How We Hire Podcast Episode 19 Transcript
Steve Jacobs (00:00):
The biggest challenge that I think is not that there isn't enough talent in the market, because there's plenty of talent out there. I think it's an internal problem and it's an internal problem because there is always this expectation within an organization that they have to hire a certain type of talent with a certain type of resume. And some people might not like what I'm about to say, but I think that a lot of companies need to drop that and drop the egos as well.
Welcome to How We Hire, a podcast by Alva Labs with me, Linnea, licensed psychologist and head of people. This show is for all of you who hire or just find recruitment interesting. In every episode, I will speak with thought leaders from across the globe to learn from their experiences and best practices within hiring, building teams, and growing organizations.
Welcome to today's episode of How We Hire. Today, I have Steve Jacobs with me. Steve is a talent acquisition and people leader with extensive experience developing global talent strategies as well as hands-on experience recruiting tech and non-tech talent. Steve is a core member of the RL100, an advisor to a number of startups and scale-ups in Europe, as well as a talent advisor to Tech Nation. As if that wasn't enough, Steve is a co-founder of the Talent Community and co-founder of the rapidly growing Talent pod or videocast called the Talent Surgery. Welcome to How We Hire, Steve.
Steve Jacobs (01:39):
Thank you very much for having me.
First things first, how did you end up in talent acquisition?
Steve Jacobs (01:45):
Before I got into recruiting, I used to be an estate agent for my sins, but I loved it, because in a similar way it was all about matching and selling that dream to the candidate or to the property finder. After I'd done what I could within estate agency, some friends of mine actually said to me, "You'd be great in recruitment." So, I thought, "Okay. Yeah, I'll give it a go."
The two areas, two industries that I was actually looking at were construction and IT, and in the end I went with IT and started off training in a recruitment agency. I would say that my talent acquisition journey really started when I decided to move in-house. So, previous to moving in-house, I had actually been running my own recruitment agency for a couple of years, which I sold and exited. And through that and that whole enjoyment actually, I decided to move in-house, and that's when I would say really the talent acquisition and the strategic elements of that started kicking off.
Biggest difference between recruitment agency and in-house?
Steve Jacobs (02:54):
Recruitment is more around actively seeking out talent and identifying the right candidates for the roles, to fill positions in an organization. That's the core responsibility of recruitment agency. The real differences, where I see on talent acquisition, is more around the strategic long-term approach and then really identifying and acquiring the right talent for your organization.
And how does one succeed in that?
Steve Jacobs (03:22):
Starting off by building the right relationships internally and externally with the right candidates, externally, of course. Even if there's no immediate job openings, you can still do that, right? It's all about building your network. And then researching, being really curiously minded and understanding, what is employer branding, what is it, how can it affect your business? How can you get it right? How can you get it wrong as well? And making sure that you're researching, looking at other organizations where other competitors potentially have got it right, but where also people have got it wrong. And there's plenty of information out there that you can find. But then also looking at things like candidate engagement as well and thinking about the future of hiring as your organization grows.
So, it sounds like a broader perspective, going deeper into a lot of different things and to some extent maybe more complex? Yes, no?
Steve Jacobs (04:13):
It does become much more complex, but the great thing is, is that now even as a researcher, there are so many tools and partnerships which you can dig into and create, where you can get a lot of that data.
You've been on both sides, worked in this for some years now. According to you, what's the biggest challenges in the hiring world today? I mean, from UK but other places as well.
Steve Jacobs (04:39):
There's never enough talent. Right? Really, actually, the biggest challenge that I think is not that there isn't enough talent in the market, because there's plenty of talent out there. I think it's an internal problem and it's an internal problem because there is always this expectation within an organization that they have to hire a certain type of talent with a certain type of resume. And some people might not like what I'm about to say, but I think that a lot of companies need to drop that and drop the egos as well. Right? We are nothing, right?
The way I see it is that we're nothing, and if you are nothing, then you can gain everything. And so, if we're hiring people, we should be hiring people, not CVs. But I think the challenge that we do is, a lot of organizations present themselves with their own blockers to prevent them from hiring in a UK market right now. Or anywhere, actually. I do think that is a cultural thing and has been for many, many years, but as more generations of talent acquisition professionals come into the workplace, hopefully that will change and we'll see a new generation of hiring coming in.
