How to be a Best in Class Head of Talent Acquisition in 2015

Published 21/04/2015 - 3 mins Read

By Armstrong Craven Team

Talent Research Specialists

Quick Summary We consider the attributes you should look for to find 2015’s in-demand Head of Talent Acquisition.

3 mins Read

The nature of talent acquisition is evolving as quickly as the channels and technology that feed into it. People, not products are fast becoming the driver of success and an intimate knowledge of the talent landscape is the foundation of getting the right people in the right roles.

The complexity of searching for ready-now, and future talent, in a globalised workforce mean best-in-class talent acquisition (TA) professionals are in demand.

This is Armstrong Craven’s top 10 attributes for 2015’s in-demand Head of Talent Acquisition:

1. Understand recruitment channels

Gone are the days of the recruitment consultant with the little black book. A wealth of channels to build employer brand, locate talent and build networks now exist. From interactive online tools, to social media and alumni networks, the 2015 Head of TA must be able to recommend the right mix of channels to build targeted sourcing strategies.

Philip Clarke, Global Recruitment Director at Serco believes talent experts don’t need to be technology experts but the role requires 21st century marketing capability.

He says “There is a misconception that all talent experts need to understand the latest developments in social media. All talent and recruitment excellence starts with great planning – then it’s about understanding your target audience; who they are, where they are, how they are keeping themselves informed, and then making sure your brand enters into their networks both on and off line.”

“Great recruitment teams need recruiters who are passionate about the latest on line developments, but the leaders of talent functions need to make sure all aspects of sourcing from planning through to on-boarding are in place.”

2. Mobile channel experience

Organisations need to harness the power of mobile technology as a means to recruiting talent. Online Recruitment magazine suggests that up to 50% of jobseekers now use a mobile device to search for and apply for roles. Online is the first port of call for graduates and senior hires. Heads of Talent Acquisition need to be up-to-date with trends and technology, as well understanding how to partner with marketing and communications teams to create a joined-up approach.

Clarke says both managers and candidates want simple, easy and efficient access to tools: “Gone are the days of looking in newspapers and sending letters, but also gone are the days of trawling through job-boards to find a job and then fill in a 12 stage application form online.”

“People now have very high expectations of online service (banking for example) and so recruitment has to follow this development. The reverse challenge this creates is making sure you can efficiently and effectively select the right candidate applications from what becomes a far bigger number of applicants.”

3. Understand talent data

Data from candidate tracking and talent management systems is increasingly used to feed into talent, and wider organisational strategy, and required to feed into strategic workforce planning. This takes HR from HR analytics (sickness and attrition) to talent analytics(future focused talent planning). Quantitative data analysis is a skill that’s not commonplace in the typical HR background and those that can make sense of the data and relay it back into the organisation at a senior level are at an advantage. At Shell for example, the HR Analytics Lead has a background in applied mathematics.

Clarke concurs with this view adding that expectations of HR still require the basics of personnel type support, but the business now needs better data to make better management decisions:

“Many companies have implemented better HR systems, however, very few are really cracking the skill of excellent planning. For recruitment this applies to strategic workforce planning (internal and external talent and leadership hiring) and also for mass volume hiring. The move from reactive HR to proactive HR requires HR to influence the business planning cycle and ensure talent is as much part of this discussion as finance.”

4. Adaptable strategic thinking

Talent acquisition leaders should possess adaptable strategies for sourcing the talent that their business needs, tapping into specialist channels in order to recruit against differing job families and skill sets. Attitudes towards talent shortages and pipeline cultivation are rapidly evolving. A Head of TA will bring fresh ideas and innovative approaches to discovering the best talent.

In an ideal world, the business strategy will inform the people strategy which will in turn identify the talent strategy, (the current and future talent needs of the business) according to Phil Clarke:

“Once this analysis is complete then the talent functions need to apply the right market analysis to create a build and buy talent strategy. There are no easy answers in sourcing the right talent due to skills, location, and competition so each organisation will have its own challenges of identifying the right talent, and will have to build talent plans to suit its specific needs.”

5. Experience of running a lean organisation

To increase efficiency and effectiveness, organisations may consider the use of outsourcing or shared service centres to manage HR and talent processes. A Head of TA should understand the benefits and drawbacks of centralised talent functions and understand how to manage external partners. In order to not only operate cost-effectively, but also create value they should be able to scale adaptable on-site teams up or down, according to need.

Clarke believes that many organisations have adopted an Ulrich style HR model, but this has led to a gap in resourcing: “Recruitment is not purely a transactional service and parts of the talent acquisition process sit in business partnering, centres of excellence and shared services."

