, this is a guesstimate based on historical data and known events such as business growth, opening a new location and/or known leavers such as retirees, maternity covers, FTCs being moved to perm, etc.

It can be done on the back of the proverbial fag packet – but that’s only if your business isn’t going to change or you know that nobody on your team is going to leave.  So to be done properly, it has to be in a way that can be easily updated, where any variance can be spotted quickly and of course it MUST be relayed to your recruiting team.

There is simply no point in a workforce plan that sits in the HRBPs top-drawer and isn’t communicated to the people who will ultimately look to bring those people in!

Secondly, and this is why the recruitment team need to see the plan, you have to engage with people that have the relevant skill set to fulfil that workforce plan…….and the earlier you have that plan or see changes to it the better placed you will be placed to fully engage with those people in such a way that the req is filled in the shortest possible time.


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