Struggling to compete with large businesses for top talent in your industry? In almost every instance, the issue will be your recruitment plan. 

It is possible for small and mid-sized companies to compete with the big names when it comes to hiring. In order to do so, you simply need to transition from a reactive hiring plan to a proactive recruitment strategy. 

Here at COLLABZ, we’ve created a SME Leader’s Proactive Hiring Toolkit, containing all the info and resources you need to start transforming your talent acquisition strategy. We’ve also penned this free blog miniseries that explain why it’s vital to transform your hiring strategy, what this means for your business, and how to create and implement a truly proactive strategy. 

To win in the talent market, what do I need?

  1. A strategic hiring plan 
  2. A proactive recruitment strategy 
  3. A professional and engaging candidate experience 
  4. Extremely collaborative and engaged hiring managers 
  5. A highly productive recruitment team with the right skills 

Our previous blog focussed on how to create a strategic hiring plan. In this guide, we’ll be focusing on the seven pillars you need to consider when creating a proactive recruitment strategy. 

How do I create a proactive recruitment strategy that delivers hiring success?  

We start by looking at the building blocks of a successful strategy. 

What hiring activities should we deliver? 

Step 1: List your activities and think strategically about each one of these topics: 

1. Alignment

It’s absolutely vital in today’s environment to set yourself up for success. Ensure alignment by understanding business strategy and asking: “what talent do we need to meet our objectives?”

You need to make business leaders stop and think about the company roadmap, next year’s goals, and whether or not the organisation’s existing talent truly meets its needs. This needs to be a continuous process. 

Regularly consider these questions:

  • What is our business strategy? 
  • What does our company roadmap look like? 
  • How are we building skills for the future at relatively low costs? 

Aligning your recruitment strategy not only ensures a proactive, efficient approach but also a targeted focus on mission-critical skills:

  • Repeatable hires? 
  • Pipeline of projects?
  • Sales/Growth strategy?
  • Digital transformation?
  • Emerging skills/customer demand/competitor skills? 

2. Talent intelligence – understanding the data

To compete for the people you need, you must first understand your talent market data. 

Deep dive into the supply and demand of the talent your business requires and truly get under the skin of the competitive landscape.

Talent intelligence is the foundation you must lay before becoming a major player in the employment market. Why? Simply put, it improves direct sourcing capabilities and drives competitive advantage.

This includes:

  • Target demographics
  • External hiring supply and demand
  • Competitor analysis
  • Skills availability
  • Salary & pay rate benchmarks
  • Career pathways
  • Tenure trends
  • Geographical spread of talent

This will enable you to plot your attraction strategies, craft your messaging, nurture your pipelines, and convert into cost effective direct hires with no placement fees.

It’s vital with any business case or sponsorship to understand your starting point. After all, you can’t worry about improvements if you don’t know what you are improving. 

Firstly review your previous year’s hiring plans and recruitment habits to understand your baseline metrics and trends. Interview the hiring community to learn about their experience working with your team and what improvements could be made to either save time or improve quality.

Data you need access to includes:

  • Any previous work relating to recruitment strategy (docs, policies, plans)
  • Expenditure: Visible and hidden costs relating to headcount, software, marketing, advertising, training, events, expenses, licenses and more
  • Last year’s hiring data: Number of hires, disciplines, source ROI and cost
  • ATS reports: Recruitment ratios
  • Surveys: Candidate surveys, hiring manager surveys, and exit surveys
  • Finance reports
  • Current KPIs: These may include FY Attrition/performance – Quality, ECT/TTH – Speed, CPH – Cost,  Ratios – Productivity

Secondly, think about what your relationship is going to be like with data moving forward. In this era, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be using data to understand target demographics, shape attraction strategies, improve processes, and evaluate talent. 

Consider these questions:

  • To establish a baseline measure on performance, what data do I have access to?
  • Which recruiting KPIs have we used previously?
  • What were the results?  
  • Which recruiting KPIs will tell us what we really need to know? 
  • What external talent intelligence have we harnessed in the past? 
  • Do we need to change our approach to external talent intelligence?
  • What’s my true cost of recruitment?
  • What do you have access to now which could be used more frequently? 
  • What would you like access to in the future?    

3. Demand planning & forecasting

What’s our roadmap telling us? What do we have in place to identify vacancies quicker? 

Who are we going to need to recruit? 

It’s pretty simple: the more foresight you have of demand across the business, the more preparation you can do. And the quicker you’ll be able to hire when the need arrives. Speed equals better productivity. 

We’ve referenced the importance of knowing who you need to recruit with a solid hiring plan, but we also need to account for ‘unplanned’ hiring. There’s usually a 30% swing either way. 


  • Who has this data? Bids teams? Hiring managers?
  • How often you should be capturing this data
  • Which tools can support the capture of this data? 
  • How are you going to use this data to drive results?

4. EVP & employer brand

Now we understand our talent demographics, do we have a clearly-defined employee value proposition (EVP) and concise brand messaging? More importantly, has our EVP been tailored for the people we need to recruit?

