Candidate Pipelines vs. Just-In-Time Recruiting, Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 in this series, I explored many of the intrinsic limitations and hidden costs of traditional candidate pipelining – sourcing, screening, and “keeping warm” candidates for which you do not have a current need.

To recap, traditional candidate pipelining:

  • Is a “push” based strategy that is not based on an actual customer (client or candidate) need
  • Often results in recruiters pushing their candidate inventory (what they have on hand) to clients rather than going out finding the best candidates
  • Creates a work-in-process inventory that is highly perishable and requires significant time and effort to maintain
  • Poses an opportunity cost when recruiters spend time re-qualifying and re-verifying the availability of their candidate pipeline when an actual hiring need arises
  • All of the time and effort spent maintaining relationships with candidates that will never be submitted to a hiring manager, interviewed, or hired is waste – it provides no value to candidate or client alike
  • Creates five of the seven classic wastes of Lean production: over-production (recruiting more candidates than necessary), over-processing of candidates that will never be advanced in the hiring process, excessive WIP inventory, defects (candidates who do not match actual hiring requirements), and waiting (the vast majority of WIP candidates never move forward in the hiring process and spend most of their time waiting for something to happen that never happens)

Now that I’ve bloodied my knuckles putting a serious beating on candidate pipelining, let’s explore what I think is a better way to get the job done and provide value to candidates and clients: Just-In-Time (JIT) recruiting.

What is Just-In-Time Recruiting?

Just-In-Time (JIT) is a Lean concept that has been highly refined by Toyota. Lean is centered around creating more value with less work, and Lean production considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer (in recruiting – candidates and clients/hiring managers) to be wasteful.

JIT is a pull-based production strategy that strives to improve a business’s return on investment by reducing in-process inventory and associated carrying costs, making it easy for companies to react to specific demands with agility and speed with the goal of producing the exact product (or performing the exact service) that a customer wants, when they want it, in the amount they want.

Applying this concept to talent identification and acquisition, Just-In-Time recruiting is a pull-based strategy of providing hiring managers/clients with candidates that exactly match their needs, when they want them, in the amount they want.

Instead of proactively building and maintaining work-in-process (WIP) candidate pipelines, JIT recruiting has a primary focus of tapping into “raw material” candidate inventory (resumes, candidate profiles, etc.) and contacting delivering candidates only in direct response to a hiring need.

When properly executed, a recruiter can source, contact, screen/interview candidates, and submit the best to a hiring authority for consideration within 24-48 hours of being given the “green light” for a specific position – all without having a traditional pipeline of candidates that have been “kept warm.”

Yes, even for “purple squirrel” requirements.

WIP Candidate Inventory is the Main Source of Waste

The activities associated with proactively building and maintaining work-in-process candidate pipelines involve five of the seven wastes identified by Lean/TPS: overproduction, inventory, defects, over-processing, and waiting. These five wastes occur mostly due to the fact that traditional candidate pipelining involves contacting and maintaining relationships with the candidates who are contacted.

The relationship maintenance aspect of proactive candidate pipelining automatically qualifies the candidate inventory as work-in-process (WIP) – because most of the candidates are often perpetually “in-process” (the waste of waiting).

WIP candidate pipelines are a perishable inventory that requires time and effort to maintain, and WIP inventory is one of the major wastes that Lean/JIT production is specifically designed to reduce. Moreover, proactively recruiting candidates ahead of actual need leads to overproduction – engaging more candidates than needed to deliver to your customer.

One could easily argue that screening and maintaining relationships with candidates that will never be moved forward in the hiring process (even submitted to a hiring manager for consideration) qualifies as over-processing.

And any candidate that is recruited proactively ahead of need that does not in fact meet the job specifications when it becomes available can qualify as a defect of the recruiting process. The same goes for candidates that were recruited ahead of need that are no longer available or interested when the need actually comes open.

Raw Material Candidate Inventory Reduces Waste

In Part 2, I introduced the concept of “raw material” candidate inventory, and it serves a critical role in Just-In-Time recruiting.

A raw material is something that can be converted by processing into a new and useful product: broadly – something with a potential for improvement or development. I believe that resumes and/or candidate profiles (ATS, social networking sites, etc.) that sourcers and recruiters have access to and are able to retrieve on-demand are essentially candidates in their “raw material” form.

