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Why your ‘dream career’ might be closer to reality than you think

Lee Parker | 18 December 2020

As a child and even into adulthood, I dreamed of being a footballer or football manager. It seemed to make sense to me to turn my biggest passion into a career and not just a hobby. 20 years into a career in talent research, my colleagues roll their eyes at my belief that the football manager dream is still possible but my ‘real life’ role isn’t actually a million miles away from where I dreamed of being.

Working remotely during the Covid-19 ‘lockdown’ has given me chance to reflect on my role and career and see some of the comparisons that can be made between the worlds of talent research and football (bear with me!) – plus how your ‘extra curricular’ passions can benefit your professional life and vice versa.

Creating a talent pool

World class football players are not made over night and world class football teams are not made with just a handful of top players. Successful managers and clubs invest huge amounts of time and money into creating a talent pool, taking a long-term view to staying in the top flight.

Talent pipelining or talent pooling is something that we offer and something that many of our clients have hugely benefitted from over the years. This works best when you know that you will have a requirement over a longer period of time and want a talent pool to be engaged with your brand, or you know you are going to be recruiting to the same job family repeatedly and want a pool of candidates that are already engaged. We have some great case studies of how we have saved our clients a lot of money, but also helped them to create a more proactive and efficient way of working.

Grassroots recruitment

In the football world, they go one step further and they have academies set up to create talent pools for themselves. They engage, recruit and train young players to become the stars of the future and right from the outset they are looking for those with different strengths who can play in different positions to give them a wide range of options.

In the insight projects that we deliver, we often recommend to our clients that they think about their recruitment from a grassroots point of view, so that they look to create links to universities and training providers, sponsoring talent or providing scholarships. The comparison probably isn’t made often, but there are definitely lessons to be learnt from football or sport in general regarding the pipelining and nurturing of talent, that can be applied through talent research to other industries and sectors.

Super substitutes

In addition to having a strong pipeline of talent, in football they think about their overall squad, rather than just the first team. Ole Gunner Solskjær is probably one of the best ever super subs in the game and he has done quite well for himself overall.

Translating this to the world of talent research for me highlights one of the key changes that I believe will happen within the recruitment industry over the next few years and that is the increasing use of interims. Our insight projects have shown us that some roles are required in a business full time, but there are some skills sets (like Solskjær’s) that you only need at certain times to provide impact, or to help you out of a certain situation.

Using talent research to review your overall talent strategy and pinpoint how you can create a flexible, efficient workforce is a key part of what we do in some of our longer term partnerships with clients. We can also help you find a strong bench.

Keeping an eye on the competition

The football world is also focussed on analysing the competition. We all know the story of my beloved Leeds United spying on the opposition which was not a pretty picture and shows the extreme (and not something that should be replicated!); but it does highlight how seriously football clubs take reviewing their rival teams. They analyse what they are doing well, their strengths and weaknesses and any opportunities that they can use to their advantage.

In the recruitment world, we offer an insight product which is comparable – competitor analysis. Many of our clients have benefitted from gaining a true understanding of how they compare against their competitors, or even the competitors for the same talent (the two are often confused). We provide insights to help them understand best practice in the marketplace around a particular topic – for example, what strategies for diversity and inclusion are being used in our sector? What is working and what can we learn from this? This kind of information is invaluable.

So all in all, although I have to make do with watching the beautiful game rather than being in the thick of it; I do feel that we can learn from the football industry in terms of how we go about our talent strategies.

Lee Parker is a director of our talent strategy consulting practice. If you'd like to learn more about talent pooling, insights, or how talent research can help you, please get in touch.