For those that didn't like that, I really agree, and if you don't like that concept, I think you might need to rethink your hiring strategies a bit. Because I really agree with the fact that people have this fancy idea of what it is that they want, what it is that they need. And that is often aspects found in a CV and then they're surprised that the talent that they bring in doesn't match their expectations.
Steve Jacobs (06:17):
How do you tackle that challenge?
Steve Jacobs (06:21):
Education. I think a lot of it is educating the business, the hiring managers. I'm going to tell you an interesting story or a true story here. One of the biggest problems that we see in the market today is around attrition, right? And attrition has never been solved. We know that it's never been solved and it's going to continue going, but the amount of money spent on investment in onboarding, hiring, contracts, back office admin, people costs just to hire one person is a lot, right? Not including the income taxes and all the other employer taxes that you got to pay.
And I was speaking to a friend of mine the other day who works in the sports industry, football industry, and another friend of mine who works in the F1 industry, actually. And what was really fascinating to me was when they recruit people into either their academy or into the actual football team, they don't do any assessments, no real technical assessments at all.
So, I asked them, "So, how do you know if they're the right person and how are they going to fit within the team?" And they said the same thing, "They speak to their friends and families to get to know them. That's their reference points." It's incredible. So, they're not using any technical assessments. However, the thing is, is that if you think about it from a footballer, if you're a footballer and you are spending 20 million, 40 million, 100 million from a transfer perspective and then they leave after three years, is that a bad investment or a good investment for your team, for your financial?
So, could they have done something better at the beginning, from an assessment perspective, like using, I don't know, Alva Labs, right? As an example. And know whether or not that person is going to fit long-term into the team, so that they don't leave in five years. It was fascinating actually hearing about this, but I think ultimately it does come down to really, there's no magic bullets or anything, but I think you just need to educate and research as much as you possibly can.
What's one of the common mistakes that you see talent acquisition specialists make today?
Steve Jacobs (08:20):
Probably not asking the right questions and just assuming and yeah, not listening. Listening, not asking the right questions, not really understanding how the role that you are recruiting for fits into the bigger picture of the organization. And then also, that way you could become much more commercially minded as a recruiter, which I think does get missed quite a lot.
Which is actually why I've always liked recruiting people from recruitment agencies. Not that I'm saying that just hiring people from only in-house is a bad thing. It's just, I've always found in my own own experience, that when I've hired people from recruitment agencies, they're much more commercially minded than anyone that's just gone straight into in-house.
And then they can transfer that into stakeholder management and creating value for the organization. Well, jumping into that then, what value should a talent acquisition person care about, be obsessed about?
Steve Jacobs (09:17):
Definitely candidate experience, obviously, and we talk about it a lot. On the reversal, I think they should be obsessed about not ghosting people. I know, again, it's a hard one, but ghosting is so big, no one really talks about it enough, but that is about candidate experience, right?
Steve Jacobs (09:35):
But they should also be obsessed more now, today, in today's modern world, well as modern as you can get, about data as well. In order for us to not make decisions just ourselves, but to influence decisions, we need to be able to present the right data. So, they need to be much more data obsessed. Again, it's something which isn't necessarily taught until you're moving into more of a talent acquisition role.
And what data points do they need to be on top of?
Steve Jacobs (10:08):
Depending on the business, really, and depending on what's important to the business. I mean, I can give you loads of different data points, KPIs and all this, but it's more about what is important to the business. If the company's in a scale-up mode where they need to be able to make a certain amount of hires by a certain amount of time, then you need to be measuring, "Okay, how many interviews are we getting on a weekly basis? First of all, how many CVs are we getting in? How many interviews are we getting on a daily basis? How are we reducing the amount of interviews per time as well? But then, how many of them are going to offer stage?"
And actually, the process, once you've realized what the process is, that will help you tweak along the way to improve it, and then you are going to get the right data as well.
