Our talent, brand, and communication experts discuss how to build an effective talent and engagement strategy that works for your business needs.

The talent market gets more competitive by the day, so how are you standing out?

From outstanding employer brands to talent acquisition strategies to internal engagement structures and more - with so many ways to attract, retain and nurture great talent, prioritising a strategy that works for your business is key.

We recently sat down with some of our talent, brand, and communication experts to discuss how to build an effective talent and engagement strategy that works for your business needs.

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Getting Started: What Goes into a Talent Strategy?


The current landscape in the talent acquisition space


Before exploring what goes into a talent strategy, we wanted to know what the current landscape looked like in terms of talent acquisition. 

Chris McCarthy is the Director of Focus 5 Recruitment. For him, the key lay of the land currently is that it’s “a very candidate driven market. There are more jobs available than good candidates, so it’s a tough market in which to find and retain good talent.” 



Planning for a talent and acquisition strategy 

Creating a hiring plan as a new business 

When it comes to knowing where to start in planning your talent and acquisition strategy, Dan Hawthorne shared some insights around how he approached it as the Co-Founder of luxury inclusive nightwear brand, night. 

“As a fairly new business, we launched the brand on a shoestring. We built it organically from scratch, and it grew rapidly. We didn’t have budgets for staff, marketing, or anything for that matter. 

Luckily, we were quickly able to generate some money that allowed us to hire positions that we needed at the time. Ultimately, it came to what the business could afford when thinking about our initial hires. 

We asked, ‘where’s the immediate need in the business for initial support, and how will this free up our time?’”

Measuring the success of your talent and acquisition strategy 

Once you have all the pieces in place, how do you know the strategy that you’ve planned is working?

“Applications rates are good for measuring successes,” says Sam. “30% is a good benchmark. You also want to look at the diversity of candidates. Our shortlists always include diverse candidates.”

For Natasha Cuddy, Founder of A Story Called, success can manifest when candidates are actively approaching your business, rather than your businesses seeking them out. “It’s when those golden nuggets come to your door. 

We’ve had people who have approached us and wanted to be involved after seeing our offices and website etc. Certain candidates have been so passionate and determined that we’ve found a role for them purely because they’re so invested. We need to hold on and nurture these people.”



It depends on the role


Chris emphasises that it’s difficult to say what ‘good’ looks like, because it varies from role to role. “It’s difficult to give a one stop answer in terms of application rate.

A mantra we go by is that you need one good person to fill a role. We talked about the first question you need to ask yourself. For me, that question should be ‘what is good, and how do you define that?’ 

To put it simply, a good application rate is when you’re getting good CVs that you’re wanting to read and pick up the phone.”


Scaling your strategy


It may be easier to focus your planning when recruiting one or two roles within a business, but what should you do if you’re a large global company needing to recruit thousands of people at any one time? Sam Behar, Director at Tomorrow Advertising, says that it requires investment.

“Recruiting a large volume of candidates presents challenges. In this case, employer branding becomes less important, it becomes more about the functional aspects such as pay and hours etc.

The best advice I can give anyone recruiting at scale is to try looking at people who are going to fit into the organisation as opposed to the job role.


Key points for understanding your current strategy

  • Understand that you are currently competing in a candidate-driven market – that means you may need them more than they need you
  • Review your hiring plan – focus on the real gaps that you have, over just standard team growth
  • Assess how you currently perform when it comes to application rates, inbound interest in working with you, and ultimately whether you’re seeing the right calibre of candidates apply for your roles
  • When scaling your hiring, don’t get stuck in the specifics of the role – focus on the people that have the right culture fit for your business


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Finding the Right Talent


So, you’ve got your plan in place, it’s time to put it into practice and find the right talent for your business.  

In many instances, businesses align their recruitment strategy to the role, but it’s also possible to put your values at the forefront of your recruitment process. 


Finding candidates that are aligned to your values


“In terms of aligning a recruitment strategy with your values, you need to have them out there,” Chris advises. “That can happen in several places, it’s not just about posting them on one web page.  

It’s showing it in your daily work and showing yourself as a decent person. Talk about your team on LinkedIn, things like charity days and personal achievements.”

Be brave enough to ask what you should be changing. One of the most common themes for businesses is finding good talent, so when you’ve got them, find out what’s making them stay. Broadcast this to the world and promote the good to attract new talent.”


Talent recruitment is an ‘always on’ strategy


Chris goes on to say that a talent and engagement strategy doesn’t start when you have someone to hire, it should always be there. 

People should be able to get a feeling for your business. Talk about the values in your interviews and in the ad. Question candidates about them. Involve it in your process.” 

Sam adds that they always start by asking candidates “what they already know about our business, and what they think is our ‘people first’ mantra.”


Finding candidates as a new business in a competitive space


For new businesses that are starting out and do not have an established brand, it can be even more difficult to attract talent in a competitive space. When this is the case, Dan says that simply being a nice person is important.

“One of the most important things for me and Charlotte (night’s other Co-Founder) when interviewing people is having a gut feeling whether someone is a decent person, and that you’re going to be happy working with them. 



