How Recruiting Operations Can Adopt Agile Principles for Better Talent Acquisition Results

When most people, whether they’re on the employer side or the job seeker side, think about the traditional hiring process, agile usually isn’t the word that comes to mind. Arduous, perhaps, but not agile. Even as technology solutions and automations continue to flood the talent acquisition software market, recruiting teams still struggle with lengthy time to hire averages and ongoing efficiency barriers.

One remedy that enterprise organizations are pursing is to hire team members with a specialization in recruiting operations. Employers of all sizes—but particularly large employers—have added new roles dedicated to building and implementing the right HR tech stack.

Adding these competencies is a step in the right direction given the need for people who truly understand multifaceted systems and technologies relative to an organization’s desired outcome. Applying agile principles to the recruiting function, especially when implementing new technology, takes things one step further.

However, before looking at the specifics of agile as they relate to recruiting, it’s helpful to understand what it is and how it came to be. Essentially, the agile practices used by many teams today are rooted in the Agile Manifesto, a set of values and principles that emerged in the early 1990s as a means to ensuring “high-quality software delivered to satisfied customers on a continual basis.”

Prior to agile, software development teams typically received a complex set of project requirements to work from, only to find six months down the road that the final product delivered to the customer was met with disappointment. It either wasn’t what the customer expected or conditions had changed that resulted in far less value than originally anticipated.

Agile fixes this by making use of multiple frameworks, such as scrum. With scrum, instead of a complex set of pre-defined project requirements, development teams break the work up into little pieces, delivering the project to the customer iteratively in much shorter time frames. This allows for continual feedback and adjustments in response, which ensure both greater value and faster delivery.

While agile’s roots may be in software and product development, any business function can benefit from its principles because, at its core, agile is all about how the work is created and delivered with a focus on keeping things lean and simple.

In fact, you’ve probably already seen agile practices in action. Think of your organization’s most successful departments. It’s likely they’ve cultivated an agile environment, one that is transparent and that makes use of cross-functional teams. These teams favor conversation over documentation, they’re more open to change than others, and they prefer to work with software and product vendors who are more open to change, too.

So, back to why agile matters to recruiting operations. There are countless reasons but, for starters, consider it within the context of one of the most important values associated with agile—an emphasis on individuals and interactions rather than processes and tools.

From a talent acquisition perspective, this translates directly into the candidate experience, which is essential to the long-term health of an organization’s employer brand and ability to attract the best and brightest. Companies known for delivering exceptional candidate experiences embrace this value by focusing their efforts on “designing” what the experience should look like first and then developing the processes and tools in support of the candidate experience, as opposed to allowing outdated processes and sub-par software solutions already in place shape the experience. And, unfortunately, as we all know, the latter results in unhappy applicants, not to mention other stakeholders like hiring managers, which leads to poor conversion rates, lower candidate quality and an inability to secure the talent needed to achieve business goals.

Getting Started: Three Important Aspects of Agile

Whether your talent acquisition team is just beginning its agile journey or you are seeking to further integrate agile principles into your team’s approach to its work, here are three important aspects to consider:

#1: Agile is a mindset.

Having an agile mindset means always putting the “customer” first. In the case of recruiters, you have a few customer segments to think about, from the candidates who are looking for a suitable role to the hiring managers who need to strengthen their teams by bringing the right person on board. In either scenario, you should focus first and foremost on how you can solve the customer problem as quickly as possible. Ultimately, what this mindset does is facilitate partnership because when you satisfy customers with the highest quality and you do so more quickly, it makes the business more successful. And, as every talent acquisition leader can attest, when the business is more successful, employees are happier and more engaged—a cycle that repeats itself to further serve the business, the candidates who wish to join the organization and its employees.

#2. Continuous team interaction and transparency are essential to success.

For talent acquisition, this means continuous interaction and transparency with candidates and hiring managers. This eliminates assumptions and questions so that all parties are aware of what’s happening and why. Candidates and hiring managers grow frustrated when left in the dark, so even if your interaction is to let them know that next steps are “still pending,” communicate that to them and be as transparent as you can about the reasons why there is a delay.

#3. Learn to embrace failure (but always aim to fail fast).

As humans, we’re programmed to dislike failure of any kind and avoid it at all costs. Here, agile helps because it stresses that failure is part of the process; the part where you learn the most and are most likely to get creative because you must adjust in response to the failure. What’s beneficial about agile is that it’s team-focused, so when you do fail, you have a team to back you up and work with you to figure out a better and faster way forward—one that leads to greater value.

It’s hard to fail in the way we typically think of failure with an agile mindset. This is because team members let go of premeditated ideas and are empowered to be innovative in their approach to solving a problem. And when everyone shares that perspective, it’s much easier to avoid mistakes and pitfalls right from the start.

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