Category Archives: Talent Pipelines

Building Talent Pipelines and Just-In-Time Recruiting – Part 4


Lean, Just-in-Time RecruitingWelcome to the 4th and final post of the “Building Talent Pipelines and Just-In-Time Recruiting” series. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read parts 12, and 3 before reading this post.

In Ben Franklin’s the Way to Wealth, he talks about the issues associated with carrying unnecessary inventory, “You call them goods; but, if you do not take care, they will prove evils to some of you…You expect they will be sold…but, if you have no occasion for them, they must be dear to you.”

If Ben were alive today and in the recruiting industry, he’d tell you that building, maintaining, and managing the turnover associated with in-process candidate inventory (traditional candidate pipelines) consumes a great amount of time and effort which ultimately may provide little-to-no value to candidate or client alike, at great cost to you.

So how can recruiters go about creating more value for their candidates and hiring managers with less work?

Just-In-Time Recruiting

Just-In-Time recruiting is based on the Lean, pull-based strategy of providing hiring managers/clients with candidates that exactly match their needs, when they want them, in the amount they want, without the safety net of a traditional candidate pipeline/WIP inventory.

Instead of proactively building and maintaining work-in-process (WIP) candidate pipelines without an actual hiring need, JIT recruiting has a primary focus of tapping into “raw material” candidate inventory (resumes, candidate profiles, etc.) and contacting, qualifying, and delivering candidates only in direct response to a hiring need.

JIT recruiting is replicable – anyone and any organization can achieve it.


I’m glad you asked.

How to Achieve Just-In-Time Recruiting

Anyone can find and develop candidate pipelines, but not everyone can achieve JIT recruiting and delivery.

This is because there are a few system and recruiter capability requirements that must be met before Just-In-Time recruiting and delivery can be reliably accomplished.

JIT Recruiting Requires Access to Human Capital Data

In Part 2 of this series, I introduced the concept of resumes and/or candidate profiles (ATS, social networking sites, etc.) as potential candidate “raw material” in the sense that they can be converted by processing (contacting and screening) into a new and useful product: a live and viable candidate.

In order to achieve JIT recruiting, a recruiter must have ready access to a volume of human capital data in the form of resumes, candidate records, or social network profiles that they are able to retrieve on-demand.

Any recruiter or organization hoping to achieve JIT recruiting should have their own well-stocked candidate database in the form of an ATS/CRM solution into which every candidate that responds to a job posting, that is found through a search, referred into or otherwise identified by a recruiter is permanently captured.

In an ideal scenario, a recruiter would have access to a Talent Warehouse. A Talent Warehouse is a specialized use of a CRM solution that is both manually and automatically populated on a daily basis with potential candidates that have been identified, parsed, and permanently captured from the Internet, social networks, and major/niche job board resume databases.

In addition to having access to a well stocked private Talent Warehouse (or at the very least, an ATS/CRM app), having access to 1 or more major and niche job board resume databases would further enhance Just-In-Time recruiting capability.

It should go without saying, but I am also factoring in access to LinkedIn and the Internet itself as significant sources of human capital data (raw material candidate inventory).

The Power of Numbers

When it comes to raw material candidate inventory – the more the better!

For some individuals and small local companies, 5,000 to 10,000 resumes/profiles may suffice. For larger, national, and global corporations, hundreds of thousands to several million records would be more ideal.

Having fast and easy on-demand access to more human capital data increases the probability that you can easily find the right candidates at the right time, either directly (search and retrieval) or indirectly (referral/network recruiting).

It’s simple statistics.

X Degrees of Separation

Speaking of numbers and statistics – one thing to keep in mind is that if you have access to a source of 10,000, 100,000, or 1,000,000+ people, the value of having that access is not limited to solely those individuals. Every single one of those individuals knows other people, who also know people, and so on.

In that sense, every source of human capital data, whether it is an ATS, a job board resume database, etc., is not unlike LinkedIn, except you can’t “see” the people who they know. But they do know them.

So for people who say that using technology for talent identification (resume databases, applicant tracking systems, etc.) has its limitations because not every person can be found electronically/online somewhere – they don’t have to be.

