Using the “Warm Bench” Approach in Your Talent Strategy

February 22, 2021
Author: Glenn Hunter

With competition for skilled talent heating up as economic recovery is under way, some talent acquisition professionals are taking a different approach. Instead of sticking to the traditional hiring process, they’re developing and nurturing a “warm bench” of ready-to-hire prospects. The trend is very evident in the tech sector and moving swiftly through other industries.

Creating a talent bench of top candidates ensures you're able to quickly fill in-demand roles.

Rather than posting each new job, then reviewing hundreds of resumes and interviewing multiple candidates, recruiters and hiring managers are quickly tapping an existing pipeline of pre-screened top prospects whenever openings arise.

Just like in professional sports, their lineup – or bench – is filled with talented candidates waiting for a chance to show what they can do in the workplace.

A warm bench consists of prospects who’ve already expressed interest in the organization and asked to be considered for future opportunities. They may have applied previously for positions, networked with the company’s employees or attended one of the company’s events.

Preparing and cultivating such a ready pipeline is valuable to an organization and can be cost-effective. It typically takes more than 40 days to fill open positions at an average cost of $4,129 for one placement, according to the Society for Human Resources Management.

Related: 5 Ways Talent Acquisition Professionals Can Create a Great Candidate Experience

Denise Graziano, CEO of marketing communications firm Graziano Associates, told, “You want to draw in people who are self-selecting, who are aligned with your culture, what your beliefs are and what it means to work in your environment.”

Forming Connections and Building Relationships

One company that has proactively developed a warm bench is Dialexa, a technology and engineering firm with 150 employees. As Dialexa frequently takes on new clients and embarks on new projects, it looks to its bench of highly qualified, offer-ready prospects to staff up quickly.

It starts with the job interview. “We set expectations right away,” explains Sara Currie, one of the company’s in-house recruiters. “At the end of the interview we might say, ‘You’re amazing. We’re just waiting for the right time to hire you.’”

That’s when the candidate’s name goes into Dialexa’s ATS system, along with reminders for a recruiter to reach out to the prospect every week or two. “It’s all about connection and building the relationship with the person, getting to know them as a human being,” Currie says. “We’ll call and say, ‘How are you holding up in the pandemic?’ or ‘Here’s what’s happening right now with Dialexa.’”

At any time, she adds, the company might have 10 to 20 candidates – designers and software engineers, for example – who are ready to come aboard on short notice.
Of course, Dialexa isn’t the only company nurturing a ready roster of pre-qualified talent.

  • Zappos, an online shoe and clothing retailer, encourages interested candidates to interact with the company by joining its Zappos Insider network. As they engage, the company’s recruiters have a pool of candidates that’s ready to go once new positions open up.
  • Under Armour, a sports equipment company, has diversified its outreach to more universities with mainly minority populations to identify future interns and job candidates. Company employees interact with the students one-on-one to keep them engaged.
  • Dormify, an online retailer for dormitory décor, has a student ambassador program that gives its members first crack at Dormify’s job and internship opportunities. The program has filled a number of internships and sales associate positions.

The common denominator among these approaches is authentic, ongoing, two-way communication between talent acquisition pros and prospective employees. At Dialexa, Currie says its prospective employees have a mix of backgrounds and experience levels, from recent college grads to senior-level people who’ve worked in their field for 20 years or more.

The company’s projects require a “wide range of technologies, so they might need to learn as they go,” she says. “In general, we hire for the person rather than for their specific skills.”

Does she think the warm bench model could work for other organizations or for external recruiting firms? Currie believes it might, especially for those seeking highly skilled people at a moment’s notice.

Even “staffing agencies should have a list of people they already know as human beings, outside their resumes,” Currie says. “You want to treat people as humans, rather than as pieces of resume paper. You want the personality. Then you can build up their skills in-house.”

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