The myth of the talent community…

I wrote the following paragraph in a paper in 2004 for a strategic review of the recruitment business I was running:

“Our proposition is to move away from the notion of resourcing altogether.  In our new world, resourcing is purely one of a number of opportunities or consequences of a new form of activity – building networks and communities – that will address a number of issues, not just those associated with gaps in headcount numbers.”

At the time I knew exactly what I meant, but I really struggled how t make it a reality.  Now of course proper community and social solutions have emerged that go some way to bringing it to life.

And I still firmly believe that communities are the key source of talent.  I say ‘are’ because communities are alive and well and have been for decades, despite what the recent hype in the social world would have you believe.  Some are offline, some are online in fairly clunky environments and a small number are emerging on modern, flexible and fully socially enabled platforms.  But whilst I believe in ‘communities of talent’ and the potential of tapping into them, I don’t believe in the future of ‘talent communities’.  A subtle switch of words yes, but one that makes a huge difference.

Lucian Tarnowski, Founder and CEO of Brave New Talent recently commented on Gary Franklins excellent blog post about social recruiting:

“I think the market is still in it’s early days but believe that every employer will have a talent community that will be based on conversation.”

Early days, yes.  Talent communities?  I’m not so sure.  There are a few fundamental reasons why the notion of a ‘talent community’ doesn’t make sense:

Talent – what most companies will achieve when trying to build a community around their career site will be a group of job seekers, not ‘talent’.  Unless, of course, an organisation decides to filter out 95% of the applicants and only allow entry to the community to a very small number who fit a particular formula.  Even in these circumstances though, talent communities built around career sites consist primarily of active candidates.   In a ‘talent community, one of the primary target groups – the passive candidate – is missing.  In other words, the talent!

Context – probably the most important element of a community; the reason for being, the setting.  Finding a job with say Coke or Diageo, or any company for that matter is not a relevant context.  Communities of individuals tend to gather around a common interest or subject and job seeking, whilst a common activity, isn’t something that provides a sustainable context for a community.  That doesn’t meant that I don’t believe job seeking won’t, and shouldn’t, become a more socially driven experience – see here for more on that subject and the debate it generated, but inherently, it’s not compelling enough.

Transience – communities tend to be participative.  Sure, the rule of 1:10:100 still applies in terms of participation, but generally speaking, a community of subject or interest has an on-going connection between its constituents.  HR, Cars, Steam engines – you name it, there is an on-going dialogue around the subject at hand, with longer term relationships and interactions being built over time.  Job seeking is an event, not an interest.  Even a very talented and desirable individual will move on after only a few months in a ‘talent community’ – either because they got hired or because the got a job elsewhere.  In both of these circumstances, they will rarely have an on-going participation in the ‘talent community’ (Footnote here – I am seeing a very small number of organisations connecting employees with job seekers, but this is very rare right now)

Conversation – If you have a transient pool of individuals without a valid context, you struggle to achieve the other critical element of a community of value – conversation.  Over time, the conversations develop into relationships, debates, opinions. Sustainable interaction.  This is critical to developing and creating real value in the environment.

So where does that leave us?  Well, in my mind, to exploit the potential of communities we have to change our thinking in terms sourcing strategies.  And there is the key word – source.  Unfortunately, web 1.0 has undermined our ability to source properly and we now have a generation of recruiters – in-house and agency – who have no real sourcing skills whatsoever.

Web 1.0 effectively pushed us down a road of attraction – a whole industry was created around posting a job online, waiting for a response and handling that response when it comes in.  A whole industry – built around reactivity.  We have become obsessed with driving job seekers (and customers, lets face it) back to our domain, instead of fine tuning skills and technology to access, mine and interact with ‘people’ or ‘professionals’ on their own terms, in their own environments, in their domains.

Communities containing all the talent we will ever need already exist.  The smart organisations will realise that its much better to find a way to tap into them and the talent that lies within – job seekers or not – than it is to try and create a ‘talent community’ around their own career site or proposition.  Smarter still though, will be the organisations that fuel and create those communities of interest, independently of their own brand or career portal ambitions.

25 thoughts on “The myth of the talent community…

  1. Gareth, I completely agree. For me, the generic recruitment model still rests so much of its focus on transactional elements that are simply fleeting, transient instances over the course of a much longer career. As someone experiencing the job search process myself this year, I have experienced very bad recruiters and very good recruiters – but aside from using them to find a career opening, I have absolutely no need to interact with them or build any further relationships.

    I believe that the future of recruitment lies in networking, plain and simple. One only has to look at the impact of Twitter in such a short space of time to see how many people are finding new opportunities through the platform – and it truly is only a fraction of individuals that are actually doing this effectively.

