What can Talent Acquisition Teams Learn from a TV Chef?

The other day I watched a famous TV Chef make the Italian classic, Spaghetti Bolognese. He appeared ‘screen-ready’, with the exact utensils and ingredients he intended to use, all laid neatly in front of him. The pots and pans were ‘stage-ready’ on the hob, ready to be whipped to use, just in time.

This got me thinking about the Japanese Just in Time (JIT) philosophy made popular by Toyota in the 1970’s. I learned about JIT when studying Economics at University. I remember thinking how cool it was that cars could be produced in a lean fashion and in record time to meet customer demands ‘just-in-time’. Of course, since then our lives, expectations and consumer habits revolve around JIT products hence the rise of the entire ‘last-mile’ industry.  

Think Amazon, Deliveroo, and the host of apps that deliver everything from milk to petrol, Just in time.

So, what can Talent Acquisition (TA) teams and leaders learn from organized Chefs who cook using just in time philosophy?

Grab a cuppa tea, and let’s weave through kitchen analogies and recruitment scenarios, to serve up something palatable.

Prepping the Kitchen

Cooking a meal with pre-prepared ingredients on the counter, clearly makes things easier for any Chef. Imagine grabbing what you need when you need it. Organized Chefs can plan their ‘kitchen-time’ with precision and minimize unpredictable outcomes (eg: missing ingredients).

Switching to the recruitment world, how strategic are companies with their hiring plans? How prepared are Leaders and Talent Acquisition teams prior to a job becoming live?  Of course, there will always be unplanned attrition, though does it need to take us by surprise entirely? 

In an ideal world, companies would invest in building a long and healthy Talent Pipeline (particularly for evergreen, niche/technical roles.). This would then replenish their Talent Pool, allowing them to locate talent fast and reduce time-to-hire.

Given that 77% of recruiters go back to their Talent Pool to hire candidates that initially didn’t appear to ‘fit’ the job (Jobvite Recruiter), I’d want to know about the quality and depth of the Talent Pool they ‘go back to’.  

According to Jobvite’s 2018 research, 75% of recruiters experienced candidates changing their mind when it came to offer acceptance. This isn’t a new phenomenon even if the research is circa 4 years old. What it shows is that recruiters desperately need to ensure they are building a strong enough Talent Pipeline and Talent Pool, to be able to ‘go back’ and ‘recheck’ candidates after their initial choices reject offers.

Building Talent Pipelines is a smart precursor to all hiring. 

With a healthy Talent Pipeline, companies can create qualified talent pools to dip into JIT.

Just like pre-preparing ingredients, so cooking is a whizz!

Chopping Veg and Recruiting

Let’s bounce back to our TV Chef and imagine the planning and preparation that goes into cooking on a TV show. As the cameras roll, there can only be a certain number of retakes when the onions are already sizzling and spluttering………………Golden-brown not chargrilled please Chef!

Consider the steps our Spag-Bol Chef (or his production team) went through before the camera take. Someone prepared a shopping list.  Someone scoured and shopped for the ingredients in the exact quantities needed. Someone ensured the correct utensils, pots and pans etc. were all at hand.  Someone washed, peeled and chopped the onions and tomatoes. Someone grated the parmesan and placed all the ingredients in pretty-looking bowls. Someone checked the appliances, cleaned the kitchen, and pre-heated the oven. Someone filmed and edited the show etc.  

The time-consuming pre-prep, non-glam, often thankless part of the job, draws parallels with ‘top of funnel’ Talent Research and Sourcing elements of recruitment activities.  

I mean before a perfect candidate can be presented, someone has to do candidate research, mapping, sourcing, talent engagement, qualifying and shortlisting .  

And let’s face it, this is the super time-consuming part of recruitment, which must remain ‘switched on’, if recruitment is an ongoing activity within an organization.

According to research (McLean & Company), recruiting has remained a No. 1 priority for companies since 2020 to date. However, HR, talent acquisition effectiveness has gone down by 8%, even though talent acquisition teams are spending 25% more time on talent acquisition compared to 2021.

