Lean Recruiting & Just-In-Time Talent Acquisition Part 3

Lean, Just-In-Time Recruiting

In Part 1 and Part 2 in this series, I explored many of the intrinsic limitations and hidden costs of traditional candidate pipelining – sourcing, screening, and “keeping warm” candidates for which you do not have a current need.

To recap, traditional candidate pipelining:
  • Is a “push” based strategy that is not based on an actual customer (client or candidate) need
  • Often results in recruiters pushing their candidate inventory (what they have on hand) to clients rather than going out finding the best candidates
  • Creates a work-in-process inventory that is highly perishable and requires significant time and effort to maintain
  • Poses an opportunity cost when recruiters spend time re-qualifying and re-verifying the availability of their candidate pipeline when an actual hiring need arises
  • All of the time and effort spent maintaining relationships with candidates that will never be submitted to a hiring manager, interviewed, or hired is waste – it provides no value to candidate or client alike
  • Creates 5 of the 7 classic wastes of Lean production: over-production (recruiting more candidates than necessary), over-processing of candidates that will never be advanced in the hiring process, excessive WIP inventory, defects (candidates who do not match actual hiring requirements), and waiting (the vast majority of WIP candidates never move forward in the hiring process and spend most of their time waiting for something to happen that never happens)

Now that I’ve bloodied my knuckles putting a serious beating on candidate pipelining, let’s explore what I think is a better way to get the job done and provide value to candidates and clients: Just-In-Time (JIT) recruiting.

What is Just-In-Time Recruiting?

Just-In-Time (JIT) is a Lean concept that has been highly refined by Toyota. Lean is centered around creating more value with less work, and Lean production considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer (in recruiting – candidates and clients/hiring managers) to be wasteful.

JIT is a pull-based production strategy that strives to improve a business’s return on investment by reducing in-process inventory and associated carrying costs, making it easy for companies to react to specific demands with agility and speed with the goal of producing the exact product (or performing the exact service) that a customer wants, when they want it, in the amount they want.

Applying this concept to talent identification and acquisition, Just-In-Time recruiting is a pull-based strategy of providing hiring managers/clients with candidates that exactly match their needs, when they want them, in the amount they want.

Instead of proactively building and maintaining work-in-process (WIP) candidate pipelines, JIT recruiting has a primary focus of tapping into “raw material” candidate inventory (resumes, candidate profiles, etc.) and contacting delivering candidates only in direct response to a hiring need.

When properly executed, a recruiter can source, contact, screen/interview candidates and submit the best to a hiring authority for consideration within 24-48 hours of being given the “green light” for a specific position – all without having a traditional pipeline of candidates that have been “kept warm.”

Yes, even for “purple squirrel” requirements.

WIP Candidate Inventory is the Main Source of Waste

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. These 5 wastes occur mostly due to the fact that traditional candidate pipelining involves contacting and maintaining relationships with the candidates who are contacted.

The relationship maintenance aspect of proactive candidate pipelining automatically qualifies the candidate inventory as work-in-process (WIP) – because most of the candidates are often perpetually “in-process” (the waste of waiting).

WIP candidate pipelines are a perishable inventory that requires time and effort to maintain, and WIP inventory is one of the major wastes that Lean/JIT production is specifically designed to reduce. Moreover, proactively recruiting candidates ahead of actual need leads to overproduction – engaging more candidates than needed to deliver to your customer.

One could easily argue that screening and maintaining relationships with candidates that will never be moved forward in the hiring process (even submitted to a hiring manager for consideration) qualifies as over-processing.

And any candidate that is recruited proactively ahead of need that does not in fact meet the job specifications when it becomes available can qualify as a defect of the recruiting process. The same goes for candidates that were recruited ahead of need that are no longer available or interested when the need actually comes open.

Raw Material Candidate Inventory Reduces Waste

In Part 2, I introduced the concept of “raw material” candidate inventory, and it serves a critical role in Just-In-Time recruiting.

