Lean Recruiting & Just-In-Time Talent Acquisition Part 1

Lean, Just-In-Time Recruiting I wrote about how I learned to use Boolean search to leverage information systems to quickly source candidates, and I challenged the concept and practice of building candidate pipelines.

Amybeth Hale commented on my post (thank you – you inspired me to finally write this one!) and mentioned that she was puzzled by the mention of the fact that I never pipelined candidates. I’ve literally never had to. Not for the rarest skillset, the most challenging under-market compensation, the highest security clearance, 3rd shift, 100% travel – I’ve successfully recruited for these and more from scratch. Honestly, I’ve never known any other way.

Amybeth feels that my experience may be somewhat unique and this might not be replicable by other sourcers, recruiters, or recruiting organizations. I’ll agree on the first part – that my experience may be uncommon – I’m undeniably a product of the specific environment and circumstances under which I entered the recruiting industry. However, I have to respectfully disagree on the second part. I won’t apologize for it (nor would Amybeth want me to), because professional debate is a good thing, and we should all welcome it! There’s no critical thought or learning involved if we all agree on everything.

On the surface, pipelining candidates and building candidate inventories seems to be just plain and simple common sense. However, sometimes what just “feels right” may in fact not actually be the most effective and efficient method of doing a thing.

Thomas Edison (I’m a fan) once said, “There is always a better way.” My goal has always been to find it. Whether it comes to quickly finding great candidates, creating voicemail and email techniques to get the non-job seeker to respond, developing candidate closing and control techniques, implementing effective time and activity management, etc. – I want to be using the BEST possible way to do a thing.  Don’t you?

Keep an Open Mind

I know I am in the minority in my view of candidate pipelining – I’m going to ask you (most likely in the majority) to have an open mind and not just simply “stick to your guns” and what you know/what you’ve been taught. If you are a passionate candidate pipeliner and you’ve built a successful career around that practice – congratulations!

However, be aware that there are other ways to be successful in recruiting, and they might actually be more efficient and/or effective. You’re reading the words of someone who’s been highly productive and successful without ever having to pipeline a single candidate, I’ve never had the benefit of a hiring forecast, and I’ve outperformed all candidate pipeliners I’ve worked with head-to-head on the same positions consistently – even when they’ve had a head start!

How was I able to do this? That’s the good part – there’s a science of sorts behind the success, and it IS trainable and replicable.

Get ready for a paradigm shift – I’m going to move your cheese.

So What is Candidate “Pipelining” Anyway?

I think it’s critical that we first come to a common definition of pipelining candidates. While on the surface we may all appear to be talking about the same thing, we may not be – so to remove any confusion, let’s settle upon David Szary’s definition of developing candidate pipelines: “A pipeline/network of talented professionals (active and/or passive job seekers, pre-screened or not) that you regularly communicate with regarding opportunities with your organization. A pipeline of candidates, that when an opening comes up, you can immediately contact and engage in discussions about the opportunity and/or to network.”

That seems to be as good of an explanation of candidate pipelines as I’ve come across – let me know if you have any refinements or suggestions. I also agree with David’s assessment that most hiring managers have unrealistic expectations (having a candidate pipeline is the magical answer to all challenging hiring needs) and that pipelined candidates are always available (when in fact they are highly “perishable” – regardless of their job search status).

Work-In-Process Inventory

Developing a pipeline of candidates is essentially the development of a candidate “inventory” in the sense of supply chain management – candidates are “held available in stock” for ready access. Furthermore, the cache of candidates built through proactive pipeline recruiting can be classified as a specific type of candidate inventory: work-in-process.

Work-in-process is a production/supply chain concept, used to describe “unfinished” inventory in a production process – this inventory is “either just being fabricated or waiting in a queue for further processing or in a buffer storage.”

A group of candidates that a recruiter stays in routine contact with, without a specific and current need (essentially what Amybeth refers to as relationship maintenance), is essentially a work-in-process (WIP) candidate pipeline.

When most recruiters talk about proactively pipelining candidates – they’re really referring to building work-in-process (WIP) candidate inventories. Candidates in a work-in-process pipeline are typically people identified by a sourcer or a recruiter as people whose work history/experience somewhat closely matches the kinds of positions that an organization typically recruits for. Once identified, these candidates are contacted and screened (to some extent).

