Lean Recruiting & Just-In-Time Talent Acquisition Part 2

Lean, Just-In-Time Recruiting In Part 1 of this series, I explored and challenged the practice of traditional candidate pipelining.

Some people may have interpreted my last post on the subject to mean that I don’t believe in any form of proactively building candidate pipelines. That would be incorrect. Anyone that really knows me knows that I am not a black/white, either/or kind of guy.

What I am is the kind of guy that will tell you that anyone who says there is only 1 way to do something is ALWAYS wrong, because there is always more than 1 way to do anything. I’m also the kind of person who wants to find the BEST way of doing a thing – I am not satisfied to do things “the way they’ve always been done,” nor will I blindly accept what other experts tout as best practices.

There is always a better way.

The comments I received from Part 1 in the series were fantastic! They gave me significant insight into what many of the industry heavyweights think – and it’s obvious that traditional candidate pipelining is alive, highly valued, and practiced often.

At the end of Part 1, I mentioned that 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.

So let’s talk about them.

The Hidden Costs of Pipelining Candidates

No one seems to attach a value to all of the time and effort it takes to develop and maintain Work-in-process (WIP) candidate inventory – a pipeline of candidates that have been sourced, screened, evaluated, and “kept warm” through ongoing relationship management.

But don’t kid yourselves – there is a heavy cost associated with all of this work!

Building and maintaining a traditional pipeline of candidates requires quite a bit of time and effort. First you have to source well qualified candidates who closely match the forecasted/projected requirements – this often means a mix of phone sourcing, internet sourcing, social recruiting, and network/referral recruiting.

Then you need to screen and evaluate the potential candidates to verify that they are in fact good at what they do. After that, you’ll have to stay in regular contact with them to maintain a relationship and stay abreast of any changes in their situation and motivators.

Multiply this effort X 20, 50, 100+ candidates and simply the relationship management aspect of recruiting becomes the single largest time consuming aspect of pipelining candidates.

There must be some value being provided by all of this work being performed to proactively find, screen, and build and manage relationships with candidates for whom you don’t currently have a need, right?

From the comments I received on Part 1 in this series, I can tell many seasoned recruiting veterans certainly know the value that candidate pipelines generate for them.

However, the real question is what value is a recruiter providing to their customers – both candidate and client (hiring manager) – by all of this pipelining activity?

That question is trickier to answer than most people think. It’s actually a pretty deep question, and it can’t be answered by you. Value can only be determined by your customers – both candidates and clients. I’ll be dedicating a whole post to this concept in the near future.


I think that a large percentage of the time and effort associated with proactively building WIP candidate pipelines (candidates that have been found, screened/evaluated, and kept “warm”) is pure muda.

Muda is a Japanese term for an activity that is wasteful and doesn’t add value or is unproductive. One of the key steps in Lean production and the Toyota Production System is the “identification of which steps in a process add value and which do not. By classifying all the process activities into these two categories it is then possible to start actions for improving the former and eliminating the latter.”

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve written about my theories of Lean Recruiting – I honestly worry that it’s not a topic most people are interested in reading about because it is definitely “outside of the box” of traditional recruiting. However, I feel that Lean production concepts (including JIT sourcing/recruiting) will be a big part of the future of recruiting and staffing.

“Lean production is a practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Basically, lean is centered around creating more value with less work.” Now can you see why I’m such a Lean nut?

And remember – we’re not talking about the value to YOU, we’re talking about the value to your customers – candidates and clients.

The 5 Deadly Wastes of Candidate Pipelines

The activities associated with proactively building and maintaining work-in-process candidate pipelines involve 5 of the 7 wastes identified by Lean/TPS: overproduction, inventory, defects, over-processing, and waiting.


This happens each time you engage more candidates than needed to deliver to your customer. Proactively pipelining candidates ahead of need almost always leads to overproduction. Chances are you’ve never looked at it this way.


A proactively built pipeline of WIP candidates is inventory and requires time and effort to maintain. Sitting in the “relationship maintenance” phase does not provide  a real value for the candidates or clients, and what happens when the positions you pipelined candidates for never get approved or never become available?


According to Lean, a “defect” is something that does not conform to specifications or expectations.
I’m not suggesting that the people themselves are defects. However, candidates that are proactively sourced, contacted, screened, and with whom a relationship is maintained that do not ultimately match the actual hiring need are defects of the pipelining process. Defects arise whenever job specifications/requirements change from forecast, rendering pipelined candidates no longer qualified, or when candidates are no longer interested, available, or when their motivators change change away from your opportunity.

Forecasts are never perfect – they can’t be.  Positions and requirements change, and people don’t stay interested or available forever.


Over-processing occurs any time more work is done than what is required by the customer. Screening and building and maintaining relationships with candidates that will never be submitted to a client/manager can be seen as performing more work than necessary. Are your customers (candidates and clients) requiring you to maintain relationships with a large number of people who will likely no longer be available or interested or even qualified when you actually have a need?


Whenever candidates are not being advanced through the recruiting and hiring process, they are waiting. In most traditional recruiting processes, a large part of a candidate’s life is spent waiting to be moved forward in the process. Maintaining relationships with candidates is not moving forward – it’s a holding pattern, which for many candidates, is permanent.