So why are TA teams less effective despite spending more time on recruitment activities?

Or put another way, what recruitment activities are draining recruiters’ time to make them less effective?


I watched Spag-Bol Chef with ‘envy-eyes’ wishing life in the ‘real kitchen’ was as easy as he made it look. Wouldn’t it be great if we all had helping hands lining up bowls of chopped, sliced, diced, and grated ingredients, exactly when we wanted them, in the exact quantities and temperatures required….JIT baby!

How incredible would it be to have everything pre-prepared and laid out, as one tries to rustle up the kid’s dinner whilst the dog whines to be walked. 

In reality any of us home-Chefs can follow the TV-Chef’s example and aim to arrange our cooking activities in such a way, so our dish is cooked with efficiency.

Though also in reality, many of us well-meaning (but somewhat disorganized) home-Chefs sometimes begin cooking only to realize a key ingredient is missing or our knives are so blunt that our onions resemble chunky cuboids over tidy dice.

Perhaps most can agree that pre-preparation is key when it comes to meal-planning.

So how does all this cookery-malarkey relate to talent acquisition ?

Recruiting and Cooking

An organized Chef can teach Talent Acquisition teams, Hiring Managers and Leaders a great deal about talent research and strategic talent pipelining. If Talent Acquisition teams used their time, resources and bandwidth to create talent pipelines strategically, then like the Chef’s ready-prepared bowls of ingredients, they could aim to create ready-made talent pools.

With a well-defined level of preparedness, Talent Acquisition teams could dip into their pre-created talent pools to engage with talent with the right skill set, at the right salary level, within the right locations, who are ideally ‘warmed-up’ and ready for engagement, just in time. 

This is how some of my super strategic clients design their recruitment processes. It can be done, if hiring is prioritized across the board and the right skills deployed on the right tasks.

With ready-made talent pools that have either:

  1. Been pre-prepared some time ago or 
  2. Prepared in record time on demand, response rates and time to hire can be shortened. 

Since recruitment (and the cost of making a wrong hire) can be eye-watering, activities focusing on reducing open ‘vacancy days’ should be front and center.

Research shows that 55% of companies who keep hiring ‘switched on’ consistently slash their time to hire (Accurate). This makes total sense, since their talent pipeline is constantly moving, their talent pool is refreshed on a real-time basis. 

Done well, streamlined talent acquisition activities can become the game-changing strategy that enable organizations to win more work and scale. 

On the other hand, if companies turn away work, due to not having the right people just in time, then someone needs to whip out the magnifying glass and look at the entire span of  recruitment activities and retention strategies and culture.

When countries like Singapore have headlines stating that “Manpower (shortages) will pose challenges to growth in the longer term” (Singapore National Employers Federation- SNEF President Robert Yap – April 22), leaders really need to dissect how macro policies will impact micro-level hiring, and strategize around it.

Chaotic ‘Kitchen’

Imagine how the busy talent acquisition and recruiter feels when various stakeholders ask them to hire talent across divisions, in multiples of x, with an urgency of ‘tomorrow’. Worse still, if the talent acquisition team has limited budget, tools, skills and experience, and/or a lack of a decent ATS system, then talent researching, mapping, shortlisting, sourcing and engaging people is like running a sprint shackled to the hilt. Good luck with that.  

This explains why 4 out of 5 of the recruitment challenges companies faced during the pandemic have put talent acquisition teams on the back-foot. According to Talent Lyft’s 2020 research, recruiters top 5 challenges were:

1) Volume hiring

2) Difficulties filling jobs

3) Digitization of recruitment

4) Hiring budgets cut  

5) Firing staff

If hiring budgets are cut, clearly this sends ripples throughout the entire recruitment process , ending in an eruption somewhere off the Richter scale.

Using our Chef analogy, it’s obvious that a Chef with limited ingredients in tight quantities can only do so much, regardless of skill.  

Extra Hands – Light Work

Some companies engage external partners to help build their talent pipeline and talent pools. This makes total sense when bandwidth (and sometimes skills) are challenged. However partnering with external specialists needs to be done with a careful lens on ROI.