As a company with between 50 and 500 employees, you might not boast the expensive, comprehensive employer brand of bigger businesses, but you still need to know who you are, what your unique selling points are and how to effectively communicate this with authenticity. 

If you don’t know who you are and don’t shout about it, how will candidates know they want to work for you and have confidence in moving to you? 

Consider the following:

  • What approved content do you have to communicate your EVP? 
  • What channels are going to use to project your messages? 
  • Where do our target communities hang out online/offline? 
  • How are you positioned against our ‘talent competitors’ within the market? 

5. Candidate attraction & sourcing

There’s so much to consider around candidate attraction and sourcing. 

Here are some of the most important questions to ask:

  • How are we going to source and attract candidates for our roles and opportunities? 
  • Which talent channels will we use? 
  • Where will we look for freelancers, experienced skills-specific talent, and digital talent that we have not sourced before? 
  • How much of our work will be responding to live vacancies and how can we be more proactive by engaging passive talent ahead of demand? 
  • Which channels will we prioritise as they give us greater ROI? For example, internal, direct or third-party? 
  • Are these channels and activities proven to attract the skills required in our hiring plan? 
  • Where are our capability gaps? 
  • Do we need to innovate and explore new options to recruit the skills in our hiring plan? 
  • How do we tie in our EVP and employer brand into our sourcing and attraction activities? 
  • How do we ensure that our outreach/advertisement is not mis-aligned to what our EVP represents? 

6. Assessment & selection

Candidate applications should set in motion a swift process that will select the most suitable ones for each opportunity. 

This means being 100% clear on what you are assessing.

What does ‘good’ look like in your unique environment, considering:

  • Values
  • Motives
  • Behaviours
  • Skills
  • Experience

Next, consider whether you’ve implemented the best tools and methods to support what you want to evaluate. 

Think about the following questions:

  • What will the recruitment team be responsible for? Pre-screen, assessment etc
  • Which activities will we take control of and which will we need to support the hiring managers with? 
  • Is everything aligned to our hiring plan?
  • Does our hiring plan reflect our EVP as a brand?
  • Is our hiring plan suited to our sourcing strategy?

It’s vital to remember that one size doesn’t fit all.

For instance, don’t place a heavy emphasis on a candidate’s ability to perform on a video interview if that will have little bearing on them being able to perform in the role. Equally, if the video interview is for a front line role as a customer relationship manager, this could be the best way to evaluate the candidate’s communication skills. 

7. Pre-board & onboard

From the moment an offer is accepted, how can we improve the odds of our hire being a success with our company? 

Consider the following:

How do we start a learning journey so our new hire is engaged with the company mission and can get up to speed quicker? 

How do we manage expectations properly and set the tone for their employment? 

How do we currently approach this stage of the process? 

Where are the handover points, who owns the different parts of this process? 

Are we losing talent during these stages? 

Setting expectations and tone must start at the offer stage and should end at the latest point that is commercially and operationally viable: six months is ideal. 

If you’re sourcing passive talent, you’re likely to see more ghosting and counter offers moving forward. In these cases, this part of the process is even more important. Ensure the process is tailored for the people you are recruiting in your hiring plans, and make sure it’s aligned to and utilising your employer brand and assessment activities.  

8. Hiring Experience – What experiences are we going to provide for managers and candidates?

The modern HR leader knows to put the user experience front and centre, which explains the significant recent trend where customer design thinking methodologies are being applied to the recruitment process in relation to candidate and hiring manager experience. 

Will you be providing a very high touch service to your customer or will it be a tad more ‘self serve’? Will you opt for a decentralised model where business functions are allocated specialist talent partners? Or will you create a centralised model where you are able to move resources around more flexibly? 

You can’t get away from the fact that delivering a higher level of service to your customer is inevitably going to cost more, but the smart cookies identify a way to link that cost to far greater value and impact over the medium-to-long term. 

The good news is that many companies are still lagging behind when it comes to genuinely offering a human-centric approach to hiring, with all touchpoints deliberately crafted. This means if you do decide to move forward in this way, you’ll be truly differentiating your brand.    

9. Operating model & Infrastructure 

It’s time to think about the people, the processes, and the technology required for your proactive recruitment strategy to succeed. The operating model and infrastructure are the backbone of your strategy, ensuring the process runs as consistently and smoothly as possible for every candidate and hiring manager. 

Consider the following: 

  • What steps are needed in your proactive recruitment strategy? 
  • In what order should these steps take place?
  • Which people are needed for each step of the strategy? 
  • How are you going to train them to do what you need them to do?
  • What processes need to be developed for each step of the strategy? 
  • Who is going to develop the team and how will they be implemented?
  • What technology is needed for each step of the strategy?
  • Do you already have access to this technology?
  • If not, what will the added cost be, and who will need to be trained to use the new tech?

Now you’ve thought about and documented the above pillars, it’s time to map out what operating model and infrastructure you need to meet the needs of our recruitment strategy? This is where people, process, technology comes in to play. Read on to find out more.

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