In a recent webinar, Cielo Founder and CEO, Sue Marks, was joined by global industry analyst Josh Bersin and Madeline Laurano, founder of Aptitude Research, to discuss the current state of TA. Organizations are relying on their talent leaders to understand shifting trends and set a vision for how their HR and talent acquisition practices need to transform to help their businesses engage the talent they need to thrive.

To start the conversation, Bersin explored the recent trends in HR and TA that he sees as a result of the global shifts in 2020. “Everything that we did in talent and HR has changed,” said Bersin. “Everything from onboarding to recruiting, leadership development, succession planning, pay and more. Plus, giving people the emotional, social and health support for their wellbeing. These are all dramatic changes from where were only four months ago.”

Bersin explained how these shifts are leading to an era of forced transformation for HR and TA. “There’s a reaction, an interruption and a financial disruption. We aren’t just going to go back to the way things were before,” Bersin explained. “We’re going to be in a new mode going forward…operating in a transformed way for some time to come.”

Bersin continued to lead a discussion with Marks and Laurano about the top issues facing both employees and HR teams right now, including resilience, process changes, employee and candidate experiences, technology adoption and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. The three shared their recent experiences and insights that can help TA leaders looking to position their strategy for success.

The Current State of Talent Acquisition

BERSIN: Let’s start with what’s been happening in the talent acquisition and recruiting space. What’s your perspective on what’s going on right now?

MARKS: We see some organizations with hiring freezes, and we see some that are in hiring frenzies. And there's a real need to transform talent acquisition. With everything that’s changed and everything we’re learning, how can our TA teams, processes and technology flex and scale? We’re in a contactless recruitment world. And that will become part of the candidate experience, making sure that candidates feel informed about the process…and that they understand your organization's values around their employees during these really difficult times. Behaviors that organizations exhibit during these times will stay with their brand for a long time afterwards. TA is experiencing different kinds of chaos right now and we are working with our clients put best practices in place for right NOW. Organizations also need to think about planning for what’s NEXT.

Responsive Employer Branding

BERSIN: What is your perspective on employment brand at the moment in recruiting?

LAURANO: There's this tendency in talent acquisition that when there's a hiring freeze or when hiring slows down, things stop. And that is certainly not the case today. That also speaks to the change that we're seeing today versus 10 years ago. As Sue said, brand is everything. We're certainly seeing that companies have to continue engaging with talent, even if they don't have positions to fill right away. And the other little wrinkle with all of this is efficiency. Companies, regardless of industry, must be more efficient in the way that they engage, recruit and retain talent. And it's really difficult because you're balancing brand, you're balancing transformation and you're balancing this need for efficiency. And at times those can contradict each other.

BERSIN: One of the challenges I've always felt we've had in recruiting as an industry is we create a job description, which is somewhat of a guess as to what the job really is. And then we try to assess people against these outlined skills or experiences. And then the new hire shows up and finds the job is a little different than that. Is this environment pushing that issue to the edge because all these jobs are changing, or should companies be very, very specific about what they want right now?

LAURANO: It’s important because the job description was ignored for so long. It was sort of viewed as a broken part of talent acquisition, and we kind of fill the gaps with other areas. But it’s really that first impression, and companies still get it wrong for different reasons. Either they're not specific enough or clear about what the job actually is. And they're leaving out a large pool of talent when they’re not clear.

I was just talking to someone the other day, and they reviewed a job description where this company used the word “strong” 12 times in the job description. If you use language that doesn't speak to what the job is or encourage people to apply, you’re missing out on a large part of the potential talent. There’s real science behind that.

BERSIN: Sue, your company does this for a living. How do you write job descriptions for your clients so that they're specific enough, yet open-ended enough to attract the right candidates?

MARKS: It’s about drilling down into the important minutiae of job descriptions. There are job descriptions that you put into your ATS, for process compliance; then there are the job postings, which shouldn't be the same. Job postings can use more neutral language rather than “strong” or “rockstar,” for example. They can be written so they don't give away any proprietary information, like that new programming language that you're going to be using, tailoring like that.

Like Madeline said, it's an under-explored area. At the end of the day, job postings need to answer questions for the candidate, like: Why should I talk to this company? Do I have the skills, experience, behavioral competencies, and similar values for this organization? That's what the job posting should do. Leave behind the job descriptions and compliance in your systems and keep details like that in postings when you’re looking to attract and talk about the job.

Advancing Skills Assessments

BERSIN: Where are you on the topic of assessment? There’s a huge appetite for assessments of soft skills, behavioral skills and gamified assessments.

LAURANO: We did a lot of research on the assessment market last year, and there was a huge uptick in assessments, especially those using gamification. Organizations want to show what the job is like, what it's like to be a baggage handler working at an airport, as an example. There's a real need for that, and that will continue, especially for those jobs where people actually have to be in a physical work environment, not remote.
What needs to change in the assessment market overall is that the candidate experiences aren't designed to be positive for the candidate. It can be that point in the process where the candidate gets nervous and feels like “I don't know what I'm being asked. I don't know why I'm being asked this question. I haven't thought about myself like that. I haven't thought about my skills this way.” It’s a turnoff, and often times companies lose candidates at that stage.

So how can we make the assessment more candidate friendly? How can we use that information to engage with candidates? And in this environment where we need to be more empathetic, where we need to change our tone with employees and customers and candidates, the assessment has to match that.

