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HR Tech Expert Series: Creating Candidate-First Experience—Interview with Hung Lee

Last year, there were around 600,000 job vacancies in the UK in the digital technology sector alone. According to the Edge Foundation report, 34% of UK-based companies reported finding digital and ICT positions more problematic to fill (in comparison to 28% in 2018). At the same time, the demand for IT professionals is skyrocketing, especially in the biggest business hubs like London.

In order to improve this situation and attract the right candidates, organizations need to be ready for a fundamental change—they need to create an outstanding candidate experience. Or even skip the recruitment process at all. Sounds crazy?

Hung Lee, an industry veteran with over fifteen years of experience as an agency recruiter, recruitment manager, trainer and conference speaker, suggests that this might actually be the way of the future.

Hung Lee Co-Founder & CEO
at Workshape.io

He’s also the CEO of an online recruiting platform, WorkShape.io, and the curator behind the Recruiting Brainfood newsletter—one of the most popular and valuable HR content sources on the Web. As strategic advisor for rapid growth businesses in the London tech startup scene, he knows the ins and outs of HR tech challenges and prospects.

He shared with me some of his insights about the London HR tech market with actionable tips on how to improve candidate experience, a matter crucial in the highly competitive IT sector. We also discussed what HR can learn from the world of software development and how hiring engineers differs from recruiting for other jobs. Find out what “scalable recruiting” is and why it doesn’t actually mean a lot.

Joanna Staromiejska: As a Content Marketing Specialist I can’t help but marvel at the brilliant idea and execution of Recruiting Brainfood. How did you come up with the idea for the newsletter?

Hung Lee: It was a personal problem that turned out many people share. In this case, the Internet got too big. There was too much content online and it was getting too hard to find these valuable pieces. To stay aware of the market, I used to save a lot of articles and bookmark them. After some time, I realized I created a huge library, so I thought “Why not share it with someone else in the form of weekly emails?” I wanted to make the Internet smaller for me and, as a side bonus, the recruitment community benefited as well.

JS: You’re also the co-founder and CEO of Workshape. What drove you to build Workshape, a talent matching platform for software engineers and companies?

HL: It was our attempt to make the Internet a little less noisy. Many developers felt overwhelmed by the noise from recruiters. We soon realized this is a major problem. Being inundated with messages intimidated many people from interacting with recruiters. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to develop their careers, but simply because it was not manageable to do so.

If you get 5, 10, 20 similar messages a day, it will soon get annoying and you will want to remove yourself from the ordeal. And that’s the predominant experience of highly-skilled experts. We want to protect people from this sort of incidents and create better conversations.

The profile provides the ideal description of the work this person wants to do. This, in turn, facilitates finding compatibility and reduces the number of calls or conversations that a candidate has with recruiters. Reduces the workload of the recruiters.

JS: How does hiring engineers differ from recruiting specialists in other areas?

HL: The patterns are the same and you could probably quantify the process. How many calls do you get per week? If a candidate gets no calls ever, they will be very enthusiastic about yours. But when they’re swamped with calls, they’ll soon cop out of it. So there’s probably a comfortable number than you can handle. Like in every other field, there are attractive candidates out there that get a lot of attention and they get annoyed by that. On the other hand, there are people who don’t get any attention at all which is not exactly a comfortable position to be in either.

The Recruitment Scene in the UK

JS: What challenges are you seeing as a talent expert in the UK?

HL: Talent shortage is number one. Some additional workplace issues, such as undue pressure from managers, candidate engagement crisis, and lots of different issues of that type, ultimately all trace back to that talent shortage. As an economy, we’re trying to digitize all companies, we have new companies launching every day and competing against very mature businesses. And that kind of situation creates a lot of challenges that are very similar in Europe and the rest of the world.

JS: Let’s move on to London now. How does the recruitment scene in London look?

HL: London is pretty advanced as a city in terms of recruitment techniques and tools used for this purpose. Competition has been super fierce for quite some time now. Also, there’s a large pool of recruiters here, there are some twenty thousand recruitment businesses in London alone. At the same time I don’t think it’s that far ahead or revolutionarily ahead of other big cities in Europe or the US. These local conditions tend to make the difference. The innovation I’m seeing often stems from the unique laws that change the game in a way that you couldn’t foresee given the occasional trivialities of particular law.

Candidate-First Approach

JS: Given that competition in recruitment in the UK is superfierce, companies need to create an outstanding candidate experience. What can we do to build it in IT?

HL: Fundamentally, you need to reject the idea of the recruiting funnel you’re used to. Asked to draw a recruitment plan, most recruiters would draw a funnel, a pipe. The idea is that you get a lot of input at the top, then squeeze it, squeeze it some more, and then get your outcome at the bottom—hires, in this case. That’s a very traditional way of thinking about recruitment and it might be a good fit for a market where you have a lot of candidates and not many jobs.

Plus, you’re asking a candidate to go through a rather traumatic experience to get your outcome. Going through a funnel is a series of assessments. And assessments is another word for judgments. It’s standard in all companies. There’s no way it’s going to be comfortable. The sense of being judged isn’t welcome so we need to get a philosophical change on that. We need to change the metaphor—so the funnel has to go away.

