Big Data and Talent Acquisition: Why data-driven decisions are critical to maintaining a competitive advantage in today’s war for talent


What is “Big Data”? As a talent acquisition leader with nearly 20 years recruiting in various verticals, I’ve heard a myriad of definitions and ways in which my peers use data in their respective programs. I’ve seen and collected an abundance of data myself in specific areas for use in talent acquisition. Ways such as workforce and economic data, quantitative and qualitative research data, funnel and process data, candidate source data, marketing data, and financial data.

The list goes on and on.

The real value is not in the collection of the data. The value is in your ability to examine or analyze the massive amounts of structured (and unstructured) data and organize it to reveal valuable insights — insights that can help you as a talent acquisition leader drive measurable business results.

For purposes of this article, let’s distinguish between data, analytics, and metrics, because each really is different. Data is the raw capture of information or statistics used in analytics. Analytics, imperative to survival, is using that data to predict what the future may hold. Metrics are the method of measuring results.

At Aspen Dental Management Inc., we’re continuously striving to have the most talented dentists lining up to work with Aspen Dental branded practices, where the team is able to quickly select the best from a surplus of doctor candidates.

We’re working to create awareness of a new delivery system in dentistry where dentists focus on patient care while all of their business and operational needs are handled by us, a dental services organization. Because there is a lack of awareness of this new system, there are misconceptions and negative perceptions in the marketplace, which creates the need to emphasize the importance of building brand awareness and reputation.

There is a limited supply and an uneven distribution of dentists in the U.S. According to the American Dental Association, approximately 60 percent of the 150,000 active general dentists practice in and around five major metropolitan areas: New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles. On the contrary, the practices in the Aspen network are not in those markets; rather, they’re in rural and tertiary markets in order to help millions of Americans who have traditionally lacked access to get the care they need.  As a matter of fact, over 50 percent of the Aspen Dental practices supported by us are in federally designated health professional shortage areas. Generating unique leads, nurturing those leads over time and improving conversion ratios throughout the recruitment funnel are critical to timely distribution.

Just a decade ago, the network had delivered $50 million in care and Aspen Dental supported 35 practices, but this year, Aspen Dental-branded practices will deliver nearly $1.1 billion in care through more than 550 Aspen Dental-supported practices across the United States.

Helping shift the landscape in dentistry and building a network of dentists this expansive is challenging. Being innovative, producing big ideas quickly, and staying within certain resource limits requires a sound strategy. The use of advanced analytics and big data are a critical foundation to achieving success.

Driving Business Impact with Three Data-driven Initiatives

At a high level, there are three primary motives for applying data-driven decisions in our quest to drive the bottom line results of the business. Forecasting, measuring performance, and understanding the market through research.

Forecasting. Predicting what the talent needs of the business are going to be and what we’ll need to accomplish over time, as well educating our business partners help us build a plan rather than responding to what can be stressful, urgent situations.

We have designed a staffing forecast that uses 12-month rolling turnover, active head counts, budgeted head counts, and planned new office growth for the next 12-18 months combined with five year historical seasonality hiring trends to project, by quarter, what the needs of the business will be.

The forecast is then used to set the goals of the team and the individual recruiters. This allows the recruiter to anticipate openings at the regional level during specific times of year and to stay ahead by having a pipeline in place. It also provides the recruiter with the consultative tool they need to gain buy in from the respective practice owner (hiring manager) when they want to find a fit for a great candidate.

Once the number of hires is projected, we work backward using a funnel calculator to predict the respective number of leads necessary at the top of the funnel. Based on current conversion ratios (individually and collectively) throughout the funnel, we can understand the respective activity required at each stage to achieve the predicted outcome. Improve conversion ratios even marginally and the level of input reduces significantly. As talent acquisition leaders, we can identify focus areas and build the tools and development plans necessary to move the needle quickly. This is a critical given the limited supply and imbalanced distribution of dentists in the U.S.

This forecast is also foundational to the budget planning process and ensuring the resources needed to meet the needs of the business are available. Analyzing the anticipated costs per lead, per hire, and the respective efficiency ratios allows us to move dollars to the channels that work the hardest.

To help the organization fuel overall performance and ultimately drive results we’ve also begun, in partnership with an internal team, using an EBITDA opportunity algorithm to prioritize openings. This allows us to focus on needs that will drive the business faster. Executives appreciate this type of thinking and view us as a strategic partner making conversations and planning easier.

Performance measurement. Ensuring that the talent acquisition team and the organization stay focused on the predetermined strategic outcomes requires a clear method for measuring progress versus agreed upon targets.

We have implemented a balance scorecard (which I’ll talk more about at the ERE conference in April) for just this purpose. This is for both the collective organization and for the stack ranking of recruiters individually. This is not to be considered in a vacuum. It does eliminate subjectivity. The scorecard measures are aligned with the goals of the organization. In this case, four primary measures are weighted 1) hires vs. goal; 2) staffing levels; 3) closed days as a percentage of total budgeted days (if there is not a dentist in the offices people can’t get the care they need); and 4) percentage of new office openings hired on time.

Half of the recruiter’s incentive is based on overall scorecard results. The other half of the incentive is tied to the bottom line financial results of their respective territory vs. budget. This motivates the recruiter to stay in tune with the business and keeps them focused on distributing candidates to the highest priority locations.

With intense focus on results of the business, the recruiter becomes a valued resource. Relationships with practice owners (hiring managers) develop faster and they are able to learn the individual owner’s personalities and methods. Both of which allow for improved retention through better matchmaking.

Research and Marketing. Defining your target market, segmenting the market, and understanding the individual behaviors or motivators that ultimately drive decision making are critical to maintaining a competitive advantage.

The use of research and marketing data to understand lifestyles, attitudes, and behaviors allows the recruiter to connect with the target candidate on a deeper level. This results in a more focused sales pitch, improving quality in selection and more efficient use of time. We have partnered with a data management company to help prioritize our candidate pool. Talk about the use of big data! We have been able to identify from nearly 1,000 pieces of information on a candidate the few we believe predict the likelihood of mobility, marital status, whether they own or rent a home, number of children, debt load, etc. When distribution is a primary challenge this helps prioritize leads for the team and improves the conversion ratios mentioned above, ultimately moving the needle within the business.

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Using this type of information has gained talent acquisition a seat at the table with the real estate committee planning the growth of the network. Soon, the cart will be in front of the horse and the availability of talented providers will drive site selection leading to stronger performance of new office openings rather than sites being selected and the talent acquisition team having to scramble to meet tight deadlines in tertiary locations. At the very core, our talent acquisition team is driving the business strategy

Brand perception can have a quantifiable impact on the hiring process.

Research and online listening has made it possible to express how important the connection is between the perception of the brand in specific markets and being able to recruit. Brand perception can have a quantifiable impact on the hiring process. By understanding your brand’s strength and weaknesses, you can target those candidates who are more likely to favor your brand (or at least target candidates who do not discount you if your brand is struggling). It creates visibility to the real challenges recruiters face every day.

Data-driven decision making is a must in your talent acquisition organization

Data-driven decision making and the use of big data greatly improves predictability. Complex analytics help talent acquisition look ahead to predict hiring needs before they occur, and the right measurements bring speed and focus to talent acquisition. Now talent acquisition can take a long-term role in shaping the business and driving profitability of the company.


Love our content? Now you can experience it in person! We’d like to invite you to the ERE Recruiting Conference this April 6-8. Become a data-driven decision maker over two days at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas. Sign up today!