How Volvo Cars turned Talent Intelligence into a scientific investigator

Talent Intelligence is not just about data-driven work. ‘To me, it’s much more about the research side that makes it interesting’, stresses Megan Reif, an American political scientist living in Sweden who worked on projects around elections in Oman, Pakistan and Algeria, among others, before eventually getting into recruitment. She is now responsible at Volvo Cars for the new Talent Intelligence function, which provides research to inform strategic decisions around talent.

‘To me, it’s much more about the research side that makes it interesting’, stresses Megan Reif, a US political scientist who worked on projects around elections in Oman, Pakistan and Algeria, among others, before eventually getting into recruitment. She is now responsible at Volvo Cars for the new Talent Intelligence function, for which she coordinates all decisions around talent.

> How has Talent Intelligence grown into a function at Volvo?

‘At Volvo Cars we set up a now fairly mature Talent Intelligence function from scratch in one year. Despite being a relative newbie in this field, I think there are a few things about my unusual combination of my education in social sciences and personal experience that will hopefully allow me to add a bit of value.’

‘Before I started working on this topic, I supported the user experience design team as a recruiter for 18 months. I helped that team hire 65 senior user experience managers, researchers, designers and writers. I was already interested in research methodology, research interfaces and presenting data, but what I learned from UX research and design principles applies directly to setting up a TI function with a ‘data-as-a-product’ design approach and a focus on the importance of data visualisation and packaging insights.’

> What do you mean by this?

‘Applying social science research principles, combined with being an amateur in different fields, allowed me to be very creative in thinking about how to build a professional function. By starting out very messy, saying yes to many ad hoc requests and delivering results that don’t meet anyone’s vision. I think my research background helped me after that to find ways to put all the messy data together and give it credibility by being transparent about its limitations and supplementing it with qualitative research.’

‘What’s so exciting about the field of Talent Intelligence: it’s new, it’s not yet fully defined.’

‘That is also what is so exciting about the field of Talent Intelligence: it is new, it is not yet fully defined. The data is still very messy. There are many vendors, but there is no one vendor that can provide all the answers for all the different types of roles and locations that are important in a production environment. So that’s where my background comes in handy, as a political scientist and in working with qualitative and quantitative sources in and across places where data is scarce, such as the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa.’

> Why is this topic so important to Volvo Cars?

‘It is like any other manufacturing company going through a transition. Volvo Cars was founded in Gothenburg in 1927 and now has more than 43,500 employees in 34 countries. We have always been data-driven. When Volvo launched the seat belt, many in the industry were not happy about it. But the data on saving lives could not be ignored. Later, Volvo Cars did the same with technology that reduced emissions. You could say we have always used research and evidence to do the right thing, which is: make sure the product is safe for both the user and the environment.’

‘Everyone in this company, from the factory floor to the senior vice president, is a unicorn in one way or another.’

‘Now we are in the process of digital transformation. Unlike many pure tech companies with Talent Intelligence functions, we deal with hardware manufacturing, safety issues, battery technology, workers, finance and loans, and countless other skill areas. What I have learned is that everyone in the company, from the factory floor to the senior vice president, is a unicorn in one way or another. And you need data to find out where someone’s superpowers are and then design a strategy to know specifically how to attract them.’

> Because?

‘Volvo Cars was the first of the traditional carmakers to announce its move from combustion and hybrid vehicles to an all-electric product range by 2030 and move to a fully online direct-to-customer sales model and innovative service model. This requires bringing in a huge talent pool that was not there before. From finance to customer service, customer experience and digital design.’

‘Volvo is a manufacturing company that brings in a lot of talent from other industries. That means we need to understand where that talent is and help the different recruitment managers plan for the implications: that we won’t just find these talents in Sweden and our traditional locations.’

> How do you approach that?

‘By looking at external talent markets and seeing where we need specific skills, we see that sometimes the profile differs from what we have within the company. Often, workers are increasingly skilled, working with robots and automation, and many of them are retraining, so a good talent intelligence function will, in the ideal world, work together with people analytics and workforce planning, which is what we are starting to do now, to find out what skills we have in house – and not rely on assumptions about career paths and degrees.’

‘Because education is free in Sweden, many recruiters don’t realise that people abroad without a master’s can still have great skills.’

‘In Sweden, education is free, so many people have a master’s degree, which may mean that some recruiters do not realise that people with similar skills educated abroad may not have a master’s degree, but still have the skills and experience, or are self-taught. So the data on what skills other companies are hiring and where, helps us to question those and related assumptions, for example in relation to diversity.’