There’s a new understanding of how people communicate and look for jobs. We need to stop thinking about how to squeeze people into an assessment funnel and try to cultivate long-term relationships with people that we care about instead. And then understand where the right moment can be that we can work together. This is really a huge change in terms of how you approach recruitment.

If we take it to the ground of software engineering, a good example would be that software engineers typically recruit themselves.

A huge number of IT companies somehow recruited a solid percentage of all employees on someone’s recommendation. Someone they cooperated with somewhere else or worked together at a previous job. I assure you they didn’t go through any typical recruitment funnel. They were able to make hiring decisions because they already had knowledge about this person’s capabilities over a longer period of time, so there was no need to go through a structured funnel. You would not put someone you know as the right fit for the job through that if you know them.

JS: But how can we avoid that traditional recruiting funnel?

HL: To create a better candidate experience, you need to understand how to replicate this scenario where you recruit people you know. How?

  • You need to know more people, build a bigger, better network.
  • You need to understand what you hope to achieve with the standard assessment you have.

Most of the time assessments are designed for one thing. Fundamentally, it’s there to make hiring managers feel better with the risk they’re about to make. This is why we layer on all of this pressure, test assessments, face-to-face interviews, the exercises.

As HR, we force you to do it because we’re not confident enough as managers to make the decision. We also need to build up my confidence to be able to understand that there’s gonna be hiring risk because you’re hiring someone for the first time. You’ll never eliminate the risk completely.

The third thing I would suggest is to actually not do recruitment at all, and recognize that abandoning traditional hiring protocols will not carry any significant risk on your side.

It makes much more sense to only hire people you already know in a permanent way. What it means is that if you encounter a stranger that you want to work with, you don’t hire them permanently. You find a way to interact with them that is not a permanent contract. In Poland it works pretty well. You’ve got multiple contract types, temporary, etc. This allows employers to interact with people without feeling the pressure that they’re making this huge commitment. When you hire someone permanently, you might sometimes ask them to relocate or change other aspects of their life, which is a huge risk without due diligence.

From the employer’s side, it’s more or less the same. I hire people, invite them to the team—what if they come in and immediately disrupt this amazing team you’ve built? It’s always a high risk so why take it? Is there a way that we can interact with this person without immediately committing to this huge risk? Let’s lower down the commitment to begin with and then take it easy. We will no longer need the recruitment funnel because we’ll find a way to recruit people we already know.

Hung-Lee-speaker

Hung Lee as a keynote speaker at Recruitment Tech Event 2018, source: Recruitment tech 

JS: Monterail builds scalable Web and mobile applications. You promote the term "Scalable recruiting.” What exactly do you mean by that?

HL: For many recruiters, the word “scalable” usually just implies “more”. You can understand why that is, because a scalable process often means a general increase in volume or quantity, but really it means something else. When you go back to software engineering, a scalable process is basically a system or a process that can handle an increasing amount of work without the need to be redesigned. On the recruitment field, it looks like this: if I were to hire one person or 1,000 people, I wouldn’t change the process. But of course you need to change the process completely, even if you hire three people. The reason is that the process we’re using is fundamentally non-scalable. A lot of elements like risk-navigation techniques or one to one calls are non-scalable.

So scalable recruiting means applying those engineering principles we know —figure out what scalability is in software and apply it to recruitment. One of the ways that showcases what scalable means is this instance.

A typical scalable system is built in a modular way. Instead of building a single, monolithic program, you actually build components. And if one of them breaks, you can easily exchange them. You can also change the order of the flow.

In a recruiting funnel, things happen in a sequential, linear way, and you wouldn’t change the order because you feel that it’s insane for a CEO to speak with a candidate before looking at the CV.

So recruiters are persistent with it and rather unwilling to rethink the process. Programming used to be like this. In the 1980s, you would program in a very linear way.

JS: What are the hot topics on the HR tech market?

 

1. Privacy.

We’ve gotten used to this world where candidate data was cheap and easy to find. Now we’re seeing GDPR, big tech organizations like Facebook and Google pulling back and protecting users a lot more. This will have a direct impact on the usefulness of recruitment advertising and tooling.

2. Diversity and inclusion.

We’ve gone through the initial phase where we need more diversity and inclusion, but we kind of failed to do that. Only now we’re trying to understand that this is a lot more complicated topic that we initially had thought it to be. This is going to lead to a lot of political tensions. HR has the responsibility of looking after people and providing organizations with diversity and inclusion.

3.  People Analytics.

How can HR better understand how information flows in the business. It’s always been something that CEOs wanted to know. The board has been relying on what HR reports back to them. Now we have information that can be directly presented out there. People Analytics is basically about monitoring communication flows within the business. We have the right technology to analyze the significance of each message. It’s also called organizational network analytics. You will help companies identify who the true A-players in your business are and realize that they may not actually occupy senior positions. Some VPs, for example, might be VPs in title only—messages from them may go ignored and they might lack the respect requisite for the position. But how can we know? We don’t analyze each others’ mailing results.

4. Changing demographics.

In the history of HR, we have always thought and cared about permanent contracts, with insurance coverage and maybe contracts with freelancers. But now we’re getting much more diversity in terms of people operating in business and their relations with companies. HR needs to have policies and processes in place to ensure a diverse business network.


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