Summer 2021
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CTDO Magazine

Feeling the Pressure

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Despite rapid changes to talent acquisition, leaders can tap strategies to sustain a quality workforce.

You know that moment when a bungee jumper reaches the bottom of their plunge? Just before snapping back and changing direction, the stress on that bungee cord (and on the person) is at its highest point. That vivid image is a great depiction of the current state of talent acquisition for many employers.


Priorities in the past 18 months have shifted rapidly from hiring as quickly as possible to a wide variety of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including redeploying talent within the business, freezing hiring activities, opening internal talent marketplaces for workers to pick up short-term gigs, and more. Responses to those varied scenarios also have run the gamut as employers worked on developing recruiting team skills; filling critical, pandemic-exposed technology gaps; and tackling equity and inclusion priorities.

Employers have likewise looked at exploring automation as a way to humanize and scale the candidate experience, and recent events have added fuel to the fire as employers are returning to more normal operations in many cases.

Additionally, virtual hiring will remain a top priority, with many companies saying they plan to hire more remote workers in the coming year. Given all of that, it’s easy to see that for most talent development teams, the pressure has never been higher.

However, at Lighthouse Research & Advisory, where I serve as the chief research officer, we surveyed more than 800 employers for our 2021 Talent Acquisition Trends  study and identified steps TD teams can take to prepare for these rapidly changing conditions. We also found lessons that TD professionals can learn from high-performing talent teams.

Growing the talent pool

In the research, we found that seven in 10 companies are planning to do more virtual or remote hiring in 2021 and into 2022. For teams that have never broken that barrier prior to the pandemic, it opens up opportunities to tap talent in a wide variety of locations.

Earlier in my career, I worked as a recruiting leader for a fast-growing software company based in Huntsville, Alabama. One of the most common challenges I faced was finding highly qualified individuals who wanted to relocate and work somewhere that they’d never considered. Expanding the hiring to remote talent and allowing them to live where they want would have drastically increased my ability to bring in qualified candidates.

Remote-first hiring is a priority for many employers today as more and more companies let their leases lapse on commercial office space and reap the savings of no physical location. Obviously that doesn’t apply to the jobs in industries that require a physical presence, such as manufacturing or retail, but it does enable many companies to hire on a more remote basis.

However, remote-first hiring isn’t without challenges. An expanded talent pool means all companies can now compete for that talent. For some in-demand skill sets, employers may still struggle to find and hire qualified individuals, and now it is critical to engage them.

Perhaps more important, remote-first hiring creates new complexities on the elements downstream from hiring activities, such as:

  • Compliance. During the past few years, states and local municipalities have increased the burden on employers in terms of compliance requirements, such as California’s Consumer Privacy Act and Illinois’s law limiting and managing how employers can use artificial intelligence (AI) in the hiring process. While those types of complexities would likely not dissuade companies from pursuing job seekers, TD leaders should know all the compliance triggers so they aren’t blindsided later.
  • Development and engagement. Employees who like working remotely will flourish in that environment, but some individuals prefer in-person interactions, either regularly or occasionally. Making plans to continuously develop and engage remote hires is crucial, because the number 1 predictor of employee retention is a workplace that offers career development opportunities and skills growth.

While remote and virtual hiring may seem like positive moves, other relevant factors influence long-term success with talent initiatives, and talent leaders can’t forget to account for them.

DEI considerations

One significant topic in the past year has been diversity, equity, and inclusion. Hiring is a key lever for increasing equity in the workplace. However, automation and AI have gotten a bad rap for perpetuating bias in hiring.

At Lighthouse, we speak with more than 350 vendors a year in the HR, talent, and learning technology space. Although some providers are creating and promoting tools that have the potential to be biased and decrease diversity, plenty are doing just the opposite, either through intentional features or simply because of the nature of the user experience.

For instance, chatbots are automation and can leverage machine learning, but they treat every candidate the same, giving each an opportunity to connect and apply for jobs, schedule interviews, and more.

Employers have a wide variety of levers they can pull to drive greater representation in the hiring process, such as resume blinding; using diverse hiring teams to screen applicants; and developing structured, consistent, and fair processes.

An audit of your hiring tools and methods can help you illuminate where the best opportunities lie to support DEI hiring. One way of approaching that is to map out the hiring funnel and identify points where diversity candidates fall outside consideration.

Are 80 percent kicked out at the first screening stage? Are 80 percent making it through screening and then hiring managers are rejecting them? Those findings can help you to see where change is needed, reducing the time you need to correct any issues.

One of the most exciting findings from the 2021 Talent Acquisition Trends study, which asked respondents about priorities for 2021 into 2022, is that, for companies, DEI went from a “talk the talk” to a “walk the walk” type of activity.

More employers are taking steps to increase equitable treatment in the hiring process. Additionally, diversity appeared as a priority in other areas. In the realm of internal talent mobility, for example, the number 1 success metric became “increased diversity within the organization,” an exciting first in the five-plus years Lighthouse has examined talent mobility strategies.

Virtual recruiting

What someone believes drives what they do next, and that has a pivotal role in how recruiting is evolving.

Consider this: In a 2019 study, we asked 160 talent acquisition executives at enterprise firms what skills matter most. Only half of respondents said things like communication skills or analytical skills. As a researcher, that piqued my curiosity, because that meant the other half of respondents didn’t think those skills mattered as much.