These are candidates that are waiting on further “processing” (screening, interviewing, networking, etc.), or essentially remain permanently “in process” – a relationship is maintained with them indefinitely, as the vast majority of these candidates never become a “finished product” (are never hired).

Candidates in a WIP pipeline may be active, passive, or not even looking, and may or may not precisely fit any current hiring needs. However, time and effort is expended to build and maintain a relationship with these candidates to be ready when an opening does arise, or when the candidate’s situation changes and they become available, or to simply network with to gain intel and referrals.

Building Candidate Pipelines is a “Push” Strategy

By definition, candidate pipelines consist of people that are contacted and communicated with without a current need – the whole point of a pipeline of candidates is to have a cache of candidates ready before a specific need arises.

This is what is referred to as a push-based strategy – one in which batches of a product (candidates) are created, not in response to an actual/current customer need, and are processed and “pushed” downstream (in-process) whether there is a need for the specific product produced or not. Push systems often result in the production of large inventories of product that perish (expire, are no longer available, etc.), or are never “sold” (fully finished/utilized/hired, etc.).

The “Logic” Behind Candidate Pipelining

On the surface, pipelining candidates seems like an excellent solution to the challenge of having well qualified candidates available when you need them.

The idea is that if you build a cache of strong candidates before you need them, you will surely fill positions quicker in the future when the need arises.  The belief behind building candidate pipelines is that time and energy invested on the “front end” (aka, “proactive recruiting”) can lead to significant time savings later, and perhaps even better candidates due to having more intimate knowledge of the individuals (from the ongoing recruiter/candidate relationship) you are pipelining than you would have with candidates you just identified and contacted for the first time once a hiring need arose (“reactive recruiting”).

The Need For Candidate Pipelines

For many recruiting and staffing organizations, proactively building talent pipelines is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that appropriately qualified talent is available when the actual need arises. It appears to be the ultimate answer to the question of, “What will we do if we get an opening for which we do not have any candidates?”

I think it is very important to examine exactly why most organizations and recruiting professionals believe that building candidate pipelines is the only answer to filling open positions.

This may seem too obvious, but no one ever seems to directly address it, so I will say it. I feel that most recruiters must proactively recruit and build candidate pipelines simply because they are unable to deliver high quality and well matched candidates within 24-48 hours of receiving a hiring need from scratch without a pre-built candidate pipeline. In other words – most people simply can’t do it any other way.

Is there an Alternative to Pipelining Candidates?

Although most recruiters are unable to deliver high quality and well matched candidates within 24-48 hours of receiving a hiring need from scratch without a network of pipelined candidates – it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Just because developing candidate pipelines is “the way it’s always been done” doesn’t mean it’s the most effective or efficient way to identify and recruit candidates and fill positions in a timely fashion.

The ugly truth is that proactively pipelining candidates ahead of need has many intrinsic limitations and hidden costs that no one seems to want to think or talk about.

There’s always a better way. You’ll just have to wait until next week to read about it. :-)

Click here to read Part 2

  • Thank you for posting this Glen,
    I have sometimes thought that I was just not building my pipeline right. Pulling someone from my “pipeline” has never worked for me to fill a current need. Primarily because of what you said about pipelined candidates being highly ”perishable”. The relationships I’ve built over the years have been valuable to me in many ways but never to fill a new “right-now” position.

    I am anxiously awaiting you next post . I am not nearly as successful as I would like to be in being able to deliver qualified candidates within 24-48 hours, with our without a pipeline.

  • Good thoughts here Glen. Anyone who has a clear understanding of not only how – but WHY they do things their way – always stands a better chance of success.

    Where I might disagree here is not so much the logic of your approach – it makes sense – but the underlying “quality” of candidate. I’m sure we would agree it’s difficult to quantify “quality” of candidate – but let’s pretend we can with some degree of accuracy.

    When given a new assignment my first pass is nearly always my “pipeline”. These are folks I have met through some other venture in recruiting. Those who didn’t fit my job-of-the-day but met the “great candidate” profile. Cooperative, qualified, professionally motivated, etc. It’s just that for whatever reason they didn’t fit at the time.

    To NOT build rapport with those candidates – and in some way cast them off – does a disservice (IMHO) to everyone in my circle. My clients do not benefit from my previous work – the timeline suffers – and the time spent meeting those candidates goes out the window.