These are people who have been (or can be) identified as potential matches for current and/or future hiring needs based on their candidate data, but no time or energy is spent in an effort to build and maintain a relationship with these potential candidates prior to actual need – they are not “in-process.”

In a Just-In-Time recruiting scenario, sourcers and recruiters do not focus on proactively building and maintaining WIP candidate pipelines ahead of need; instead they focus on producing candidates only in direct response to a hiring need.

They do this by searching for and identifying candidates from their resumes, candidate records (ATS/CRM), and/or social network profiles – candidates in their raw material form – and contacting them only when they have an opening to hire for.

JIT recruiting does not suffer from the waste issues associates with carrying an excessive WIP inventory of candidates that are in a perpetual holding pattern of “relationship maintenance.” This is because:

  • Resumes are not “in-process” inventory – candidates are not contacted until there is an actual need, which also means there is little-to-no over-processing.
  • Overproduction does not (or at least should not) occur when the object is to recruit candidates for a specific position once the need has been identified.
  • Defects are less likely to occur when a recruiter is sourcing and contacting candidates for an actual need rather than a projected/forecasted need.
  • Only candidates that are contacted and submitted in consideration for a specific position are waiting. (as opposed to traditional candidate pipelining in which all candidates that are being “kept warm” are waiting)

Push vs. Pull


If you recall from Part 1 in this series, I identified traditional candidate pipelining as a “push” strategy – one in which batches of a candidates are sourced, contacted, and screened – not in direct response to an actual/current customer need. These candidates are processed and “pushed” downstream (kept warm) whether there is a need for each candidate or not.

Push systems often result in the production of large inventories of product that require time and effort to maintain, and that perish or are never fully finished or sold. In recruiting, candidates “perish” when they are no longer available or interested, and they are not “fully finished” unless they are submitted to a hiring manager and interviewed, nor are they “sold” unless they are hired.

Essentially, traditional candidate pipelining that involves the building of an inventory of work-in-process candidates results in a large number of candidates that end up “sitting on the shelf” – most of whom “expire” without ever being fully processed or “bought” (hired). The vast majority of these candidates represent excess inventory that was not directly required for any current openings.


Just-In-Time is an ideal supply chain system which reduces WIP inventory costs and makes it easy for companies to react to specific customer demands with agility and speed – which is an excellent example of a “pull-based” system.

A pull-based strategy aims to respond to specific needs, not to anticipate them (e.g. a forecast). A fundamental principle of Lean is demand-based flow production. In this type of production setting, inventory is only pulled through each production center when it is needed to meet a customer’s order.

In Just-In-Time recruiting, recruiters only contact, screen and submit candidates in response to a client’s (internal or external) “order” – these processed candidates are pulled through the recruiting lifecycle based on actual demand.

Deli Analogy

A good example of a push-based system would be a deli that pre-makes their sandwiches every day. A deli with this business model would have to anticipate (forecast) the demand each day – by both total quantity and type of sandwiches. Customers are only able to choose from the sandwiches that have already been made – if you don’t like what they have available, you have to go somewhere else. For the deli, the pre-made sandwiches are WIP inventory, and any sandwiches that have been made and are not bought will eventually expire (due excessive waiting), can be considered as defects of the production system, and will be waste as a result of over-processing and overproduction.

A deli with a pull-based system would be something similar to Subway. They don’t pre-make sandwiches – everything is relatively custom made in a Just-In-Time manner based on each customer’s specific order. The only inventory they carry is raw material – the components that make up every possible combination available. There is essentially no work-in-process inventory, no over-processing, no overproduction, and very few defects (because each sandwich is made-to-order). As such, this is a very low-waste system because Subway is never left with any sandwiches that have been made but not sold. And customers are generally happy because they can get their sandwich they way they like it, with some degree of customization.

See where I’m going with this analogy?

Yes – it is that simple.

Don’t resist applying sound and proven Lean/JIT supply chain principles to recruiting because people are not sandwiches (or any commodity or traditional “product”). Lean principles can be applied to ANY service or production process. Move your cheese.

All Pipelining is Not Created Equal

Many people have commented on my first two posts in this series expressing that the ideal recruiting strategy would involve both JIT recruiting and candidate pipelining.