    I believe that as social becomes ever more ingrained in our daily lives, online, living social networks will become the de facto method of seeking new opportunities – putting ourselves ‘out there’ to a network, and being snapped up.

    ‘Talent communities’ sound very corporate to me. As you rightly purport; the focus here is around ‘talent’ – and thus the value that that particular ‘pool’ can offer a recruiter. The very phrase ‘talent community’ is very one-way – where does that community add value to the talent in question?

    We’ve seen how authentic, active communities evolve out of genuine interaction, conversation and reciprocal value. ‘Talent communities’ strike me as a modern, yet already out-dated, phrase. I genuinely believe that the future of recruitment lays in the hands of niche recruiters, for example ‘marketing recruiters’. One only has to look at the sterling work done by Only Marketing Jobs, in essence a transactional job board, but in reality, a multi-faceted marketing community led by some very charismatic and innovative chaps.

    ‘Talent communities’ don’t exist.

    ‘Communities’ do.


    • Well said Callum and thanks for commenting. You are right, talent communities are sounding a bit corporate and already a little dated. Certainly its overused. One of the problems is that Recruitment advertising and other digital agencies are jumping on the bandwagon and trying to convince companies that they can ‘build you a talent community’ just like they ‘built them a career website’ 5 years ago. Puurleeeaase!

      ‘Talent communities dont exist. Communities do.” Spot on – couldn’t have put it better myself.


  2. I find the idea of a talent community pretty offensive. By implication if you’re not in it (whatever it is) then you haven’t got…talent. Talent is nothing without practice. In a previous life most folks around me were surprised to learn I wasn’t a part of the “talent community”. Fact is I declined to join it, I didn’t need that badge then and I sure don’t need it now. I feel like Groucho Marx.

    I guess you could argue that everyone has talent – that is to say the ability to practice stuff and get very good indeed at it. Are they in the right place to take advantage of this? Often not – and sadly most folk ain’t got or don’t want what it takes. And that’s not a criticism, it’s fine by me. It’s just how it is.

    I repeat Callum’s excellent close:

    ‘Talent communities’ don’t exist.

    ‘Communities’ do.


    • Hi Doug- im in the camp of talent is everywhere. I dont believe there is a shortage at all and that the war is pointless. We might have a skills distribution issue in places, but that it. I once heard Alex Wilson, the BT Group HR Director describe the BT talent pool as being 1700 people! How patronising is that for the vast majority of other great people that work there?


  3. Hi Gareth,

    I absolutely love this post! Or “blog” as you Brits like to say😉

    Talent Communities is one of the topics that’s been swirling around my head for the last couple of weeks. It’s like pieces of food stuck between my teeth. Only that it’s in my brain. And you helped me get rid of one of those pieces😉

    I started writing a comment, but it became almost as long as your initial post. So here are just a few thoughts (I swear, I really tried to keep it short):

    Maybe we should stop talking about “talent communities”. As you said: “Job seeking is an event, not an interest”, and there needs to be a common interest that goes beyond finding a job.

    How about we just focus on “communities” instead? But this means that the “company representatives” must become part of the community, otherwise they would be completely out of place.

    Actually, I think this is exactly the social media philosophy where you don’t broadcast, try to control or are the event manager standing aside and watching. But instead you become part of the whole thing and start to share, engage, argue, learn, etc.

    Are we still talking about talent communities? Why don’t we concentrate instead on encouraging our employees to join communities and get to know people in their field? Who knows, this might lead to some fantastic referrals?


    • Exactly! And im as challenged as you in terms of short replies! You are spot on in my view – the focus should be on doing what we have always done – referrals in this case – but leveraging communities as they form to draw great referrals from. And yes, we need to embrace the expansion of our employees social footprints – where they go willingly – referred to as desire paths – is where other great people are.


  4. Great post Gareth – the thought that recruiters can create a `talent` community that will all talk to each other about opportunities and share experiences is totally flawed.

    Recruiters can create communities of their own, for their own consumption and monitoring – keeping tabs on the `talent` in a specific market, both active and passive – but to try and suggest that we can produce some sort of communal zone for the like-minded external jobseeker is clumsy thinking.

    I think the `talent community` concept is recruitment getting carried away with social media and mis-representing the purpose of commercially led communities.