Big fan of nailing the process and basing things off that. The holy grail for me when it comes to hiring KPIs is obviously quality of hires and I think it's a hard one to really nail, how do we follow up on quality? The way that we have done it is that we measure onboarding success, how people are rated by their manager, and then later, how are they actually performing against their targets? And so forth. And looping that back to the hiring. But there's such a gap between hired, ink on paper, and then actually having the performance results. But what's your thinking of quality of hire?
Steve Jacobs (11:30):
I would add to what you've said, and I would probably also add to say that I would look at attrition and I would look at the number of people that are past their probation period, the assessment scores during the interview process. I don't think you need to do too much, because again, if you start introducing too much, you are blocking yourself and it becomes too obsessive sometimes.
So, keeping it simple but relevant.
Steve Jacobs (11:58):
Keeping it simple but relevant, exactly.
What's your take on, how can you ensure that you hire the right people? How can we be risk assessing the hires that we're making right now?
Steve Jacobs (12:11):
So, risk assessment is something that I talk about more recently. And risk assessment isn't just about understanding hiring the right people, but also should you be hiring in [inaudible 00:12:22]? Because I think a lot of the startups and the scale-ups out there, I completely understand and respect that they need to scale and they need to grow. They've had lots of investment, which is great, and they're under pressure to be able to be the number one or be in the top 10. But how many of them have hired risk analysts into TA or HR and really looked at, "Well, what happens in six months if we don't hit those certain targets? What do we do with these people? Can we move them into other roles?"?
It's almost like a people risk assessor, a business analyst in a way. I don't see many companies that do that. And I think if they did, you'd secure yourself but also find yourself in a position where you'd look at the 100 roles that you need to hire and go, "Actually, maybe we only need to hire about 50 or 60 of them." What happens if we have another downturn? Because it can happen. We're in such a fluctuating market at the moment, and every time we go into a dip, it does take two to three years to balance it out.
So, if the market's dictating to you that you need to balance things out, you should be taking that on and mirroring that. We follow the market trends and we have to listen to what the market is saying as well. I've been thinking about this a lot recently, especially because I've had so many friends that have obviously joined organizations and then four or five months later they've been let go, which is not nice to see.
But when you're hiring people, make sure that you're hiring people that fit within to your culture, your values, your purpose, your mission, but someone who also has other skills. You're up-hiring, right? So, you're hiring for the role, but you're also hiring for another role. What happens if that position closes or doesn't work out? What else could this person do? Can you transition into another role, so that you don't have to lose that person, but you also don't have to hire another position?
It sounds like it's both workforce planning, but it's also gatekeeping in, are these the right amount of hires or is it the right type of roles? And so forth. Because I think having that full picture of all the departments, all the different roles, no one really have the overview. So, it needs to be within talent acquisition that takes the baton and run with it, but in a safe way.
Steve Jacobs (14:44):
Exactly. But I think if you've got a really strong commercial finance director or commercial CFO, amazing, right? You've won half the battle, actually, because then the head of TA can work with that person and partner with them to drive the strategy and make the right decisions along the way.
For sure. So, say that we have this commercially driven CFO and we are super tight with them, so we have the right type of roles. And then the second point you mentioned was that we need to hire the right type of people and up-hire, so that they can take other type of roles. So, what skills should we be looking for to be able to nail that?
Steve Jacobs (15:22):
Technical and non-technical, really. I can't give you specific skills, because I don't know what the role is, but I think it's looking at the individual depending on what type of organization you are. If you are a Google, you need people who can basically build products and be happy to give away their ideas. But in all seriousness, it really depends down to the organization's mentality and how they see people.
Let's be honest, there are some organizations that see people as, "You need to do this job." And there are some organizations that look at people as an actual product. On the flip side, when a candidate is applying for an organization, they need to be doing as much research as possible and be asking the right questions during the interviews to whether or not, is that the right company for them?
To be sure. On the fact with giving specific skills, I really agree with that, it depends on what type of organization it is. It depends on what type of job family it is. So, it needs to be role specific. But then there are also these core characteristics that based on research are often helpful, such as the people that plan ahead, are ambitious and goal-oriented, that's often a skill that's helpful regardless of where they're placed. So, maybe that can also be something to look into.