> Can you give an example of this?

‘For example, when I presented data on locations for software development talent, many were surprised to learn that more women study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and work in technical roles in the Middle East and North Africa and Romania than in North America, most of Europe and Australia. If you start understanding this, recruiters are more likely to look more carefully at candidates from different backgrounds.’

‘We are looking all over the world for talent pools in new or existing locations.’

‘We are now bringing technical talent from around the world to Gothenburg, Stockholm and Lund in Sweden. But we are also looking for talent pools in new or existing locations around the world. For example, we have opened a tech hub in Poland – the first project to which I have contributed some analysis – we have a tech hub in Bangalore, and we have just announced our tech hub in Singapore, which attracts a wide range of talent from many of the world’s regions and has some of the highest percentages of women and other leaders in technology from different backgrounds.’

> How does your experience in Pakistan and Algeria help with this?

‘What I like about academic research is challenging preconceptions about the world. In Pakistan and Algeria, I had taught statistics and worked with IT and technical people. In Pakistan, I lived with 27 women studying to be software developers and aerospace engineers studying at Pakistan’s version of NASA. I got to know these capable women very well; powerful programmers, from countries where the general perception is that they are oppressed. Yet relatively more women work as software developers there than in Sweden or many other European countries.’

‘If you want to work on diversity, you should join talent acquisition.’

‘When I was first considering leaving academia, my employer said to me: Megan, if you want to work on diversity, if you want to change the image we have in Sweden of people from parts of the world who you know are great people, then you should go and work in talent acquisition. So, almost six years later, here I am, in Talent Intelligence. Of course, I always present my data objectively, but I also try to discover blind spots and present contextual data with information about markets that people might not ask about, to challenge assumptions.’

> Is TI substantially different for Volvo Cars than for a software company?

‘When I started recruiting in 2017, one of my first assignments was to find a production manager for frozen fish. I quickly noticed then that it is easier to find data on software or technical candidates than on candidates who can handle frozen fish production. As a tech recruiter, you usually have a higher status. But I learned that data on skilled production talent is much harder to find, so you have to be much more creative here with data sources, approach methods and recruitment strategies.’

‘I quickly noticed that you find data on technical candidates faster than on experts in frozen fish.’

‘I can deliver a talent intelligence analysis for technical talent quite quickly these days, but I really need weeks to dive into detail and with alternative sources to find out potential talent pools with more complex talent profiles, including qualitative interviews. This is also why I say we need a ‘research informed’ rather than just a data-driven approach to business decisions. I find the production side of talent intelligence the most exciting, and also the most challenging.’

> And what does that produce?

‘I’ll give an example. Volvo Car’s decision to open a new gigafactory in Slovakia fell long before my position existed. In late 2021, early 2022, I was asked to help with background research for the go-to-market strategy there. Slovakia has the highest number of automotive workers per capita in the world, but we soon realised that we needed different ways to reach these talents than we would use in Sweden.’

‘Even senior people such as production managers are rarely on LinkedIn in Slovakia.’

‘At the time, we focused on a strategy of bringing a few people from Sweden, who were going to build a team with local talent. That’s where we learned then that in Slovakia you have to go a bit old-fashioned to reach people. Even senior people like production managers there are rarely on LinkedIn, let alone talent familiar with working in the highly complex and automated environment of car factories. By looking at where people are and where they travel to, we ended up with more old-school approach strategies like billboards, along with local job boards.’

> How did you find that out?

‘I used Google Scholar and Research Gate to find studies on the Slovak housing market, commuting patterns and migration. I conducted interviews with a number of people locally, compared other companies’ strategies – all this kind of thing, everything to feel I had a complete picture. In Slovakia, the car industry is mainly in the west, while many people have migrated from the east or commute as much as 3-4 hours during the week. They like to be close to their families and to the mountains, so our new location is a great opportunity for them to build their careers in their home region.’

‘It is very difficult to get someone to move from one part of the country to another, even if it is only a 4-hour drive.’

‘I also want to point out another assumption that this example illustrates – in industrialised Western European countries, we tend to assume that people in lower-income countries are just willing to go anywhere for a job. And that’s really not the case. It is very difficult to get someone to move from one part of the country to another, even if it is only a four-hour drive, just as it is difficult to get someone to move from Stockholm to Gothenburg.’