This is What I’ve Got vs. This is the Best Candidate

One of the biggest issues with building candidate pipelines/work-in-process candidate inventory is quite insidious.

What does a recruiter do when they’ve built a deep candidate pipeline and a specific hiring need finally becomes available? They will go to their candidate pipeline of course.

At first glance, this seems like the logical thing to do – they’ve spent all of this time and effort building their work-in-process candidate pipeline – so why wouldn’t they start there? However, when recruiters do this, what they’re essentially doing is going through their inventory – what they happen to have on hand – which they produced not in response to this specific and “real” need, but a more general forecasted need.

Does this sound like a process designed to produce the best candidate at the right time?

I’ve watched many recruiters push their inventory. In many cases, after sorting through their candidate pipeline and determining who is still available, interested, and who actually fits the opening(s) – they may have had some candidates to submit to a client/hiring manager. However, the probability that the “best” candidates in their pipelines were still available and interested was low.

The issue here is pushing candidates just because you have them, without asking the critical question of whether or not they are actually the best candidates you can find.

Opportunity Cost

One of the opportunity costs of developing traditional candidate pipelines comes in the form of spending time and effort following up with candidates and checking to see if they are still available, interested and qualified rather than simply going out and finding the best candidates available.

When that position finally opens up for which you’ve been pipelining for – your first order of business is to make contact with everyone in your pipeline to see who is still available, who’s still interested, and who actually fits the job specifications. This can take a lot of time and effort – time and effort that could arguably be better spent simply going out and finding the best candidates you can, rather than checking your inventory.

And what happens when none of the best candidates in your pipeline are available, interested, or even fit your current hiring need?

Perhaps the reason why many recruiters seem to have too little time to find more and better candidates is because they’re spending so much time maintaining relationships with their candidate pipelines rather than trying to find the right people.

The Alternative to Work-In-Process Inventory

Now that we’ve taken a critical look at traditional pipelining – proactively building work-in-process (WIP) candidate inventory – let’s take a look at another way of viewing candidate inventory.

If you recall, work-in-process inventory is comprised of candidates that a recruiter stays in routine contact with, without a specific and current need. This is what many refer to as the relationship maintenance phase. It’s called “work-in-process” because they’ve been “processed” (sourced, contacted, and screened to some extent) and they also remain “in-process” as long as the recruiter maintains routine contact with them.

So could there be a form of candidate inventory that is not “in-process?”

Yes – I’m glad you asked!

Raw Material Inventory

I believe that resumes and/or candidate profiles (ATS, social networking sites, etc.) that sourcers and recruiters have access to and have the ability to retrieve on-demand are essentially candidates in their “raw material” form.

A raw material is something that is acted upon or used by human labor to create some product. To paraphrase Merriam Webster’s definition, raw material is material that can be converted by processing into a new and useful product: broadly – something with a potential for improvement or development.

“Raw material” candidate inventories consist of readily accessible resumes and/or relatively detailed candidate data (ATS solutions, resume databases, LinkedIn, etc.). These are people who have been identified as potential matches for current and/or future hiring needs based on their candidate data, but no time or energy is spent in an effort to build and maintain a relationship with these potential candidates prior to actual need.

Now, before you go thinking that I am commoditizing people – I’m not.

Remember, the resumes/candidate/social media profiles are the raw material – NOT the people they represent.

So What’s the Alternative to Traditional Candidate Pipelining?

I know it’s not easy getting people to question “the way it’s always been done.” That’s why I’ve spent so much time thoroughly exposing some of the intrinsic issues associated with traditional candidate pipelining.

Now that I’ve shown you a different way to look at candidate inventory (WIP vs. raw material), in my next post I will explain Just-in-Time sourcing and recruiting, under what conditions it can be achieved, and why it’s superior to traditional candidate pipelining.

I’ll also reveal what I believe is the ideal method of pipelining candidates.

Yes, I know that it might come as a bit of a shock to hear that I do believe in building candidate pipelines, especially after the thrashing I’ve given to proactively pipelining candidates ahead of need. However, the method of pipelining I’ve used to be highly productive and to provide maximum value to both candidates and clients isn’t traditional pipelining. :-)

Speaking of value – In my next post I’m thinking of exploring what the true value is that recruiters provide candidates. Here’s a hint – it’s not pipelining. Because when you really get down to it, pipelining primarily helps YOU, not the candidate.

But more on that next week. :-)

Click here to read Part 3

  • Wow – there is so much to think about in this post, it is hard to take it all in. I have never considered the costs of maintaining an inventory but there are some and I think that’s where I will start looking at this issue. Thanks for the insightful post – as usual!

  • Footie

    I have always felt that by presenting too many pipeline candidates do not serve the clients well and become a barrier to success. And that can often happen when you go right to your pipeline. By just depending on your pipeline, they may not be as well qualified but they are immediately available and often clients repond to that. And we are eager to show them how well prepared we are to help them. It often slows down the entire hiring process.
    I am continaully arguing this with my President…speed vs quality. Her focus is, of course, cost of hire while mine is getting our recruiters to sent out the most superior candidate and continually build the relationship.