A raw material is something that can be converted by processing into a new and useful product: broadly – something with a potential for improvement or development. I believe that resumes and/or candidate profiles (ATS, social networking sites, etc.) that sourcers and recruiters have access to and are able to retrieve on-demand are essentially candidates in their “raw material” form.

These are people who have been (or can be) 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 – they are not “in-process”.

In a Just-In-Time recruiting scenario, sourcers and recruiters do not focus on proactively building and maintaining WIP candidate pipelines ahead of need, and instead focus on producing candidates only in direct response to a hiring need.

They do this by searching for and identifying candidates from their resumes, candidate records (ATS/CRM), and/or social network profiles – candidates in their raw material form – and contacting them only when they have an opening to hire for.

JIT recruiting does not suffer from the waste issues associates with carrying an excessive WIP inventory of candidates that are in a perpetual holding pattern of “relationship maintenance.” This is because:
  • Resumes are not “in-process” inventory – candidates are not contacted until there is an actual need, which also means there is little-to-no over-processing
  • Overproduction does not (or at least should not) occur when the object is to recruit candidates for a specific position once the need has been identified
  • Defects are less likely to occur when a recruiter is sourcing and contacting candidates for an actual need rather than a projected/forecasted need
  • Only candidates that are contacted and submitted in consideration for a specific position are waiting (as opposed to traditional candidate pipelining in which all candidates that are being “kept warm” are waiting)

Push vs. Pull


If you recall from Part 1 in this series, I identified traditional candidate pipelining as a “push” strategy – one in which batches of a candidates are sourced, contacted and screened, not in direct response to an actual/current customer need. These candidates are processed and “pushed” downstream (kept warm) whether there is a need for each candidate or not.

Push systems often result in the production of large inventories of product that require time and effort to maintain, and that perish or are never fully finished or sold. In recruiting, candidates “perish” when they are no longer available or interested, and they are not “fully finished” unless they are submitted to a hiring manager and interviewed, nor are they “sold” unless they are hired.

Essentially, traditional candidate pipelining that involves the building of an inventory of work-in-process candidates results in a large number of candidates that end up “sitting on the shelf” – most of whom “expire” without ever being fully processed or “bought” (hired). The vast majority of these candidates represent excess inventory that was not directly required for any current openings.


Just-In-Time is an ideal supply chain system which reduces WIP inventory costs and makes it easy for companies to react to specific customer demands with agility and speed – which is an excellent example of a “pull-based” system.

A pull-based strategy aims to respond to specific needs, not to anticipate them (e.g. a forecast). A fundamental principle of Lean is demand-based flow production. In this type of production setting, inventory is only pulled through each production center when it is needed to meet a customer’s order.

In Just-In-Time recruiting, recruiters only contact, screen and submit candidates in response to a client’s (internal or external) “order” – these processed candidates are pulled through the recruiting lifecycle based on actual demand.

Deli Analogy

A good example of a push-based system would be a deli that pre-makes their sandwiches every day. A deli with this business model would have to anticipate (forecast) the demand each day – by both total quantity and type of sandwiches. Customers are only able to choose from the sandwiches that have already been made – if you don’t like what they have available, you have to go somewhere else. For the deli, the pre-made sandwiches are WIP inventory, and any sandwiches that have been made and are not bought will eventually expire (due excessive waiting), can be considered as defects of the production system, and will be waste as a result of over-processing and overproduction.

A deli with a pull-based system would be something similar to Subway. They don’t pre-make sandwiches – everything is relatively custom made in a Just-In-Time manner based on each customer’s specific order. The only inventory they carry is raw material – the components that make up every possible combination available. There is essentially no work-in-process inventory, no over-processing, no overproduction, and very few defects (because each sandwich is made-to-order). As such, this is a very low-waste system because Subway is never left with any sandwiches that have been made but not sold. And customers are generally happy because they can get their sandwich they way they like it, with some degree of customization.

