Reactive vs. Proactive Talent Strategies: The Power of Research in Recruiting Talent


As a Research Manager at an Executive Search Recruiting Firm, I think a lot about talent acquisition strategies. My colleagues and I are consistently implementing and adjusting talent strategies as unique as our clients and as specialized as the positions on which we are recruiting. When we are thinking through talent strategies, we consider two basic approaches: reactive and proactive talent acquisition.

While both strategic approaches are essential to any talent strategy, we believe that proactive talent strategies are the best way to reduce the time to build high-quality pipelines and increase the number of top tier candidates we present to clients.  

Reactive Strategies

Reactive talent acquisition strategies include any effort that disseminates information to the public via several sources, including but not limited to social media, digital job ads, and traditional job ads. These strategies reach out to people actively searching for a new opportunity.

Job postings and other advertisements are a great way to grab active job seekers’ attention, but their scope is inherently limited. While we will have to wait for new numbers and data to get an entirely accurate view of current trends, we know that traditionally only about 51% of employed people are searching for a job (Zety, 2020). Interestingly, 73% of those job seekers are only passively looking for a new opportunity (Small Business by the Numbers, 2020).  

These numbers point to one serious strategic gap in reactive talent strategies, simply put, they don’t reach your entire potential audience. With reactive talent strategies, companies post advertisements and hope that they attract the right people, but they don’t have a lot of control over who exactly sees their ads. 

In addition to missing out on potential candidates, reactive talent strategies also primarily attract under or unqualified candidates. While the numbers vary greatly, generally speaking, only around 2-10% of online applicants are invited to a first interview. Simply put, talent acquisition teams are spending too much time sorting through these unqualified applicants. 

Proactive Strategies

Proactive talent strategies include any strategy that actively targets, reaches out to, and engages with potential candidates. These candidates may not be actively considering making a career move, however, 92% of employed people would consider changing jobs for the right opportunity (TalentLyft, 2020). When we design proactive talent strategies, we work closely with our clients to outline the ideal candidate, and our research team starts doing their work. Using advanced research techniques, our team targets potential candidates, engages them, and sells them on our client’s opportunity. This targeted engagement ensures that the right people know about our client’s open positions and are excited to move along in the hiring process.  

Proactively targeting top tier candidates helps our clients make better hiring decisions faster. Selectively engaging relevant talent gives our clients a higher return on investment by increasing the quality of their talent pipeline.

Proactive talent strategies can also help increase the diversity of a talent pipeline. Overall, diverse candidates are less likely to apply to job ads. For example, in a recent report, LinkedIn found that women are less likely than men to apply for positions they find online (LinkedIn, 2019). Proactive talent strategies can counteract this tendency using a well-developed and engaging talent strategy.  

“All of the Above”

When assessing the value of reactive versus proactive strategies, it is essential to remember that the most successful talent strategies use an “all of the above” mentality. Finding the right mix of job postings, candidate sourcing, and creative recruiting is an essential part of successfully filling open positions. Relying on just one approach risks leaving out a pool of top tier potential candidates and unnecessarily increases the time and effort required to hire great talent.

Written by Gabe Murillo – Research Manager

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