Candidate Pipeline

Brian Fleming
Brian Fleming
Imagine there’s an urgent need to hire someone as quickly as possible—and you already have three great candidates on file. Sounds like a dream, right? Building a candidate pipeline can make this dream come true.

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What Is a Candidate Pipeline?

A candidate pipeline is a group of people that recruiters maintain relationships with to potentially hire them into open positions. Candidate pipelines are often time-consuming and difficult to maintain, but investing in them can pay off when it’s time to hire. This process is closely related to talent pools and resume databases. Those three terms are often used interchangeably; however, it’s helpful to understand the differences and how to use them effectively.

Candidate Pipeline vs Talent Pool vs Resume Database

A resume database is the most broad of these three terms. It simply refers to a large collection of job seekers’ resumes, plus some other basic information such as expected salary and location. Talent acquisition teams naturally build up their own resume database over time as people apply to their open jobs through the applicant tracking system (ATS). But you can also pay for access to other much larger databases, such as those on Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Dice, or state unemployment agencies.

A talent pool is more specific than a resume database. This consists of potential candidates whose qualifications match the requirements for a specific open job. Recruiting teams often maintain talent pools for jobs they expect to be hiring for frequently. They gather contact info of qualified people from multiple sources. The goal for a talent pool is to allow recruiters to simply pull from it to find out who is available and interested in an open job, rather than starting from scratch.

A candidate pipeline is similar to a talent pool, but with the added step of maintaining closer relationships with potential candidates and “keeping them warm.” Thus, it tends to be more short-term. Rather than calling or emailing people from a talent pool out of the blue when a job opens up, the  candidate pipeline maintains close contact with the best candidates for specific jobs, which in turn gives you the best chance of hiring the right person. This way, you can avoid waiting too long to find someone or hiring the wrong person out of desperation.

Why Is Building a Candidate Pipeline Important?

Even though it may sound tempting to run the recruiting process as jobs open up one by one rather than getting an early start, putting the time into building a candidate pipeline can really pay off. These are some reason to incorporate it into your recruiting strategy:

  • It makes the recruiting process easier. Building and maintaining this pipeline takes some extra work at the start, but it ends up making the interview process smoother and quicker. It essentially spreads out the recruiting process over more time, because you establish relationships with candidates to keep their interest high, and then they’re ready to go once your hiring manager is able to start interviewing. This is especially valuable when you’re hiring for skills that are highly competitive in the job market.
  • It builds your company’s brand. The recruiting process can easily seem cold and intimidating to job seekers, but the candidate pipeline can bring some much-needed warmth and humanity. This process gives a personal touch to the company and encourages candidates to stay in touch. If your company manages candidate pipelines well, it can build your brand image in the market, which has a snowball effect of attracting the best talent.
  • It leads to higher quality in talent hired. Recruiting is something of a numbers game. If you want the best quality of hires, you’re better off engaging as many candidates as possible. By using a candidate pipeline, you broaden your reach and give yourself a better chance of finding the best person for the job.

How Do I Build a Candidate Pipeline?

Despite the up-front work it takes to build a candidate pipeline, the basic process is simple.

Step 1: Organize Your Applicant Profiles

The first place to start is your ATS: applicant-tracking software that any company of at least moderate size needs to have. Recruiting teams are better off if their ATS has been in use for at least a few years, but regardless of how many resumes it holds, you should start building your pipeline from there. This is because previous applicants are more likely to have researched your company and be interested in keeping in touch. Comb through your ATS and group resumes according to qualifications or job types.

Step 2: Connect With Schools and Associations

Beyond your database of previous applicants, get in touch with schools and professional associations who can connect you with more job seekers. These places can host job fairs, info sessions, and other activities for you to speak with potential candidates all at once. Building a pipeline this way is efficient because it saves you from spending time later talking with people who aren’t a fit. Also, schools and associations have their own staff members that are eager to work with your company again.

Step 3: Maintain a Strong Communications Campaign

Once you have your list of contacts organized (which could be dozens, hundreds, or even more), strategize on the best way to communicate with them. Emails, newsletters, and mass texts are the most common and cost-effective methods. The key here is to give them relevant information at the right frequency, and to assure them you are interested in them as a candidate without seeming insincere.

It’s most important to communicate current openings that are relevant to them, but your pipeline can also provide updates on exciting company news and web content. Your potential candidates want to stay in the loop, but they also don’t want to be bombarded with messaging, so consider the best outreach cadence for your company’s hiring needs.

Tips to Improve Your Candidate Pool Process

As you build your candidate pipeline, you’ll learn what works best and what doesn’t work for your company. Here are a few tips that may help you along the way.

Tip 1: Start With the Right Standards

Companies always have their wishlist for what makes the perfect candidate, but it’s often unrealistic and nearly impossible to find someone that perfectly matches that vision. It’s best to determine what qualifications are really essential and which are simply nice to have. Make sure you’re clear on these distinctions so you give a fair picture of what you’re looking for to candidates.

Tip 2: Set Timeline Expectations

Job seekers like to have opportunities ready for them as soon as possible, but they also don’t want to be strung along unnecessarily. As you’re building your pipeline and communicating with candidates, avoid making promises on how soon your jobs will be open. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than the opposite.

Tip 3: It’s Never Too Late to Start

Building a candidate pipeline is an investment, and much like investing, it’s better to start now than to not do it at all. It’s best to start earlier than later, but don’t be afraid that you’ve lost potential just because they haven’t started the process. Your future self will thank you for beginning the steps of building a pipeline now.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Candidate Pipelines

Can you pay a service to build a candidate pipeline for your company?
Recruiting agencies can do this to some extent simply by sourcing candidates for you, but they don’t typically maintain candidate pipelines for you long-term.
How do I improve the quality of the candidates in my pool?
Expanding your reach and screening selectively is the best way to improve quality in your pool. Quality comes with a trade-off of time, but building a candidate pipeline eventually minimizes recruiting time.
Brian Fleming
Brian Fleming

I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from BYU and have four years of professional experience in HR and Recruiting. I am also currently pursuing my MBA. No matter the field or setting I’ve been involved in at work or school, I’ve always really enjoyed writing in a way that makes the subject at hand relatable to the reader.

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