Why invest in a talent community?

Attracting top talent is consistently named a top strategic priority among senior executives. According to PwC’s 21st CEO Survey, 80% of CEOs are worried about sourcing and hiring highly skilled employees.

Losing high performing employees and failing to attract the necessary talent to your team can have an enormous impact on the performance of your business.

To address this, many corporate HR teams are creating what they refer to as “talent communities” – warm pipelines of talent for future recruitment, typically filled with active job seekers.

This often entails a simple form on the company’s employer brand website where the candidate can submit their resume for consideration to future positions.

While the instinct to move from a reactive hiring approach to a proactive strategy is absolutely right, not all talent communities are created equally. And many miss the mark completely.

Too often, talent communities are led by recruiters and focused solely on targeting active job seekers (only 5-20% of talent market) – people who already have an interest in the potential employer and will take action to learn more.

However, to passive job seekers (an even larger talent pool at 65-75% of talent market!), these so-called talent communities offer nothing that would entice them to join. Instead, for top talent of any relatively in-demand skillset, they will likely view these corporate talent communities as just another platform through which they’ll be spammed by recruiters.

Intern Talent Community Event hosted by NEWaukee in Milwaukee
Pictured: An event hosted by NEWaukee to create a community among interns at Bader Rutter, Baird, Briggs and Stratton, Cohen & Co, Colliers International, Eaton, Harley Davidson, Jeffers & Co, Johnson Controls, Kohl’s, Northwestern Mutual and PPG.

How do we define a talent community?

A talent community is:

  • A platform that allows for its members to share common interests
  • A space for shared conversation
  • A relationship between the employer, its people, its brand and the community
  • Employee and community-led

A talent community is NOT:

  • A database of people that applied for a specific career
  • One-way communication to a candidate
  • A box to check for your employer brand
  • Recruiter-led and managed

Key to the success of a talent community is the “community” – the reason for being, the common interest that brings individuals together. Job seeking, while perhaps a common activity, is not an interest – nor a sustainable, engaging context for a community. Even a very talented, motivated, active job seeker will move on from a talent community once they are hired elsewhere, because their reason for belonging will no longer exist.

True communities are participatory. For example, in a community of football fans, there is an ongoing dialogue around the topic. The community of fans might find affinity around a certain team or player, start a fantasy league or have a lively debate around a draft pick. These shared experiences over time create a feeling of belonging and trust among individuals within the community.

The goal, then, is to develop a talent community that follows this same participatory model around a common interest that will build long-term trust and belonging.

Pictured: An interactive city tour and networking event for candidates at Badger Meter, GE Healthcare, Milwaukee Tool and Cargill.
Pictured: An interactive city tour and networking event for candidates at Badger Meter, GE Healthcare, Milwaukee Tool and Cargill.

How can a talent community be valuable for employers?

1. More qualified candidates in your ecosystem that believe in your brand
2. Less dependence on job boards
3. Lower spend on job advertisements
4. Increased interaction with potential candidates
5. Better quality of applicants
6. Attraction of passive candidates
7. Ability to track ROI, patterns, trends & opportunities

Wouldn’t it be amazing if, rather than spending a large sum on advertising to fill an open role, you could simply turn to your talent community for referrals? According to Linkedin data, referred candidates are 55% faster to hire, have better retention rates and save an average of $3,000 per hire.

When building your talent community, think about the entire talent lifecycle – from the moment someone first interacts with your employer brand, to their experience as an alumni after they leave the company. 

Where are talent communities?

Tech meetups, marketing associations, young professional groups and volunteer organizations are all examples of natural talent communities that were started by actual members of the community – not recruiters or HR professionals.

These communities were not created with a goal of recruitment – but often, these are the spaces where active and passive job seeking occurs.

We have to change our thinking in how we engage talent.

Recruitment is very often a reactive, short-term practice. A job is posted online, you wait for responses, and handle applications once they come in. A career fair is hosted, and you wait for candidates to come talk to you at your booth. The interaction takes place on your terms, in your environment.

In contrast, the development of a talent community is a proactive, long-term strategy. A tech startup hosts a series of meetups on a new software. A manufacturing company sponsors a series of talks in the community about diversity, equity and inclusion, and highlights their employees’ unique perspectives. Candidates interact with the employer brand on their own terms, in their own environments.

Featured Video: The Shift, a female-focused speaker series and talent community strategy hosted by NEWaukee for Kohler Company. 

To asset map existing Talent Communities, take a moment to think about your goals.

Who are you building your community for? (And sorry, your answer can’t be “everyone!”)

Is it for a professional affinity group? Software developers? Healthcare workers? Financial managers?

Is it around an issue or interest? Do you want your company to be known for its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion? Do you want to be known as a leader in the fight against climate change?

Once you know who you are building your talent community for, you can start to map where those individuals already are.

