Talent acquisition: What it is and how to do it inclusively

Cartoon image of a man looking at a diverse group of candidate profiles online

Getting talent acquisition right in 2023 will be the key to finding — and keeping — top talent in a competitive labor market.

And it is competitive. By the end of 2022, unemployment rates were remaining steady at pre-pandemic levels of 3.5% while, at the same time, mass layoffs and hiring freezes had begun to unmoor many workers’ confidence in their job security. Pair that with Great Resignation-era expectations for better pay, time ownership, and psychological safety at work, and talent today is more open than ever to new opportunities. In fact, a February 2023 survey of nearly 500 diverse professionals in the PowerToFly community showed that 49% of currently employed respondents say they’re considering quitting their jobs in 2023, while another 27% aren’t yet sure whether they will.

How the labor market will develop this year in the U.S. and abroad is somewhat uncertain. Having a solid talent acquisition strategy in place is one way your company can stay in control.

Forward-thinking companies can gain the upper hand in attracting and hiring top talent by taking a targeted talent acquisition approach to finding the right candidate pools. In 2023, both employers and job seekers are forgoing the standard practice of casting a wide net. This year, it’s smartest to leverage networks and pinpoint specific strategies to find the best opportunities for all parties. Here’s everything you need to know about talent acquisition in 2023.

What is talent acquisition?

Talent acquisition is the process of and strategies used to identify, assess, and hire the best-quality employees for an organization. Talent acquisition specialists focus on everything from building a strong employer brand that attracts candidates to shoring up talent pipelines, keeping past candidates warm for future opportunities, and implementing new talent acquisition strategies.

Often, talent acquisition teams use software tools to streamline or automate their workflow. This includes tasks like sourcing, screening, engaging, and onboarding. The core of talent acquisition software is an applicant tracking system (ATS), something that 98% of Fortune 500 companies use, according to research by Jobscan.

Talent acquisition may live within Human Resources, or it may be a standalone team that works alongside HR. Traditionally, HR is responsible for hiring, onboarding, legal compliance, training, and resolving conflict. Meanwhile, talent acquisition specialists are focused on sourcing candidates that have specific skills sets necessary to support the organization's long-term growth.

Why is talent acquisition important?

To be competitive, companies need the right people in the right roles — plain and simple. Talent acquisition specialists often hire for some of the most impactful leadership and specialist positions in an organization, and they also play a significant role in helping build up a company’s brand with job seekers. After all, a candidate’s experience during the talent acquisition process — whether that person was hired or not — feeds public opinions about a company. There are any number of company rating websites that demonstrate this.

Talent acquisition is also responsible for implementing a company’s strategic recruitment vision. This increasingly means investing in inclusive, DEIB-informed recruitment strategies. Done right, a more inclusive talent acquisition process can help diversify a company, boost its branding, improve customer service, and drive employee engagement. Talent acquisition specialists are frontline staff, implementing these policies daily to improve a company's work culture and its bottom line.

See also: 10 ways to source diverse candidates without tokenizing them

Recruiting vs. talent acquisition

Talent acquisition and recruiting teams share one overarching goal: finding and hiring people for key roles. There may also be some overlap in the skills, tasks, and tools utilized by both job functions. But at their strategic core, these functions are quite different: recruiting is reactive, while talent acquisition is proactive.


Recruitment is typically a reactive way of fulfilling immediate job vacancies in the fastest manner possible. When a job position is vacant for too long, it can be costly. Fetcher estimates the cost of a 35-day vacancy for a software engineer at $20,623. Recruiters focus on higher volume pipelines, speed, and getting vacancies filled.

Talent acquisition

Talent acquisition is a proactive strategy to create a talent pipeline for the long-term goals of a company. Roles like highly skilled specialists, senior executives, and other leaders are tougher to source. These are usually done via talent acquisition, because talent acquisition specialists are trained to identify and source leading talent in specific fields or industries. Since these positions focus on a company’s long-term viability, talent acquisition is an integral part of strategic capacity-building.