    • “mis representing the purpose of commercially led communities” – love it! Good recruiters keep track and go where the people are as you point out, not the other way round! Although i do think that job seeking will become a more social and mutually supportive experience over time. There is already some evidence this is happening in the G4S solution put together by Colin Minto. Interesting one to watch. Not a talent community though😉


      • Elaboration on the point about `mis-representing the purpose of commercially led communities` – my clients are predominantly commercial social media marketing agencies acting for brands like Microsoft, Nokia, TGI Fridays, Nike, etc). They are professionals at creating communities – but they don’t do it out of some idyllic fluffy interacting community – they do it to bring people with mutual interests in one place – Facebook, a forum, a Twitter-following, a competition structure – and with the one commercial purposes of wheedling out the most influential communicators and significant voices with the greatest reach to `recruit` as potential brand advocates.

        Recruitment agency/In-house recruiter `communities` – can and should be just the same. Built around a specific niche, a collection of individuals within the focus of the recruiter – engaged with continual communication, content sharing, insights and promotion – will soon wheedle out the the active job seeking talent. In my `community` – they’re all talent – just with different needs, goals, skills & levels and with active, inactive or passive job-seeking purpose. It’s my job to know which are which and apply action for my clients accordingly.

        I don’t think job-seeking will ever be a `sharing community` event and any grand scale. Mutual interest, common banter and passion create interactive communities. Job-seeking is predominantly a personal exercise.


  5. Talent is different things to different people. I empathise with Doug’s view above that if you’re not in it, it implies you don’t have it. I take the view that pretty much everyone HAS talent – but due in no small part to the education system (and particularly the careers service) in the UK being not fit for purpose, most have no idea where their real talent lies.

    I also hold with Etienne’s point that if a community (badged talent or otherwise) is being built for the purposes of a corporate entity, that company must encourage it’s own employees to get involved. To do otherwise simply gives away the lie of the thing.

    Finally (with my new professional hat on!) I’m loving Callum’s point around education. Any non-formal community aids the development of those people in it. Yet when we look at communities formed artificially by companies, this almost never happens. Communities for corporate purposes can be built, but there must be two-way dialogue and particularly, the corporate must add some value (and I do mean other than simply firing jobs at the talent!).

    Whilst I like the questions your post raises, I disagree that smart companies will simply tap into communities that exist elsewhere. When I look at firms trying to do this by engaging on specialist blogs, they generally take a short-term approach to try and take the talent elsewhere. When I look at firms trying to do this on Facebook or Twitter, the engagement is all or none. There’s no room for specialist or niche.

    Watch this space though. There are a few people around who have thoughts on how to address some of these issues. It’s a (relatively) new area in terms of using technology to address community, especially for company hiring or education. Thanks for writing a thought-provoking post on the subject – the more who do, the more thinking/exploring will be done and the faster we’ll all progress!


    • It is great to find like minded thinkers about recruitment and sourcing talent. I agree that the notion of a “talent community” is flawed for the reasons above – however communities have always been an important part of our social lives. Whether at the local football ground, church, working men’s club or golf society. We are all individuals but at times like to act as part of a community.
      With so many new forms of “social” communication it is now easier than ever before to be part of a community – even from the comfort of your armchair! But each community needs to be niche and relevant to their members / individuals. Small is beautiful….large job boards and recruiters watch out!


      • niche is good! Like you say – large job boards and recruiters are losing their edge, but do they know that?!


    • I think corporates in general struggle with the concept because it also conflicts with our corporate historical structures and their efforts, where they can be bothered to interact, are clumsy. Its amazing how many think that the privilege of access to jobs with the company should be enough to garner total commitment!

      When i say smart companies i mean the ones that are getting it right but there are precious few. I believe the future is tapping into these communities – that exist already dont forget – where access is now easier, as long as you are yourself a community member and to behave that way.

      Looking forward to forwarding the debate!


  6. I just wrote a long post in the “Talent Communities” group over on LinkedIn, so i won’t belabor (no U, take that!!) the point here. What I think is that Employer-centric talent communities, can and should exist. For as long as I’ve been in the business, there have been talks about suffusing an ATS with a CRM so that the candidate experience could be raised. Now, while not perfect, the kinds of talent communities I am seeing built, DO THAT. They allow an employer to engage with folks before, during and after the recruitment process. There are two primary flaws to this new talent community bandwagon, they are as follows (from my comment on LinkedIn):

    Because building talent communities (real ones I mean) is relatively new, we’ve modeled them around consumer communities or peer communities. While these are tremendously useful models, one of two things happen (it’s my hypothesis anyway that these things happen):

    1- Employers feel that a healthy community is one which sustains itself, thus absolving themselves of interaction within communities they EXPRESSLY built to engage with potential employees. Result: Candidate Experience Suffers

    2- Communities are built around the “chaos” or “triage” apex of JOBS. This makes total sense from a recruiting perspective but less so from a talent community perspective. As the workforce drifts farther into “project management mode” and jobs are held for less and less time with each generation, building your communication strategies around something that is increasingly fleeting makes little sense. Result: Candidate experience suffers (or is prematurely halted because the HM or recruiter sees little reason to continue it, the job’s been filled).

