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The Ultimate Guide To A Winning Talent Strategy

September 23, 2020 by Whitney Bray

For any company, stopping to build a talent strategy is like stopping to change a tire when you should be going 75 mph. So if you need a talent strategy, but can’t afford to pull over, what should you do? 

Relying on data is a good place to start. A data-driven talent strategy takes the guesswork out of the equation and speeds up your process. Using data gives you the confidence that you’re hiring the right people with the right skills for the right price at the right time. 

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What is a talent strategy?

A talent strategy (particularly when it’s data-driven) describes the process companies use to find, hire, and retain top-tier talent in the most cost-effective, timely way. A strong talent strategy can help ensure companies don’t lose out on talent to their competitors.

Why is a good talent strategy important?

Employees are every company’s most valuable (and expensive) asset. With that in mind, companies need a good talent strategy to ensure they’re building their business with and spending those valuable dollars on the best talent available.

When an NBA star negotiates one of those monster, $20-million-a-year contracts, there’s often plenty of head-shaking. How could anyone justify paying someone so much just because they’re good with a ball? Surely the franchise owners have lost their minds—or at least their business sense.

But in truth, these owners know what they are doing and can more than defend those big contracts. As a matter of fact, the actual value that a high-caliber player brings to a team is much higher than their salary. Think about it. Great players steer ticket sales, drive advertising dollars, and win games, all of which increase the franchise’s value. LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, for example, nearly doubled the Cavaliers’ value.

We see similar behavior at businesses like Facebook and Google. Granted, web developers aren’t making $20 million a year–but they can afford housing in the Bay Area.

So here’s the point: The most vital, value-creating element behind any successful enterprise is talent. Without talent, there is no product. But if talent is so key, why do many companies struggle to find it? The answer is that they’re not utilizing data to make their decisions! Ignoring the data is like trying to find a hidden treasure without ever looking at the map – you will never succeed!

Let’s start by analyzing the three talent pools you can source talent from.

What kind of talent should you source?

So where do companies even begin to look for talent you ask? Let’s return to our NBA analogy for the answer.

Imagine you’re an owner looking to sell seats and win games. You have three main talent acquisition options to explore:

  • Free agents

  • The minor league and out-of-work players

  • The NBA draft

The same principles apply in the world of business. To develop a good strategy, you need to understand the following talent pools:

  • The currently employed (free agents)

  • The unemployed or underemployed (minor league and out-of-work players)

  • Students in the postsecondary system (NBA draft)

In basketball, you can evaluate talent by watching a player while they work, but this is not practical in the business world. That’s why you need data.

NBA teams increasingly use data and analytics (more commonly referred to as “stats” in the basketball world) to refine their decision-making process and optimize their strategies. Great talents like LeBron James tend to trump analytics, but LeBron cannot win a championship by himself. He needs the right players around him, which is where data becomes so valuable.

We’ll call this data, market research for talent. Market research is information on the external workforce that helps us make strategic, tactical decisions on when to hire new talent, and when to build our internal talent.

So, let’s see how data can help us approach the three talent pools.

     1. The currently employed

Our economy is composed of over 161 million jobs spread across 50 states and hundreds of dense metro areas— some of which are bigger than entire nations, economically speaking.

With a labor pool this vast, it’s likely there are people you can hire. But it might be hard to know:

  • Where they are
  • Who they are (age, gender, ethnicity, education, etc.)
  • What they’re doing now (the industries they work in and occupations they hold)

A proper evaluation of the currently employed workforce can help you make smarter decisions about the people you recruit—and where to go to recruit them.

It’s also important to consider people who already work for your organization who might have the transferable skills you need for a new role.

     2. The underemployed or unemployed

Companies should also look at data on the underemployed or unemployed workforce. For the underemployed, you should consider two primary elements:

  • Jobs that require similar knowledge and skills as the jobs you need to fill, but are below your pay rates.
  • People who are qualified for the jobs but are currently employed in unrelated industries.

For the unemployed, you should perform searches with the state workforce agency to see who is available. In both cases, you are locating the people who are likely motivated and would be excited about the opportunities you offer.

     3. Students in the postsecondary system

Finally, companies need to understand the students poised to enter the workforce. Who are they, where are they, and what are they learning?

Successful college recruitment depends on data in so many ways. How many students attended your organization’s events? How many are on track to graduate with the necessary skills to fill your open positions? Data can answer these questions, in addition to showing the ethnicity of grads, the outcomes of exams, and the market availability of the talent you’re searching for. 

How to find the right talent

What makes NBA franchises and major tech companies so talent-rich? Everyone wants to work for them! These companies don’t wait for talent to drop out of the sky. They acquire (and keep) the best people by building strong talent strategies.

You can narrow down the search for the right talent in a few key ways:

Skills are the secret sauce to any human resources or hiring manager’s success. Skills give us a granular look at what graduates can actually do, not just what we think they can do based on the program they completed.

Whether you’re searching for schools that produce the most talent in any given occupation, fulfilling diversity or veteran initiatives, or writing a job description, education data is the best way to get that information—and quickly.