I am inclined to agree. However, there’s a catch.

Traditional candidate pipelining, in which sourcers and/or recruiters spend a lot of time finding, contacting, screening, and maintaining relationships with candidates for whom there is no current need, is highly wasteful.

I believe that to reduce waste (overproduction, over-processing, defects, waiting, and WIP inventory) and to provide more value to candidates and clients (internal or external), WIP candidate pipelines should be created as a byproduct of JIT recruiting.

In other words, any work-in-process candidate inventory should only be built as a result of contacting candidates for specific positions. Essentially, any candidate that is not available, interested, or the right match for the position being recruited for now becomes WIP inventory.

The critical distinction is the primary focus.

Article Continues Below

In a Lean/Just-In-Time recruiting model, recruiters have a primary focus of producing the exact candidates that a customer wants, when they want them, in the amount they want, in direct response to actual hiring needs. Recruiters should spend very little time, if any, focused solely on sourcing, contacting, and maintaining relationships with candidates for which there is no current need.

However, any candidate that is contacted for a specific opening that is not interested, currently available, or qualified can be entered into “relationship maintenance” mode – aka WIP inventory/your pipeline.

But should they be?

Provide Real Value to Your Customers

I believe traditional proactive candidate pipelining delivers very little value to the customers involved – candidates and clients alike.

I think this is mainly due to the fact that traditional candidate pipelining practices were developed primarily to aid recruiters in delivering candidates to hiring managers/clients in a timely fashion, as well as to provide greater insight into each candidate’s motivators which can facilitate closing and control. I don’t know about you, but none of that sounds like it puts the candidates’ interests first.

I have heard all of the “benefits” recruiters claim that candidates supposedly gain as a result of being in regular contact with recruiters while they’re being “kept warm” – industry/market information, resume and interview advice, etc. It certainly sounds good coming from a recruiter.

However, I’ve spoken with many active, passive, and non-job seekers who have candidly told me that they feel that it is a waste of their time to be in regular contact with a number of recruiters who have nothing “real” to offer them. It’s not that industry/market intel and interview/career advice isn’t appreciated or that it doesn’t provide any value, but it’s not what most people (candidates, mind you – not recruiters themselves – they are a little biased) see as the ultimate value that recruiters provide.

Also, most people are busy, have a life, and already have plenty of friends – do you really think that all of these great candidates out there need a new best friend or have the time to maintain a “relationship” with multiple recruiters? Do you think they want to?

Yes, developing, building, and maintaining relationships with great candidates will always be the central pillar of effective recruiting. However, from the candidate’s point of view, what do you think is the ultimate value you provide as a recruiter?

Do you think it is being “kept warm” in relationship maintenance mode and getting industry and career advice they could just as easily get from a blog, or that they are already getting from another recruiter?

If you take an objective step back, I find it hard to believe that no one else doesn’t see that traditional candidate pipelining primarily serves to benefit the recruiter – not the candidate, nor the client/hiring manager.

Most recruiters contact and build relationships with candidates ahead of an actual hiring need in the hopes that when a position finally does open up, they can contact the candidates they’ve built a relationship with and submit them to their hiring manager in a timely fashion.

One might be able to argue that traditional candidate pipelining does deliver value to clients because it can aid (but does not guarantee) a recruiter in being able to produce candidates when a client or manager needs them. However, as I’ve detailed in this post, a Just-In-Time recruiting model can effectively render traditional proactive candidate pipelining unnecessary and obsolete as a method of delivering the right candidates at the right time, in the right amount to your clients.

In fact, JIT recruiting can provide more value to your clients in that you can spend less time pushing your pre-packaged candidate inventory and spend more time finding and recruiting the best candidates, rather than spending all of your time trying to maintain and re-qualify your WIP candidate inventory that will inevitably and regularly perish.

Some Tough Questions for You

I realize that last section may have rattled some people. I think I even hear faint cries of “blasphemy!”

Hey, what can I say? I am trying to get people to think, question their assumptions, question what they’ve been taught (the assumptions of others), question the very foundation of what most people believe is THE way to recruit. That’s what it takes to make progress and improve a process – to find a better way.