Steve Jacobs (16:39):
Are you thinking more of a mindset? Because attitude is not a skill, attitude is a personality. And I love the word attitude, but I'm just thinking, curiosity also is not a skill, it's an attitude. Yeah, it's an interesting one actually. A great question.
I guess the old saying, "Hire for attitude, train for skills." Is again, modern and relevant based on what you're saying.
Steve Jacobs (17:04):
Well, it is, because if you hire the right person with the right attitude, they will learn everything and you can put them in any kind of role that you see fit as well. But it has to be a 50/50 decision from both sides as well.
For sure. And I think this also links back to what we spoke about, the biggest challenge in hiring is that the hiring organization has their mindset on a certain type of technical skill or hard skill and often forget about these attitude, personality aspects.
Steve Jacobs (17:34):
Yeah, exactly, because it's very classic. I mean, I've worked in startups and scale-ups for years now, and it's very classic for most senior department heads or some CEOs will look at their competitors to look at what they're hiring and look at the job descriptions and the profiles of these people and think, "Oh, that's what we should be hiring." "But what's your strategy?" "We don't have one." "So, how do you know they're going to fit into your not having a strategy?"
It's so common and it happens a lot, but again, there's pressure of, "We've got a product, we need to sell it, we need to make money." It's a real hard balance, but it's wrong, I think it's wrong to look at your competitors to see what they're hiring, because they're not always going to fit. Again, very classic example is every engineer at Google is not going to want to work at Facebook, and every Facebook engineer is not going to want to work at Google. They're two different organizations, two different cultures, two different mindsets.
And I guess one thing to keep in mind is that a lot of organization haven't nailed hiring. So, looking at what your competitors are doing might actually be a blocker because if they haven't got it right-
Steve Jacobs (18:38):
It depends on what you mean by nailed, because I've seen startups and medium size and large organizations that are still hiring thousands of people every single year. So, they're obviously doing something right, but it's right to them. Every organization's going to be different. Everyone is going to be thinking in a different way, because your heads of talent are all different. Your heads of people are all different. Your CEOs are all different. Your CFOs are all different. So, of course you're not going to think in the same way.
Yes, you have communities, which is great, and you can share lots of ideas, but ultimately, it's what's defined within your own business that matters. And so, if they have nailed it, then they've nailed it for themselves.
No, that's a good point. And I guess then circling back to the question of, how do you risk assess? So, we've talked about what you should be doing, then going into what you shouldn't be doing. Would that also link then in your mind to your own strategy for how you want to hire? Or, can you give us some insights of what you wouldn't advise people to do?
Steve Jacobs (19:39):
I think the biggest one is don't try and copy. Don't try and copy other people's strategies or how they assess people or what ATSs they use and what assessment tools they use. Don't think it's an easy fix. Again, this goes straight back to that whole commercial mindset. Okay, it's not your business, but you need to treat it like it's your business, right? The organization that you're working for. So that you can really feel your veins in the organization and feel that blood flowing, so that helps you determine, "Okay, this is what I think is going to work within this company."
But again, the only way to do that is to really immerse yourself, speak to every single one in your company, spend loads of time with the CEO. Get down and understand what does that CEO do on a daily basis? Can you strip some of that stuff away from them as well?
For me, when it comes to risk assessing and the traps that I see, I think not being fooled by shiny objects, I guess, just because something looks super fancy or someone has blown you away, not just taking that for granted and being sold on the first impression. I think, for me, reducing risk is by making sure that you, again, stick to your process, stick to your plan, stick to your strategy, and not deviate because, "Oh my God, this super fancy CV, this candidate even wants to talk to us." That, for me, is one of those things that you should avoid.
Steve Jacobs (21:16):
One other thing I would say before you even get started actually, is think to yourself, "Do you even want to take that on?" And when you are looking at the risk analysis, risk assessment, you have to figure out, as a TA leader, we have so many tasks that we do on a daily basis and so much responsibilities, whether it's managing a team, whether it's working on employer branding strategy, building a career site. I mean, there's so much going on all the time. Do we have the capacity to take on the whole risk analysis stuff and the workforce planning as well?