See where I’m going with this analogy? :-)

Yes – it is that simple.

Don’t resist applying sound and proven Lean/JIT supply chain principles to recruiting because people are not sandwiches (or any commodity or traditional “product”). Lean principles can be applied to ANY service or production process. Move your cheese.

All Pipelining is Not Created Equal

Many people have commented (here and here) on my first 2 posts in this series expressing that the ideal recruiting strategy would involve both JIT recruiting and candidate pipelining.

I am inclined to agree. However, there’s a catch.

Traditional candidate pipelining, in which sourcers and/or recruiters spend a lot of time finding, contacting, screening, and maintaining relationships with candidates for whom there is no current need, is highly wasteful.

I believe that to reduce waste (overproduction, over-processing, defects, waiting, and WIP inventory) and to provide more value to candidates and clients (internal or external), WIP candidate pipelines should be created as a byproduct of JIT recruiting.

In other words, any work-in-process candidate inventory should only be built as a result of contacting candidates for specific positions. Essentially, any candidate that is not available, interested, or the right match for the position being recruited for now becomes WIP inventory.

The critical distinction is the primary focus.

In a Lean/Just-In-Time recruiting model, recruiters have a primary focus of producing the exact candidates that a customer wants, when they want them, in the amount they want, in direct response to actual hiring needs. Recruiters should spend very little, if any, time focused solely on sourcing, contacting, and maintaining relationships with candidates for which there is no current need.

However, any candidate that is contacted for a specific opening that is not interested, currently available, or qualified can be entered into “relationship maintenance” mode – aka WIP inventory/your pipeline.

But should they be?

Provide Real Value to Your Customers

I believe traditional proactive candidate pipelining delivers very little value to the customers involved – candidates and clients alike.

I think this is mainly due to the fact that traditional candidate pipelining practices were developed primarily to aid recruiters in delivering candidates to hiring managers/clients in a timely fashion, as well as to provide greater insight into each candidate’s motivators which can facilitate closing and control. I don’t know about you, but none of that sounds like it puts the candidates’ interests first.

I have heard all of the “benefits” recruiters claim that candidates supposedly gain as a result of being in regular contact with recruiters while they’re being “kept warm” – industry/market information, resume and interview advice, etc. It certainly sounds good coming from a recruiter.

However, I’ve spoken with many active, passive, and non-job seekers who have candidly told me that they feel that it is a waste of their time to be in regular contact with a number of recruiters who have nothing “real” to offer them. It’s not that industry/market intel and interview/career advice isn’t appreciated or that it doesn’t provide any value, but it’s not what most people (candidates, mind you – not recruiters themselves – they are a little biased) see as the ultimate value that recruiters provide.

Also, most people are busy, have a life, and already have plenty of friends – do you really think that all of these great candidates out there need a new best friend or have the time to maintain a “relationship” with multiple recruiters? Do you think they want to?

Yes, developing, building, and maintaining relationships with great candidates will always be the central pillar of effective recruiting. However, from the candidate’s point of view, what do you think is the ultimate value you provide as a recruiter?

Do you think it is being “kept warm” in relationship maintenance mode and getting industry and career advice they could just as easily get from a blog, or that they are already getting from another recruiter?

If you take an objective step back, I find it hard to believe that no one else doesn’t see that traditional candidate pipelining primarily serves to benefit the recruiter – not the candidate, nor the client/hiring manager.

Most recruiters contact and build relationships with candidates ahead of an actual hiring need in the hopes that when a position finally does open up, they can contact the candidates they’ve built a relationship with and submit them to their hiring manager in a timely fashion.

One might be able to argue that traditional candidate pipelining does deliver value to clients because it can aid (but does not guarantee) a recruiter in being able to produce candidates when a client or manager needs them. However, as I’ve detailed in this post, a Just-In-Time recruiting model can effectively render traditional proactive candidate pipelining unnecessary and obsolete as a method of delivering the right candidates at the right time, in the right amount to your clients.