Though when LinkedIn research tells us that 89% of talent accept jobs faster when contacted by a recruiter, it’s probably wise to have recruiters (internal/external) partnering with you and helping with outreach.

At the same time when we hear that 40% of employers kept their recruitment process in-house to save on costs (LinkedIn, 2019), you kind of wonder if the whole ‘penny wise pound foolish’ scenario would ultimately play out. 

I mean sure, you could ‘save’ costs by outsourcing less, but what if the result is increased time to hire, how much would that cost? If vacancies remain open longer, then what is the daily cost of that ‘hole’ internally and on other colleagues taking up the slack?

What if the inability to recruit fast enough, results in your business not being able to pitch or win work? How does that impact growth?

‘No money, no honey’ comes to mind.

Here, data and diagnostics, with a keen eye on ROI should be applied, instead of a blanket ‘in-house’ only policy.

Rolling Boulders Uphill

I have seen many talent acquisition teams buckle under the weight of rolling lofty boulders uphill. It’s a common theme to see internal stakeholders adding their talent requirements to the ‘shopping list’, at disproportionate levels to provide the necessary support and resources for talent acquisition teams to actually deliver.  

I mean just because the shopping list is huge, doesn’t mean the load can actually be carried efficiently, even if there is an army of in-house recruiters.

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And if recruiters are spending more time on recruitment activities but being less effective, then it doesn’t really matter how many open jobs the company has. The outcome will be increased time to hire, and eventually an unhappy team member.

Activities must be viewed strategically, with bold leaders performing pattern-interrupts, and possibly entire pattern-disrupts on parts of their hiring process.

It’s Their Job!

Sure, TA teams are hired to go to market and undertake talent research, outreach, source, talent engagement, shortlist, interview and submit candidates to their stakeholders. It’s their job!

But if an individual/team hasn’t been sufficiently ‘enabled’ to carry out those time-consuming tasks, then it’s no surprise when CVs can’t be submitted in time (forget about Just in Time for the moment). 

Who does a better job at creating talent pipelines, an enabled Talent Acquisition team or a restricted one?

It’s not that talent acquisition teams aren’t capable, quite the contrary. It’s about looking at the activities they have to perform, and figuring out where time is best spent. 

More time spent on recruiting doesn’t always result in equitable output. It depends ‘where’ the time is being spent.

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There are certain parts of a job that may be best performed by someone else. In the TV-Chef analogy, the Chef may be better at cooking than filming/editing his own show. Likewise, a recruiter may be better at talent engagement than researching/sourcing. Talent research and sourcing activities require different skill sets entirely.

Where should talent acquisition teams focus their time? Where is the ROI best crystalized? How can talent acquisition teams be more streamlined and look at all activities to drive Just in Time efficiencies into their recruitment process ? 

The question isn’t ‘Can this be done in-house’, the question is ‘Should it all be done in-house’?

I’m fortunate enough to have a cleaner to help me manage my home. It’s not that I can’t clean the house myself, the question is should I clean, or free up those hours by outsourcing, so I can spend more time with my kids instead? 

One may be able to do the entire gamut of recruiting activities, but should they?

Hot Market

Imagine a hot talent market where everyone wants to attract the same skills in the same place. Recruiting in a tight talent market requires different skills all together. Finding talent is not the issue (anyone can search LinkedIn). Attracting talent is a different story altogether.

This requires innovative recruitment strategies (everyone and their dog is trawling LinkedIn, sending stale vanilla InMail’s).  

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How is an overburdened (hopefully not burnt-out) talent acquisition team supposed to go up against competitors, plus other recruitment agencies and headhunters (who are specifically trained to hunt heads) in a hot market looking for the same skill set, in the same market at the same time?

And no, having a LinkedIn Recruiter license isn’t the holy grail to talent research and sourcing talent, when everyone is doing the same thing and candidates are inundated with messages.   

