Andersen Alumni recently published partner Jim O’Malley’s article, “Focusing on the Talent Acquisition Process.” Read the full article below.

Almost precisely two years ago, a study by Deloitte revealed that “organizations with mature talent acquisition strategies on average are 30 percent better than peers on business outcomes, including the ability to meet or exceed customer expectations, create new products and services faster than competitors, and meet or exceed financial targets.”

This study (as well as several other over the years that affirm the same point) ought to be a loud call to action. A thirty percent competitive advantage is nothing to be sneezed at, is it?! So why haven’t more organizations, in these intervening months, heeded this call? Maybe we’re living in an age of “TMI” (too much information), weary from being bombarded by too much data? Maybe the pain caused by shortages of talent isn’t quite acute enough yet? Or perhaps Talent Acquisition leaders and CEOs alike are too complacent or engaged with what they perceive to be more immediate challenges?

Whatever the reasons, developing what Deloitte calls a “mature talent acquisition strategy” is not rocket science. Certainly, it requires investments in smart thinking (whether inside or outside of your organization or a blend of both), good technology, and other resources. But frankly, an effective recruitment process is well within the grasp of most organizations if the design is, first and foremost, linked to your company’s business objectives and, secondly, as discussed below, if your organization applies focus.

What’s preventing focus?

The last decade within most recruitment functions has been marked by increased specialization. We now find a plethora of job titles such as specialized sourcers, executive recruiters, recruitment branding/marketers and researchers, etc. within many large organizations’ recruitment functions. As the profession becomes more and more specialized, many recruiters lose touch with what’s most important to the business–building relationships, assessing the right talent for the organization, getting talent onboarded and, once they have joined, ensuring that they are retained. Increased specialization means that recruiters start to focus more on managing their specializations rather than managing relationships.

On the other hand, within mid-sized and smaller organizations, the pendulum often swings the other way and recruiters try to do it all. That defies not only common sense but also violates the principles of focus because no single individual can possibly be a sleuth, technology wiz, salary expert, sourcer and assessment guru while also building and maintaining relationships with hiring managers and candidates.

Applying focus to the process

Given that specialization is likely to increase, not decrease, in importance in the future, the best way forward is to “buy” specialization by outsourcing parts of your talent acquisition function in order to retain focus. That is why you need to make well-informed decisions about what you do well–and not as well–at both the individual and functional level based on the following:

1. Relative costs

Doing something in-house is NOT always cheaper or better than buying it from the outside. To really understand the relative price tags of in- vs. outsourcing, do the math by, for example, comparing the costs of employing a senior level recruiter as well as support staff (such as researchers) to using an external service that you can essentially turn on and off.

2. The relative output

There is a belief that using in-house resources will produce the same, if not better, results, than buying external expertise. However, in my experience on both the corporate and consulting side, external firms generally have more resources at their fingertips including years of expertise specific to the type of talent you require, databases, social media expertise and real time insights into the market. In essence, by using a firm instead of an individual, you are buying the brainpower of a team.

The other consideration is leverage. By leveraging externally from a team, you will typically have more resources at your disposal. And more resources devoted to a single search usually means quicker results.

3. The ease/speed of external recruiters and their focus

Motivations guide behaviors. Not always–but often–external recruiting firms produce results faster because the hiring organization IS the client. External recruiters are not on payroll or being paid by the hour. It’s in their best interest to place and identify candidates quickly and move on to the next project.

4. The cultural component

“Cultural fit” is really important. However, this should not be an argument against hiring an external firm. Most experienced and reputable search firms seek to learn the pulse of the organizations they serve. During the intake process, their primary objectives should include getting to know your culture. If the external recruiters you are working with don’t ask those questions, then you need to look elsewhere.

The strategic rewards of applying focus

In my experience, a little bit of focus goes a long way. Consider the impact of outsourcing in the following two scenarios: (1) when an organization needs to be really proficient at recruiting for the same type of position repeatedly and/or (2) when it is growing so fast that it needs to hire all the people it can to fill certain critical senior roles.

In the first case, let’s assume you are a global IT consulting firm that sells large projects. Having the right senior staff with the right connections and the ability to sell multi-million dollar projects is critical. You are more than happy to pay that “right” individual very well and you will hire as many of these executives as you can find. This is the perfect argument to focus on investing in search/competitive intelligence; to constantly build talent communities of these executives; to attend the conferences that prospective talent attends, etc. In other words, your in-house team can focus, with laser accuracy, on a targeted campaign that repeatedly gets your employer brand in front of this group of candidates.

As far as the second scenario–recruiting during fast growth–I lived this first hand while working at Andersen. After Accenture split off, the emphasis shifted to rebuilding the mid-market consulting practice. At that time, demand for those services was so great that we sought to hire any qualified individual from any of our direct competitors. We built an in-house executive search function, invested in research and assigned recruiters to focus exclusively on our four largest competitors. Since we were not recruiting for a specific position, our approach was unique: we were not pitching a job; we were pitching the firm. Within this initiative, the focus was not on “how many did you hire?” or “did you fill that position yet?” We were entirely obsessed with building relationships and getting to know our competition intimately. My team became much more relevant as recruiters because we were tasked with business development, marketing and competitive intelligence in order to sell our brand to these candidates. This, in my opinion, is where in-house recruiting should be focused while recognizing that it always makes sense to buy from an expert recruiter to fill a “critical” or “difficult” position or a time sensitive position. That’s when external recruiters excel.


So, as you go into the 2017 budget planning season, consider how you can get your internal resources more focused. Leveraging an outsourced model prudently can help you achieve that focus. By “prudently,” I mean that you must strategically assess your needs to see (a) what parts of your recruitment process and (b) what roles best lend themselves to outsourcing. Applying prudence clearly also entails looking at costs, output, speed and your culture. If all of these considerations align with your talent needs, you’ll be much better positioned to achieve the kind of focus that a mature recruitment approach entails. And that is almost certain to produce results.

J. James O’Malley

About the Author

Jim has spent 25 years on both ends of the table, developing HR and talent solutions to align leadership, talent, and business needs.

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