"Talent acquisition teams have headcount and budget pressures like all departments and need to demonstrate their RoI. As such, Heads of TA will need to know how to build a TA model that is aligned to the business, works in partnership with HR, and also can flex up and down in line with business changes. They should have experience of doing this through a variety of in-house, outsourced, and hybrid models.”

6. Gravitas to work with leadership

If HR is to deliver as a strategic partner to the business, the Head of TA must be able to communicate at this level, and to work in a complex matrix organisation. The HR function should not only encompass talent and HR specialist knowledge, but be led by individuals that can align the department with the overall business strategy and deliver against strategic objectives.

From an industry point of view, all members of TA teams need to be able to influence the business says Clarke: “Agency recruiters can sell, but internal recruiters need to influence -and influence to the right outcome for the business – i.e. sometimes not to hire.”

He adds: “Heads of TA should be an integral part of talent review processes and take full responsibility for delivering excellent talent and leadership hiring to the business. It is impossible to do this without working with the most senior executives of an organisation. Often just as hard, is influencing and partnering with the executive search companies that are often more comfortable working directly with the business, not with the Head of TA.”

7. Global experience

Organisations must hunt globally for the highly skilled talent and cultivate pipelines ahead of need, in multiple markets, and at all stages of the career lifecycle. Heads of TA who have international experience will be more adept at attracting expatriate talent, and diasporic talent, and understand how to position the EVP with a global audience.

According to Serco’s Phil Clarke, this is one of the biggest skill gaps for the recruitment industry: “Very few Heads of TA have true global experience. Many of them have global responsibility but actually have little, if any, influence over the regional teams that are outside of their home location.”

This is an area of key skills development over the next few years says Clarke, as Heads of TA who have spent time working in and understanding the complexities of hiring in other geographieswill bring a refreshing new skill into their TA discussions: “I hope that global recruitment teams will drive internal mobility of their recruiters across regions in order to truly develop multinational skills in the industry.”

8. Experience of succession planning

To provide the future view, talent acquisition leaders should understand and plan against the risks associated with talent and leadership loss, embracing pipelining and succession strategies and utilising talent data. Succession management is a strategic look at the future of the business and its human capital risks rather than ‘names in boxes’ replacement planning. It includes balancing internal and external future talent needs and knowing where to look.

Many Heads of Talent Acquisition are actually Heads of Recruitment says Clarke and they are purely focussed on supplying a pipeline of candidates against a list of vacancies. He adds: “As recruitment, resourcing and talent start to merge together we will see more and more individuals who are as comfortable discussing an organisation’s talent reviews and their succession gaps, as they are with designing and implementing recruitment strategies and campaigns.”

“Talent management is the supply chain for talent acquisition and as such individuals who understand the importance of both processes will be well placed to succeed for themselves and for their employers.”

9. Transformation experience

Talent acquisition and HR leaders need to understand the changing nature of the organisation and markets they work in. They need to be able to transform their own area of the business and know where to invest in new skills. 2015’s Head of TA embraces change in HR and talent functions, and knows how to support the business in bringing about larger scale organisational change.

According to Clarke, two types of role are appearing in talent acquisition and require very different skills: “Organisations will require individuals who can manage and run a successful recruitment model – who take a demand pipeline and ensure the recruitment model delivers against it. These roles will tend to rest in a shared services environment.”

“There will also be a need however for people who can design, build and implement new ways of working – those who can understand the inefficiencies of the current approach, design a more effective way of working, influence the business and HR to change, and ensure an environment of continuous improvement. These roles are more likely to be part of a Centre of Excellence function.” Says Clarke.

10. Diversity track record

To keep pace with the globalised world, organisations are finding themselves coming under increasing scrutiny in relation to workforce diversity. The modern global organisation should have the skills to attract and retain a workforce representative of its footprint, territory demographics, societal views and customer base. The successful Head of TA knows where to target talent acquisition strategies to meet these needs.

Clarke believes that the need for better diversity in the talent acquisition process is currently overly focussed on HR: “All businesses are realising or will realise that they need an employee base that reflects its customer base. All businesses will realise they are lagging behind more diverse competitors who have new and fresh ideas in their innovation.”

“The catalyst to making this happen is identifying the need and then ensuring that the organisations brand is known and attractive to people who may have never previously considered working for the company. This skill will probably differentiate the truly excellent talent leaders in the industry.”

Philip Clarke is Global Recruitment Director at Serco. Serco helps organisations all over the world deliver great service every day. Serco works with national and local governments and leading companies and has over 120,000 employees internationally working on more than 700 contracts in over 30 countries.

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