The TA team brings thousands of new employees to JHU each year

Talent Acquisition's recent structural shift from a 'vertical' to a 'relationship' model is expected to increase efficiency in hiring to fill open positions

Tracey Morris

Image caption: Tracey Morris—a recruiter brought to JHU by a recruiter—leads HR’s Talent Acquisition team


As a recruiter, Tracey Morris knew instantly when she herself was being lured. "We know all the tricks," she says. "There's nothing more fun than recruiting a recruiter." In her case, though, it didn't take any sleight of hand when a search team reached out and persuaded her to come to Johns Hopkins University to run its Talent Acquisition program. That was in August 2022, and she started her new job five months later.

"The Hopkins name speaks for itself," says Morris, who came to JHU from West Virginia University, where she directed a similar program. In fact, its draw is the very same philosophy she uses to attract top people to work at Hopkins. She describes it in a single word: impact.

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"We have an amazing, well-known brand, and that is sometimes enough to attract a candidate. But when you add the other things Hopkins offers, like great benefits, tuition remission, and the opportunity for impact, that is when we get true candidate engagement," she says. "Everyone wants their job to mean something, but for the newest generation entering the workforce, impact is important to them. They want to know the work they are doing has some benefit to the community and world at large."

Impact affects every staff position her team fills, she says. "It could be an administrative coordinator who is managing someone's calendar, but the person whose calendar they are managing could be conducting research influencing Alzheimer's patients," she says. "In that way, even an administrative coordinator can have a big impact. Jobs at every level have an impact."

Moreover, the JHU Talent Acquisition program takes its own impact into account when recruiting. In addition to using traditional channels like LinkedIn Recruiter, Indeed, Censia, and internal sources, it makes every effort to connect with the larger community, both in searching for candidates and in supporting future talent. Team members partner with local faith-based and neighborhood organizations, in particular groups that prepare the unemployed and underemployed for jobs. This includes those who may be returning from the justice system and having a difficult time finding employment.

"We have an amazing, well-known brand, and that is sometimes enough to attract a candidate. But when you add the other things Hopkins offers, like great benefits, tuition remission, and the opportunity for impact, that is when we get true candidate engagement."
Tracey Morris
Executive director of Talent Acquisition

These organizations include TurnaroundTuesday, which "helps people within the legal system who are justice-involved with background checks that might affect their getting hired elsewhere," Morris explains. "One of our goals is to hire their people," she adds, "but we also provide guidance on preparing for interviews and writing resumes." The TA team also works with Biotechnical Institute of Maryland, which has a tuition-free associates training program to give the unemployed and underemployed important laboratory skills, and it supports HopkinsLocal, a Johns Hopkins initiative that seeks to hire city residents as one of its main pillars.

The team also attends job fairs and visits college campuses, among them Towson, Coppin State, and Delaware State universities, "anywhere within a reasonable distance from Baltimore," Morris says.

Jonathan Thompson, director of Talent Acquisition strategy, points out that Maryland has the third-lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at 2.3%, making it a challenge to fill jobs. "It is a highly competitive talent landscape, and it is hard to land top talent," he says. "Maryland has 33 available workers for every 100 open jobs." Still, he adds, "every day presents new opportunities to solve problems. It is rewarding to oversee functions that bring in talent to help the university achieve its strategic goals and initiatives."

In the year ending in March, Talent Acquisition brought 4,251 new employees on board.

The Hopkins TA team recently underwent structural changes—shifting from a "vertical" model, where recruiting jobs were assigned to a group with similar job types, to a "relationship" model, which aligns the jobs by department unit and division—that are expected to help it increase efficiency in hiring to fill open positions. In addition, Morris says, the recruiters will be better engaged and connected with the areas they are supporting and should be better at identifying necessary skill sets so that they can hire the best talent for the open roles.

"When I arrived at JHU, the first thing I did was meet with stakeholders across the university—deans, divisional business officers, and the Provost's and President's offices, as well as leaders across the organization," Morris says. "Some themes began to emerge quickly: The structure of TA was making things difficult for hiring teams, the level of support that departments were receiving from TA and the way we applied our processes was inconsistent, and significant turnover in TA was increasing the lack of trust our customers had in our ability to be consultative partners."

The structural shift produced a new model where each department, unit, or division has a single point of contact for their searches, allowing TA team members "to build deeper relationships with the hiring teams they support," she says. "This helps them understand the work that these divisions are doing, the environment where the people they hire will be working, and the culture of the groups they are supporting."

There are some areas where recruiters have remained specialized, focusing on specific roles in the organization, such as IT and grants and contracts. "Those recruiters focus on identifying, pipelining, and nurturing talent within these skill sets and then supporting the hiring process for these roles across the organization," Morris says.

Typically, the JHU recruitment process starts once a new staff position is identified and has received compensation approval. "At that point," Morris says, "my team gets the position posted on JHU's career page, and then the recruiter assigned to that job opening reaches out to the hiring manager in that department to schedule a strategy call," she says. "They discuss the qualifications and skills needed. They talk about where these people currently exist, where we find them, and how we get them interested."

The team prescreens potential candidates to get a better grasp of their qualifications and salary expectations, among other things, before sharing the candidate with the hiring manager, who will conduct initial interviews. After the hiring manager narrows the pool of qualified candidates to about five, interviews with the hiring department follow. "Generally, we like to close [the process] within 90 days," Morris says.

The relationship doesn't always end there, says Kim Myers, director of Talent Acquisition Operations. "I find my greatest fulfillment in hiring individuals who are truly in need at the time and those who feel a sense of accomplishment upon receiving a job offer from JHU. Building relationships with these individuals post-hiring is particularly rewarding, as I appreciate the gratitude they express simply for being given the opportunity," she says.

In addition to the TA program's structural changes, it has expanded its executive recruiting function, adding four recruiters who focus on the director level and higher across the university. "These recruiters have specialized skills in sourcing passive talent and managing a search firm–like recruiting experience," Morris says. "They have specific tools they can use to help them identify, attract, and engage talent that the university is interested in hiring."

Finally, the TA team also has initiated what it calls the Talent Acquisition "optimization project," bringing in Rivera Advisors, a consulting firm that helps organizations improve their recruiting practices. Its team has sponsored 65-plus hours of live interviews, focus groups, and desk reviews with more than 185 key stakeholders, including Human Resources, Talent Acquisition, hiring managers, and leaders, according to Morris.

Also, "we have received more than 1,100 survey responses from these stakeholder groups as well as [from] candidates and new hires who were recently engaged in the hiring process," she says. The company's efforts will lead to recommendations in a report to the university, followed by TA identifying priorities and designing a roadmap to revitalize the TA program, she says.

"[Rivera Advisors is] looking at our processes, our tools, and our structure to help us optimize our functions and do our work even better," Morris says. "We are constantly looking to strengthen what we do, how we do it, and the impact it has."

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