• Claus-Peter Sommer

The talent acquisition dilemma for mid-size hiring volumes



Whether or not the Covid crisis is behind us is debatable and being debated. What we can safely state, if the recent surge in hiring volumes all over Europe is the correct measurement tool, is that recruitment is back. The dryness on the talent front, which was already a source of concern before the pandemic, has just worsened for some companies.


Organizations that either lack the means, the resources, or simply the workforce to go after profiles active in functions and sectors where talent is scarce, are suffering most. How can businesses with mid-size hiring volumes survive this battle for talent?


The difficult sandwich position


Companies with mid-size hiring volumes are in an uncomfortable position when it comes to defining their hiring strategy. On the one hand, they simply cannot afford to overuse agencies and executive search firms. On the other hand, the money, time, efforts, and additional resources (necessary to keep up with the technology, know-how, processes, and support needed to have an efficient and functional recruitment department) are also beyond their means. The tech giants, global corporates, and multinationals set technological standards that are out of reach for most mid-sized companies. And even if they had the appropriate budget, attracting talent remains difficult.


What and whom are we talking about?


In order to make our case, we need to define a few concepts. When mentioning mid-size hiring volumes, we think of a range of between 100 and 500 recruits per year. Depending on whom you ask, this number can go up to one thousand. The companies in that category are, mostly, hidden gems specialized in an area where they enjoy a quasi-monopoly and have little competition. But they are not a brand name, which qualifies them, and this is not doing them justice when wooing top-notch talent wanting to flash a renowned logo on their business card. Employer branding anyone? Things being what they are, what are the hurdles these mid-sized companies face?


The technology dilemma


The number of new HR technology tools coming to the market every year (almost) competes with the number of new apps released on, and available in, the Apple store!400 every single year! Joke aside, this staggering number adds up to the 1400 Applicants Tracking Systems (ATS), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and other Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools already commercialized. It is almost a relief to learn that 200 of them fail and are withdrawn annually. It is above any human being’s power to assess and try to select among so many new tech tools. And should you have chosen and onboarded one, you now need to retrain your staff.


In fact, the whole idea of a “Core HR System” is being replaced with the idea of a “Core HR Platform” that looks and feels more like an iPhone. You add apps as needed and delete the ones you no longer use.[1]

Josh Bersin



Of course, the Fortune 100 firms of this world have access to complete teams, not only for the evaluation of Human Resources technologies but specifically for talent acquisition applications. Still, you can bet that even in the largest HR and procurement department of this planet’s mega-companies, no one is able to keep track of the evolution of tools that come and go. According to LinkedIn statistics, the number of small and mid-size companies that are hiring is just short of twenty-nine thousand in the Europe – Middle East – Africa (EMEA) region. These almost thirty thousand organizations simply do not have the volume of hires justifying significant talent acquisition teams. Trying to select and implement the latest technology is not feasible. If you broach the maintenance subject, it gets even worse: after all the time and money invested in a new tool, you must keep it for years to amortize it. The consequence is that before you know it, you are outdated.


If you add to this hurdle the need to integrate new IT systems into existing ones in order to fully take advantage of them all, you can only conclude that most companies do not have the financial, technological, logistical, and HR department’s scale for envisioning such considerable projects.


What is a small- or mid-sized company to do? Wait on the sideline and watch the big players run after the top candidates? Post and pray, an outdated method that is not only costly but also inefficient and frustrating? If you are not in the same league as your competitors, the best solution is to partner with an organization that can bring you the needed support. We have seen SME’s, in geographical areas where talent resources are scarce, team up with one another to build a shared recruitment center. This approach may make sense on paper, but only if the companies concerned are not vying for the same profiles and define a cost allocation formula that is respectful for, and respected by, all. In reality, even if this model does exist, it is part of the exceptions, not the rule.


A realistic alternative consists of partnering with a recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) provider such as Serendi. This solution offers economies of scale and allows for the splitting of costs among its clients. The RPO provider remains at the forefront of technological development (external or in-house), for the common good of its business partners. The client benefits from having a stellar talent acquisition team, making use of a platform strategy, enjoying top-notch technological tools, but at a fraction of the cost.


