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Think Differently When Hiring Your Next Head of Talent Acquisition

With constant demand for workers comes new demand for talent acquisition leaders. Couple that with historic talent shortages, progressive organizations are thinking outside the box when it comes to finding heads of TA who can develop a competitive advantage.

Ivan Perry VP Talent AcquisitionIvan Perry, i4cp’s VP of Talent Acquisition and co-leader of i4cp’s HR executive search firm, weighed in on the i4cp’s research has shown, the typical profile of the TA leader has been changing and will continue to evolve as we move forward.

What we're seeing now as we look at TA leaders in the market is that our clients are looking for a competitive advantage by searching out somebody with a bit of a different background.

They could be looking for someone who comes from an HR business partner role or from talent management, or even someone with an executive search or consulting background.

And as our clients explore this, it's our job to talk them through what these different profiles could look like in terms of an internal career path—or what the career path looks like if the individual is hired into a new organization. We guide them on what skill sets each profile could bring and the assets they could bring to the organization.

Would you say that clients are trying to gain a better understanding of what their business needs are and apply that viewpoint to finding talent?

Absolutely. Some of the skill sets that make a talent acquisition leader great are knowing where the talent is in the market and knowing how to find that talent, whether that means searching and recruiting within their same industry or looking at other industries. What we're seeing more of now is clients asking themselves questions like, “What is the strategic direction of our organization? What are the future needs for the organization two or three years out, and how do we find THAT talent?"

The skillset of the talent acquisition leader is becoming much more strategic.

For instance, one of my past clients, a leading life sciences organization, made the decision to split their TA leadership role into two roles—one for a particular person and profile that is focused more on talent acquisition strategy and the other for someone more focused on talent acquisition delivery.

What would have been one role handling the talent acquisition, the strategy, AND the delivery in the past is now broken up into two roles where one person can really set and provide the overall strategic direction for talent acquisition by sitting with the business partners and leaders to work through questions like:

  • What are the future needs and workforce planning outcomes of the business?
  • What's our “build/buy” talent strategy?
  • How do we proactively fulfill the talent pipeline?

That's a skill set and it’s the unique person clients are looking for—and of course, strategic experience is a skill set that is changing.

How do those two roles you just described work together / complement each other?

I think the collaboration between the person who's a TA strategy lead versus the TA delivery lead is key.

Effective talent acquisition can't happen in a vacuum. With workforce planning, talent management, and organization development, talent acquisition has been truly integrated into the HR function, which has to be fully integrated into the rest of the business. The TA strategy lead has to have a consultant mindset—which means being highly collaborative, highly communicative, and making sure that everyone is working together efficiently.

Is this shift to a more strategic role naturally drawing in more people from HR, talent management etc.? Or are you seeing a gap in terms of people who may have those needed skill sets but don't necessarily want to go into the talent acquisition realm?

As a recruiter, looking at somebody from any one of the major consulting firms that are out there, if I'm trying to convince them to move into a talent acquisition strategy role, it's incumbent upon me and my client to be able to get that individual to imagine exactly how they will be working with the business to achieve the outcomes or the talent strategy for the organization. It's a direct impact. The people you go out to hire, attract, and retain are going to be coming into the organization making a big impact.

I would say that the sell, as it were, is just making sure that people understand that coming into a new organization is really about the strategy and working with the business leaders and HRBPs to talk about workforce planning while informing and influencing the strategy with those business leaders to make sure that they understand.

The next question that I always have for clients as we look for this new talent profile and as I speak with candidates in the market, is “What’s next?” If I come into the organization from this consulting background, from this search background where I was a principal or partner, I would want to understand the career path.

If someone is moving into a purely talent acquisition strategy role and they’re not doing much of the execution piece, then there could be so many different career paths within that organization that they could take. And I've seen clients do this. They can even move into a HRBP or change management role.

Would you say that the sell is necessary right now because individuals aren't necessarily currently thinking about that as a career path?

I would say so. It's not a traditional career path if someone were to move from consulting or from more of a business development focused executive search leader into an in-house capability developing talent acquisition strategy. As you think about the career trajectory of the person going in and what their career can look like, I think the sell becomes pretty important. So really that sell of, "Here's what your career can look like going in, but here's what it can look like coming out" has become very important.

What would you recommend for people who have followed the traditional talent acquisition path that you spoke about earlier, in terms of diversifying their skill set by of moving into more hybrid roles or stepping outside of TA before they can maybe come back into TA in a leadership role?

You make an interesting point. If organizations are starting to hire talent acquisition strategy leaders with unique profiles and backgrounds, as they continue to grow, if some of them stay in talent acquisition, aren't we reshaping what the talent acquisition leader of the future looks like? There’s certainly that possibility.

It's not uncommon to see a talent acquisition professionals move into different areas of HR to broaden their skillsets. Those career moves are enabled by a organization with a progressive culture and strong EVP.

TA historically tends to be a little siloed off from even some of the other HR functions. With that in mind, what are your thoughts on competitiveness and competition for talent in the years ahead? 

I would say that the least progressive organizations want order takers, which leads to less partnering with the business leaders. Progressive organizations provide TA with an open line to the business and other parts of HR (TM, HRBPs, compensation, etc.).

Finding talent requires TA leaders to think creatively about the talent they are trying to attract. When they speak with the business they can no longer be the order taker? They have to challenge the thoughts of the business to really dig into the question of "why do you want somebody from that particular company? Why do you think this industry should be the focus?" Maybe we can find different skill sets from a different industry. Maybe we can be we can develop a competitive advantage by tapping into a talent pool that doesn't exist yet. How do we think about doing this, challenging the mindset of the business?

I think it's more that the talent acquisition strategy leader offers a competitive advantage to organizations. This is still a concept that some organizations are building and a capability that they are still beta.