Capability is also important, of course. We’re very entrepreneurial as a small team, and we need to find people that are going to get stuck into different areas. But first and foremost, it’s about being around people that are happy and content.” 


The latest trends in talent acquisition


In a post-Covid era, requirements from candidates have changed to reflect new ways of working. For example, flexibility is a massive trend that Chris has seen over the past year.

“There are lots of trends in the market at the moment, but one of the key ones is flexibility, including the ability to be able to work from home. We’re also seeing a lot of demand from the four-day working week. A few companies are trialling this, and it’s of a big interest to candidates.”   

Flexibility is also an important factor for Dan. “Our employer brand centres around flexibility. Our staff can come into the office or choose to work from home.”

Download: Guide for Agencies

Reasons for rejecting an offer


Of course, no matter how good your strategy is or extra perks you offer, you will always get candidates rejecting an offer. We asked Chris what the reason for this might be.

“The number one reason for a candidate rejecting an offer, is that you’ve not listened to what they’re looking for. We need to understand why someone’s looking for a move, and what they’re looking for – it’s not just about the money, it can be about flexibility.  

Before, an interview would revolve around an employer asking, ‘why do you want to join us and why should we hire you.’ It’s different nowadays, it’s more about selling your business and opportunities. It’s a candidate driven market right now.” 

Key points for stronger talent attraction and recruitment

  • Review your employer brand – is it clear? Is it always-on?
  • Put measures in place that demonstrate the value you bring to your teams, and assesses culture fits with your candidates
  • Make sure your values are clear and visible consistently – and that they align to your business practises authentically.


Retaining Talent 


Finding good talent is only half the battle. Keeping employees onboard is just as important. 


Build investment in your employer brand for your business


Your employer brand and comms play a big part in retaining talent, but what is the difference between that and your brand identity? 

For Sam, “your employer brand is a piece of comms designed to attract and retain employees. Your brand is your sell, and your overarching position, skillset, and services to prospective customers. It is more revenue driven.”



Chris highlights the importance of your employer brand not being seen as a standalone project. “I think it’s a big mistake that people think employee brands are just internal focused, it’s got to be external too. The difference is with the end target. With an employer brand, you are attracting talent, so don’t be afraid to externalise it. Don’t fall behind your competitors.” 


Communicating the culture 


For Natasha, it’s important to communicate the culture of the business to your employees to build loyalty over time.  

“Our challenge is to sell the culture. Businesses need to be able to promote the journey and keep people on a career path. 

To communicate this, internal departments need to work strongly together to create a force to be reckoned with. We need to move away from saying “this is for external, and this is internal” and bring them together. That’s where the magic happens.” 

A simple strategy can help. Ensure you have touchpoints throughout the year where employees know when they can expect to hear from the business etc.”


What process do you have in place for progression?


As Natasha says above, it’s important to promote and communicate a clear progression path for employees. We asked our panel about the difference processes they have in place for how people can progress through a business. 

“I used to work in a large organisation where there were quite rigid processes in place,” says Dan. “We’ve taken elements of this, keeping the structure but making it less formal. Even as a small business, we have PDPs, monthly meetings, and everyone has clear objectives from a role perspective.”  

Most candidates nowadays want to know how they are going to get promoted and progress. 

Sam says that it’s important to have a clear structure for this. 

“Coming back with a woolly answer is not enough for young talent. They need that structure in place. But we, as a business, still need boxes ticking and revenue targets to be hit for people to progress.” 


Key points for keeping and engaging great talent

  • Ensure your employer brand internally is as visible as it is externally
  • Treat your internal engagement efforts like any other communications plan – consistency and value to employees is key
  • Keep clear paths to progression in site, regardless of your company size


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How and where to invest in your talent and employee engagement


There are a wide number of areas where specialists can provide guidance for better retention and employee attraction:


  • Recruitment support can take on the load when it comes to attracting particular talent, saving time and resource with access to a wider pool of candidates – learn more about what recruiters do in this session with Focus 5
  • Employer branding strategists and creative support can drive at-scale efforts for talent attraction, as well as building loyalty and advocacy with your existing teams
  • Internal Communications specialists can transform your internal engagement for better retention and happiness throughout your business to decrease rates


As a final discussion point, we asked our panel how and when external support should be considered. 

“Whether you bring on external support, a talent attraction and engagement strategy should be in place from day dot,’ argues Natasha. “Whether that’s just having reviews in place, or making your staff feel important.”  

For Chris, the trigger to bring on help is when you haven’t got time to do it yourself, and you’ve given it a good go. “You can do a lot yourself without wasting money on a recruiter. Get out there and try these things. The right time to engage is when you can’t do it. When you’ve been out there and tried, get in touch with someone.

Don’t go for cheapest recruiter either, go for one who will give you the best value who can passionately speak about your brand.”

Sam summarises by recommending to “invest early on. Set the tone for how you’re going to externally communicate the type of business you are.”

These learnings were all shared in our dedicated virtual workshop series for business leaders, DRIVE. Join an upcoming session here.


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