    When I review my last 20 placements – and I just did – I see that 13 were candidates I had sent on interviews in the past. For this quick study I did not count split placements. I wouldn’t have that data.

    So on my desk – having a pipeline has proved beneficial.

    One more thought – I have found many of the candidates who surface in the J.I.T delivery model are the highly active ones. The more active they are – and in turn immediately available they are – the more likely outside competition factors play a part. Multiple offers, double submittals, etc.

    Nice post. Thanks for the discussion.

  • Glen,
    I think that this is a very informative post. You are obviously very passionate about, and good at what you do. While I agree with much of what you say…my question is – Why not take advantage of “both” methods?
    JIT recruiting is great…but pipelining candidates who may not be exact skills or personality or compensation fits for a given organization is great as well.
    Do I place everyone in my pipeline?…absolutely not, but I am very careful about how much time I spend with them versus sourcing new candidates as well. I’ve learned that if you treat candidates the right way – even if you don’t place them, then they will be managers/clients in the future. Balance has been the key to my success.
    Again, great post – I look forward to your next.

  • Glen – I often feel like we share a brain.

    I think the key here is that “most recruiters must proactively recruit and build candidate pipelines simply because they are unable to deliver high quality and well matched candidates within 24-48 hours of receiving a hiring need from scratch without a pre-built candidate pipeline.”

    In the end it comes down to the recruiter having the raw ability to search. As you mention in your other posts, you can train recruiters. Most often it’s the what and rarely the how and why. The quesiton you raise in this posting is a direct off shoot from recruiters always learning the what; where the what is the “talent pipeline” rather than the how and why; Finding the qualified candidtes in the first 48 hours.

    Great post.

  • I think Jerry is on to something here, but in a different way of speaking about a “pipeline”. I think that there is this perception, (and many times this is from senior mgmt that is out of touch with recruiting-as-a-science, per se) that having a pipeline means you have a list of people you can call for a job 6 months from now, and they will be READY TO GO.

    Not true. But if we were to use Jerry’s rationale, it’s much more sensible. Any recruiter worth his/her name has a list of “great candidates” that they would call for opportunities or referrals.

    I think that the “pipeline” is more a means to the end, rather than the end itself. Just IMHO.

  • Footie

    First poster here. While I don’t always agree with your post I always come away with something so thanks for that.
    In regards to this post I think that your defining of terminology really is the key to the whole theory. I am in the middle of a job search for myself and I have found that “pipeline” and “relationship building” are words used a lot by management as part of a larger discription to deliniate job responsbilities. I think that these words have crept into our industry by default so that HR managers can have a response to things like “time to fill” ratios when questioned by departmental hiring managers. How many times do we ask a client when they want a candidate in place and the answer is yesterday.
    I have always thougth that we all recruit JIT. Yes, we all value out relationships but most recruiters are well aware that there is an experation date on highly qualified candidates and know instictively that if that “sell by” date goes by, maybe that candidate is not an A level player.

    What I think we are talking about is relationship pipelines where you hope that a good candidate hangs out with other good candidates. We know, especially given the past year, that this is not necessarily true either. People have friends who may or may not be great at their jobs but are well liked personally. And we all have hiring manager who are not interested in “people who have been laid off” because obviously that is a red flag. Once again, not always true but hard to change perceptions.

    During my job search I was not surprised to see the emergence of the sub-category of recruiting, “sourcing/research” specialist as a junior recruitering function, but I was suprised that it is most often is a junior recruiting function reporting into a “senior recruiter”. It has always been my experience that sourcing was the hardest, most time consuming, most strategic part of the whole process; sourcing and pre-qualifing A list candidates.

    And I think because most HR managers think that younger candidates are more tech savvy, that they understand the boolean, new media process better than recruiters who try to perfect deep web recruiting as part of continuous career development. You can not really expect a sourcer with 2 years of experience to really bring a strategic mind set to the table unless they receive training time and attention that I don’t think they often get.

    I just recently spoke with a corporate recruiter who’s company wanted someone with strong Web 2.0 knowlege, including social media, boolean and linkedin recruiting but in the end, did not really understand the terminology . When I started talking about x-raying she lost interest and her eyes glazed over when I started talking about Semantic search strategies. When I asked her how they assess someone’s abilities in web 2.0 hard skills she was not able to answer me. Needless to say, they went with someone else. Maybe she just didn’t like me.

