Nature vs. Nurture: How to Win Talent in the Digital Age




As a recruiter or hiring manager in the pre-internet era, we could only cast our net so wide. Our efforts were focused on classified ads, industry events, trade journals, and good old-fashioned networking. We had to know the terrain and make the best of our opportunities. On the plus side, there were more applicants who intended to stay with a company for ten or twenty years – or even the rest of their career. In some cases, this made things easier.


Recruiters now have access to a massive global database of professionals on LinkedIn. We browse company websites to learn about their people. We have foreknowledge of every conference and recruitment event in the world, some of which can be attended virtually. We plug into an endless stream of social media to sharpen our awareness of who’s out there, and who might be looking to change jobs.


All of these tools should make recruitment faster and easier – but have they really? The quantity (and speed) of information should reduce the amount of energy that goes into finding top quality talent to fill an open role – but does it?


The answer is: ‘yes and no.’


There are infinitely more opportunities for hiring managers to interact with, and ultimately hire, talented people who can deliver the goods. But there are an equally great number of opportunities for talented people to interact with hiring managers who can deliver what they want.

Competition on both sides has changed the way we think about recruiting, and the rules of engagement are fluid. What talented people want, and what makes a company desirable, are more like conversations than facts.


Nature vs. Nurture


One of the biggest risks for recruiters and hiring managers is only seeking out talent when there is an immediate opening – and relying on the wonders of technology to produce a result. If we think of recruitment in terms of “nature versus nurture” debate, this approach is closer to the “nature” side of things. It says that our recruitment decisions are hardwired by the surrounding environment – including digital tools, job markets, and the talent pool itself.


This is, of course, true to some extent. It was true when we used a rolodex to keep track of candidates, and it’s true now, when we have more information in our pockets than we could ever process. The way we do our jobs is shaped by the surrounding environment.


But success in recruitment is impossible without the “nurture” side of things – especially today, when there’s always a new tool or app designed to help us carry the load. The fact is that every hiring manager, every recruiter, and every job candidate has access to those tools. If we become complacent in our recruitment strategies, we have no way to stand out.


The answer is to nurture a recruitment strategy over time – to treat it as slow-burn enterprise, rather than a quick-hitting solution to an immediate problem. The stakes of recruitment are too high for anything else.

We can think of digital tools we use in modern recruitment as the upper layer of a deeper strategy. They allow us to interact with the global talent pool, but they don’t necessarily give us the insight we need to make hiring decisions that produce long-term results. That level of insight can only come through studying the relevant job markets, analysing the talent pool, and constantly assessing the hiring company’s needs and long-term goals.


Some recruiters lament the days when the talent pool was smaller, and the tools of recruitment were simpler. Some are happier with the speed and scale of modern recruitment. In both cases, though, a fundamental commitment to studying the terrain remains critical.


The parameters of recruitment have changed, but for any company who seeks better long-term health in talent management, the need for comprehensive insight and careful planning is greater than ever.


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