The know-how dilemma


Let’s assume for the sake of demonstration that a mid-sized company, with plus-minus 200 hires a year, has solved the tech dilemma described above. There are additional obstacles on the way to achieve an optimum recruitment organization. An organization that serves the whole company and ensures the business will not suffer from the lack of, or a delay in hiring, human resources.


Talent acquisition has evolved from one channel to a multi-channel recruitment operation. Has your team the knowledge, the budget, and the time to train for the use of the latest channels? Mirroring what happens in technology, channels are multiplying at a breakneck speed. Unless you have a few teenagers in your organization that you pay surfing and downloading the latest apps, chances are you will be systematically, and at least, one step behind.


Stop dreaming that people want to work in your organization. Set up, or partner with, a talent acquisition team that assumes that you are the least desirable employer on any candidate’s list. This will force the emergence of new and efficient ideas on how to reach the unreachable candidates and how to seduce the best ones who have seen it all.


Multi-channel recruiting is the keyword. Like a one-man band, your recruiters need to play many instruments simultaneously, while also learning new ones, without stopping either activity. This is with the assumption that the best candidates are not after your company[2]. The key is that you must be after the best candidates. This means being on top and informed about best practices, optimal recruitment channels, and sourcing techniques.


Can you make out the pros and cons of social media like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google4jobs, Indeed, GitHub, Xing in terms of efficacy, cost, reliability, type of profiles? Can any member of your recruitment team? This assuming that your catchment area for candidates is already well-defined, maybe regional, or domestic, or, lucky you, local. But what if your source is international? Or you have multiple locations in different countries? If you look for an accountant in Switzerland, but possibly also in France, which channel are you using? Are professionals in the DACH[3] region rather on LinkedIn or on Xing? Hint: the latter, but the situation is evolving very quickly. Are sales reps on Facebook? If yes, where? What kind of sales reps? Are job boards totally passé or do they enjoy some success in some countries?


Do your recruiters know how to build Boolean strings that identify the vied for candidates in the open web? If not, do you plan to train them? Who will do that? Who ensures that they keep up to date with the latest techniques?


Of course, you can go for an aggressive, multi-channel strategy and advance with trial and error. You may get some opposite wind from your CFO for budgetary reasons, while you are fishing with a net with a large mesh. This strategy, no matter how you turn the problem around, will require time, the time that operations may not have available.


One solution to this issue is to partner with a company whose daily routine is to do exactly that: sourcing, finding the best recruitment channels, defining what strategy is optimal for what profile and geography, a company with a long history and accumulated experience like Serendi.


The process dilemma


In the improbable case that you get the tech and the know-how dilemmas under control, you are not quite at the end of your journey yet: you are facing the process dilemma.


An example illustrates our train of thought: assume you have 150 positions to fill externally – with the support of external consultants such as recruitment or executive search firms - and the normal 50 internal positions. All these recruitments, a further assumption, are spread over different countries or regions. You are lucky enough to have adequate technology set up and a professional experienced internal recruitment team of three to four recruiters or talent acquisition specialists. They are decentralized according to the necessity and the size of the markets you cover.


Now we come upon the process dilemma. Your recruitment staff deals with the entire process: from sourcing the right candidates, qualifying, and presenting them to the line managers, doing background checks, organizing the interviews, interviewing, evaluating the final candidate, possibly setting up an assessment, and managing the paperwork: employment offers, interview protocols and keeping track of internal meetings… Should anything go wrong, and things go sometimes wrong, your staff must restart the entire process. With a little luck they have more than one finalist, if not, it means back to square one.


One must be aware that nowadays the talent acquisition function needs total focus on specific profiles and tasks. To take but one example, sourcing is a real job in and of itself. For a talent acquisition specialist, used to sorting candidacies or interviewing, she or he needs (re-)training. The degree of specialization of recruitment roles has increased in parallel with the specialization of (sub-)functions in a company. A general rule is that a recruitment generalist can handle the complete process up to approximately 50 positions per year.