How Undutchables bridges the gap between talent and businesses in the Netherlands

The Undutchables philosophy

At the heart of Undutchables‘ philosophy lies the belief that diversity and multiculturalism are assets to both individuals and businesses. The company recognises that the Netherlands is an attractive destination for a wide range of professionals, whether they hail from within Europe or beyond. Their mission is two-fold: to assist Dutch companies in their international ventures and to welcome and support candidates who are making the Netherlands their new home.

‘With my own experience as an expat across multiple continents, we pretty much sell what I am.’

‘We’ve done this for 27 years now’, Van Houdenhoven-Collard says in an interview. ‘We work with a team of international recruiters. With my own experience as an expat across multiple continents, we pretty much sell what I am. It Is all about ensuring a bridge exists between organisations entering foreign markets, by ensuring they can communicate effectively. Not only in terms of language, but also cultural understanding.’

Globetrotters 

Emmanuele van Houdenhoven-Collard’s journey to Undutchables is a testament to the agency’s own diverse and inclusive nature. Born in the region of Dordogne, France, her educational background includes studies in law, Political Sciences at the University of Bordeaux. Her career, however, has been a globetrotting adventure, with stops in The United Kingdom, Mexico and the United States. 

Van Houdenhoven-Collard returned to the Netherlands in 2015. ‘The agency increasingly encountered multilingual candidates who, while proficient in English, often had it as their second or third language. My own experiences as an expatriate in the United States ended up providing me with invaluable insights into the challenges faced by many of Undutchables’ candidates. These professionals were no strangers to the global stage, having traversed the world in their careers.’

Life in a strange country

But Van Houdenhoven-Collard’s Undutchables career started by accident. ‘When I came back to the Netherlands, it was tough for me to find a good job. That was strange to me. I had a great profile, spoke four languages — but couldn’t find a job that suited me. So I approached Undutchables to discuss the difficulties I was facing in finding a job and try to better understand the current Dutch recruitment market. I got to speak to Nick van der Dussen, the company’s General Manager, and we had a lovely conversation about a variety of topics. The next day, I was offered an intake and got to start the recruitment process with Undutchables.’

‘As an expat, it constantly feels as though you need to sell yourself.’

It turns out Van Houdenhoven-Collard and Undutchables were a fit in more ways than one. ‘As an expat, it constantly feels as though you need to sell yourself. That can be quite a haunting task when you’re in a strange country. So I saw the real need for a company to step in and help them. To go the extra mile for them, to find them the right opportunity to further their career.’

Understanding the market

Van Houdenhoven-Collard’s background uniquely positions her to understand the needs of businesses seeking to establish themselves internationally. ‘I work closely with companies all around the world, notably in Germany, France, and even in China, helping them recruit talent that not only speaks the language but also comprehends the local culture. That in itself is an invaluable asset when doing business in foreign markets.’

Understanding the intricacies of the Dutch labour market is a critical aspect of Undutchables’ work. ‘There’s plenty of markets out there, like in France, where you generally don’t give out multiple contracts before it becomes a permanent deal. Companies in The Netherlands have a tendency to give out two or three temporary contracts before it becomes a permanent contract. That’s important for everyone, both job seekers and employers, to be fully aware of. Such nuances can be bewildering for those unfamiliar with Dutch employment practices.’

Finding a middle ground

Embracing cultural diversity is a central pillar of Undutchables’ philosophy. ‘It recognises that differing backgrounds and experiences enrich the workplace and foster open-mindedness in problem-solving. If everything is done in a transparent way, then no negative surprises occur. One notable trend, for example, is the preference among junior professionals for flexible work arrangements.’

‘Adapting to changes is crucial for international candidates and companies looking to integrate into the Dutch job market.’

‘The desire for a four-day workweek and the option to work from home 2-3 days a week is becoming increasingly important for this particular target group. Adapting to these changes is crucial for international candidates and companies looking to integrate into the Dutch job market. However, it can be challenging for candidates when companies have policies that lean towards a 100% in-office presence. Finding a middle ground becomes essential.’

Knowing the candidate’s core values

One of Undutchables’ strengths lies in its long-standing relationships with client companies. ‘We have clients who have used our services since the very beginnings of Undutchables in 1996, because we really know what they’re all about. We know their core values. That in itself is such a stark contrast compared to just sourcing for a candidate.’

‘Having that insight allows us to provide valuable information to both candidates and companies, facilitating mutual understanding and successful integration.’

Being realistic and acknowledging that candidates come from diverse backgrounds — and thus may have varying long-term plans — is part of the recruiting formula. ‘Some might view it as a stopgap solution for a few years, while others are looking to settle long-term. Having that insight allows us to provide valuable information to both candidates and companies, facilitating mutual understanding and successful integration.’