Although I would argue that with each passing day, more and more people ARE able to be found electronically somewhere – a trend that will never decrease – the simple fact of the matter is that any source of human capital data can be used to access a MUCH larger network of people who may or may not be online anywhere today.

With strong referral recruiting/phone networking skills, a recruiter can use a database of 10,000 candidates to essentially reach 300,000 or more people, or an ATS with 1,000,000 people to reach over 30,000,000 people – whether they can be found anywhere online or not.

How’s that for power?

JIT Recruiting Benefits from High “Searchability”

The more “searchable” a source of human capital data, the easier it is to reliably achieve Just-In-Time recruiting and delivery.

The minimum level of searchability to facilitate JIT recruiting would entail support of full Boolean logic queries of at least 400 characters.

An ideal level of searchability would go beyond basic Boolean and include manual proximity search, variable term weighting, and root word/stemming coupled with an AI/matching/recommendation engine. ATS/CRM solutions should also feature automated resume/profile parsing and field-specific (most recent title/experience, etc.) and derived data (years of experience, etc.) searching.

Thankfully, LinkedIn is highly searchable, although annoyingly, it does not support stemming/root word search. Most major job board resume databases are also highly searchable, including field-specific search, fixed proximity (Monster’s NEAR), and matching/recommendation capability (Careerbuilder’s R2 and Monster’s Power Resume Search).

High searchability facilitates a sourcer/recruiter’s ability to quickly (as in <1 – 5 minutes in most cases) and easily find people who have the highest probability of either being a great match for a specific position, or are highly likely to know someone who is, and contact and engage them. In other words – convert resumes/candidate profiles in their raw material form to screened, qualified, and engaged candidates.

JIT Recruiting Requires Effective Engagement and Referral Tactics and Strategies

A critical link in the process of Just-In-Time recruiting is the conversion of candidates from their raw material form into in-process candidates. This involves successfully contacting and engaging potential candidates in 2-way communication. Having quick and easy access to a large talent pool is great, but if you’re not very good at establishing 2 way communication with candidates you haven’t already established a relationship with, you’re going to have a very hard time achieving Just-In-Time recruiting.

By very good, I mean >75% response rate to initial email and phone contact attempts to candidates, regardless of their job search status (active, casual, passive, not looking).

Remember that when tapping into large pools of human capital data, we’re not targeting people based on their job search status – the goal is to find, contact, and engage anyone who is potentially well-qualified. Practically anyone can get an active or even casual job seeker to call them back or return their email. However, very few people are able to reliably get >75% of people who are not looking at all to respond to an email or phone call.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that 32% of all people are “passively looking” and that 34% are “not looking.” That’s fully 66% of the potential candidate pool – and the portion of talent that most recruiters and employers covet the most! If you can’t successfully connect with and quickly gain the interest of these people, you’re at a significant disadvantage in achieving Just-In-Time recruiting (or any form of passive candidate recruiting, for that matter).

I honestly believe this may be one of the core reasons why traditional proactive candidate pipelining is used as a solution to meet hiring needs. If you can’t get the majority of passive and non-job seekers who you’ve never contacted before to respond to you – your only option is to make the most of the people who you HAVE already contacted (your WIP inventory). However, being able to get practically anyone to respond to emails/call you back changes the game entirely, as you are no longer limited to the candidate inventory you happen to have on hand (your pipeline).

I know I’m onto something here – more on it later.

Just-In-Time Recruiting Requires Search Ability

Having access to a decent volume of high quality human capital “raw material” via systems that are highly searchable is quite literally worthless without the ability to actually leverage the data and the search capability. The value of information is directly related to the ability to retrieve precisely the right information, exactly when you need it.

To achieve Just-In-Time recruiting, sourcers and recruiters don’t have to be “Boolean Black Belts,” but they must be proficient in candidate search best practices, techniques, and strategies. In order to retrieve information from information systems, it’s critical to speak the “local language” – and there’s no getting around Boolean logic for querying data. Artificial Intelligence/Semantic Search applications and recommendation engines are great to have and can certainly help, but they are not a solution in and of themselves – they are not “the answer.”