Let’s use the analogy of a garden. The gardener is a recruiter. They are responsible for replacing plants when necessary, changing out the plants with the season, and adding new plants if others wilt. A talent acquisition specialist is, in a way, the person who hired the gardener — the garden manager, if you will. They bring in the praying mantis (leadership) for each section of the garden and source the ladybugs (specialists) that ward off damage and decay. Their decisions guide the overall direction of the garden. The people and elements brought in by the talent acquisition specialist are what make your garden thrive.

Every organization can benefit from a proactive talent acquisition strategy that addresses both current job vacancies and anticipates long-term needs with a thoughtfully sourced and actively warmed pool of top candidates.

The 6 steps to effective talent acquisition

The talent acquisition process generally involves six steps, and each step has its own set of complex, curated processes.

1. Sourcing and lead generation

To source top talent, you need to be where the talent is and tap into high-level networks. This step is all about building relationships, including by:

  • Being active on multiple social networks; don’t just stalk LinkedIn. Post, comment, and join groups in your target industry. Make connections.
  • Joining in-person or virtual events and conferences where leaders of your industry convene. If it’s a virtual event, find attendees on LinkedIn afterwards and connect. For in-person events, check in with your company’s sales or marketing team and see if they have a standard elevator pitch. If not, you’ll need to develop one yourself.

In all of these contexts, make your talent needs known to everyone. Don’t be shy about it. Tell people who you are looking for.

2. Attracting candidates

To attract candidates in a competitive hiring environment, focus on:

  • Writing clear, inclusive job descriptions and offering competitive compensation packages; both are essential in order to attract quality candidates.
  • Showcasing the company’s brand. Show off a diverse and inclusive workplace in all the company’s externally facing recruitment material.
  • Being conscientious about the candidate experience. Curate it. Whether a candidate gets hired or not, how they interact with the talent team will influence their perceptions of the company. And yes, they will tell their friends and family about the experience.

3. Interviewing and assessing

Once a candidate has been sourced and has shown interest in the position or company, they need to be interviewed and assessed. We know that like hires like — that’s called affinity bias. To mitigate bias:

  • Make interviewing and assessing a group effort. That could look like one candidate interviewing with multiple people simultaneously or multiple rounds of one-on-one interviews that move up the chain of management.
  • Make sure that your talent acquisition specialists, recruiting team, and interviewing panel reflect the level of diversity you aim to hire.
  • Make assessments focus on the essential skills necessary for the job — that’s how you screen in, instead of screening candidates out. Skills tests are a good, unbiased way to evaluate candidates, including by removing bias around things like education type and level. Interview questions should focus on examples of these hard, relevant skills.
See also: How to recruit candidates with DEIB in mind

4. Checking references

First impressions and gut instinct are not enough for talent acquisition specialists. You should:

  • Check the candidate's references thoroughly to ensure you’re getting a complete picture.
  • Contact the candidate's former managers, particularly ones that align with the position for which you’re hiring. This is an important step that talent acquisition specialists often skip.

5. Final selections

With the list of candidates reduced and vetted, ensure you have a clear system for selecting final candidates. You can do this by:

  • Use software to aid in this process, as many companies do.
  • Utilize a democratic process with a scoring system rather than the loudest person’s opinion. Whether you’re using an ATS system or not, your system should be fair to the candidates and clear to team members involved in the selection process.

6. Hiring and onboarding

Talent acquisition doesn’t stop with final selections. The onboarding process can make or break a new employee relationship. Although the talent acquisition specialist may not be directly involved, they are responsible for:

  • Engaging in the development or renovation of the onboarding process.
  • The resources, communication, training, and understanding of team dynamics, roles, and responsibilities that a new hire receives, which are critical to their success — and their retention.

Talent acquisition strategies to try in 2023

The six steps spelled out above represent the standard talent acquisition process. In 2023, talent acquisition managers need to go above and beyond that to effectively attract top talent. Here are some recommended strategies for standing out, including by using DEIB-informed tactics.

1. Use your board of directors.

The board of any organization is composed of industry leaders and well-connected people. They are a fantastic resource, and they’re also directly invested in making your organization better. When sourcing candidates for elite positions, pull in your board. If you don’t have a relationship with the board, start building one today.

