Talent pools: How HR leaders are streamlining recruitment and building diversity

Learn how you can employ best practices to create talent pools for your organization. Photo by: WOCinTech Chat / CC BY

The United Nations system and other large international organizations are infamous for long recruitment processes that can take months to officially hire and onboard new staff. To expedite this in an emergency context, many humanitarian organizations use a roster system of internal candidates for rapid deployment. Some U.N. agencies are building on this model to create talent pools of pre-vetted external candidates with the skills and expertise they seek to speed up hiring more broadly. This approach has allowed them to respond in a more timely manner to common vacancies, as well as those more hard to fill profiles, while also focusing on gender and geographic diversity in their hiring efforts.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization works with talent pools to fill staffing needs for short-term and temporary assignments. Technical experts who meet the qualification and language requirements and have international expertise in one of four key areas are invited to create a candidate profile. Successful candidates then join the talent pool and are invited to apply when a suitable vacancy appears.

UNHCR recently incorporated talent pools into its recruitment strategy as well. In 2016, over 200 external candidates were recruited for fixed-term appointments and over 500 for temporary appointments through these talent pools.

Talent pools allow organizations such as UNHCR to “have a group of ready-to-hire talent” for key candidate profiles, explained John Thomas, chief of talent outreach and acquisition. “We are looking to have a group of people who are, on a short notice, able to take up a post without going through the whole recruitment cycle,” he explained.

Building upon its previous roster system, UNHCR’s talent pools were created to build a pipeline of external talent that would help fill positions not just for emergency response but for fixed-term positions in country or regional offices, or at headquarters. According to Thomas, the normal time to hire can be four to five months from advertising the position to the final appointment, whereas with the talent pools much of this process is ongoing and done in advance so the time to hire is significantly less.

“The manager is still able to advertise internally because that is our rule, then if they can’t find anybody they come immediately to us and then we are able to release to them five or six individuals who have been vetted, whose references have been checked,” Thomas shared. “All the manager has to do is do the final interview” before making a final hiring decision, he added.  

If you are an HR executive looking to utilize talent pools, here are some tips for getting started.

Invest in your outreach methods

In order to ensure gender and geographic diversity, and to fill specific challenging profiles, the talent outreach and acquisition team at UNHCR employs a range of different activities for their outreach.

“We try to conduct targeted outreach every time. We do social media campaigns, we also collaborate with job boards and professional associations. We have a really big network within the U.N. and outside the U.N., and government bodies as well,” said Szilvia Nagy, a recruitment associate with the unit.

While traditional job boards are a great way to engage jobseekers from the sector, consider additional outreach activities that could allow your organization to reach a diverse audience, including professionals from other sectors who have the skills and expertise you seek, in-country or women’s networks and social media groups.

Investing in outreach and advertising for a talent pool — which could result in say dozens of positions filled down the line — is also more efficient than repeating the process again each time you hire. It can also build more buzz than promoting a single vacancy.

Create specific pools aligned to anticipated needs

Based on the success of the initiative, in 2016 UNHCR increased the number of pools it advertises to 18 positions ranging from protection to cash-based interventions officers. Each position has details of the ideal candidate profile, required competencies, minimal qualifications and professional experience for different career levels. The talent outreach and acquisition section also created a non-specific profile for candidates at junior, mid and senior stages of their career for those who want to work with UNHCR but don’t fit one of the existing pool profiles.

Specific profiles should align with your organization’s overall strategy, focusing on new expertise your organization may need or mapped to anticipated attrition of current experts.

Specific talent pools also help potential candidates recognize exactly what positions UNHRC typically needs, strengthening your recruitment brand. Perhaps more importantly, it also makes it easier for hiring managers to know the types of profiles they can source quickly and the value HR provides in serving their business needs.

Target underrepresented groups

Take advantage of talent pools to build a pipeline of underrepresented candidates, including women, program country nationals and hard-to-find expertise. Nagy says many roles lack candidates from francophone Africa, North Africa, West Africa, the Middle East, South America and Southeast Asia. Geographic diversity is a focus of Nagy’s recruitment efforts, as is the demand for certain language skills. By targeting outreach to development professionals in specific regions or groups, talent pools can enable your organization to fulfil specific skill demands, such as language, and feed more diverse candidates into your talent pipeline.

Keep your records up to date

This applies to both pool profiles and candidate records. Thomas says his unit reviews and maintains the pools on an ongoing basis, talking with managers to see where there is demand and deactivating pools, but keeping candidates on file, for those positions where there are no plans to hire in the near future. Ensuring candidate records are up to date is part of what the talent outreach and acquisition section call candidate nurturing. This involves encouraging candidates to update their profiles and checking their ongoing interest in the role and availability. Sending organizational updates or newsletters can be an effective way of keeping candidates engaged through the process so they are more likely to keep you updated.

Communication is key

Successful candidates with UNHCR can spend up to 12 months in the pool waiting for an appointment that suits their profile. In addition, to keep your records current, maintaining contact with these candidates is critical to retaining their interest and talent.

One tip Thomas shared is assigning a recruiter to a dedicated pool so that they are “responsible for their own nurturing with the candidates.” At UNHCR recruiters each have one or two talent pools that they manage. “They will then engage the person, check where they are, where they want to go, what kind of roles they are looking for, when they will be available. It’s a constant email correspondence between the recruiter and the candidates,” he explained, “it’s a very personal touch.” They also keep records of their phone conversations and emails for future reference or so another recruiter can pick up where they left off.  

Talent pools are about building relationships with highly qualified, targeted candidates. When done well, the up-front investment can pay dividends in increasing your talent pipelines and streamlining your hiring process.

You can find talent pools posted on the Devex job board here or by using the Job Stage search filter.

Over the next month, Devex, together with our partners the Career Development Roundtable and UNFPA, will take a look at how human resources can be a real driver for innovation, efficiency, and impact in global development. Join us as we share the people and ideas leading the next generation of HR by tagging #HRLeads.

About the author

  • Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a Reporter at Devex. She covers all things related to careers and hiring in the global development community as well as mental health within the sector — from tips on supporting humanitarian staff to designing mental health programs for refugees. Emma has reported from key development hubs in Europe and co-produced Devex’s DevProWomen2030 podcast series. She holds a degree in journalism from Glasgow Caledonian University and a master's in media and international conflict. In addition to writing for regional news publications, she has worked with organizations focused on child and women’s rights.

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