Let’s take the example from above of Software Developers and map out potential existing talent communities:

  1. Meetup groups
  2. University programs
  3. Civic organizations 
  4. Internal organizations 
  5. City initiatives 
  6. K12 programs 

Additionally, you could think about uniting existing talent communities. Connect multiple young professional groups in your region. Bring together multiple meetup groups. Build a coalition of key leaders from across multiple organizations.

Featured Video: NEWaukee’s Make it in Milwaukee program, a talent community and recruitment pipeline strategy hosted here for Advocate Aurora Health.

How do you make your talent community stand out?

What will make it personal for the people who join? Why will they want to join and participate long-term?

Here are 10 things we think you need to thoughtfully consider to make your talent community valuable and engaging:

1. Boundaries. Be specific about who your talent community is for, and don’t allow it to be overrun by spam or self-promotion.

2. Custom content. Create content for this audience, and use the content as a conversation starter among your community members. This is a great opportunity to share employee success stories and position your employer brand as a thought leader in your talent communty’s given interest area.

3. Insider information. Share industry information with this group that otherwise might not get talked about. This is a space to nerd out about whatever topic your community loves!

4. Connections. Provide opportunities and avenues for your talent community members to connect to one another and to your employees.

5. Experiences (online/in-person). Host events that will build a community connection.

6. Special product news. Position your employer brand as a leader in innovation. Talk about what you’re building and why it’s great!

7. Access to senior leadership. Provide exclusive access to key leaders in the company. Their buy-in is critical to the long-term success of your talent community. 

8. Community manager(s). Someone from your organization needs to be charged with managing your talent community and ensuring that members are engaged. Be very thoughtful in choosing this individual (or multiple individuals). We strongly suggest that it not be a recruiter. The relationship between a community manager and members of the community will be more authentic if there is a common bond – ie. a software developer helping to manage a community of other technology professionals or a nurse helping to manage a community of other healthcare professionals.

9. Referral programs. Offer incentives for this group to provide referrals for key open positions.

10. First to try, experience, see, apply. Your talent community is an awesome focus group for your company. Let them be the first to try new products, see new things you are creating and apply for roles. Give them opportunities to share feedback and offer suggestions for change that could actually be implemented.  

Who is joining talent communities?

Talent communities are gaining popularity, especially among younger demographics.

In a 2018 survey of 700 college students and graduates by Yello, one in three respondents who had already accepted a job had previously joined a talent community.

Young high-performing talent wants to feel like they belong at their company. According to an article by Forbes, 47% of Millennial employees would choose to take a pay cut to work where their values are affirmed by their employers. And nearly 50% research DEI programs at workplaces they are planning to join before making a move.

How does this relate to customer communities?

According to a 2017 study by IBM, “Millennials experience Brand Belonging more acutely than other generations. They rate brands higher in Brand Belonging across all categories…”

In the same study, IBM highlights that companies with strong brand belonging gained market share of up to 10% over a three-year period.

What does this mean? Both your talent and customers want to belong to your brand. Thus, your talent community strategy should not exist in a silo separate from your other marketing efforts.

Your current talent could leave as alumni and become your customers. Your current customers could one day become talent within your company.

And all have the opportunity of becoming brand advocates.

How do you foster belonging in your talent community? 

A brand that creates belonging will win loyalty from its customers and employees alike. 

To build belonging, here are 7 tips and questions you should consider:

1. Have a plan for onboarding community members. 
Do members get a certain email when they join? Do they set a meeting with your community’s manager? Do they take a survey about their interests? What will you be doing to stay regularly in contact with them?

2. Facilitate peer relationships. 
Who are your community members? Which members should meet one another? Is there anyone else that should join that hasn’t received an invitation.

3. Empower mechanisms for change.
In what ways can your members meaningfully contribute to the community? How can they provide feedback?

4. Promote two-way communication.
Can your members talk to you? To each other? How are you encouraging conversation?

5. Have a clear purpose and boundaries.
What is the talent community for? Who can join? Who can’t? What can or cannot be discussed within the talent community? 

6. Provide opportunities for 1:1 connection.
How can members get in touch with one another? Where can they meet? What opportunities for networking are you creating?

7. Monitor community sentiment and wellbeing.
How are you tracking the satisfaction of your members? What metrics are important to your company? What does success look like? What mechanisms are in place to track success?

Download FREE Talent Communities Reimagined eBook 



We’re growing a national network of corporate leaders in culture! Our Revival Community is for forward-thinkers and changemakers who are trailblazing NEW methods to engage talent. Get access to ongoing programs, peer exchange, collaborative workshops and cutting-edge content. Nominate yourself or a peer today – it takes just a couple minutes!


The Secret Weapon Any Company Can Use to Revitalize Their Brand

Engagement Marketing


Now Hiring: Paid Media Strategist

Team Updates


5 Effective Strategies to Boost Your Brand with Professional Event Videography & Photography

Engagement Marketing