As talent acquisition solutions proliferate and grow in sophistication, it’s tempting for HR executives to reach for the latest shiny objects. Trouble is, such a quick pick could results in a poorly integrated, underperforming system. Rather, a product evaluation based on a fundamental assessment of the organization’s strategic needs is critical, according to Elaine Orler. A respected veteran of the talent acquisition technology field, Orler has advised multinational and mid-sized corporations on TA strategy for two decades. In 2009, she founded Talent Function, a technology consultancy. She recently shared her insights on talent acquisition strategy and technology with EBN. Edited excerpts of that interview follow.

EBN: What’s the most significant trend in the talent acquisition system arena?

Elaine Orler
Elaine Orler

Elaine Orler: Recruiting systems used to be defined mainly just as the applicant tracking system. But today there are actually three core products necessary to recruit. You can get them all from a single product, or from multiple vendors. There’s a variety of ways to get the capability, and variation in sophistication. A good place to start is to look at the three basic components of a complete recruiting system.

EBN: And what are the three?

Elaine Orler: The first is candidate relationship management or recruitment marketing platform, which is the outbound, full collection and data management model for future talent. It can be as light as a collector of names, phone numbers and an email address, to as deep as social profiling and social-listening type of products. The next is the applicant tracking capability, to track somebody through the hiring process. And the third is the onboarding piece, which is more than just filling out forms. It’s continuing that social and awareness piece to make that person truly ready to start the job and hit the ground running.

EBN: Where does artificial intelligence fit into the picture?

Elaine Orler: AI and machine learning are in almost every product today. Some people are taking the approach that AI can tell you who to interview or even make the hiring decision. Others are taking the approach that AI will help provide context to a decision. But the ultimate decisions and next steps are still defined by a human.

EBN: Besides candidate selection, how else is the enhanced technology being used in the latest systems?

Elaine Orler: It’s creating a huge opportunity for more automated engagement with candidates, where the information that is needed for impactful engagement can be provided without somebody having to go dig through some archive in some back office.

EBN: What else?

Elaine Orler: Another thing I’m watching for over the next three years is product agility, like the ability to change workflow rules. It used to be steps, such as with this kind of hire I need to do A through C. We’ll see the ability to make adjustments and be more fluid in what’s necessary for the business, versus what used to be hard-coded as the only rules you could follow for recruiting.

EBN: Could you expand on what kind of engagement you’re talking about?

Elaine Orler: Engagement. It starts with when a candidate applies to a job and wants to check their status. It critical for the candidate to know what’s happening and to be kept in the loop before a hiring decision is made. That requires people responsible for the hiring decision to stay on track. A system can encourage that by alerting managers that candidates have undergone preliminary screening and that their resumes are available for review, to keep the process moving and allowing candidates to know that things are happening.

EBN: I would imagine many employers you meet with have loaded up on narrowly focused point solutions, and are overwhelmed. What do you say to those clients?

Elaine Orler: When we do the technology inventory with them, we just start asking some basic questions like, “What product do you use for talent mining?” and we’ll hear, “Oh, that’s product A.” Then we’ll ask, “Is that the same product as your recruitment marketing,” and they’ll tell us, “No, that’s product B.” Then we’ll ask, “Is that the same as your job distribution tool,” and we’re told, “No, that’s product C,” and the number of solutions adds up very, very quickly. The task then is determining how many of these solutions are really needed, and whether they can be integrated successfully.

EBN: How do you help them unscramble these capabilities?

Elaine Orler: I believe you shouldn’t be buying any new talent acquisition product without an integration strategy. If a new system can’t connect to a centralized accurate database, you are creating three to four times the overall work for your organization -- work that is throwaway work. Anybody who has to enter a name, address and a phone number into a system twice is wasting time.

EBN: Isn’t that kind of obvious?

Elaine Orler: You would think so. But what sometimes happens is that organizations know they want a seamless system, but decide to do a pilot with some new point system with the thought that, if it works out, they’ll integrate it later. But that tends to not happen. That situation could have been avoided if they thought about how the integration would work when they purchased the system in the first place.

EBN: What drives this pattern?

Elaine Orler: It’s the mindset of when you’re starving and you decide to go to the grocery store. The worst thing you can do when you need to go shopping for groceries is to go hungry, because everything looks good and you’re going to buy three times more than you need. We see that same kind of lack of discipline in some technology purchase decisions.

EBN: I guess it’s not always a bad thing that organizations want to gain the benefit of the latest technology, right?

Elaine Orler: It is good that they’re continually looking to expand their capabilities, but often they can already do that with the products they already own. I have a tough time when an organization says, “I’m ready to throw out all of these products and start over.”

EBN: So where do you start helping a client who tells you that?

Elaine Orler: The first thing I will always say is they should take inventory of everything they already have, and understand in that inventory what their performance level is with that product. So that when they go to look for new solutions, they’re looking for something that will augment or enhance what they have, and minimize overlap.

EBN: If a company hasn’t already done that how could it believe it needs to start over with an entirely new system?

Elaine Orler: I see three primary scenarios. The first I call the “running from” scenario. The running from is when they’re out to buy something because of how bad something is, or how bad they think it is, and assume any alternative would be better. But it might be that it hasn’t been configured right, and not an inherent limitation of the system. Making this kind of a decision without having done due diligence is a very short-term mindset.

The second is when organizations actually do consider their needs carefully, and rightly conclude they need something better. they think about how an alternative solution would carry them into the future. It’s not just about future capabilities or product sets, but a sense of what the future will look like and the capabilities they will need to meet the new challenges that are coming down the pike. It’s like, “Do we implement video interviewing just because it’s cool and everybody else is doing it, or because the value proposition of a video platform in what we’re trying to accomplish.” Once they start to look at the market they actually have a deeper appreciation for exactly what it is they’re trying to accomplish, their ability to evaluate the products is much stronger.

EBN: And the third scenario you see?

Elaine Orler: It’s what I call running in place. It’s the ability to sustain what they already have, even though the products or tools that they have aren’t going to carry them forward. So instead of a full change effort, they try to patch it up, like trying to replace a flat tire while driving the car so that you won’t disrupt the trip. Those are typically the optimization projects when you’re running in place but still delivering on business performance, which is the expectation.

EBN: This all assumes that HR or talent acquisition is calling the shots, for better or worse, on determining which systems they get. But that’s not always how it works, right?

Elaine Orler: True, change can come about due to a competitive situation within the organization where talent acquisition loses ownership of systems selection. For example maybe somebody from corporate IT, or even the head of HR walks into the head of talent acquisition’s office and says, “I know you’ve been using all these products to get your job done, but we’ve decided to go something else to meet other needs, and it includes talent acquisition for free.”

EBN: What’s the best response from the talent acquisition leader when that happens?

Elaine Orler: The first thing is not to be defensive, because you lose when you’re defensive. Instead, start to play that offensive card, as in, “If you’re telling me that this is the product I have to use for recruiting, then let me tell you how that will affect our ability to meet the goals of the business, because we cannot continue to perform at an optimal performance with subpar products.”

EBN: How should that performance be measured?

Elaine Orler: I think we need to move away from using the narrow metrics like time-to-fill, and instead measuring talent acquisition as a business performance indicator. Time-to-fill in itself is not a value proposition to the business, unless you just need warm bodies that can sit in a chair. In a knowledge economy, we’re looking for the best and the brightest, we’re trying to compete to win and if it takes 45 days to get the best one versus 30 days to get an average one, what’s more important to the business. You need to have that level of conversation, but also relate it to the capabilities you need in a talent acquisition system. That elevates the discussion beyond what might seem to a CEO to be just a simple IT decision.

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