To that end, here are some questions I’d like you to answer:

  • Precisely WHY do you maintain relationships with candidates?
  • What is the ultimate value you provide to candidates? Your clients/hiring managers?
  • What are you paid to do?
  • How much time should a sourcer/recruiter spend maintaining relationships with pipelined candidates for whom they have no current needs?
  • What is the ideal level of candidate processing prior to actual need?
  • How often should you stay in touch with in-process candidates?
  • How many candidates can you realistically maintain a “relationship” with?
  • Do you honestly feel that you are providing maximum value to candidates that you “keep warm,” but ultimately never even get submitted to a hiring manager in consideration for an opening?

Part 4, Really?

When I started to write the first post in this series, I wasn’t even intending it to be a series!

Innocently enough, I thought I could bang all of this stuff out in one article. However, when I started outlining all of the content and even in rough draft form it started to approach 8000 words (this post alone is over 2900 words), I realized there was no way to realistically package the paradigm shift involved in the comparison of traditional candidate pipelining vs. JIT recruiting into one post.

With each week that I set out to write the final post in this series, I both want to and find it necessary to go into more detail to thoroughly explore and explain the issues involved. If you do some Internet research on the topic of Lean or JIT recruiting – you can find a number of results, but they’re most are fairly shallow and don’t go into much detail. So I’m doing my part and adding some deeper content for others to find.

I thought this would be the final post – however, I’ve realized that you deserve one more, one specifically dedicated to HOW to achieve a JIT recruiting model.

I’ll also address many of the excellent comments and questions I’ve received in response to Parts 1 and 2.

Before I bring you Part 4, take a stab at answering those tough questions I asked above, and be sure to “step outside of the box” in an effort to leave your comfort zone.

This article is part of the Boolean Black Belt archives here on SourceCon. You can view the original article here.

With more than 20 years of experience in recruiting, Glen Cathey is a globally recognized sourcing and recruiting leader, blogger ( and corporate/keynote speaker (9X LinkedIn, 9X SourceCon, 3X Talent42, 2X SOSUEU,, PwC, Deloitte, Intel, Booz Allen, Enterprise Holdings, AstraZeneca…).

Glen currently serves as a Global Head of Digital Strategy and Innovation for Randstad, reporting into the Netherlands, focusing on data-driven recruitment, AI and automation.  Over the course of his career, Glen has been responsible for talent acquisition training, process, technology, analytics and innovation strategies for I.T. staffing and RPO firms with over 100,000 hires annually, and he's hired, trained, developed and led large local, national, global and centralized sourcing and recruiting teams, including National Recruiting Centers with over 300 associates.

He has earned a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from the University of Maryland at College Park and is passionate about people, process (Lean) data and analytics, AI and automation, strategy and innovation, leadership and performance.



5 Comments on “Candidate Pipelines vs. Just-In-Time Recruiting, Part 3

  1. Glen,

    This is a great series. I remember the first time I saw just-in-time processes in action. Our team was preparing for the launch of the all new Mustang. So, I went on a visit to the seat factory as it contained some of the safety components that I was responsible for.

    I saw that instead of batch building the seats (push) for an entire pre-production run, the seat supplier had figured out exactly how long it would take to build each seat and this enabled them to begin building seats based on when they received notification (pull) from the assembly plant to begin our next order. The new order of seats were then delivered to the plant within 24 hours. As you referenced above, just-in-time eliminated many forms of waste: excessive inventory, defects, obsolesecence, and overprocessing in our assemby process.

    I think the main challenge in applying these just-in-time concepts to recruiting has been the inability to have an acceptable place for work-in-process that meets the needs of both candidates and recruiters. The traditional solution has been to keep prospective candidates ‘warm’ until an actual need (job opening) arises. This is great for the recruiter and OK for prospective candidates who may be needlessly contacted without an actual opening that they are being considered for.

    I think this is one of the main innovations of professional networks such as LinkedIn. This site has given candidates a way to share their employment information without actually applying for a job (unless they want to) and simultaneously allowed recruiters to quickly source and recruit prospective candidates once an opening needs to be filled.

    In the meantime both groups can participate in other activities: conversations, Q&A, and otherwise stay current in their industry until a mutually beneficial opportunity arises.

    Awesome insights, I can’t wait for the next post in the series.