If you’re looking to hire interns or recent graduates, it’s helpful to know which schools are producing the most (and best) talent for your occupations. That way, you’re not wasting time and money recruiting at too many schools or the wrong schools.

Education attainment data allows you to see which programs and schools have had the most growth over time or spot upcoming schools and trends. You can evaluate the current schools you’re recruiting at and find new ones you haven’t considered before. For example, sometimes companies focus on schools based on proximity when they’d have more success recruiting elsewhere.

To accurately understand the diversity at a specific college, you need data. With Diversity data, you can compare graduate diversity in target schools to similar universities at a program level. You can also benchmark groups of college candidates against the university makeup of current workers in target roles. 

  • Write the perfect job posting

Writing a job posting is hard. Whether it’s a new job or an old job requisition you have on file, recruiters have to find the perfect balance of skills to attract the candidates they want.

Every industry’s talent needs are different. And their job posting strategies provide valuable insight into how they respond to their respective challenges. This can also be beneficial on a company level, allowing businesses to monitor the job posting strategies of their competition.

But how do you know which skills to include? Will they make your pool too broad? Too narrow? Too expensive? It’s nearly impossible to know without data.

Using our FREE Job Posting Optimizer, you can paste your job description into our tool and instantly extract skills to see how common or unique the skills you’re asking for are, and which skills are related. Our customers can take that a step further by analyzing supply, demand, and compensation across regions. Need to write the perfect job posting? We can help!

  • Use data to discover a region with more favorable conditions and larger talent pools

Utilize supply and demand data along with compensation analytics to discover people with the skill sets you need that might be interested in relocating. If the competition for talent is too steep in your area, use data to find the regions that fit your needs and budget.

It’s important to know what markets to expand your business in, and what markets hold promising talent. You can look solely at data in the United States, but why limit yourself to the talent and opportunities from one country? Expand your view across the globe; compare markets across borders, determine where your company might expand, and understand the skills landscape of other countries.

  • Look internally to reskill your current workforce

As work has become more specialized, job titles have not kept up and do not describe the skills needed for a role. Companies have a lack of visibility into skills data to use for role planning, mobility, and talent development. With a look into the skills that already exist within your company, you will be able to retain and train employees, thus creating healthy employee mobility.

Skills describe work with a detail and accuracy that job titles and occupation codes simply can’t. Skills also help companies visualize the transferability between careers, because titles alone don’t give the full picture. Breaking down roles by skill profiles or clusters helps organizations better understand each role so that they can better plan for the future.

  • Evaluate your recruitment strategy

Even when the supply of talent is high, you should evaluate your success and recruiting challenges regularly (monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually). What worked last year may not cut it today. Using objective data equips you to tackle recruiting challenges and optimize your strategy at the same time.

Creating a solid talent acquisition strategy can seem overwhelming. We’ve put together a few simple ways to use data to make a big impact.

Key metrics measured in a talent strategy

So what kind of data should you be looking at to build a strong talent strategy? We’re glad you asked.


Compensation, which is sometimes referred to as wages, is the total percentile earnings for the occupation divided by the number of jobs in the occupation in the region.

Along with compensation data, you should also consider advertised salary data for your talent strategy. Advertised salary can be used to understand unique variances of advertised compensation by job title, company, region, and even skill sets. It is not necessarily the actual salary the employee receives—only the salary as advertised.

Job posting competition 

By looking at job posting competition, you will be able to see the cities, industries, and companies posting the most frequently for a specific job or occupation.


Analyze and benchmark your diversity standards by using demographic information by age, gender, race, ethnicity, and geography for every occupation in the U.S.

Using a program and institution/region to see diversity breakdown by race, ethnicity, and gender, and identify how this institution/region stacks up against the nation as well as how it compares to the current workforce for target occupations. 


You need education data in a couple of different ways when creating or optimizing your talent strategy. The first is detailed enrollment and graduation data from schools across the United States that will help you recruit the right talent out of college. The second is education data that helps you narrow down available talent and average compensation based on education level (master, Ph.D., etc.).


Location data represents the environment that you are operating in and gives you the context of the market nuances to base your decisions on. Understanding a location’s labor dynamics and economic landscape helps you know what labor is available, how it’s growing, how concentrated it is, how much of the market you’ve already hired, if your location can sustain growth projections, and if there are enough schools to draw fresh talent from. Location data also allows you to know how your industry is doing compared to others in the region, and if you’re looking at a good market or need to look elsewhere.

Without location data, you’d essentially be playing chess without a chessboard; you can make a lot of talent decisions but they are not strategic unless you know the context of where you are.

With the location complexities surrounding COVID-19, it is important to consider remote work. Companies are making jobs permanently remote, which could radically impact the white-collar office market and supporting industries. If you can work from anywhere then, logically, companies can hire from anywhere. 

How to Develop the Best Talent Strategy

So after all of this information, how do you develop a strong talent strategy? You USE DATA! A data-driven talent strategy takes the guesswork out of the equation and speeds up your process. Using data gives you the confidence that you’re hiring the right people with the right skills for the right price at the right time.

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