The assessment has to say, “we appreciate you.” We just want to learn a little bit more about you, and we hope you stick around for that. We want to make sure this role and our company are right for you. So it’s not about a big test for judging candidates. We want them to be successful and have the right chance for success in the organization. It needs to be a two-way street.

The Evolving Role of Recruiters

BERSIN: Do you think the role of recruiters has become important beyond the ability to have conversations with people? There was all this talk about AI replacing recruiters for a while.

MARKS: Recruiters are still extremely valuable, and that won’t ever go away. A lot of the transformation in TA right now is about improving experiences and efficiencies so that recruiters can focus on being strategic talent advisors to the business, to hiring managers and to candidates.
There's a whole lot in the process that can be automated with really strong, conversational interfaces. So there's an ability to provide a better candidate, hiring manager, HR and TA experience through great process and automation.

At the end of the day, we want to put people in front of people on the phone, on video or – when we can at an inappropriate physical distance – in person. And then we want to trust our recruiters to be strategic advisors to help us make the best decisions for the best results.

BERSIN: The other thing about being an advisor is that effective recruiters know a lot about the company’s employer brand and how to treat people. They’re out there on the frontlines, hearing from the real world what’s really going on and what people are saying about the company. So they’re a great point for feedback coming back to the organization.

I talked to a head of TA who said they looked at a variety of characteristics to figure out what makes a fantastic hire. And the only thing that was highly correlated for most people was the recruiter.

The great recruiters find great people.

Experience-Driven Process

BERSIN: Experiences are everything. We’re in the experience business in HR – that’s what we do. We’re seeing companies really start to realize the importance of experiences and taking approaches to make sure they’re providing great experiences beyond what they maybe planned for or designed. HR leaders are realizing that a great experience means maybe providing a cooking class for people when they’re home with their kids and don’t know what to do. It means being creative and highly empathetic. I think it’s essential. What do you think?

LAURANO: To me, it's really surprising that there aren't more roles dedicated to experience. We did some research a few years ago and found that over 60% of organizations have a role dedicated to customer experience. But less than 20% of companies have a candidate experience manager role within their function. We need more of these roles. They provide tremendous value for talent acquisition, whether it comes to processes or technology or communication.

MARKS: How does the experience that a manager or a leader has provided in the past translate to what will be our next normal? Unlearning is going to be as important or even more important than learning. How do we create things? How do we open up our thinking to include things that we wouldn't have considered earlier? How do we unlearn how it happened in the past and set a new way of working in the future?

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

BERSIN: Another topic that's very hot at the moment is diversity inclusion and racial injustice. Where is this in the talent acquisition world?

LAURANO: It's a really important topic for talent acquisition. What I've heard from some companies especially now is there's been some cuts in talent acquisition. There's been layoffs. But this is absolutely not the time. Torin Ellis, a great speaker on diversity and inclusion, says this is not the time to cut diversity and inclusion programs and resources. This is not the time to take money out of those investments that you've made in talent acquisition. This is the time to invest more in that.

Some companies are really making a commitment, and they're showing that to their employees, candidates and customers. The other thing, there are a lot of people out there who are offering services on diversity and inclusion that don't necessarily have that expertise. I would look closely at the individual or the company that understand this area and fine one that can help your organization to act.

BERSIN: In one of our recent surveys, we had 800 people respond to a question on diversity and inclusion. Almost 75% of the people said the recommended solution is to create more conversations and give people the freedom to bring these issues up and talk about them. So maybe we're a little bit better at that now, since we're all exposed on webcams and everybody gets to see each other's house and be a little more open with each other.

MARKS: I'm really hopeful we'll see some sustained change. There's a lot of talk the talk and there's not a lot of walk the walk, there's always an excuse. There’s not enough women, there's not enough blacks, there's not enough minorities and not enough people of color. I really hope that the more authentic conversations that are happening as a result of the current global dialogue can create some real, sustained change. That’s how we’re acting in the conversations we’re having within our company and with our clients.

All of us are asking: "How can we come out of this better – better people, better professionals, better employers, better leaders, better businesses?" My resounding answer to this question is: Together and with purpose.

Related: Read Sue Marks’ personal response and support of Black Lives Matter.

Future Talent Planning Priorities

BERSIN: If you were to speak to a talent acquisition leader right now, what do you think the most important thing is for them to prioritize right now?

LAURANO: Candidate communication is the most important thing right now.

It just doesn't happen enough, and this is something that was before COVID and is certainly even more relevant now. We need to have a different tone, more frequency and use different tools to enhance this communication. Something as simple as the screening process, for example. If it takes your company two weeks to go through the background screening process, tell the candidate that. Every day, they're going to be wondering if they’re going to get this job or not, communicate all of that. It's very simple.

MARKS: Lean in and go all in confidently into what you know is great talent acquisition. Your organization can be a magnet for great talent in your industry, in your geography and the skill and experience sets that you need. So go all in on it because now's the time to do that.


These answers were edited for readability and clarity. You can listen to the entire webinar discussion here.


The global pandemic had a major impact on talent acquisition practices, from opening the doors to remote talent to introducing new technology. Statistics support just how significant the impact has been, but several recent changes may also change the w...

View Blog

The latest round of town hall discussions with Cielo clients focused on preparations for recovery and how organizations are staying focused on the health and engagement of their people. The insights shared in these discussions can help HR and TA leader...

View Blog