The History of Talent Acquisition… and How it Can Help in Modern HR

Talent acquisition is nothing new. As far back as the days of Ancient Rome, historians can identify examples of job recruiting, employee offers, even competitive brand building.Read on, and take some lessons from the recruiters of yore.

Event: The year is 55 B.C., Rome is at war, and soldiers are scarce. What is an emperor to do? Julius Cesaer revolutionized the enlistment system by eliminating prior class qualifications and instituting a referral program. He also tattooed his soldiers, strengthening brand awareness and loyalty. 

What you can learn: Be creative. Just because one form of recruitment worked in the past doesn’t mean it will work now. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Event: Starting in the 10th Century, the Chinese Sung Dynasty began using a set of formal examinations for entrance into the civil service. At least two rounds of exams were needed, and statistically, it was a more selective process than gaining admittance to Harvard.

What you can learn: It might take you more than a single interview to vet a job candidate. Out-of-the-ordinary questions, psychographic tests, and behavioral observation can all be used.

Event: In the early 1900s, one Earnest Shackleton placed an ad in the London paper The Times for his legendary Antarctic exploration. The ad supposedly read “Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.”


What you can learn: People, especially the people you want on your team, are attracted to challenges. Don’t shy away from putting difficult tasks in the description or bringing them up in the interview. The right people will be salivating at the opportunity.

Event: In September of 1914, the British were hurting from their WWI losses. Desperately needing new recruits, the Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener produced and appeared on recruiting posters demanding Britons to enlist. The month that the adverts were first published saw the greatest number of new recruits during the war.


What you can learn: Be direct. Everyone, but especially those without a job or looking for a new one, appreciate clarity. If you want someone, tell them. They’ll respond in kind and neither of you will have to play any games.

Event: Bletchly Park, an English codebreaking institute, was in a bind. The organization was trying to crack the WWII German Enigma code, but they needed more minds. In January 1942, The Daily Telegraph ran an exceptionally difficult crossword puzzle and publicized a timed contest. The powers that be were watching, and several weeks later, the winners were recruited for service at Bletchly Park.

What you can learn: Not all recruits are visiting the job fairs. In fact, most of them probably aren’t. If you want the superstar employees, look for them where they spend their time: community service sites, local government meetings, professional development conferences, and pursuing their interest of choice.

There you have it, the history of talent acquisition and how it can be applied in modern HR. Once you find and hire your perfect employee, make sure your workplace is one they love. Download our ebook below to see how some of the Best Places to Work do business.


Published August 1, 2016 | Written By Christina Thompson