Being on the Cutting Edge Can Be Challenging

Oct 1, 2009

This is the second of a series of three articles discussing Microsoft’s approach building pipelines and talent communities.  The articles are entitled:

  1. Being on the Cutting Edge Can Be Rewarding
  2. Being on the Cutting Edge Can Be Challenging
  3. Being on the Cutting Edge Can Be Painful

In the first article of this “Being on the Cutting Edge” series, I discussed our Web 2.0 Recruitment Marketing Platform how we achieved success both from the solution we implemented from acknowledgement from the recruiting industry.  But the greatest barometer of success was how we performed for our business clients.  The article pointed out that by using Search Engine Optimization (SEO), over 95% of our jobs were on the first page of Google (the holy grail of SEO).  We saw how SEO reached a significant portion of the target audience that was actively looking for work.  In addition the talent that was demonstrating online behaviors that mirror active candidates (i.e. looking at jobs) could also be reached with our outreach.  But, even with the efficiency of SEO, we were not reaching the remaining 75-80% of the talent supply.  To put that article in the context of this discussion, SEO is a tactic that we employ as part of our talent engagement process (figure 2 below).

In this article we are going to look at our process at a high level and discuss the challenges that this type of initiative must overcome.  The challenges segment nicely into three buckets—designing a process that incorporates Web 2.0; the technological challenges of finding a solution; and the human challenges.  This article will also illustrate how we reach into the 75-80% of the prospect talent pool that is not demonstrating the online behaviors of an active job seeker.

Process Challenges

Designing a process that incorporates Web 2.0 proved to be very challenging; the process needed to connect to social media as well as incorporate a diverse target audience that represented the ten different business talent pipelines (micro-segments) that we were building.  The micro-segments of talent required a method of identifying and engaging them in a manner that incorporated the uniqueness of each segment.  And speaking of challenges—creating and implementing a solution at Microsoft and its complicated environment proved daunting at best.  The challenges of our process development can be summarized in terms of four considerations:

  • Microsoft Staffing Goals
  • Segments of Talent Supply
  • Talent Acquisition Strategy
  • Talent Engagement Model

Microsoft Staffing Goals

The reoccurring themes of Microsoft staffing goals—to source|recruit the best prospects|candidates in the world and to enhance the candidate experience were a part of the DNA of our approach.  Identifying the best prospect versus the best available candidate required that we incorporate great competitive and talent supply intelligence into our thinking.  The improvement to the candidate experience is not targeted at the people who go through the Microsoft interview process (which post interview surveys’ reveal is a great experience), but rather to the ones that got away.  They got away by not being ready to interview for a new job; or not seeing the right job; or by being screened out (and not knowing it); or a host of other reasons.

Segments of Talent Supply

A reoccurring element of the conversation about challenges is illustrated in the graphic below—the segments of the talent supply.  Rather than just active and passive, the governments suggests there are four segments of the talent supply—active, casual, passive and  those not looking.  The fact that our respective target audience is in a state of flux adds to the challenges as different parts of our audience are in different places at any one time.  I like to think of this as the “job search cycle.”

Figure 1: Segments of Talent Supply

Talent Acquisition Strategy

Our talent acquisition strategy is highlighted in the graphic below.  To have our “recruiting house” in order, we need to think about talent identification and talent engagement.

A significant challenge to “talent identification” is that we must pipeline talent that is segmented into target audiences that map to our respective businesses.  Our approach to talent identification and mapping to each business is unusual.  It is not the mapping that makes it unusual, it is the volume of the information harvested that sets us apart.  If you asked me one difference between what we do and the majority of the sourcing community is that we pipeline thousands of targets for each of our businesses.  While the prospects are vetted for general quality and education, it is the quantity of prospects that allows us that we can reach deeper in the pools of prospective talent.  We are getting the “gettable” talent, but also, we are engaging the typically “ungettable” prospects.

The talent engagement tactics are outlined in each of the pillars.  The list of tactics is not exhaustive, but provides an overview as to our thinking about the challenges of a comprehensive Talent Acquisition Strategy.  Our approach to talent engagement is amplified in the process flow chart in the next section.

Figure 2: Talent Acquisition Strategy

Talent Engagement Model

One of the greatest challenges to engaging prospective talent is not just the just the sheer volume of prospects, but also honoring the unique gifts and abilities of each individual.  To improve the candidate experience, you must treat your worst prospect as your best friend.  We must do this because the Microsoft brand is perceived is not what we say it is, but what our respective target audiences say it is.  While we can influence our brand (discussed in greater detail in the final article of this series) we do not control it—our audience does.

Back to the talent engagement!  In a recent article, I discussed our “talent engagement model” (see figure 3) in greater detail.  The essence of our thinking was to find a way to break the “apply or goodbye” nature of much of our relationships we forge with prospective talent.  By staying in a transaction model, we miss the opportunity to deepen the relationship with the prospects that we worked hard to develop.  It is similar to a sales force that develops new prospects as opposed to making additional sales with their existing customers.  We think it is not an “either|or” proposition, but rather a both|and opportunity.

Figure 3: Talent Engagement Model

Are We Really Reaching The Passive Prospects?

