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The Evolution of Talent Acquisition: Part 3

Robin Erickson, Ph.D., Vice President, Talent Acquisition Research, Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Earlier this month, Bersin by Deloitte published The Talent Acquisition Primer to provide an introduction to talent acquisition, the complexity of its processes, and the challenges that key stakeholders face.1 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

In August, we looked at the 1940s–1970s, the “Typewriters & Rolodexes” period; in September, we reviewed the 1980s-1990s “Technology” period; and now we consider the 2000s-Present, the “Social Media” period.

Figure 1: Evolution of Talent Acquisition

evolution of talent acquisition

2000s–Present: Social Media

Now that the available pool of talent following the dot-com crisis has expanded, companies have begun to take a more holistic approach to recruiting by combining it with other aspects of their in-house HR/ human capital practice.2 Although the position of “recruiter” and recruitment agencies still exist, firms have formed teams of internal recruiters to help promote an employment brand. Skills for specific positions are still needed; however, the search for talent with critical skills and the incorporation of that talent into the company throughout an applicant’s career has become more important for companies over the past decade. As the baby boomers have begun to retire, along with the last of the still-working veterans, the general pool of qualified candidates has grown smaller. Companies have thus begun to look for talent that they could develop over time, allowing organic growth within the organization.

In today’s talent-constrained workplace, any candidate that an organization touches might become a critical hire at some time in the future. Therefore, the candidate experience should be thought of as a “never-ending” relationship that is established with this individual. In the past several years, this concept—referred to as “candidate relationship management (CRM)”—has taken hold. CRM is a strategy for administering organizations’ interactions with job applicants and potential candidates. It involves using technology not only to organize, automate, and synchronize candidate-related business processes— principally sourcing and recruiting activities—but also to promote the employer brand and the development of talent pools or communities. It also includes building a positive candidate experience, managing candidate communities, and maintaining positive relationships for those candidates not selected.

DEFINITION: “Candidate relationship management (CRM)” is a strategy for managing organizations’ interactions with internal and external job applicants and potential candidates. It refers to the software and related processes that manage candidate relationships. It also includes building a positive candidate experience, managing candidate communities, and maintaining positive relationships for those candidates not selected.

In an effort to attract the next generation, companies have developed initiatives that make use of new forms of social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as continuing with their traditional job board postings (e.g., Monster, Indeed). Similar to other technological adoptions in the past, the use of social media has allowed recruiters the ability to tap into a much wider market instantaneously, including both active and passive candidates. According to a recent study (see Figure 2), Twitter feeds predominate in this category, with 43 percent of the participants using Twitter as a means of communication. Noteworthy is the growing interest in mobile phone career applications, with 28.6 percent citing that they are experimenting with these apps and 10 percent using mobile regularly today.3

Figure 2:Social Broadcast Communication

evolution of talent acquisition

Conversely, consumers of social media are exposed to the availability of positions even when they are not actively looking to make a change. Further, the use of new media marks a shift away from traditional forms of communication as applicants have begun to prefer emails and messaging as the primary form of communication.4 The application process has also changed—from paper-based or, more recently, lengthy computerized forms to mobile applications on a range of devices.

In an effort to find good candidates and to expand their reach, companies have begun to take greater advantage of employee referral programs. Social media and professional networking have also made it easier for employees to make referrals. Employee referrals can offer high returns, given that employees usually refer candidates who are similar to themselves in terms of skills and cultural fit. Referral programs are well-suited for obtaining difficult-to-find candidates to fill highly specialized positions. Today, organizations allocate an average of 9 percent of spending to employee referral programs.5

DEFINITION: “Employee referrals” are candidates who are recommended by an organization’s existing employees. Many organizations offer a cash bonus for referrals that are subsequently hired.

The demand for “full lifecycle” RPO services emerged in the early 2000s with the growth of firms such as Adecco, Alexander Mann Solutions, Kenexa Corporation,6 Randstad Sourceright, and The RightThing. 7 Companies invest in RPOs for comprehensive sourcing strategy, interviewing, and offer management. These firms help companies not only reduce recruiting costs and increase efficiencies but also reengineer their recruiting departments by standardizing processes and facilitating the transition from pipeline to candidate to new hire.

DEFINITION: “Recruitment process outsourcing (RPO)” is a form of business process outsourcing in which an employer outsources or transfers all or part of its recruitment activities to an external service provider. The RPO organization then acts as a company’s internal recruitment function for these activities, providing staff, technology, methods, and reporting.

Today’s onboarding programs also face new and difficult challenges posed by a geographically dispersed, multigenerational workforce. The use of “virtual onboarding” can provide global companies with solutions to meet these demands. Virtual onboarding describes new hire programs delivered over the web that complement or replace in-person new hire onboarding. It allows the new employee to more readily assimilate to the corporate culture, with the advantage of consistent, standardized, new hire messaging and content delivered anywhere around the world and on any device. 8

Over the past five years, talent acquisition systems have become a standard in organizations of all sizes. During 2009 and 2010, Web 2.0 capabilities became the latest craze to hit the talent acquisition systems market. To create a more positive candidate experience, organizations began demanding capabilities such as RSS feeds, the ability to share jobs on social networking sites, and job matching technology. Today, the scope and possibilities within talent acquisition systems continue to expand as firms expect much more from their systems. Now, organizations want functionality such as video interviewing, mobile solutions, and online reference checking. In response, many of the traditional solution providers are either building out this functionality or partnering with third-party providers.9

Consider the terminology. Not used before the 21st century and at one time considered to be marketing hype, the phrase “talent acquisition” is now mainstream and embraced by both large and small organizations. Companies now understand that a broad end-to-end focus is needed, one that stretches from building a strategic employment brand, through sourcing and recruiting, all the way to onboarding new hires. We refer to this as “integrated talent acquisition.” With this new way of thinking, talent acquisition has become an incredibly complex and fragmented process at many organizations. The talent acquisition process is often highly distributed and uncoordinated, and practitioners often find it challenging to stay ahead of market trends and leading practices.

I hope you have enjoyed this retrospective look at the evolution of talent acquisition over the past 70 years. The report I’m currently writing is focused on the importance of developing a talent acquisition strategy that is aligned to both the talent management strategy and the business strategy. Up after that is a report with findings from our High Impact Talent Acquisition Organization & Governance survey of 297 talent acquisition leaders, along with a talent acquisition maturity model. It’s going to be a fun fall! Follow me on Twitter at @RAEricksonPhD.

1For more information, The Talent Acquisition Primer, Bersin by Deloitte / Robin Erickson, Ph.D. & Kim Lamoureux, October 2, 2013. Available to research members at

2“A brief history of agency recruitment,” Presentation, Mr. Prezident / Prezi Inc., February 7, 2012. Available at

3For more information, Best Practices in Social Sourcing: Recruiting Talent in the 21st Century, Bersin & Associates / Katherine Jones, Ph.D., May 2012. Available to research members at

4Source: “Social Recruiting,”, Maren Hogan / Diversified Business Communications, June 27, 2013. Available at

5For more information, The Talent Acquisition Factbook 2011: Benchmarks and Trends in Spending, Staffing and Key Recruiting Metrics, Bersin & Associates / Karen O’Leonard, November 2011. Available to research members at

6Now an IBM company.

7Now an ADP company.

8For more information, Virtual Onboarding for Today’s Global Workforce, Bersin by Deloitte / Katherine Jones, Ph.D., May 29, 2013. Available to research members at

9For more information, Talent Acquisition Systems 2011: Market Realities, Implementation Examples and Solution Provider Profiles, Bersin & Associates / Sarah White, April 2011. Available to research members or for purchase at