After some digging, I uncovered additional information: Anyone who responded in a prior question that AI and automation were changing recruiting was significantly more likely to agree that new skills were needed. Those who believed AI and automation were more hype than reality said other skills don’t matter.

Belief drives action. I’m quite certain that Blockbuster didn’t believe Netflix to be a challenger, so it didn’t take action until it was too late. An incorrect belief can cause short-term stumbles or long-term crises if things don’t change.

The skills needed from the recruiting profession are changing. In a world with more automation and technology and a more virtual and distributed workforce, what the business and candidate landscape demands from any particular talent acquisition team has evolved.

While some headlines lean all the way into hard skills, Lighthouse research shows that soft skills play a significant role. The data indicates that it’s not either/or—it’s a combination of the soft and hard skills that lead to the most effective talent teams. In real terms, those capabilities range from being able to use data and technology to better communication and collaboration skills.

Beyond the talent, technology is important in virtual recruiting. Two-thirds of employers in the 2021 Talent Acquisition Trends study said that 2020 “exposed critical gaps in their recruiting technology,” and 20 percent still haven’t filled those gaps.


In more practical terms, video interviewing jumped to the top of the list of priorities for employers in 2020, but it also tops the list for 2021. I have already discussed assessments as helpful tools for bringing fairness and accuracy to the selection process. There are other components as well (see figure).

Pandemic-Driven Virtual Recruiting Elements
Virtual and video interviews, 80%
Virtual career fairs, 32%
Assessments and screening tools, 30%
Targeted messaging and recruitment marketing via a candidate relationship management, 25%
Chatbots, SMS/text messaging, other conversational tools, 22%
None of the above, 11%
Source: 2021 Talent Acquisition Priorities Study, Lighthouse Research & Advisory
Source: 2021 Talent Acquisition Priorities Study, Lighthouse Research & Advisory

Virtual career fairs—and virtual events more broadly—provide opportunities for employers to connect with candidates in a variety of virtual settings:

  • One to one—virtual recruiter and hiring manager interactions and conversations with candidates
  • One to many—informational webinars, including day-in-the-life sessions to showcase current employees and answer questions from the candidate audience
  • Many to many—team projects and activities that enable candidates to network while they demonstrate their interest and skill level

One company that has seen tremendous growth in the value of virtual events is AirAsia. The airline has more than 20,000 employees, and when demand grew for talent late in 2020, the company used events as a lever in its recruiting strategy.

The results have been impressive, driving 19 percent growth in talent network applicants, 13 percent higher candidate quality, and 12 percent higher resurfacing of leads from within the database. Virtual events, even for a role that will ultimately be fulfilled in person, can be a scalable and high-impact lever for reaching candidates.


It’s easy to get caught up in some of the big changes, such as shifting to remote work or going all-in on video interviews, and miss the longer-term implications of the changing workplace. The research clearly indicates that, as talent leaders, we should be looking at three areas to sustain organizational and talent success.

First, the talent acquisition team’s skills are evolving. Communication skills have always been important, but they now include new facets such as virtual event facilitation, which is new for the majority of talent professionals.

This factor is sometimes challenging, because there’s no universal training for recruiting teams, but encouraging and providing opportunities for skill development is important for remaining competitive.

Second, technology is imperative to scalable success. It can play a powerful role as a differentiator between a task-oriented and strategic function.

I have been seeing incredible case studies across sourcing, screening, and selection. Who wouldn’t want a 90 percent reduction in time to fill, a hire that’s 2.5 times more likely to be a high performer, or a process that naturally increases the number of underrepresented applicants for every job?

Finally, DEI and fairness are now table stakes for the modern talent function. In a recent We’re Only Human podcast interview with Dominique Brewer, the primary DEI leader at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Brewer explains that the TD team is now using its “equity lens” to deliver subject matter expertise to the rest of the organization, supporting everything from procurement to drug trial testing by teaching other business units about the importance of inclusion at all layers of the company, not just in talent activities.

As the world continues to evolve, prioritizing these components will lead to a more stable talent function and, by extension, a more stable organization.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Ben Eubanks is a speaker, author, and researcher living in Huntsville, Alabama. Eubanks is the chief research officer at Lighthouse Research & Advisory and the author of Artificial Intelligence for HR: Use AI to Build a Successful Workforce.
Eubanks is an expert speaker on the future of work as it relates to talent, technology, and innovation. His speaking has reached over 100,000 business leaders in the last 10 years on physical and virtual stages.
His book on artificial intelligence debuted at the number 1 spot on the New and Noteworthy list on Amazon upon its release and has been referenced by dozens of researchers and businesses globally since its publication as the definitive guide to AI and machine learning applications for HR and talent.
Previously an HR executive for a global technology startup, he currently heads up research and operations at Lighthouse Research & Advisory, a human capital advisory services firm. He works with HR, talent, and learning leaders around the world to solve their most pressing business challenges with a research-based perspective tempered by practical, hands-on experience.
He has developed hundreds of reports, case studies, and other resources to support his life’s mission: Making HR better, one HR pro at a time. Eubanks is the founder of upstartHR, a blog that has touched the lives of more than 1 million business leaders since its inception, and he also hosts “We’re Only Human,” a podcast that examines the intersection of people and technology in the workplace. The podcast has featured guests from notable organizations like IBM, Emerson Electric, Southwest Airlines, and more.
Most importantly, he has four children, a wonderful wife of 10-plus years, and a preference for running in a variety of outlandish races for fun.

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