Pipelining – Proactive vs. Reactive

Contrary to what some people may believe, Just-In-Time recruiting does leverage candidate pipelines – just not in the traditional way.

First, Just-In-Time recruiting involves the pipelining of raw material candidate inventory, in the form of resumes/candidate profiles. Recruiters and recruiting organizations should be both proactively and reactively, manually and automatically building a database of potential talent on a continual basis, 24 X 7.

Unlike traditional candidate pipelining, when these resumes are identified, acquired and permanently captured, the people that the resumes and social media profiles represent do not have to be contacted without an actual hiring need.

Second, Just-In-Time recruiting creates candidate pipelines as a result of sourcing and contacting potential candidates for a specific need. Any candidate that is not available, interested, or immediately qualified for the specific position being recruited for essentially becomes part of a work-in-process (WIP) candidate pipeline.

This can be referred to as “reactive pipelining,” and opposed to the “proactive pipelining” which involves contacting and engaging candidates without an actual hiring need.

Yes, I said the dreaded “reactive” word. I am well aware that many in the recruiting industry think “reactive” is a four-letter word. However, I am here to tell you that it most certainly is NOT. It’s an 8 letter word.

Seriously though, it is a common misconception that proactive = good, reactive = bad. In reality, Lean/TPS best practices dictate that an ideal state of production is one in which a product is produced or a service performed directly in response to a customer need (pull).

Ultimately, building candidate pipelines as a result of JIT recruiting efforts is actually a mix of both reactive and proactive strategy. It’s reactive in that people are contacted for a specific hiring need, and proactive in that anyone not interested, available, or the right fit for the position being recruited for enters the candidate pipeline for future opportunities.

There, that should make everyone happy. :-)

Just-In-Time Recruiting is Not Anti-Relationship

I received a few comments throughout this series from people who seemed concerned that Just-In-Time recruiting was anti-relationship – that it might somehow endorse “forgetting” about great candidates you’ve spoken or met with.

Nothing could be further from the truth. No aspect of the Just-In-Time recruiting concept and strategy has anything to do with not building and maintaining relationships with great people. I just wanted to take a moment to clear that up.

Just-In-Time Recruiting Requires Less Candidate “Processing”

While JIT recruiting supports building and maintaining relationships with candidates, it does not endorse doing so for no other purpose.

Remember that Just-In-Time is a Lean concept, and Lean is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful. I asked readers in Part 3 what they felt was the ultimate value they provide to candidates. Jeremy Langhans responded with what I believe is the most accurate answer, which is “a job.”

Many recruiters who proactively build and maintain relationships with candidates for which they do not have a current need never provide any real value to the candidates. These recruiters proactively pipeline the candidates for their own personal benefit – to be able to have people they can quickly “activate,” requalify, and submit when a position finally does open up. However, what real value is being provided to candidates who never move past the “relationship maintenance” phase in the recruiting lifecycle?

You only need to look at a few of the insightful comments left on previous posts in this series by people who have recently been on the candidate side of the experience to know that being kept warm doesn’t really do much for them.

In a JIT recruiting scenario, candidates are not contacted prior to actual need – their time is not potentially wasted in a perpetual state of being “kept warm.” If a candidate is contacted for a specific opportunity and it is determined that it is not a proper fit, or that they are not interested or available, they do enter the candidate pipeline for future opportunities and become work-in-process candidate inventory.

However, in Just-In-Time recruiting, the level of “processing” (relationship maintenance) involved in being a pipelined candidate is typically lower than that of candidates who are proactively pipelined ahead of need. In Lean terminology, this means that JIT recruiting reduces waste (overprocessing) and increases value for the candidates involved.

