Building Talent Pipelines and Just-In-Time Recruiting – 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 thoughts 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 Traditional Talent Pipelines

The activities associated with proactively building and maintaining work-in-process talent 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. What kind of candidate experience comes from being an “overflow” candidate?


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. What happens when the positions you pipelined candidates for never get approved or never become available? What happens when the people in your talent pipeline take other positions? No one is “permanently available” to interview and accept an offer for a new position.


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.

Your hiring managers would certainly prefer the latter.

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 (and/or the BEST!) 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 stored in CRM, ATS and social databases (LinkedIn) 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 in the next part in the series. :-)