    Omowale Casselle

  2. Thanks Glen,

    I am still on the fence about JIT, but leaning your way. I still am not clear as to how you are going to match the speed of presenting a candidate who you have kept warm vs someone have to go out and find for the first time. Often its TRUST that enables a fast submission of a candidate. Many candidates required time consuming romancing before they let you submit them. Also, I assume that JIT would work better for in-house recruiting teams rather than 3rd parties. I answered some of you questions below in the “devils advocate” mode.

    Precisely WHY do you maintain relationships with candidates?
    As a 3rd party, candidates can sometimes become clients or leads to clients as well as sources of additional candidates. Good people know good people.

    What is the ultimate value you provide to candidates?
    Trusted advisor and hopefully a source of a new job. Often it’s just the former rather than the later though.

    Your clients/hiring managers?
    Trusted advisor and source or a new employee.

    What are you paid to do?
    Give the client what they want, when they want it, while also being a brand ambassador for them in the marketplace.

    How much time should a sourcer/recruiter spend maintaining relationships with pipelined candidates for whom they have no current needs?
    Not much ideally but, pipe-lining can be a strategy for finding additional candidates if you treat them well. Also, sourcers are typically not relationship managers by defination. That typically falls to the recruiter. The relationship responsibility is very different between the two roles.

    What is the ideal level of candidate processing prior to actual need?
    Interest level and qualification. Timing is all that you should be waiting on.

    How often should you stay in touch with in-process candidates?
    Only when you have a relevant need.

    How many candidates can you realistically maintain a “relationship” with?
    “Relationship” is too vague a term to pinpoint this. I stay in touch with 900 members of a Linkedin Group that I run on a daily basis.

    Do you honestly feel that you are providing maximum value to candidates that you “keep warm,” but ultimately never even get submitted to a hiring manager in consideration for an opening? Its not ideal for sure, but if you set expectations correctly upfront the relationship can be valuable.

  3. I’ll admit to having tuned out about halfway through because what you were saying struck me as a bit absurd. Will go back and give it another read when I’m feeling a bit more open-minded.
    Here are a few thoughts, just off the top of my head.

    1. Part of the value of creating a pipeline of candidates is that it generates credibility and goodwill.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard candidates complain about systems or recruiters who accept their resumes and never respond, or who respond initially, and then go silent. Individual candidates have value in that they might be a fit for future opportunities, but also because they might know someone who’s a fit for a future opportunity. It’s hard to imagine why a candidate would be inclined to want to respond to a recruiter who hasn’t expressed any genuine interest in him/her previously.
    2. People are not raw material. Raw material may vary in quality, but basically steel is steel, and so on. If we’re going to use a poor analogy, they are perhaps more like ingredients, in that they havve limited shelf lives.  (This argument cuts in favor of some arguments you make, but also against.) Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but you’re either implying that you contact people who are qualified for open positions, regardless of when/how you obtained their resumes, or else implying that you contact people who are qualified, but only draw from “fresh” sources for those candidates. If the former, then it fails to take into consideration that the “purple squirrel” who contact you twelve months ago but never heard back from you has undoubtedly taken another job in the interim and has no interest in conversing with you.
    3. Having said that, I don’t disagree with your statement that recruiters should “have a primary focus of producing the exact candidates that a customer wants, when they want them, in the amount they want, in direct response to actual hiring needs.” I just don’t think you’re saying anything new. I’d only add that as I get to know my clients’ needs, it is ALWAYS worth my time to stop and ge to know someone who seems to be exceptioally skilled in an area that’s of value to one of my clients.  On rare occasions, developing relationships with such candidates may lead to the client creating openings just so they can obtain the individual in question.

    You’re of course correct that no recruiter can maintain close relationships with an unlimited number of candidates. Then again, I don’t believe that’s the expectaion. There can be a happy medium and the recruiter or company that obtains that happy medium generates “good will” that results in higher quality placements.

    Honestly, I have never liked the concept of JIT recruiting, because the only way I have ever seen it practiced reduced candidates to interchangeable parts only differentiated by cost. That mindset, in my mind, leads to poor placements rather than quality placements, and is the type of recruiting that big box agencies are best known for. 

    Anyway, I’ll give you credit for giving us plenty to chew on. Nice job…

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