    It seems to me that often, strategic hiring process, is an oxymoron so easy over -used qualification criteria is the substitute.

    That really may be the elephant in the room.

  • Footie

    Or maybe my poor spelling is the reason;)

  • Shannon Myers

    Good thought provoking post as always, Glenn.

    I think if you are a sourcer who is truly more successful in one area or the other I cannot question someone for playing to their own strengths but as an overall organization I think it is beneficial to at least have some versatility in looking at multiple steams of candidates. My days are mixed with internet, phone and face to face contact; internet and phone sourcing; pipelined candidates and sourcing both passive and active candidates.

    Jerry and Trevor make some great points on the pipelined candidates so I won’t repeat them but I do have a few other thoughts on the benefits of building candidate pipelines.

    I see my candidate pipeline as both potential future placements but a mutual networking opportunity. Even the candidates I do not place often refer their colleagues or positions to me and I serve as a source of information in their given market. The majority of my time is spent on candidates I feel I can place today with my open positions but I also spend time with a handful of pipeline candidates each week.

    I also think you need to consider that candidate pipelines vary from industry and levels within the organization. Pipelining non-management staff may be less of a priority than executive level where the process can be more time consuming, the wants and needs of the organization and candidate really need to be a close match. Often companies who are growing or reorganizing their management staff needs to already know what type of candidates are going to be available before they make major staff decisions. Before terminating a senior level position an organization needs to know who is going to be responsible for the position until it is filled and how long they anticipate having an opening. The only way I can see doing that is to keep an active network or survey of potential pipeline of candidates.

    This also holds true for any organization that is in a location where the majority of their new hires are relocated to the area. From a truly time saving perspective spending some time pipelining candidates can get them prescreened on a location before the organization takes time to go through the interview process.

  • Hi Glen –

    A great post and I agree with partly with you as well as Amybeth. You always have to be proactive with recruiting and certain clients you begin to understand their recruiting plans and can gear up for their positions and build a pipeline of great people to leverage.

    But there are times when you have a need and you have to go out and souce directly for a position, you might have spoken to a person in the past that was great for this role and you touch base with them but you have to do both approaches in parrell.

    Hope this makes sense. As alway I appreciate your point of view.

    Best –

  • Another solid post Glen. I find myself somewhere in the middle on this one. I do develop “candidate pipelines” and also perform Just-In-Time Recruiting on a weekly basis. It is common sense (as you mentioned) to build up an “inventory” of candidates whether we know they are active or passive candidates. Question for you: What are you doing with the candidates you find or talk to today that aren’t a fit for your positions? Do you dispose of them OR put them into an ATS, desktop folders, etc? Wouldn’t that be building a candidate pipeline in a way without thinking about it? I think everyone can fall in both camps here. Food for thought.

  • Patrick Ryan

    I’ve had the pleasure of training under Glen and by following his methods I’ve been very successful in my recruiting efforts. I went into his training camp with an open mind and became the training Champ of the week. I returned to my office and implemented his strategies and systematically kicked the rest of my teams behind. Listen, Lean and Execute!

  • Glen, one of the (many) reasons I respect you so much is that you are always willing to explain yourself and respond when someone has a different viewpoint with tact and respect. I could take a lesson in that as I know I can be quite snarky at times :)

    While I certainly respect your viewpoint on this, I do have to point out one thing you said –

    “For many recruiting and staffing organizations, proactively building talent pipelines is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that appropriately qualified talent is available when the actual need arises.”

    I still believe that in high-volume situations (not unlike much of our recruiting at AT&T) pipelining is a time-saving mechanism just due to the sheer number of positions that must be filled. Outside of this, I agree with your assessment that pipelining doesn’t necessarily need to be done. As the old saying goes, ‘different strokes for different folks” :)

  • Glen,

    World-class Staffing Org.’s internal within Corporate America do both concurrently.

    You need to have a Team who’s job it is to Engage Talent as well as a standard, more traditional, Acquisition Team.