  • Tom Formby

    Awesome post! It’s great to look at LEAN tools in relation to recruiting and I think TPS definitely has the most to offer. I think the key for most recruiting functions is not related to muda or in WIP, but the fact that there’s no systematic approach that’s focused on delivering the right product, with no defects within the customer’s lead times. TPS is a system and when we pull terms or tools out of it we confuse the quick fix with creating a system. A true system will dictate who interacts with who, the technology/tools used, the required outcomes and how to resolve problems in real-time.

    I think it is very possible to apply these principles to any recruiting process…one must just look at the system first and worry about tools second.

    Also…Have you ever thought of considering the raw materials as commodities? I know it sounds cold, but I think the raw materials that we’re speaking to (candidates) have differing values over time due to many reasons do they fit the definition. It’s just a different way to look at the problem so I’m not proposing that we treat candidates like pork bellies! ;-) Structuring the problem in different ways will lead to creative solutions.

    Keep the great thoughts coming!

  • Tom,
    Thanks! It’s good to know I’m not crazy when it comes to the idea of applying a Lean/TPS approach to recruiting!

    I’m definitely aware that one of the pitfalls of Lean is that people are often tempted to apply only some of the Lean tools or methods as opposed to applying the full systematic approach. I have my ideas on what a full life cycle Lean RPS (Recruiting Production System) would look like, but it’s such a beast it would easily take a small book to do the topic full justice!

    I honestly don’t think many organizations are ready to apply a TPS-like system to recruiting – you can see how many people responded to my first post in this series. Most people have a very hard time breaking out of the idea that recruiting is somehow totally different than any other industry just because it centers around people and not products. That’s why I decided to start small and begin with challenging some of the instrinsic issues of traditional proactive pipeline recruiting.

    I firmly believe it isn’t much of a leap at all to apply sound Lean and supply chain principles to talent identification and acquisition – you just have to step outside of the “box” that is “the way it’s always been done” in recruiting and staffing. No one likes change, and a whole paradigm shift is even tougher to get going.

    Thanks for your reply and for sharing your thoughts – it’s great to know there are other Lean/TPS fans out there in the recruitosphere!

  • Thanks Kathy! One of the main reasons why I decided to put so much time and effort into this series of posts was to simply get people to look at they way they’ve always done things in recruiting – especially traditional candidate pipelining – from a different angle, and begin to think creatively to create a way that delivers more value to candidates and clients with less work. I’m glad to know that I got you thinking!

  • Rob

    Thank you for sharing.


  • Sourcing Samuri


    I would be interested in learning surface level info about your theories in what a full life cycle Lean RPS (Recruiting Production System) would look like. (Either off-blog, or in a future post…)

    At Nestle we have develolped a very-sophisticated, end to end recruiting process that cleverly pays heavy attention to Maintained Pipelines, Proactive Search’s, and well thought out Workforce Plans (hire forcasting). The concept was designed around LEAN principals, and was created to mainly attack our “time to fill” metric. I’m confident it’s effective, but am certain it could be improved. I’d be curious to hear your perspective on what we’re doing…


  • Muri (無理, “unreasonable”)
    is a Japanese term for overburden, unreasonableness or absurdity, which has become popularized in the wonderful world of Sourcing Talent.

  • Kudo’s to you Glen for describing this paradigm shift in recruiting. I am a firm believer in this Lean practice in recruiting and can give testiment to the fact that it works. All too often, I have heard recruiters in this economy say that they are taking advantage of this slow time to increase their candidate pipeline and inventory to better position themselves when things turn around. One really has to question if today’s inventory is going to be fresh for tomorrow’s needs. The real secret is knowing that the shelf life for recruiting inventory is actually quite short.

  • Jeremy,
    Thank you for never failing to be entertaining!

  • Wendy, I think many recruiters never take the time to think about the value they are providing (or not) to candidates they indefinitely “keep warm.” There’s quite a bit of “overprocessing” going on with very little value passed on to the candidates.

    Regarding your “shelf life” comment – I wholeheartedly agree. More on that concept coming soon. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  • Justin, I am sure I will be writing more on the topic of Lean recruiting, leaking bits and pieces of what it would take to build a true RPS. If I ever get clearance to do so, I’d like to write a book on the subject.

    I am excited to hear Nestle has a recruiting process that was designed around Lean principles! As you can see if you do a little Internet research, there is VERY little written about the concepts of Lean recruiting, and even less about the actual practice. I see you noticed that I created a Lean sourcing and recruiting group (I just approved your request, thanks!) – I hope to get some discussions going there and attract more people who have experience with Lean recruiting as I do firmly believe it is only a matter of time before most companies realize the power and benefits of applying Lean principles to the recruiting process.

    With regard to what you’re doing at Nestle, I am curious to know – how much time and effort would you say is spent on performing proactive searches, and what % of proactively sourced candidates are spoken to? Additionally, how much time and effort is spent on maintaining WIP candidate inventory for whom there is not a current hiring need? Exactly what level of effort is extended to maintain candidate pipelines – phone calls, personal emails, automated emails, etc.?

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