I realize that most recruiters approach passive prospects–but are they really reaching the potential of the passive market?  I think most often we reach passive prospects that have behaviors that mirror an active prospect.  The true passive audience can only be reached by mirroring the actual web activities that the passive prospects are engaging—that is usually related to their profession, additional training, etc.  This outreach can be automated such as a Recruitment Marketing Platform that aggregates information on the target audience and iteratively reaches out to that audience with different messages that address their interests.

While we look at the talent supply (see figure 4) in terms of active, causal, passive and the non job seekers, it is useful explore the subject a little more deeply.  If we looked at the talent supply in the context of the methods that are used to reach our target audiences it is easy to see the challenges of working with a job search cycle that is nuanced.  The Recruiting Roundtable illustrates this point with the cleaver labels.  This graphic also points out another important point—much of the sourcing of passive prospects is aimed at the very difficult to recruit prospects.  To reach this audience, it takes the best research and highly impactful headhunting tactics.  While effective, it is difficult to leverage this approach to any scale that makes economic sense (particularly in a high volume, high bar type environment).  In short, it takes more than a simple human touch—it takes a “high touch” to engage these prospects.   A conclusion arrived at is that we tend to work at both ends of the spectrum—to engage the very easy to source and the very difficult to source.  And, I believe, we tend to miss a casual and passive audience that falls in the “easy to source” and “difficult to source” categories.

Figure 4: Job Search Cycle

Another layer to the discussion is “touch”—technology and human.  In my previous article, I made the case that SEO was the “technology touch” in our discussion.  And indeed, a technology outreach could capture some of the “causal” audience that was demonstrating web behaviors that mirrored an active job seeker.  This part of the audience was described as “SEO Gettables. “  But, we still have that opportunity in the middle.  We estimate that 30-40% of the available causal and passive audience is not reached with normal sourcing efforts.

It is the Talent Engagement Model that facilitates a human touch.  Just as a high touch is key sourcing and recruiting executives and key contributors, we leverage technology and a human touch to engage a more skeptical and the less active prospects.

Figure 5: Reaching Target Audience

Our experience with community has convinced us that we can scale a human touch using social networking sites.  We think about building relationships with prospects as Guanxi—capturing the spirit of the well-know Chinese core value.  Our goal is to place a significant premium on the relationship that we have with causal and passive prospects (something that is lacking in our world of transactions).

We created community on the existing communities (LinkedIn, Twitter, & Facebook) and used the respective platforms to engage the appropriate segments of their membership.  Research indicates that people are flocking to social networking sites to meet people, entertain themselves, learn something new or to influence others (Complete, Inc survey).  Forrester’s Technographics research indicated the majority of adults in our society (especially the best educated, highest paid professions as well as the new entrants to the job market) have joined social networking sites.  So when you consider that Facebook (in the near future) will have as many members as the population of the USA; that LinkedIn has over 41 million members representing many of the professions recruiters seek; and Twitter with its explosive growth, has a high quality (“early adopters” and ”persuaders”) membership that is also attractive as a target audience.

Figure 6:Community of Communities

Joining Existing Communities

While we have created talent communities (Jobster & Job2Web), we strategically decided to create community where communities already exist.  .  One way to think about forming community in existing communities is that we are organizing an existing community in a way that could enhance the functioning of that community as long as it aligns with the interests of its members.

An important “ah-ha” of the last two years is that only about 10% of a target audience will join a new community (those numbers held true in multiple situations).  We quickly understood that a community of communities would be the best approach.  The Recruiting Marketing platform facilitates the distribution of information to the respective communities.  The graphic below illustrates the distributive nature of our approach.

Figure 7:Connecting The Moving Parts

Technology Challenges

Matching a process that will work for Microsoft with a vendor solution is quite challenging.  Add the dimension of allowing for community and conversation and we have just doubled or tripled the challenge.  Most technology solutions that we looked at did not allow for web 2.0 community.  While they are great at processing a transaction, the available solutions are not designed for how candidates want to interact with potential employees.  In general terms, most of the solutions we reviewed were a web 1.0 solution in a web 2.0 world.

We discovered our vendor partner Jobs2Web about one year ago.  While their solution was the best and most affordable, we made the selection on their ability to migrate their existing platform to match the processes we designed.  While the rollout has been challenging, I believe we have made each other better.

As we have worked through the technology challenges with our vendor partner, Jobs2Web, we are still left with the human challenges of adopting this model.  The SEO piece is easy as it doesn’t require any real change in recruiter behavior.  But the “human touch” aspects of community building are the remaining challenge.

The Greatest Challenge of the Cutting Edge– “The Year of Guanxi”

Early in this work stream, we realized that it was going to be extremely difficult and challenging to introduce this approach into a recruiting process that was basically comprised of a series of transactions.  And, to make things even more interesting, we reward recruiters on the basis of executing those transactions at a very high level.  Talk about strangers in a foreign land!

So, at the end of our second year, the one last hurdle to greater success comes down to people.  It comes down to our ability to engage our recruiting colleagues and their hiring managers in the process.  The Recruitment Marketing Platform is in place; all the moving parts are connected; the activities can be metrixed—but internal engagement is required to move success to the next level.  We will report on our progress towards meeting this challenge in the future.

In the final installment—Being on the Cutting Edge Can Be Painful-we will explore what my boss calls—creating under the corporate microscope.  Also, we will discuss other pain points that this type of initiative.

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