Red Shirt Relationships

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The art of social recruiting involves the development of two kinds of candidate relationships. The first – blink relationships – establish trust and familiarity in the blink of an eye. They are the foundation for success in filling current openings. (They were discussed in an earlier column.) The second – red shirt relationships – build trust and familiarity more slowly. They are the key to establishing an effective pipeline of talent for an organization’s future openings.

We typically source dozens and sometimes hundreds of prospects to fill a single job. Many of those who aren’t selected for the position would be excellent candidates for later openings. For others, the timing or opportunity wasn’t right, but at some point, it could conceivably be. Rather than sever these connections and waste the effort that was invested in creating them, a growing number of employers are now leveraging them into enduring relationships.

The term of art for this activity, of course, is the formation of a talent pipeline. There is, however, considerable misunderstanding about just what that phrase means. A pipeline is not a warmed over resume database. It is also not the archive of candidate communications in an applicant tracking system. A talent pipeline is a network of prequalified candidates who feel an affinity for a specific employer.

Such pipelines are notoriously hard to sustain. Estimates of candidate attrition from pipelines range from 25 to more than 50 percent annually. When that kind of seepage happens, what you have isn’t a pipeline at all. It’s a talent hose, and the workforce you’re watering is your competitor’s.

Why is pipeline attrition such a problem? Because the affinity candidates feel for an employer is insufficient or missing altogether. They don’t know enough about the employer to be interested or they don’t believe the employer will respect and support them or both.

Red shirt relationships are the single best way to overcome this lack of familiarity and trust. In sports, a red shirt player is one who is part of a team, but not yet actively participating with it in competition. In other words, they are talent in waiting.

Similarly, red shirt relationships encourage candidates to:

  • See themselves as a member of an employer’s select team – they aren’t employees, but they are regarded and treated as valued prospects; and
  • believe they can advance their career by working for the employer – the right opportunity may not yet have arrived, but the possibility that it will is real.
    These relationships optimize the effectiveness of a talent pipeline. They draw candidates in by promoting viral marketing among those already in the pipeline, and they retain the allegiance of those candidates by providing a uniquely engaging experience. As a result, they give an employer a strong bench of talent, and that cuts both the cost and time to fill its openings.

The Best Practices of Red Shirt Relationship Building

The key to any relationship is good communication. In the case of red shirt relationships, this communication is achieved by messaging like a mentor. To build enduring familiarity and trust, you must be in contact with your pipeline regularly and in a way that signals your support for their success.

Regular communications must be frequent enough to ensure that candidates recognize your organization as a legitimate correspondent, but not so frequent as to be seen as spam. In today’s overcrowded messaging environment, the optimum frequency seems to be biweekly. In addition, your communications should always arrive from the same address and always be laid out in the same format.

The content of these communications must acknowledge the different perspective of talent in red shirt relationships. Unlike active job seekers, they aren’t searching for immediate employment, but are instead looking for ways to advance their career. While advancement may involve a job change at some point, it is more frequently the result of knowledge acquisition. For that reason, you should send three messages containing career-related information for every one message that describes a specific job opening.

What information are candidates most likely to consider helpful to their career advancement?

They want to know what it’s like to work for your employer and what kind of people will be their peers. A career advancement opportunity is as much the result of the culture and values of an organization as it is about the job itself.

They want to learn as much as they can about their profession, craft or trade and the industry in which they work. Career advancement is possible only if they understand the true status of their field and the organizations for which they work.

Developing red shirt relationships – the foundation for an effective talent pipeline – is clearly not a trivial undertaking. It requires a considerable investment of time and effort and can’t, therefore, simply be sandwiched into recruiters’ already busy days. To be successful, begin with the end in mind. Ask yourself what resources you must commit in order to develop an enduring affinity with the talent that everybody else wants.

Thanks for reading,
Peter Weddle
Visit me at Weddles.com

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