Collaborations with experts

In general, the Dutch labour market hasn’t been particularly easy to navigate. Van Houdenhoven-Collard notes the growing demand for talent in the Netherlands, with increasing numbers of candidates seeking opportunities in the country. ‘We pretty much experience a non-stop flow of new candidates and vacancies. But we need to ensure they’re all aware of what makes for a successful integration within the Dutch workforce.’

‘That’s why we constantly look for collaborations with experts in their fields, in order to share knowledge to our clients and network at large through regular webinars that are open to everyone.’ The next one, for example, will be the closing session for our 2023 series on November 17 in Amsterdam. The topic is creating a company culture that everyone feels connected to.’

‘We’re ready and ambitious’

Looking further ahead, Van Houdenhoven-Collard envisions continued growth for Undutchables. Since her arrival, she has seen the company expanding its team from 38 to around 44 employees in four years. ‘We’ve done this for 27 years — and it feels like we will keep growing for many years to come. With the continued influx of multilingual talent from all over the world who continue to find their way to the Netherlands, there’s plenty of challenges ahead. But we’re ready. We’re ambitious. We want to continue to play a pivotal role in connecting talent with opportunity. That’s what it’s all about.’

The four ways Google uses Talent Intelligence for recruiting 

The way Talent Intelligence is defined is a big part of just how it can be of benefit to any organisation. So how would Harvard-graduate Joris Schoonis, Managing Director of Google Cloud Benelux summarise what it can do for his organisation? “Talent Intelligence is an influencing force on workforce and people strategies”, he says. 

“With Talent Intelligence, we consider it just as important to analyse internal data as it is to analyse external data.”

“It combines both qualitative and quantitative data to make sure that a company is making people decisions on a strong foundation of insights. With Talent Intelligence, we consider it just as important to analyse internal data as it is to analyse external data. As companies look out at the external environment, they need to have a strong grasp of their own internal composition and metrics in order to ensure they are able to effectively operate and make data-driven decisions.”

Nuances of the market

In many labour markets across the world, understanding the nuances is a big part of any success. “We would consider using Talent Intelligence for recruiting in the Benelux just as we would use it to make sure we understand the nuances of any market we operate in”, Schoonis says. Typically, he sees four ways in which Google uses Talent Intelligence to support the recruiting and organisational goals. “These four elements where Talent Intelligence can support us ensure we’re educated on the market, have realistic expectations of what can be achieved and ensure we’re advising our business on the people aspects they need to be aware of.”

  1. Talent Research and Analysis: What is happening in the market and what trends are we seeing? Will this have an impact on the way we engage with candidates and their expectations of an employer?
  2. Site Strategy and Assessment: Does it make sense to grow our tech teams in this location? Do we have the relevant talent pools to sustainably grow our organisation?
  3. Competitive Intelligence: What information and trends are we seeing in peers and in other industries that inform our overall talent strategy in the market?
  4. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Will investing and recruiting in this market support our ambitions to build representative talent pipelines and build an inclusive company?

Resilience through insights

The world of Talent Acquisition has, by all means, been a turbulent world. In lieu of the COVID-19 crisis, the subsequent trends of remote workforces, The Great Resignation, the Quiet Quitting phenomenon and now the emphasis towards retention. “The previous few years have seen a huge amount of change for talent strategies and the ways in which companies engage with employees”, Schoonis says. 

“When used correctly, Talent Intelligence can help make companies more agile, adaptable and precise with their recruiting efforts and employee strategies.”

“I hope in 5 years’ time we can look back on this period and see how Talent Intelligence actually provided businesses with resilience and success by equipping them with insights to navigate these changes and scan the horizon for what’s around the corner. When used correctly, Talent Intelligence can help make companies more agile, adaptable and precise with their recruiting efforts and employee strategies. Fundamentally, however, we need to ensure we’re investing in our Talent Intelligence capabilities to keep us aligned with a rapidly-changing world.”

Don’t miss Google at the Talent Intelligence Conference

Catch Google (and many others) at the first-ever edition of the Global Talent Intelligence Conference. On September 27-28, Intelligence Group will organise the Talent Intelligence Conference in collaboration with ToTalentStratigens, Werf& and the Talent Intelligence Collective. Limited tickets are available, so book your tickets quickly.

