“Talent Acquisition” needs a re-brand

words have power

Early in my career, I held positions in companies that used either “recruiting” or “staffing” to describe the function I was part of. Over the last several years – five, maybe ten –the words “talent acquisition” have come into fashion. This might be because the work involved feels broader than just “recruiting” and “staffing” sounds oddly vague and passive. “Talent acquisition” sounds more strategic. And what can be more important to a company than hiring people?

HOWEVER, using the words “talent acquisition”, specifically as part of a professional title, is problematic. I’m going to explain why.

The complicated nature of serving multiple customers

As a recruiting professional, when communicating about your work, you have a number of different stakeholders to consider; hiring teams, employees who refer, candidates. So talking about it in a way that best positions you to solve their needs is important. When you think about those three groups, when it comes to branding, which is most important? Who do recruiters spend most of their time communicating with? Who are they trying to attract? Who does your organization spend money trying to reach?

An alternative way to think of your stakeholders is as audiences. You’ll talk to each one differently, because each wants something different from you. But the one audience I’d prioritize above others, if you haven’t figured it out already, is job-seekers. Tell the average job-seeker that you are in “talent acquisition” and, unless they have worked for a company that uses the same term, they likely won’t know what you are talking about. I mean, obviously you are acquiring something. Are you in training? Work in M&A? Handle outsourcing?

Most people can figure it out, but the whole point of branding is to not make your audience do the work of figuring it out. They shouldn’t have to work that hard to understand what you do.

A little more humanity, please

Part of the reason why “talent acquisition” doesn’t resonate with job-seekers is that they already know about our role. And THEY call what we do “recruiting”. Shouldn’t we call it that too? They know that recruiters hire people. They aren’t so sure about “talent acquisition specialists”.

“Recruiting” implies that there are people involved and their past experience with it informs their understanding. As much as you will hear people working in our space refer to people (employees, candidates, etc.) as “talent”, they (job seekers, et al)  don’t think of themselves that way. They HAVE talents, but when you are hiring someone, you are hiring a person, not a talent.

People want to work at places that make them feel valued; a place where they have a connection to mission and the people around them. When we refer to people as a collection of skills, rather than human beings, it’s sending a message. Part of that message is what they can expect from working there.

So what to do if you are already in “Talent Acquisition”

Not every organization can go through an immediate rebranding exercise; many have exerted a lot of effort to effectively brand themselves within their own companies. I’m not suggesting you abandon that work. I’m simply suggesting that you think about your audiences and how you can adjust the way you talk about your work to those audiences.

A great example would be to use and autosignature for external communications that includes a recruiter/recruiting title, even if your actual title includes “talent acquisition”. Trust me, the person on the other end of that communication does not care if your job family is technically TA, they just want to know what you do.

Similarly with LinkedIn, use recruiting titles for ease of understanding among your key audiences; not just job seekers but folks who might be looking to hire recruiting professionals, or engage speakers for an event, or refer someone. In fact, your whole profile should be written with your target audiences in mind.

It’s not easy to always be mindful of our words and how they land with the audiences we need to influence. When you can do it, you are really thinking like a marketer. It’s worthwhile to take some time to reflect on your communication with candidates and ensure that the words you are choosing are leaving them with the right impression.

Related aside: In addition to titling and organization names, there’s another area where I see recruiters and scheduling coordinators fail to take into account the candidate’s perspective and that is when setting up phone interviews. I cringe every time I hear (or see) a coordinator refer to it as a “phone screen”. Screens are for ruling people out, interviewers are for assessing whether you can rule them in. Please, for the love of puppies, stop telling candidates you are scheduling their “phone screen”.