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The Evolution of Talent Acquisition: Part 2

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

As we reported in the August 2013 Business of Talent Newsletter, we’re writing the Bersin by Deloitte report, The Talent Acquisition Primer, which will publish in early Fall 2013. Our research reveals that over the last 70 years, there have been three “periods” of talent acquisition practices in the United States (see Figure 1):

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

Last month, we looked at the 1940s–1970s, the “Typewriters & Rolodexes” period and this month, we consider the 1980s-1990s “Technology” period.

Figure 1: Evolution of Talent Acquisition

evolution of talent acquisition

1980s–1990s: Technology

In the early 1980s, organizations shifted to outsourcing staffing to “recruitment agencies,” which then dictated the hiring process.1 For a period of time, the exchange between the companies and the recruiters was simple—if a company needed certain skills sets for its projects, the recruiter would navigate through the sea of qualified talent and find applicants with those skills to fill the positions.2 The role of a recruiter then was exclusively what one would consider to be a technical staff recruiter today. Some recruitment agencies specialized in finding only one level of employee (e.g., executive search firms such as Spencer Stuart and Heidrick & Struggles) or employees in one industry (e.g., T.A. David, which specialized in the hospitality industry).

In the mid-1980s, companies began to invest more in their HR departments and take a slightly more involved role in the hiring process. Although the process was generally the same as before, the HR department became an additional barrier between a company’s hiring manager and the recruiter.3 Whereas before the recruiter had direct access to the hiring manager and control over the placement of their employees, the HR department served as a filter for recommended applicants.

In the late 1980s, resume-scanning software products (e.g., Resumix) became a boon to recruiters because, for the first time, they could retain resumes in digital form instead of as paper files in drawers. These products demonstrated how software could streamline and accelerate the recruiting process.

Applicant tracking systems (ATSs) emerged in the late 1980s as well, with the advent of personal computing tools. These systems were effective at helping organizations ensure compliance by tracking applicants through the recruitment process. MS-DOS based and stored on individual employee laptops or on a file server, ATSs helped manage the applicant process. These legacy ATSs (e.g., AppTrak) did not support end-to-end recruiting, and, as a result, organizations relied on outside providers that were not integrated for background checking and assessments.

DEFINITION: “Applicant tracking systems (ATSs)” are software applications that help organizations manage and track candidate data throughout the hiring process. These systems use technology to organize, automate, and synchronize candidate-related business processes (e.g., researching, sourcing, prehire assessment, interviewing, background checking, onboarding).

The 1990s were characterized by the technological innovations that have played a large role in the revolution of the recruiting role. With the advent of online job boards and the decline of the newspaper industry, recruiters began to take their postings online.4 Job boards were a game changer for both active job-seekers and recruiters. By posting a job advertisement online, recruiters exponentially increased the audience of their advertisements. They could easily post online and track the number of candidates from these online sources to provide some level of reporting throughout the organization with ATSs. For job-seekers, looking for jobs online became much simpler because thousands of open postings were conveniently available in one place. Additionally, advertisements could be targeted across industries, and the amount of work needed for recruiters to sift through resumes was lessened, making it easier for job-seekers to find specific openings anywhere in the world.

DEFINITION: “Job boards” are websites dedicated to the posting of open positions (e.g., Monster, CareerBuilder, Indeed).

The medium through which resumes were delivered also changed with the introduction of word processing. Because emailing a resume as an attachment proved to be more cost-effective and efficient, this quickly became the preferred method for submitting a resume. In the 1980s, it took 5 to 10 minutes to fax and print a resume,5 whereas today’s job-seekers are able to respond to job postings via email in a matter of seconds.

HR outsourcing emerged as a major trend in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These solution providers handled benefits, taxes, and payroll, and began to include components of recruitment. These firms focused on the tactical and administrative aspects of recruiting, but failed to consider the management of the entire recruitment function, including areas such as competency management and employer branding.6

In the 1990s, solution providers introduced a more advanced ATS that could be installed on an organization’s workstations. These systems offered high-volume resume-processing, resume-scanning, and search technology. As the war for talent escalated in the late 1990s, web-based systems changed the face of talent acquisition. Legacy ATSs were replaced with end-to-end talent acquisition systems that could support everything from the requisition to onboarding.

In next month’s newsletter, we’ll look at the third talent acquisition period from the 2000s to the Present, the “Social Media” period.

1“History of Recruitment,” N.d. Infographic. Web. 28 June 2013. http://

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 History of Sourcing,” version 2, Jim Stroud, 2009.

5“A History of Staffing,” Quality Recruiting News, Guy Rossi / Quality Recruiting, June 27, 2012.

6For more information, Recruitment Process Outsourcing: One of the Most Misunderstood Areas of Talent Acquisition Today, Madeline Laurano, Bersin & Associates, April 2010.