    The next iteration of this logic around “building pipelines” is to think how do you “feed/cultivate” said pool of Talent? One idea is to put them in the drivers seat to follow you …

    Jeremy Langhans | senior recruiter | Talent Engagement
    Starbucks Coffee Company | 2401 Utah Ave. S. | Seattle, WA 98134
    p: 206-318-5429| e: jlanghan@starbucks.com

  • Glen,
    An excellent argument as always. If it is working for you, and it clearly is, don’t try to fix it! I have spoken many times on building a talent pool in preparation of requirement. I believe that this is becoming increasingly important as clients and candidates expectations have changed as a result of the recession. The main differences are:
    1: Decision making time on both sides has doubled in duration.
    2: The number of offer declines due to last minute “security” fears has significantly increased (in some cases as much as 50%.)
    3: There are more stages to the hiring process and the candidates need a much greater degree of handholding/briefing etc.
    4: 3rd party recruiters face more competition from corporate recruiters as a result of social networks and direct connections.
    5: Clients are becoming more selective over suppliers with the need to demonstrate capability/reach.
    I have recently been involved in changing the business model for a number of recruitment businesses in the UK with quite a lot of early success. This is based on building a talent pool within a tight niche of the market where there is still a talent shortage. We work on the basis of finding employable and movable talent and finding jobs for people rather than people for jobs. The sourcer (we call them resourcers) lead the team and find the marketable candidates. Their job is to feed the talent pool and the role of the recruiter is to find clients that want to hire these individuals. The resourcer maintains the relationship with the talent and the recruiters find the opportunities dependent on the stock. Might seem a bit radical but i strongly believe that it is harder to find good talent than it is to find hiring companies. This also allows for a greater degree of relationship building with the candidates, understanding their needs fully and selling from this standpoint.
    The key here is to find a methodology that works for you and suits your business, then working it.

  • Glen,

    I respect your vantage point and your skill.

    Consider this :

    1. What happens when you just in time for say an urgent need for 5,000 of similar position?

    2. Can those pipelined candidates be engaged in real time via various mechanisms such as opt-in e-mail campaigns ?

    Keep them warm so that pipelined can transition into “just in time”.

    Best regards,


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  • Russ,
    Thanks for your response!

    If I had an urgent need for 5,000 people of a similar skillset, I would sincerely hope that I’ve built a database of 10’s of 1000’s of those people, as well as have ready access to some major resume databases, so that I can quickly retrieve their records and go about contacting them. I’d argue that I would not have to have had any prior contact with those potential candidates (although it certainly wouldn’t hurt). :-)

    I can also tell you that no one can maintain any real “relationship” with 5,000 people, nor can a person keep that many people “warm.” I’d imagine that if a recruiting organization tried to do so (and it would take a whole organization), they would be spending so much time trying to stay on top of the ever-changing statuses, availability and motivators that they would never have a moment to try and source/recruit more candidates.

    Opt-in email campaigns would be an excellent practical method of trying to “rapidly activate” 5,000 candidates in an attempt to achieve JIT delivery. However, I will also say that mostly automated/bulk email campaigns do not qualify as real “relationship maintenance.”

    If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of that kind of relationship, you know it for exactly what it is – it’s very transparent.

  • the 5k # reminds me of a blog post from ~4 years ago:

    Thoughts Mr. Blackbelt?

  • Jeremy – that link/page has been flagged by bit.ly as suspicious. What was I supposed to see?

  • TZ


    I enjoyed reading your posts very much and also believe JIT recruiting can really save time on candidates sourcing for talented recruiters like you.

    But traditional way of sourcing, candidate pipeline building, has its reason to exist or prevail:

    1) Organization’s need. Company wants to build up it’s database and in an organized/incremental way. So it can be shared by many recruiters within the organization. It’s an assets building process.

    2) Average recruiters’ need. Talented and passionate recruiters are still a small % group. Most of recruiters still need work with some easy to use/learn tool. The instinct and passion of a great recruiter is very hard to teach or to be taught. (Your own example proved it).

    Just my 2 cents.


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  • Glen,
    I enjoyed reading this article again as I’m now in charge of training a junior recruiter. I’ve hired many people since the week of training I received from your company back in 2007. I too don’t subscribe to proactive recruiting, however if I stumble upon what appears to be a great candidate I’ll add him/her to my electronic folder for future contact.

    Now to address this quote of yours; “The ugly truth is that proactively pipelining candidates ahead of need has many intrinsic limitations and hidden costs that no one seems to want to think or talk about.”

    You’re right however many companies who employ recruiters view them as overhead. Therefore in order for management to feel good about the buying decision to employ a recruiter that person needs to continue building a pipeline especially when business is slow to justify their existence. That is the “Ugly Truth!” :-)

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