2. Pay for skills tests.

Skills tests are becoming increasingly common. Eighty percent of companies use a skills test that is tailored to their requirements — but few are compensating candidates for this work. By law, candidates must be paid minimum wage for working interviews. This doesn’t technically apply to skills assessments that involve no useful work for the company. However, if you want to stand out as a workplace that truly prizes and values its workers’ time, pay candidates for skills tests regardless. And if it is work you can use, pay them more. It speaks to your integrity and commitment to equity, including by ensuring that you aren’t investing in a diversity recruitment strategy with one hand and expecting unpaid labor from marginalized candidates with the other.

3. Get a 360-degree view with references.

It’s important to check references, yes. But don’t stop with the candidate's previous manager. Ask candidates specifically for the contact information of current or former colleagues who they’re comfortable using as references. Focus questions on specific skills that are critical in this new position. This will give a full view of the candidate’s abilities. And don’t forget to look down the line as well; direct reports can give valuable insight into everything from management style to employee satisfaction track records.

4. Highlight the benefits candidates want to see.

The 2022 Metlife Employee Benefits Survey found that one of the top benefits employees are looking for is flexibility. This means different things to different people, but in general, flexibility encompasses where, when, and how employees work. It’s also what they wear and when they take PTO. When you discuss employee benefits with your candidates, or when you highlight benefits in job ads and recruitment materials, flexibility needs to be front row.

See also: The DEIB-backed employee benefits candidates expect to see in 2023

5. Diversify where you look for talent.

If you consistently look for candidates in the same places, you’re more likely to consistently hire the same type of candidate. To ensure that you’re connecting with job seekers who represent a range of identities and backgrounds, proactively put yourself in a wide number of professional channels. You can try things like reaching out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for campus placement drives, as well as connecting with candidates on job boards that serve underrepresented groups; PowerToFly, for instance, regularly hosts virtual job fairs.

6. Unlock your employee referrals.

Many organizations today have employee referral programs; fewer have programs that adequately incentivize workers to participate. Recruiting talent on behalf of your organization takes time and effort, after all. Make it worth your team members’ while by appropriately compensating them for tapping into their networks. That’s all the more important when it comes to ensuring that you’re not placing an unpaid burden on existing underrepresented employees to diversify your organization for you.

You’ll also want to ensure that your current staff has an informed, continually updated view on what roles you’re actually hiring for. Sending out a regular bulletin with this information will help keep it top of mind for your employees, rather than something they have to hunt down themselves.

Finally, consider paying an adjusted referral fee to past employees, too. They’re just as likely as your current employees to have access to relevant networks, and keeping the door open for them may even make them more likely to rejoin the company one day, too.

7. Be direct, clear, and transparent — always.

A key component of talent acquisition, as we talked about before, is keeping past candidates warm for future openings. It can be tricky, though, to achieve that without leading candidates to feel like they’re being strung along. Always be direct and transparent about what opportunities your company has now and is likely to have in the future, and make sure that candidates get honest feedback about why, exactly, they were passed over for one role but may be a better fit for a future one. That’s the kind of communication that’s helpful to and truly valued by most job seekers.

8. Embed DEIB throughout the process.

None of the talent acquisition process matters if new employees enter a homogenous and disconnected workplace where no one listens to them. That new employee will run for the door.

Talent acquisition teams should view the entire six-step process through a lens of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB). When done right, DEIB reduces bias, prevents exclusionary practices, diversifies your workforce, strengthens communication, and creates an environment where people of all backgrounds and identities want to work.

Our best advice? Audit all six steps of your talent acquisition process with a dedicated DEIB consultant.

Talent acquisition for growth

Talent acquisition takes aim at strategic growth for your company. This means that talent acquisition specialists are tasked with finding the company’s top specialists and future leaders. They can’t do it alone. A strong brand, well-connected networks, and inclusive hiring practices are team efforts. Talent acquisition teams must ensure that all of their processes, from sourcing to onboarding, are fair and inclusive. In 2023, revising their talent acquisition process through the lens of DEIB is the way to get an edge in a volatile job market.

Learn how PowerToFly can help you build a DEIB-informed talent acquisition strategy today.

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