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The Evolution of Talent Acquisition: Part 1

Robin Erickson, Ph.D., Lead Analyst, Talent Acquisition, Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Talent acquisition has changed dramatically over the years from an ad-hoc, reactionary program to a strategic business process. Global businesses are now competing head-to-head for talent, and consequently an organization’s ability to attract top people is a strategic competitive advantage.

Given the importance of talent acquisition for our members, we’re developing the Bersin by Deloitte Talent Acquisition Primer, which will publish in early Fall 2013. During the last 70 years there have been three “periods” of talent acquisition practices in the United States, each with specific characteristics (see Figure 1):

  • 1940s-1970s: Typewriters & Rolodexes
  • 1980s-1990s: Technology
  • 2000s-Present: Social Media

In this month’s newsletter, we look at the 1940s–1970s, the “Typewriters & Rolodexes” period.

Figure 1: Evolution of Talent Acquisition

evolution of talent acquisition

Source: Bersin by Deloitte, 2013.

1940s–1970s: Typewriters & Rolodexes

Organized recruitment for businesses started around the time of World War II, when gaps in the labor force were created by drafted and volunteer soldiers and then filled by individuals who did not meet the criteria for service. Employment agencies were created to help find positions on behalf of those workers. Once the war ended, an influx of highly capable and qualified soldiers returned to a relatively stagnant pool of available work.

Employment agencies became the middlemen between the many workers who needed jobs and the companies who wanted to hire additional help.1

Recruiters would place advertisements in the classifieds section of the newspaper while simultaneously searching through their archive of hardcopy resumes for qualified applicants.2 Applicants who saw the advertisements would then either telephone the recruiter or submit a copy of their typed resume via mail or in person. At the same time, “word-of-mouth” about work openings and employee referrals played a critical role in recruiting.3

It wasn’t until the late 1960s that formal internships as we know them now started to appear. The advent of internships meant another candidate population for recruiters to take note of as well as to work with the hiring managers to bring in the brightest talent. In the late 1970s, more and more college faculty members began to establish internship programs after hearing about them from colleagues at other institutions. Universities took the lead in making internships more appealing and productive for students by giving course credit for them, and advisors pushed internships as a way for students to get ahead in the competition for jobs.4

In the 1970s, high-technology industries recognized the cost and time savings of outsourcing the recruitment of various positions to third-party firms. These organizations were looking for help identifying job candidates and turned to name-generation firms. The advent of name-generation firms helped these corporate recruiters and managers to find all of the names they needed when handling large numbers of job requisitions. These firms could help companies identify the “hard-to-find” candidates, such as nurses, engineers, accountants, pharmacists, salespeople, IT employees, and others.5

In next month’s newsletter, we’ll look at the second talent acquisition period from the 1980s-1990s, the “Technology” period.

1"Recruiting: A Quick History Lesson," Katy Smigowski/Openview Blog, Openview Venture, December,16, 2012. Web. 28, June 2013.

2"A History of Staffing," Guy Rossi/ Quality Recruiting, Rochester NY. N.p., 27 June 2012. Web. 28, June 2013.

3“History of Recruitment,” N.d. Infographic. Web. 28 June 2013.

4“The Evolution of Interns,” J. Isaac Spradlin /, April 27, 2009.

5For more information, Recruitment Process Outsourcing: One of the Most Misunderstood Areas of Talent Acquisition Today, Madeline Laurano, Bersin & Associates, April 2010.