To survive the battle for talent and attract suitable candidates to meet your hiring managers, the traditional post & pray approach is totally outdated. Coming back to our previous active sourcing example, imagine a recruitment generalist coming back from three (exhausting) interviews and suddenly jump to an hour of crawling through LinkedIn. At best she/he will get some new connections; at worst it is wasted time entirely. Advanced candidates sourcing needs dedication – full-time. A professional sourcing consultant is active all day long, connecting with potential candidates, speaking to interested talent, answering emails, and following up on questions. That is beyond any normal person’s capacity if your day is taken with interviews and managing hiring managers. Read more about Candidates Sourcing here.


Of course, your recruitment generalist could reduce the time dedicated to interviewing, giving more responsibility to the line and freeing time for sourcing. In an optimistic scenario, your recruiter could even dedicate half the time to sourcing. But the odds are high that you lose the quality of the process, in turn affecting the quality of the hire. A recruiter ought to be a sparring partner and advisor to the business and that requires time and energy. See our article on the Cost of attrition.


The support dilemma


Like any hiring or HR manager with a high degree of expertise, you are preoccupied with running the talent acquisition function of your organization professionally. This implies benchmarking your recruitment activity. For that, you first need valid and relevant KPIs generated by your system (see above the technology dilemma), and then you need outside data and reports to compare your activities with.


So, when your Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) needs information, say time-to-hire stats or acceptance rate by candidate source, for an upcoming board meeting that will take place later in the afternoon, what are you supposed to do? Ask an already overworked recruiter to drop everything and gather the data? Similarly, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is on the phone and asks the cost-per-hire for last year, can you provide her/him with a valid number on the spot?


All that information should ideally be at hand on a continuous and regular basis, congregated in a weekly or monthly dashboard. This way, you get a sense of the evolution of the parameters and can diffuse the data inside the company, to whoever has an interest in them. Large companies employ data analysts that spend all their time just doing that, day after day, refining the ratios and deriving additional information from the data.


You are not a multinational company. Here is your dilemma: you can either just forget about it or manage your process without the information. Or you can pool your data with the help of an outside organization that anonymously gathers the KPI’s of all its clients. The data sets are up-to-date and large enough to be highly significant, reliable, and relevant. The information can be dissected by country, region, function, industry, you name it. Serendi is just such a partner that can assist you. With an RPO solution, you benefit immensely from the platform strategy and economies of scale at a reasonable cost.


The cost dilemma


Imagine you have built an efficient talent acquisition team that runs smoothly and with agility. It has integrated the latest standards and tools. Your competitors even describe it, with some envy, as an exemplary operation. Suddenly the hammer falls: your CFO is reviewing budgets and based on next year’s hiring forecast, she/he asks you to reduce your team by one full-time equivalent (FTE). She needs savings in HR overhead, tough luck. The impact of one less person on a small team is devastating. You are then left with reinventing the configuration of the recruitment team with this new limitation.


Large organizations, with hiring volumes of between 1.000 and 15.000 positions a year, allow for some fluctuation in the talent acquisition team, and its impact is limited. With the mid-size hiring volume of your company, fluctuations have an immediate and major influence. A forecasted reduction of 50 external positions translates into a 33% reduction of your team and budget.


The solution? Partnering with a provider invoicing on a transactional basis; you pay only for what you get.


The no-dilemma solution


Serendi is the integrated service partner for talent acquisition (RPO) in EMEA. We support companies and organizations with mid-size hiring volumes (100 – 1‘000 per annum) with identifying, engaging, attracting, and hiring top talent.


Serendi allows companies with mid-size hiring volumes to play in the global competition for talent on the same level playing field as big corporates, and this all over EMEA.


Serendi accomplishes this by providing its clients with a plug & play talent sourcing platform – at the top of digital and technological innovation. This overarching tool enables the identification and attraction of the best talent available and thus supports sustainable hires through customized onsite recruitment services at a reasonable cost, backed by high-performance KPIs.


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[2] Best candidates: shorthand for trained, educated, experienced, positively inclined people you are looking for. Best is whatever you make of the word. [3] DACH come from Deutschland (Germany), Austria, and Switzerland (whose international abbreviation is CH, for Confoederatio Helvetica