In fact, JIT recruiting can provide more value to your clients in that you can spend less time pushing your pre-packaged candidate inventory and spend more time finding and recruiting the best candidates, rather than spending all of your time trying to maintain and re-qualify your WIP candidate inventory that will inevitably and regularly perish.

Some Tough Questions for You

I realize that last section may have rattled some people. I think I even hear faint cries of “blasphemy!”

Hey, what can I say? I am trying to get people to think, question their assumptions, question what they’ve been taught (the assumptions of others), question the very foundation of what most people believe is THE way to recruit. That’s what it takes to make progress and improve a process – to find a better way.

To that end, here are some questions I’d like you to answer:

  • Precisely WHY do you maintain relationships with candidates?
  • What is the ultimate value you provide to candidates? Your clients/hiring managers?
  • What are you paid to do?
  • How much time should a sourcer/recruiter spend maintaining relationships with pipelined candidates for whom they have no current needs?
  • What is the ideal level of candidate processing prior to actual need?
  • How often should you stay in touch with in-process candidates?
  • How many candidates can you realistically maintain a “relationship” with?
  • Do you honestly feel that you are providing maximum value to candidates that you “keep warm,” but ultimately never even get submitted to a hiring manager in consideration for an opening?

Part 4, Really?

When I started to write the first post in this series, I wasn’t even intending it to be a series!

Innocently enough, I thought I could bang all of this stuff out in one article. However, when I started outlining all of the content and even in rough draft form it started to approach 8000 words (this post alone is over 2900 words), I realized there was no way to realistically package the paradigm shift involved in the comparison of traditional candidate pipelining vs. JIT recruiting into one post.

With each week that I set out to write the final post in this series, I both want to and find it necessary to go into more detail to thoroughly explore and explain the issues involved. If you do some Internet research on the topic of Lean or JIT recruiting – you can find a number of results, but they’re most are fairly shallow and don’t go into much detail. So I’m doing my part and adding some deeper content for others to find.

I thought this would be the final post – however, I’ve realized that you deserve one more, one specifically dedicated to HOW to achieve a JIT recruiting model.

I’ll also address many of the excellent comments and questions I’ve received in response to Parts 1 and 2.

While I work on finishing Part 4 (no easy task!), take a stab at answering those tough questions I asked above, and be sure to “step outside of the box” in an effort to leave your comfort zone.

Read Part 4 in the series here

  • Adam Johnson

    Great post as always Glenn, giving us all a lot to think about.

    As a recruiter who has recently spent some time out of work and looking for a new job, I can see both sides of the point you are outlining here. I had always thought my regular contact with candidates was both useful and re-assuring to them, that they would know I “had their back” and was regularly working on their behalf. However, spending some time in the job market highlighted to me how annoying this process can be from a candidates point of view. However good their intentions, it is easy for recruiters to come across as looking after their own interests first. Although I wouldn’t want anyone to be unemployed in the current economy, I think it can be a valuable learning experience for anyone in the recruiting industry to have to experience the process from the canddiates perspective. It has certainly changed my approach towards a more lean recruting philosophy.

  • Great series, Glenn. I couldn’t agree with you more. I wonder if there is reluctance in part because many recruiters don’t have the sophisticated search abilities required to properly utilize a just-in-time approach.

    A top-notch candidate that might be interested in X job (and you know this because you’ve “pipelined” her) will still want to talk to you about that job even if you haven’t previously established a relationship with them. As a recruiter, I’m far more concerned with who is QUALIFIED for my job than I am with who is INTERESTED in my job.

  • Adam,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience! There are too many recruiters who never take the time to think about the candidate’s perspective and what they experience being on the receiving end of the pipeline and being kept “warm.” I completely understand your sentiment – I do think recruiters should walk a mile in a candidate’s shoes, if only as a mental exercise, as I believe it would give most a valuable insight into their own strategies and tactics.

