Recruiting vs. talent acquisition: What's the difference?

Recruitment and talent acquisition often get used interchangeably. No one is going to knock you for using one over the other in conversation. They sound like they’re the same thing.

While the goal is similar – hire amazing people – recruiting and talent acquisition differ tremendously in approach. In fact, they’re essentially polar opposites.

The main difference between recruiting and talent acquisition is short-term vs. long-term planning.

From our glossary of HR software terms: “Recruitment is the process of finding and screening qualified candidates for a specific position and offering the position to the best candidate.”

By contrast, talent acquisition is larger than any one position or moment in time. Whereas recruitment tends to be reactive, talent acquisition sources candidates proactively.

Two very different schools of thought

The difference between talent acquisition and recruiting can be explained by how people plan for vacation.

Some are up late packing a week’s worth of clothes the night before an early flight. They booked this trip on short notice, so there’s no real agenda. The deal was too good to pass up; they’ll figure it out when they get there.

Others work from a list they created months in advance and begin setting aside clothes and other essentials in the weeks leading up to their trip. They’re the kind of folks that buy (and read) travel guides. They know exactly where they’re going and what they’ll do when they get there, right down to their drink orders.

How to tell if your organization recruits or acquires talent

How do you know which your organization favors? Here’s a quick litmus test: Is your primary focus filling vacant roles today? Or are you focused on building relationships and fostering a community of talent for tomorrow?

You can’t plan for every retirement, promotion, or departure. Recruiting is there when you need to fill vacant roles quickly. There’s a clear short-term goal: fill the job and move onto the next.

Talent acquisition is an ongoing process of attracting and engaging talent with specific, sometimes niche skills, experiences, and perspectives. It’s also more strategic. It plans for a wide range of current and future business needs and is flexible enough to adapt as those needs change.

Talent acquisition scales better than recruitment

Recruitment doesn’t scale well because it’s focused on immediate needs in the short term. There’s only so much recruiters can accomplish in a day. A handful of vacant roles is one thing. But too many job openings without a clear plan to fill them can create pain for an organization. That pain expresses itself as employee burnout, lower productivity, and lost revenue.

Talent acquisition benefits from prior strategic planning. Acquiring a company, launching a new product, or opening a new location overseas? You’re probably going to need more people with specific skills and experience, perhaps in engineering, brand reputation, or cybersecurity.

The narrow scope of recruiting (e.g., fill this job) means you’re starting more or less from scratch for each new role. Success or failure is obvious and linear. With talent acquisition, there are more and quicker avenues to success. Your next great hire could be sourced externally, from an existing talent network, or filled by an internal candidate.

Should recruiting or talent acquisition be your primary focus?

Both recruitment and talent acquisition have an appropriate time and place. All things being equal, talent acquisition wins out over recruitment because it approaches people as a strategic investment. That’s not to denigrate recruitment; sometimes the right move – the only move – is to get warm bodies into seats as quickly as possible. We don’t always have the luxury of planning ahead.

That said, talent acquisition takes into account how to attract, engage, hire, and advance the people at every level who are going to help your business thrive. It’s also better at adapting to the unexpected because recruiting teams that practice it are continuously building talent networks and engaging internal and external candidates. There’s no switch to flip on; it’s always running.

Talent acquisition is the cornerstone of building winning teams

The world would be very different without talent acquisition. Without it, businesses would have a hard time scaling their workforces as needed. They’d be much more susceptible to fluctuations in the labor market. They would also inevitably find themselves on the back foot, at least sometimes. For example:

  • Businesses like Cedar Fair would struggle to build a team of 47,000 employees needed to open and operate their amusement parks each year.
  • Global retail manufacturers like Samsonite would have a harder time finding the people they need to make, market, and sell their luggage.
  • Food chains like Peet’s would strain to find talent with the expertise to source, roast, distribute, and pour their coffee.
  • Organizations like Infirmary Health would struggle to attract and retain qualified healthcare professionals for challenging work environments.
  • Chemical manufacturers like Celanese would find it harder to source and hire diverse talent.
  • Multinational nonprofits like American Heart Association would likely not be as efficient at connecting internal talent with special projects and initiatives that further their mission.

How to expand beyond recruiting and into talent acquisition

Talent acquisition makes sense because attracting and hiring passionate, qualified employees is an ongoing process. It only works when you’re attracting, engaging, hiring, and advancing the right people for your team. The whole thing falls apart when one or more of those processes falls out of step with the others.

This is where talent acquisition software can help you excel. For example, compelling career sites and employee video testimonials attract job seekers by build trust and highlighting company culture, mission, and benefits.

As you advance through the hiring process, candidate relationship management (CRM) and AI-powered recruiting chatbots help build talent networks and engage candidates over the long term. Advanced applicant tracking software (ATS) helps you hire the right talent for the right job.

Ready to learn more?

Check out our 2021 recruiting strategies, your game plan to attract, engage, hire, and advance top talent throughout your organization.

Download iCIMS' 2021 Recruiting Strategies Guidebook

Back to top

Receive the latest iCIMS thought leadership directly to your email.

Privacy Notice

Subscribe to the iCIMS blog today

Sign up

The latest from iCIMS

Explore categories