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02 Sep 2016

Applying Engineering Principles to Your Talent Acquisition Strategy

Engineering and Talent Management are far from two peas in a pod: Engineering is based on scientific, methodical principles while Talent Management is focused on people. But what if we could take the tried and tested principles that work so well in engineering and apply them to our tasks in talent management?

Erin Wilson is doing just that at global media giant Yahoo. Back in 2012 he designed and implemented a talent acquisition strategy, coined Talent Engineering. In principle, it takes spirit and application of engineering principles and sets them against a talent acquisition strategy.

The idea came about as Erin was working as a technical recruiter, building core engineering teams at start-ups. He was working within a business model that required him to meet with every candidate he represented. This model, coupled with Erin’s naturally inquisitive nature, meant he spent a long time listening to engineers talking about their work. It sparked an idea in Erin – could the principles of engineering be applied to what he was trying to achieve – finding the best people for the job?

“I interviewed quite a few engineers, many thousands in fact, and I found that if you ask questions you get answers. So I listened for a long time and would always ask them what they thought, asking them to tell me more,” Erin says. He started thinking about how he could use the methods he was learning about with his talent management team.

“We started with little things like daily scrums” Erin explains, “talking about what we’re doing for recruiting every day, for 10 minutes in the morning: the candidates we have in flight, the interviews that are coming up today, and any feedback we need to chase down from the day before.” From there Erin’s team broke out the talent strategy like road maps, breaking down the projects they wanted to do into different milestones and then breaking them down again into user stories.

“We really just learned from those around us, and tried to apply it where it fit. We took engineering principles and how they operated, we learned a lot from the product groups and their techniques. And we worked really closely with marketing on branding and content,” he says.

Talent By the Numbers

Talent Engineering 2

The results of Erin’s Talent Engineering strategy have been undeniably impressive. His strategy was used at BrightRoll to scale its workforce from 100 to 450+ before its $640M acquisition by Yahoo. They received 16.8k applications, spoke to 25% of them, while honing in on a 2:1 onsite to hire ratio and 93% offer acceptance rate.

“Our Talent Engineering strategy was certainly designed for efficiency and efficacy. We got very systemic to the point where we could look at aggregate averages across a group and say ‘look the average is six hiring manager phone interviews to one hire. The marketing for this role you’re at 32 to 1.’ We could then sit down and talk about why we didn’t get it, and sometimes it was because the recruiting team needed to do a better job. Sometimes we needed to calibrate with the market or the market had changed and there was a new focus. There were a lot of reasons but we made sure we learnt from our successes or failures and improved for the next iteration,” Erin says.

The very nature of engineering means that Talent Engineering is a constant cycle of improvement and innovation. This allows Erin (always humble in his impressive efforts) to reflect on how he would improve his strategy.

“I think there are things we could have done so much better. At the time we didn’t realise how foreign Talent Engineering was as a concept and the enormity of what we were trying to accomplish as a talent team. So I think I could have done a better job as a leader to communicate what we were doing. When you’re in a fast growing start-up, there are always pieces you wish you could do better. The communication piece was one of them for me,” Erin reflects.

Less Talk, More Action

Erin’s advice for HR teams wanting to follow the Talent Engineering path is to prevent your talent strategy from becoming a bucket.

“Make it a first class citizen,” he advises. “It’s so easy to talk about what you’re going to do, but sometimes you have to just do it. To a lot of people Talent Engineering just sounds like a cool idea, it’s something new and exciting. But the truth is it’s hard work and it takes a lot of discipline to maintain a daily cadence. I think that’s something you get better at as you go along.

“The point is it’s about commitment. You have to be prepared to see it through, or you’re not going to get an entire organization to adopt it.”

About the Author

Erin Wilson HR Tech Fest

Erin Wilson is the Head of Talent Engineering at Yahoo (USA). Throughout his career, he has spearheaded some of the most innovative talent campaigns and was instrumental in the strategic up-scaling of BrightRoll for its acquisition by Yahoo. Equally addicted to learning and sharing, Erin is passionate about disseminating knowledge throughout the global HR Tech community.

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