Supermarket Mayhem

Taking our Chef example, reactive recruitment is akin to starting to cook a dish, only to realize you have missing ingredients, causing you to rush out to buy the missing ingredients, the same time as everyone else, in the same store, at the same time. That’s mayhem!

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Now imagine if there is only 1 unit of that ingredient left on the shelf. Fastest (aka most enabled), and sometimes most ‘aggressive’ (aka most persistent) Chef wins!

Or imagine if one store is ‘out of stock’, then the Chefs need to run around finding other suppliers, or just delay cooking the dish all together. Not ideal if you are expecting guests in the evening.

This is no different to what challenged talent acquisition teams do, when they are on the back-foot having to source talent with urgency and limited resources with no/limited/stale talent pipelines and talent pools to refer to.

It’s not uncommon to see talent acquisition teams hit the market, using similar approaches, similar scripts/templates/outreach with the same licenses to the same job portals.

Maybe that’s why LinkedIn research shows that most people discover new jobs through referrals.

Wouldn’t you rather avoid an over-crowded supermarket, fighting for the same ingredient?

A dollop of ‘recruitment creativity’ is required, with sprinklings of skillful persistence. 

And in my experience at least, some talent acquisition teams simply don’t have the time, resources or bandwidth to work at crazy hiring pace at crazy intensity, non-stop.

Avoiding Mayhem

In our Chef example, assuming they have the required skill and equipment, they simply need the right ingredients at the right quantity stored at the right temperature to be able to execute their dish.  

Consider for a moment, a disorganized Chef (aka my son last week, who randomly decided he wanted to try and bake banana bread, till he realized there were no bananas in the house).

If the Chef appeared on TV without having done their preparation, then the entire show would be a mess. If the Chef wanted to spontaneously cook Spaghetti Bolognaise, they would first need to have the right ingredients and tools at hand. 

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If they began cooking the sauce, and realized they didn’t have the pasta, they’d have to quickly pop out to buy the pasta. 

This disorganization would create delays, inefficiencies, kitchen-chaos, frantic panic-buying for potentially sub-standard ingredients (whatever is left on the shelf on the day) and could effectively ruin the entire cooking experience.  

Granted sometimes everything turns out OK in the end, but in business, we don’t really enjoy leaving things to chance and luck.

Perhaps a little pre-preparation would make all the difference.


Where talent acquisition teams tend to differ in output, is in what I define as their ‘energy’ to create active talent pipelines and talent pools with depth. This ‘energy’ (or fuel/gas if you prefer) is dependent on many factors but broadly speaking it comes down to 3 things:

1) Individual skills

2) Tools and resources

3) Efficient hiring processes


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Recruiters using ‘cookie-cutter’ methods to research/source/engage talent will continue to struggle as the market for certain skills just gets tighter (think tech/pharma/IT/renewable energy/fintech sectors right now). 

It’s clear to see the recruitment world is being urged to think creatively. Just imagine how recruitment will look when the #metaverse kicks in (more on that another day).

HR as the Heart

With HR functions not placed at the heart of the business, it’s not a surprise when I’m told about the lack of budgets allocated to hiring teams.

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If talent acquisition teams are to be successful, then organizations need to set them up for success in the first place. We wouldn’t expect a Chef to slice onions with their hands tied behind their back.

Or perhaps we can give the Chef an onion with no knife, and they can gnaw it to pieces….since budgets are tight and all that.

Leadership should consider how to enable talent acquisition teams to create talent pipelines for:

a) Active roles

b) Strategic roles

c) And to gather insights to make better informed hiring decisions.  

An enabled hiring team should have resources to deeply research the market using an array of tools. This research part can’t be skipped, since the success of the talent engagement outreach, is dependent on how the initial research was mapped out. 

No Bandwidth

Like our plucky-lucky TV Chef (who probably outsourced parts of the preparation process to a production team), talent acquisition teams should map out the time-consuming parts of their recruitment process and decide how they can deliver the best results Just in Time . 