Yes, we can be involved in it and be part of the projects. Should we be leading on it? I'm not sure. We have to be careful to say, there's only so much you can actually do in the amount of time that you've got.
Mm-hmm. So, then it should fall on the hiring managers?
Steve Jacobs (22:04):
Well, it's not about falling, but the hiring managers need to be involved, for sure, because it's their department. But if you're lucky enough and you've got budget, hire someone that can basically run your workforce planning for you or maybe hire an external consultant to come in for three months to help you build it out.
I think that's a smart move. We're talking a lot about how the talent acquisition, the recruiter can be more of a strategic partner, more enable the business rather than just execute on hires. So, what's your thoughts on that topic?
Steve Jacobs (22:42):
It's treating it as if it's your own business, but you need to lead on conversations. So, you need to be able to set up the meetings, having normal conversations with the team, whichever team you're recruiting for, setting up any project plans and really owning it. You need to be the mother of the group and really lead in that way, so that you're giving that team confidence to say, ""Hey, we've got the best partner here. We know that we can trust this person to be able to not just recruit for us, but who understands our needs and the urgency behind it as well." But you need to be asking the right questions, lots of business questions and prepare for them.
So, that sort of stuff that you can go to your peers and say, "Hey, what good questions to ask in this scenario? What information do I need to get from them in order for me to help my job?" It's like, help me to help you. And again, understanding the mission and the vision of the business as well, how it's all linked together. I would like to think that there is mostly, in most organizations, there is a real open door policy where you can talk to the senior leaders to be able to understand how you could be much more effective in your job.
So, if we then jump into the nitty-gritty, but important stuff, so in your mind, what does a good recruitment process look like?
Steve Jacobs (24:00):
Good recruitment process? Well, from a candidate experience perspective, I would like to know as much as I possibly can about the role and the company before I've even applied. And then, I would like to make the application process as seamless and simple as possible, but still being able to showcase myself as much as possible. So, we would make sure that we have the tools and the application forms set out in a way that we are able to do that. So, they're already having a great experience before they've even had an interview.
And communication, right? So, you're sending the right message to that person when they've applied, with the right communication around expectations around timescales and when you're going to hear back. And actually tell them, "This is what the process looks like. You will hear from us in the next 14 days. During that 14 days, we'll be speaking to our hiring managers. We'll be going through these candidates." Just build a picture for them so that they don't feel like they're sitting there, doing nothing, and that they're just being ignored.
If I was a candidate and I'd received that, I'd be like, "Great. I'll give them time. I won't keep messaging them on LinkedIn saying, 'What's happening with my application?'" Because it does happen. But then, internal process is obviously very important. Make sure that you've got your ATS clean and got the right ATS and that everybody's got access that needs access to it. Your screening process is clean, interviews set up correctly, whether it's video or in real life. Feedback, have a very structured time scales on when you want feedback turnaround time. If you've told the candidate X, "We promise you this.' The hiring manager needs to understand because they're involved in the process, "We need to give feedback. Drop what you're doing. Book out some time on your calendars. Write up my feedback. Would you like it if you didn't get any?" So, it's like, put a bit of pressure back on them because they need to own that.
And then, yeah, I mean, other processes would be quite simple on the HR side and the onboarding, make sure you've got your onboarding set up. If you're using a platform like, I don't know, Enboarder, which is a great platform by the way. You've got content communication with the candidate, pre-onboarding and post-onboarding. Nowadays, if you haven't got good or half decent tech in your organization, then chances are that you're failing, quite frankly. Yeah, do you want to talk about after process or just that normal process?
No, please go on. I think it's a great answer, so please continue.
Steve Jacobs (26:24):
Okay. And give them as much information as you possibly can before they've started. Set up some coffees, virtual coffees with some of the team. In the UK it's usually one month, but depending if it's senior role could be three months. Three months is a long time actually.
