It’s the start of a new year, but the song remains the same: employees and executives have more options than ever, and they’re pursuing them by quitting their jobs at historic levels.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics via FRED, January 10, 2022.

Talent leaders across the nation, including those in our roundtable community, are projecting these market conditions to last well into 2023.

Shameless plug: Want to join our roundtable community? Send an email to to let us know you’d like to join and learn from industry experts across executive search firm leaders, VC & PE talent partners, and in-house executive recruiting leaders.

We all know how hard it is out there right now. You’re getting ghosted left and right or notified during the final stages that a candidate has accepted another offer for 30% more that came quicker. Internal employees are getting contacted and poached every day with offers of promotions and all that comes with it.

How do you compete in a market like this?

The answer is surprisingly simple, and chances are you probably already know it. Having a quality candidate pipeline pays exponential future dividends, but consistently gets put on the back burner in place of current, time-sensitive search work. And there’s the problem.

If proactive pipelining is never prioritized, the benefits will never be realized. Instead, you’ll remain on the neverending hamster wheel of ever-expanding search work.

At the start of 2021, we put out a survey asking executive recruiters about their predictions for the coming year. 95% of respondents said they expected an increase in search volume over the coming year, but only 43% expected to increase the size of their team.

That implies that the problem would have gotten worse last year, as your team would have had even more work with less resources to get it done. At some point, you have to make a conscious decision to dedicate time to building and maintaining relationships with the quality candidates in your network knowing the dividends it will pay down the road.

After consulting with our roundtable community, we identified 4 phases of building a pipelining program that will set you up for success in 2022 and beyond. In this article, we’ll break each phase down and provide practical examples for how to implement them at your company.

Table of Contents

Phase 1: Strategy

This should come as no surprise, but the first step in building a pipelining program is coming up with your strategy. The goal at this phase is to figure out how to structure and prioritize your pipelining activities and set some preliminary goals to be able to measure program success against.

Some simple examples of outputs here are which role(s) you’ll focus on, which industry/industries you’ll pipeline from, and how many candidates you’ll add for each role. Goals could be anything from getting a pipeline of X # of candidates for each role you’re pipelining for to filling Y # of roles directly from your existing candidate network.

Your strategy informs all other phases of your program, so don’t skimp here. Get all your stakeholders involved from the beginning and collectively align on priorities and goals.

What you decide will depend on a lot of factors, like:

  • The maturity of your current pipelining program (if you have one)
  • Company needs and priorities
  • Current market conditions

If you’re just starting out with proactive pipelining, don’t try to go from 0-100 all at once. Start small and build on your successes. It helps to focus on one or two functional areas, especially if the skill sets for those roles are industry-agnostic.

For instance, we’ve heard from lots of talent partners that CHROs and CFOs are always in high demand, so many of them have started their programs by focusing on those roles and branching out into other functions as they show success and get more resources.

Another area to consider is what the final output should be. Depending on your firm and the maturity of your program, you may be trying to place candidates directly from your network or simply jump starting an outsourced search with a short list of ideal candidate profiles. The size and complexity of your pipeline will be reflected in whichever output best suits your needs.

For many companies, the ideal state is to have a qualified, warm pipeline for each functional area to be able to hire directly out of whenever a relevant search comes up. With a concerted effort on building the program and increased resource allocation based on program success, this is within reach for anyone willing to prioritize their pipelining program.

Phase 2: Discovery

Discovery is where the rubber meets the road. Once you’ve decided where to focus your efforts, you need to find candidates who meet your criteria.

To no surprise to anyone reading this article, the best way to find potential candidates is through your existing network. Reach out to people within your network to see if they know anyone who fits the profile of what you’re looking for, and better yet, if they’d be willing to make an introduction to help get the conversation going.

Quick tip: To make your life way easier, you should have your — and your company’s — contacts in a database that you can filter and search for exactly what you need. Even a Google or Excel spreadsheet is better than nothing.

After exhausting your existing network for potential candidates, it’s time to start your cold outreach. LinkedIn is the obvious starting point since most recruiters live and breathe in LinkedIn already.

LinkedIn’s recruiter-specific functionality gives you more than 40 advanced filters to use when searching through their 700M+ members, plus you have access to all the information on a candidate’s LinkedIn profile and their company information.

However, LinkedIn company data is far from exhaustive. If you’re looking for potential candidates with a very specific skill set or past experience, you’ll have to find that type of information from other sources.

A common theme we heard from our roundtable community was using Pitchbook to get the missing data from LinkedIn. Things like:

  • Fundraising events
  • Granular company revenue data
  • M&A activity

So for example, if most of your clients operate within a specific revenue range, you could use LinkedIn to identify a long list of candidates based on titles, years of experience, skills, and other broad criteria and then use Pitchbook data to home in on candidates with experience at companies within the desired revenue range.

Another popular tactic is to come up with a list of well-regarded companies in your industry and start conversations with potential candidates within those companies. Using this strategy takes a lot of the guesswork out of the vetting process as well since you can be reasonably sure of a candidate’s credentials based on their employment at the target company.

Phase 3: Vetting

When it comes to vetting candidates, there are two major camps: vet pre-search and vet in-search.

The pre-search faction tends to lean more toward the quality over quantity side of the spectrum, keeping numbers lower but knowing anyone on their list is a quality candidate. This takes more upfront time and effort and more aligns with teams that wish to hire directly from their internal network.

The other option is to leave vetting until a relevant search comes up. You’ll fill up your pipeline much faster this way, but at the cost of less reliability in candidate quality. But that’s not always a bad thing. If your goal is to seed a short list to a search firm to build profiles and execute the search, this method makes a lot of sense. Even if you will be performing the search yourself, you don’t always have time to proactively vet out candidates if they’re not in an active search.

Most people we’ve talked to leave vetting until a search comes up. When doing outreach to start building their pipeline, they keep initial conversations high-level and are looking more to disqualify people than decide if they’d be perfect for a future role. Once that search kicks off, then the more in-depth vetting would begin.

Phase 4: Data

Once you’ve found the candidates you want to stay in touch with, you need to add them to your network and make sure it’s easy to find them when a relevant search comes up. Especially in today’s market, speed matters. You don’t want to waste all that time you spent in the prior steps by not staying organized.

There are plenty of options out there that can help with this, from full-fledged CRMs to the humble Excel spreadsheet. Something is better than nothing, but having a CRM, especially one that’s designed for talent recruiting, can make your life easier.

You’ll need to think through how complex you want to get when inputting information about your candidates. In general, the more data you have, the better, because it allows you to home in on the exact criteria you want and find the candidates in your network that fit. But it’s not that simple.

In practice, we’ve heard some firms have trouble getting everyone to adopt their complex tagging system after switching from a more basic one. The additional time it takes to find the right tag or input the extra information can be too much of a hurdle, and they end up with less information than before. That said, find the level of complexity that works for you and your team and move forward with that.

But adding candidates to your database is only the first step. Once they’re added, you still need to organize them. We’ve seen a lot of different ways to do this from our customers. Here are some examples of some common networks to give you some inspiration:

  • Silver medalists: people who made it to the final round of a previous search
  • Role by sector: ex. SaaS CFOs, Biotech COOs, PLG CPOs
  • Role by location: ex. CEOs in Boston, CMOs in California, CHROs in the Southeast
  • Diversity: ex. Female board members or Diverse CTOs
  • Availability: ex. Available immediately

Now it’s up to you

Now that you’ve got the tools to build a world-class pipeline, the rest is up to you. I’ll leave you with an old saying:

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.