Here’s a quick story to illustrate this point: I was recruiting for a project manager with telecommunications industry and EAI experience and I found someone with a very strong resume – which was posted 6 months prior to the time I found it. I called him, left him a good message, and he called me back. He explained that he was not looking or available because he was working on a contract that was scheduled to end in 6 months. In about 10 minutes, I found out more about him and informed him of the kinds of positions I recruited for and typically had available. Then I asked if I could reach out to him in about 5 months. He said sure, so I set a reminder to call him in 5 months. I literally forgot about him until my reminder popped up 5 months later. I contacted him, qualified him some more, and submitted him to one of my clients. 2 phone calls, 1 submittal, 1 interview, 1 hire.

My point here is that I did not keep this person “warm” by chatting with him every 2-4 weeks during the 5 month period, and in no way to it prevent me from having a client hire a fantastic candidate who was extremely pleased with the opportunity. Minimal processing, maximum value for all involved – Lean/JIT recruiting at its purest form. I could have called this candidate every 30 days, but it would not have added any additional value to him or to my client.

Final Thoughts

In an effort to continually improve processes is critical to identify the assumptions and beliefs behind the current work process (i.e. “the way it’s always been done”) and to challenging them – significant breakthroughs can be achieved when you are able to identify untapped opportunities through challenging and assumptions and traditional beliefs.

Do you really think the way that the majority of people and organizations currently execute sourcing and recruiting is absolutely perfect, offering no room for improvement?

I’m trying to move the ball forward. I am not content to with the way things have always been done. I do not blindly accept what others tell me, and neither should you. There’s always a better way – what are you doing to find it?

I think that most people are trained on or learn about the concept of traditional candidate pipelining early in their careers, and I may be one of the few who was not. This seems to have given me somewhat of a unique perspective on the subject. In other words, no one ever told me the world was flat – that the most effective way to recruit has to involve traditional candidate pipelining.

It’s important to understand that I did not just sit around and think these ideas up, trying to adapt Lean and Just-In-Time production to recruiting. On the contrary, practically everything I write about comes directly from experiences I had during my first years in the recruiting industry, in the trenches, working a recruiting desk in a highly competitive staffing agency, 10 years before I even heard of the concept of Just-In-Time, let alone the Lean concepts of Value, Waste, Pull, and Perfect First-Time Quality.

What I learned largely through my own trial and error in the process of trying to not only keep my new job but also become the top performer for the company ended up being uncannily aligned with core Lean philosophy – creating more value for my candidates and clients with less work, and giving them exactly what they want, when they want it.

The expression “learning to see” comes from an ever developing ability to see waste where it was not perceived before. I’d like you to try and work in a Lean approach to everything that you do – to view the expenditure of time and effort for any goal other than the creation of value for your candidates and clients/hiring managers as wasteful.

I am not asking you to become a Lean/JIT recruiting convert – I’m just asking you to think, and to examine your recruiting processes and practices with a critical eye for waste, such as unnecessary WIP candidate inventory, over-processing, excessive waiting, overproduction, and defects.

Give it a try, and let me know how it goes. Thanks for reading!

Building Talent Pipelines and Just-In-Time Recruiting – 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 building traditional talent pipelines – 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 (e.g. LinkedIn Recruiter) – 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. It’s time to 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 you wait for Part 4, 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.

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. :-)

Building Talent Pipelines and Just-In-Time Recruiting – Part 1


Lean, Just-In-Time Recruiting Back in 2009 I wrote a 4-part series examining the logic and practices behind proactively building talent pipelines and how I believe that traditional talent pipelining can be significantly improved through leveraging Lean production principles to achieve Just-In-Time recruiting.

I haven’t written much on the topic of applying Lean principles to the recruiting life cycle in quite a while, and since my readership has expanded significantly over the past 4 years, I’d like to expose a broader and larger audience to the concepts and get 2013-level feedback from the talent acquisition community.

I still believe as strongly as ever that there are serious limitations, inefficiencies and consequences associated with building traditional talent pipelines (not the least of which is a poor candidate experience), and that leveraging Lean production principles in recruiting can yield much better results, for both candidates and companies.

Keep in mind that this is a 4-part series, so you may want to hold your comments until you read the entire collection.

Building Talent Pipelines and Just-In-Time Recruiting – Part 1

When 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.

Click here to read part  2 in the series.