Steve Jacobs (26:43):
So, you've got to keep that constant communication, inviting them to lunches or coffees or events. Maybe just invite them into the office, get them in, meet people. Why the hell not, if they can? And then, yeah, make sure the contract is clear and easy to read as well, because I've been in situations where they haven't been. So, be really, really good on the admin. Yeah.
You know what I love about this answer, that the most important part was describing the candidate experience. And I think the designing the process based on that. I think for you, organizations have gone that far, even if we're talking about candidate experience a lot and hearing that all over, I think that approach is fantastic.
Steve Jacobs (27:29):
Mm-hmm. I mean, I've seen a lot of processes out there, which are really good in some big companies and some big companies are not that great. And it hasn't changed. And again, I think it does come down to a lot of the tech and the attitude that they've got. But most companies now that I see, are moving in a better way to really adhere to the candidate's way rather than the company's way, which means that they're listening to the feedback.
I think now actually more than ever, during this period in time in 2023, there is a massive opportunity to really hone in and focus on candidate experience. Because if you are not hiring that much right now, then you've got really good opportunity to train your business, retrain your business, think about ways how you can improve your candidate experience so that when you are hiring, you are like, every person in the world will want to join you.
Louder for the people in the back. I think that's a really good perspective where, this is your chance to get everything in order.
Steve Jacobs (28:24):
Yeah. That's why I like quiet periods. I think quiet periods is when it gives you time to think.
Yeah. Okay. So, if I would invite you back on this podcast in five, 10 years, how will we hire then? What do you think?
Steve Jacobs (28:38):
Don't care. I'll be retired then. I'm joking.
Steve Jacobs (28:42):
How will we hire then? Well, apparently we're going to get taken over by robots and AI.
So, we can all retire right now?
Steve Jacobs (28:49):
We can all retire. Yeah. I don't believe that will happen. I think they will help a hell of a lot, but everything still needs to be humanized. There are so many innovators out there and so many incredibly smart folks who are coming up with new HR tech that is helping us define the process more and more and more and more. I can't answer that question. I don't think anyone could really answer that question. And if they can, wow, you've got a crystal ball.
But isn't that answer enough, that so much is happening, the innovation speed is really high, that it's impossible to give a solid answer?
Steve Jacobs (29:24):
Two years ago, would we have thought about ChatGPT?
Steve Jacobs (29:28):
Steve Jacobs (29:29):
Even a year ago, maybe.
Steve Jacobs (29:30):
And it's blown up. I think the trends are great. Now the question is, will those trends last? That's what I want to know. Just like anything in life, right? A trend comes, everybody talks about it, blows up, amazing. You get so many different iterations and versions of these things, but how long does it last? And what happens? It always falls back to the basics. And we always fall back to the basics, which is great, because if it does, that means that we're all grounded and that we've all got good foundations to build upon.
So hopefully then, we will be talking about trends we've seen, but also going back to basics that are good enough to go back to?
Steve Jacobs (30:08):
Yeah. So, 10 years, the highs and lows of the last 10 years of recruitment.
Back to basics. Okay. So, wrapping up, if you could give yourself one piece of advice before you got into the whirlwind that is talent acquisition, what would you say to yourself?
Steve Jacobs (30:26):
If I could go back, I would tell myself to drop the ego and not have expectations. Just be a complete open book, clear mind. Just take it all in and don't be in such a hurry as well.
That's good advice. Steve, it's been an absolute pleasure to have you here on How We Hire. So happy you joined us. If anyone wants to continue to chat with Steve, I guess they can connect with you on LinkedIn or stalk you.
Steve Jacobs (30:55):
Yeah, I'd be very happy to. I love talking. My voice is particularly deep today.
It sounds smart.
Steve Jacobs (31:01):
But yeah, genuinely, if anybody's interested, please reach out to me on LinkedIn. I'm happy to connect and happy to carry on the conversations.
And listen to your podcast.
Steve Jacobs (31:10):
Oh yeah, come and listen to us. Yeah. Yeah.
Yeah. Show them.
Steve Jacobs (31:14):
We've got a cool podcast. I can't speak now, but yeah, we've got a very cool one. But thank you so much, Linnea. I've really enjoyed it.