  • Aaron – you’re on the money. Not only do many recruiters lack the search strategies and tactics to take full advantage of all of the human capital data they have ready access to, it also has to do with the fact that so many ATS/CRM apps have limited and poor search capability, actually preventing sourcers and recruiters from being able to find the right candidates at the right time.

    And I agree with you – a great recruiter doesn’t really care whether or not candidates are actively looking and interested in your position, passively looking, or not looking at all – it’s all about experience, qualifications, and what they are capable of. I don’t think you’re really recruiting if you’re only calling people who have expressed interest in your position.

  • Precisely WHY do you maintain relationships with candidates? = easier to close them later?

    What is the ultimate value you provide to candidates? = a job?

    Your clients/hiring managers? = a candidate?

    What are you paid to do? = recruit

    How much time should a sourcer/recruiter spend maintaining relationships with pipe-lined candidates for whom they have no current needs? = um, about 15 minutes every 90 days per PROSPECT if they feel that PROSPECT is place-able should be a min. guideline, I think … more if they are getting referrals from that prospect for other open active reqs ;)

    What is the ideal level of candidate processing prior to actual need? = this Q doesn’t make sense. explain, plz

    How often should you stay in touch with in-process candidates? = you should have a touch point at every “Gate”

    How many candidates can you realistically maintain a “relationship” with? =

    Do you honestly feel that you are providing maximum value to candidates that you “keep warm,” but ultimately never even get submitted to a hiring manager in consideration for an opening? = if you want to get warm i hear SoCal is nice this time of year ;)

  • oops – i use some html on accident… on this Q here is my answer:

    How many candidates can you realistically maintain a “relationship” with? = [[ insert a post on PROSPECTS vs. “candidates” }}

  • Excellent series of posts, as usual.
    Would any of your recommendations be different if you were recruiting for a managed services/consulting firm that sought to build a long term team? While the candidates need to meet the end customer’s requirements, they also have to be good candidates for the consulting firm itself; people they can redeploy long term. Would pipelining be more appropriate in that situation?

  • Sourcing Samuri


    Great post.

    I think it’s important to point out who specifically, your target audience is for these topics. I can see this blog being received differently from different readers.

    Being an experienced Recruiter on both sides of the house (internal AND agency), I can say without a doubt that Recruiting Internally is a much different beast then Agency Recruiting. The approach is different, the motive is different, and the process is different. That being said, I think it’s important to point out that Lean Recruiting is a philosphy “mostly” embraced by Internal Recruiters/Recruiting Managers. After all, Lean Recruiting was developed to attack hiring metrics like “cost per hire”, “time to fill”, etc…. Metrics that most agencies never track.

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  • Joanne Peters

    I was basically going to write the same comment as Adam-I have looked at life from both sides now-meaning I am a recruiter recently turned job-seeker. I need a job. If I need to be kept warm, I have a great guy for that!
    JIT recruiting is already here and has been for a few years. This has been driven by a number of factors-social media, mobile apps, lean recruiting budgets, VMS and the “100% match” rule-to name a few. These articles are doing a great job of defining this natural evolution of recruiting and definitely getting a lot of dinosaurs thinking.
    There are issues with this though-commoditizing the art of recruiting as if it is making a subway sandwich has intrinsic dangers. Are all of us involved in bringing talent into our businesses forgetting that the best match isn’t always so formulaic as 2 slices of turkey and one squirt of mayo? I worry about the future of innovation when everyone seems to be hiring the exact match to skill sets-usually with the excuse that no one has the time to train. What about soft skills? What about new ideas brought from other industries? What about the fresh perspective of a new graduate?
    These are the advantages that a bit of “pipeling” can add to a recruiter’s value proposition to their clients, internal or external. Don’t invest time in the process of keeping an ever leaking pool full but definitely hang on to those people who your instincts tell you are great! That’s where the push should come in. After all there should always be a balance of push and pull.