    I am not saying the above points are wrong, just a little short sighted in the building of communities, if that is what we’re trying to do. I can’t wait to see some of these “across the board” indicators come through in the award results, so we can mine them for more and more data.

    end quote.

    James is spot on in that one great way to move beyond issue #2 is to make the talent community a living breathing thing by it being irrespective of recruitment (or the community member’s spot on the recruiting continuum). While talent communities can be used for social recruiting and even perhaps may have been created for the purpose by some enterprising person, the interaction between candidate and employer need not end once the contract has been drawn up or the offer extended. Employee engagement, workforce planning, internal communication, increased transparency, employer branding…all of these are things that can be affected by a talent community with a powerful platform and a robust set of parameters.

    If you only define communities as a place where peers talk to one another (jobseekers looking for a job at the same company talking to one another…uh NO) then perhaps we are using our words incorrectly in calling them talent communities. But if you can accept (because human nature demands it) that much of the communication on those lines will be internal to external, on several levels, I think the definition of talent communities stands. Again, we should be careful not to try and cram our preconceived notions of community onto a talent community. As this plays out (and has played out) we’ve seen that communities can be formed around more than just shared interests and I believe that we will continue to rapidly redefine talent community in the coming years.

    Ew this is so long.Finally, I think this will be further defined as companies begin to see the benefit of training up a global workforce. Yes, it’s true that candidates need jobs (so initially the power balance can feel a little off) but organizations also need employees and well-trained ones, this will settle the seesaw in time.

    #ramblings…sorry to hijack


    • Whoa! Or however you say it! Thanks for that, and apologies for the delay in responding to your most excellent comment! A lot of work and 5 days R&R with my wife got in the way.

      First off, I would say that i absolutely agree with you in that we are confusing consumer communities here. Also, i think that any effort an employer can make to increase the level of interaction with a candidate during and beyond the job seeking process is worth applauding. This combination of ATS and CRM as you put it is long overdue and i think will start to become more common as more organisations switch on to the benefits and the responsibilities of doing so. Lets face it, if they dont get with the program, long term its gonna hurt.

      My point though is that whatever you call this activity – necessary, worthy and admirable as it is – its simply intellectual masturbation to call them talent communities, sorry. One of the problems with the HR/Talent/resourcing function is our seemingly endless need to guild the lilly and dress something up as more than it is.

      Where employers are using community and social type tools and behaviours to interact with candidates, this is simply a group of job seekers. Not a talent community. The fact that it is a group of active job seekers, and not passive ones is the giveaway. In most of these ‘communities’, and as yet their are precious few, there are no barriers to entry, no prerequisites, no tests to pass. So, by definition, unless the organisation thinks that everyone is talented (And most do not as they usually have pretty tight criteria for what they would define as ‘talent’ in any function – which is a big mistake but thats another story!) then a lot of the people in the community wont actually meet the organisations criteria for talent.

      Also, as i mentioned in my blog, the notion of creating this ‘community’ is, dare i say it, a bit of a lazy one if it doesn’t go hand in hand with a significant shift in direct sourcing. Ultimately, its a receptacle into which people who respond to adverts or recommendation go. This is limiting in that it only covers 10% – 20% of the working populous, which was Matt Jeffreys point.

      Like i said, the creation of these interactive candidate groups around an employers recruiting process and career site can only be applauded. And those companies that are using them to join up the roadmap from candidate to on-boarded employee through to alumni (Very rare still) deserve a medal. It’s brilliant and i love it.

      But let’s stop calling them talent communities shall we?!😉


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  11. Only just seen this blog.I think the term talent community is a pretty silly one. Any social ‘community’ is open to anyone, regardless of talent. Also, people, when it comes to their career, are essentially out for themselves,not looking to sit around a computer navel contemplating and caring and sharing with others in the vague hope they will get a job with their employer of choice or pick up some nugget of wisdom that will set them on the path to fortune. it just ain’t gonna happen. Sure, there may be the initial buzz and feeling of common interest and we’re all in this together, but it will wear off. A bit like Linkedin and all their groups. Seemed sensible to sign up for a few relevant ones at the outset but now I spend much of my time deleting pointless emails from people who I have nothing in common with other than the fact that we both have heads. Careers are a personal thing, always have been, always will be. Talent communities? Talent schmommunities!


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