Should they focus on repetitive, time-consuming (yet critical) tasks like market research and mapping, or can they be released somewhat to focus on the higher-value-add parts of their job i.e.: creating an excellent candidate experience, listening and advising internal stakeholders, solving hiring challenges, improving talent attraction ratios and hiring experiences, creating a great interview, orientation and onboarding experience etc.

If the TV Chef can focus on cooking, instead of research, planning, preparing, filming, editing, marketing his show etc, then he’s using his skills where they add most value.

Now of course, some of you may be thinking ‘Well Dee, not all of us have the luxury or budgets to hire kitchen help to prepare pretty little ceramic bowls of chopped tomatoes’, and that is a fair point.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t work towards preparedness in all areas. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and pre-plan and pre-prepare strategically. In the recruitment world, if a talent acquisition team is overstretched, the first thing they need to ask themselves is not always the ‘How can we fill 1000 jobs by tomorrow’ question, but the ‘WHO can help us fill 1000 jobs by tomorrow question’. 

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It’s the WHO over the HOW that can make strides when there are surges in workload.

If a Chef has to cook for 1000 guests, they need all the extra hands they can get, to deliver tasty, hot meals. If they don’t have the resources, then diners can expect cold, sloppy, mediocre meals……or worse no meals at all. 

Who can get those 1000 meals ready with the Chef within budget?

Too Simple

Now of course I’ve massively over-simplified the comparison of an overburdened Recruiter to that of a disorganized Chef. In reality, there are multiple challenges that in-house Recruiters face, that my simple analogy just doesn’t give credence to.

However, instead of being drawn into the missing parts of my admittedly simplified analogy, I encourage you to consider the question of WHO over HOW, which is the crux of this article.   

Who can help increase your recruiting bandwidth, so you can focus on the most impactful parts of recruitment?

Should talent acquisition teams time spend the bulk of their time on candidate engagement , improving the hiring experience and stakeholder management etc. Or should they be cut/pasting their 70th LinkedIn connection message, whilst waiting for a response from the previous batch of 100 they messaged yesterday?

WHO then HOW

I invite talent acquisition teams, recruiters and leaders who are currently under pressure to meet recruitment demands to consider the following questions:

  • Who can create a talent pipeline and talent pools (internally or externally)?
  • Who can approve resources to enable effective Hiring ?
  • Who has the tools (vendors/partners) to improve candidate go to market strategy ?
  • Who can help upskill my talent research, talent sourcing and engagement skills?

When budgets allow and bandwidth is thin, you can also consider asking:

  • Who can help us research talent in the market?
  • Who can do the initial outreach for us?
  • Who can deal with the to/fro with initial candidate messaging
  • Who can conduct first-level engagement to weed out the non-interested?
  • Who can present interested and vetted candidates to me?
  • Who can feed leads into our ATS system and save us time?
  • Who can give us talent insights real-time on my target talent landscape?  
  • Who can help us reduce our time-to-hire?

In Summary

A Chef can single handedly cook for a certain number of guests. When quantities go up, the Chef needs assistance, extra hands, ingredients, utensils etc. 

It’s not about the ability of the Chef to handle everything single-handedly or with limited help, it’s about the Chef being efficient by using their time on the most critical aspects of running their busy kitchen.

Likewise, talented talent acquisition teams may be fully capable of running 360-degree recruitment activities. But should they? With a data driven HR culture, companies should be able to identify which recruiting levers to switch up to ensure ROI.

If businesses can meet hiring demands by sufficiently enabling their talent acquisition team, then they may be best placed to run end-to-end recruitment internally.

If however, businesses are stretched with surges in hiring, thin on bandwidth and have the budget to get support, then who can provide this whilst proving ROI?

If you were given ‘ready-prepared’ talent pools, all sourced, vetted and ‘warmed-up’ ready to speak to you (assuming quality is on-point), that would save swathes of time.

Let’s face it, open vacancies are rarely good for business.  

I’d love to see the industry adopt more Just in time principals, so talent acquisition teams could work towards having access to what they need, when they need it. 

Then perhaps they can minimize recruitment mayhem and focus on actually cooking their next culinary masterpiece.

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