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  • NNN

    I love your comments. I have believed in this type of recruiting for many years. Even if I have been criticized for recruiting this way – Recruit on demand. First of all, unless you always recruit for the same type of job that never changes, it’s fruitless to keep a long list of candidates. And today, things are changing all the time.
    I believe you can have a short list of people/candidates who you may have placed in the past or know through referrals or networking but to keep a long list of people just because you have received their resume or interviewed them in the past can be hopeless. It doesn’t help the recruiter or the candidate. Actually, when you raise expectations of candidates in that manner that is when candidates believe recruiters are full of it. Let’s face it, recruiters can’t place everyone. I often tell candidates how to go about conducting their own search now in this economy if I can’t help them.
    that isn’t to say that I don’t keep a few candidates with highly speciaized skills for those specific needs.
    But, in general, no.
    I find that even if you did keep a long line of candidates, chances are either something is missing, skill set or compensation or goals.

    It’s almost like keeping 4 different sizes of clothing in your closet just in case you might one day lose those 20 pounds. If you want to keep one or two sizes, that is reasonable but if you are a size 10, do you really think keeping those jeans size 2 for 5 years is worth the space in your closet? What are the chances? And if you did go down to a size 2…wouldn’t you run to the nearest mall for new clothes? RIGHT!
    Anyway, below are my answers to the tough questions.

    * Precisely WHY do you maintain relationships with candidates? It depends on the candidates. If they have backgrounds and skills that are generic to several industries, and I have filled many such positions, then it pays, otherwise, not.
    * What is the ultimate value you provide to candidates? Your clients/hiring managers? Giving them the best candidates that meet their needs.
    * What are you paid to do? provide an excellent service as quickly as possible with the right candidate
    * How much time should a sourcer/recruiter spend maintaining relationships with pipelined candidates for whom they have no current needs? very little time.
    * What is the ideal level of candidate processing prior to actual need? In my case, almost negligible.
    * How often should you stay in touch with in-process candidates? It really depends because unless you have a sound relationship with them, your call may alert them that there might be something available. Just to say hi is almost a let down.
    * How many candidates can you realistically maintain a “relationship” with? very few.
    * Do you honestly feel that you are providing maximum value to candidates that you “keep warm,” but ultimately never even get submitted to a hiring manager in consideration for an opening? Absolutely not.

  • NNN,
    Thank you for your detailed response – we are definitely on the same page. I’d also like to point out that you were also the only person who actually left answers to all of the tough questions. Bravo!

  • Claudio Joppert

    This is great material.
    When is Part 4 coming up?

  • MissionMeg

    Great post. I believe in a combo of pipeline and on demand recruiting.
    Here is the comment that I wanted to respond to: “As a recruiter, I’m far more concerned with who is QUALIFIED for my job than I am with who is INTERESTED in my job.”
    We must be concerned with both. Any recruiter can find candidates who are qualified, but what about deliverable? I’d challenge the 24 to 48 hr turnaround time to test the viability and deliverability of candidates. This is something that a long-term relationship will be able to offer.

  • @MissionMeg – thanks for your comment! I also sincerely appreciate the challenge. :-) I would not say any recruiter can find qualified candidates, and although most can, the real question is are they the best candidates they can find, or simply the ones they could find? Unlike many bloggers, I don’t write from a theoretical perspective – only from direct experience. So when I write about finding and recruiting candidates in 24-48 hours with no pipeline, I am finding very good candidates that are 100% deliverable (pre-closed and locked down). I’ve also trained hundreds of recruiters to do the same thing, who can and do get real results on a daily basis. I will continue to challenge they notion that you simply must have a preexisting relationship with candidates in order to be able to deliver on positions in a timely fashion. I found that trying to keep candidates “warm” did not benefit them, nor did it benefit me in the vast majority of cases. Candidates of all kinds – active and passive – are not “deliverable” indefinitely. The person you establish a relationship with today may not be deliverable when you “need” them, and you may never have the right opportunity for them when they are ready to make a move. I would consider that scenario as not providing any value to the candidate whatsoever.


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