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Apr 11, 2011

Karine Larocque is a Montreal, Quebec resident and a 10-year veteran of the recruiting industry. She studied Psychology at Concordia University and had absolutely no plans to get into the HR field. However, upon graduation she ended up working at an employment agency for about seven years, where she learned the ropes of the recruiting business. Eventually, her career path took her to one of the most recognizable names in the entertainment business — she joined Cirque du Soleil as a Talent Management Advisor and began pursuing a career as a sourcer with their newly created sourcing function.

Cirque du Soleil was founded by Guy Laliberté in 1984 just east of Quebec City in a small town called Baie-Saint-Paul, and is described as a “dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment.” Today, Cirque employs 5000 employees. However, only 1,300 of those are the actual artists. Everyone else plays an important role in the behind-the-scenes productions that make Cirque a success. And it’s a challenge to staff such a unique company.

When Larocque joined Cirque in 2009, the sourcing function was brand new, as in just a few months old. The decision to create this team came from its leaders wanting to stay one step ahead — they were aware that sourcing is more prevalent in U.S. and wanted to keep up with attracting and acquiring the best talent. The goal was to spend more time being proactive as opposed to being reactive in recruiting and to clearly communicate Cirque’s unique employer value proposition through a great mix of tools.. Larocque saw this opportunity with Cirque as a chance to be more strategic in thinking about recruiting. When she started, her role was called Talent Acquisition, and now is called Talent Management. Sourcers on the team are referred to as “Talent Management Advisors” –- but internally they call each other sourcers. They are in touch with external candidates and they also do orientation with internal candidates. Currently, the team consists of five sourcers with one team leader who reports to the Talent Management Director. They are all part of the overall HR team, which consists roughly of about 100 people. Within the Talent Management team there are twenty people, including recruiters and support staff who are located in Montreal and also in Las Vegas. The sourcers make up one quarter of the team.

Larocque and her colleagues do not handle the staffing of the entertainment talent for Cirque. For the on-stage talent, a “Casting” department is in charge of finding the artists. This is a completely separate function and they treat it differently. While there are lots of similarities, they are separate functions. The individuals who are in Casting are specialists — referred to as “Talent Scouts.” These folks travel more than the others do, and they each specialize in a particular artistic and acrobatic disciplines — there are music Talent Scouts, Acting and Clown Talent Scouts, Dance Talent Scouts, and so forth.

Since a lot of the positions for administrative, business, and artistic support  of Cirque come up often, the Talent Management team uses a talent pooling strategy. They do a lot of talent pipelining and talent pooling. Each sourcer has a pool of candidates whom they screen when they have needs. They share these with the recruiters when the needs arise. The talent pools are organized into highly specialized “job families” – Larocque shared that she is responsible for 25 pools of candidates for artistic positions, including stage management, wardrobe, and supporting the show backstage. She also has responsibility for pooling talent for HR positions at Cirque’s Montreal International Headquarters.

In order to build these talent pools, the Cirque sourcers participate in lots of networking activities – but this is where they differ from most other sourcing teams. The Cirque Talent Management team often meets with people in the field. There is a small market in Montreal for some of the highly specialized  types of talent they seek, but they are encouraged to meet in person with people whenever they can. The advisors attend entertainment fairs as opposed to job fairs to scope out their talent. They are quite proactive in putting the word out about their opportunities — additionally, they like to be called, they like to be emailed, and they break the barriers between recruiters and candidates. Larocque said that they actively build relationships to “bring things back to a basic human level.” Although this approach might be surprising for potential candidates, this way of doing things for the Talent Management team actually reflects part of the overall culture of the company.

To further the brand and the sourcing strategy, the Cirque sourcers do a lot of special events where they meet people in person. They go to cities and conduct volumes of interviews for a couple of days. Just last year, they spent time in NYC, Miami, and Australia. Prior to going to a city, the sourcers spend time analyzing the market and seeing where the target prospects are. They saw that there were a lot of technical support staff in Australia and proactively reached out prior to making the trek from Canada to Australia, so when they were there, they were able to pipeline a lot of the people they met. They talked to each candidate before meeting with them to make sure they had the basic criteria. As a result, the Talent Management team had close to an 80% pipelining success with that trip.

While doing in-person events is effective, they have also found a great deal of success in using both print and digital outreach. One of their favorite resources from which to find talent is Playbill, a magazine for Broadway and Off-Broadway theatregoers that also advertises job openings. In Australia, ArtsHub, a creative community site, has proven to be a valuable resource for sourcing talent. They have a Facebook page for jobs and info they like to share with candidates. Through the fan page as well as the CirqueJobs Twitter account, they conduct candidate Q&A sessions with actual Cirque employees once a month using the #CDSchat hashtag where candidates can post questions and they respond directly. The goal in these sessions is not necessarily volume but the quality of the information about the company and the job provided to potential candidates. The last session focused specifically on an opportunity for an on-tour production manager. There were between 15-20 people participating directly with the Cirque Talent Management team. Going back to earlier, there is the “wow” factor for candidates to be able to connect personally with the Cirque people, and word spreads about their accessibility.

So, while Cirque du Soleil’s sourcing function is still relatively new, they are making major strides in developing a very respected employment and sourcing brand for themselves. Candidates enjoy the easy access they have to the sourcers, and the internal recruiters are pleased with the results they are seeing. And that’s all part of why Larocque joined this team in the first place — she was looking for an opportunity to think differently about recruiting. It looks like she’s found a great place to do so.

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