How Booking.com uses Talent Intelligence to connect the dots of all talent trends

The economic landscape’s turbulence has pushed organisations to seek comprehensive talent insights. Talent Intelligence bridges the gap between external and internal talent trends, guiding strategic talent decisions. “That’s why at Booking.com, Talent Intelligence works to connect the dots between external and internal talent trends in order to influence decisions around how we hire, retain and organise our talent”, Dooley and Carney say.

“Talent Intelligence works to connect the dots between external and internal talent trends in order to influence decisions around how we hire, retain and organise our talent.”

“We have seen an increased demand from our stakeholders on using data and the continuously changing market trends to enable our leadership and managers. There is so much data out there, it is important that we highlight what is important for them to take forward in strategic decision-making.”

Want to learn more about Talent Intelligence?

Book your tickets to the first-ever Global Talent Intelligence Conference.

The benefits of Talent Intelligence

Kari Carney

A well-structured Talent Intelligence team empowers HR and Talent Acquisition partners to proactively bring insights to stakeholders. That’s no different at Booking. “For us, the infrastructure of our Talent intelligence team allows us to enable our partners in Talent Acquisition and HR to be proactive in bringing insights to their stakeholders”, they say. “And to be better equipped to advise at various levels of the business.”

“We can respond to trends, so we can be bleeding-edge when it comes to our attraction and engagement tactics and strategy.””

“We can be agile in individualised conversations with hiring managers and candidates alike. Tailored strategies to address identified areas of opportunity. We can respond to trends, so we can be bleeding-edge when it comes to our attraction and engagement tactics and strategy. As well as being able to prioritise components of a winning candidate experience.”

Empowered to use data

Booking.com’s talent market-mapping and market supply and demand trends tool empower teams to engage candidates effectively, influence hiring strategies, and adapt to evolving talent landscapes. “One of the first enablement tools we delivered as a team was centred around talent market-mapping and market supply and demand trends.”

“We created a centralised methodology and consistent framework that ensured our talent attraction teams and hiring managers are empowered to use the latest data. This allows them to have more valuable conversations with candidates, influence hiring strategy and understand location strategies and how the talent landscape is changing.” 

Combining passion for talent and data

Simone Dooley

Simone Dooley, the Lead Talent Intelligence Partner at Booking.com, shares her journey in a role that wasn’t all too common just a few years ago. “When I first joined Booking.com, the Talent Intelligence team was in its infancy and my focus was to build up our competitive intelligence infrastructure and framework.” Dooley has quite a diverse background within recruitment in the Tech sector. With a special interest in analytics and project management.

“For us, it’s about the collaboration, curiosity and open-mindedness of both our partners and stakeholders.”

“This has stood me in good stead and – combining my passion for talent and data – led me to a career in Talent Intelligence. A key driver of the success of the program is the strong customer-centric culture at Booking.com. For us, it’s about the collaboration, curiosity and open-mindedness of both our partners and stakeholders.”

Educating recruiters

A crucial first step involved educating the Recruiting teams about efficient tracking methods and providing enablement tools. “So that they could effectively utilise our Talent Intelligence programs”, Dooley says. “I recognised right away the importance of aligning this new program with our Recruiting team’s existing infrastructure and ways of working. What began as a success story of enabling our recruiting teams to consistently share market insights to influence their stakeholders has scaled into a program that impacts across many departments and all levels of our organisation, which is really rewarding to see.”

‘Start small’

From their experience, what would Dooley and Carney advice be for organisations that still have to start from scratch? “Start small. For example, one of the first successful projects for us was simply understanding and defining our organisation’s talent competitors. This was a great opportunity to use internal and external data points to test a theory and build a data driven story.”

“Data analysis, story-telling and curiosity are must haves for any talent intelligence professional.”

And while starting small is always a good idea, Dooley sees a critical role for TI leaders in the future. “In my view, Talent Intelligence leaders play a critical role in bringing together expertise from both the internal and external talent lens. Data analysis, story-telling and curiosity are must haves for any talent intelligence professional. However, another critical element to leadership is leading with values. We keep our guiding principles of collaboration, impact, simplicity and empowerment at the forefront of how we execute, building trust and confidence along the way.”

The future of Talent Intelligence

So where is it all headed? Talent Intelligence is, of course, still a fairly new word that has entered the recruiting space. Will the rise of TI turn out to be a turning point for Talent Acquisition and recruiting? “In the not-so-distant future, I think we will regard this period as a pivotal moment in the world of HR, Recruitment, and Talent Intelligence. With technology increasingly embracing automation and scalability, talent intelligence teams will advance their expertise to play a vital role in shaping the long-term talent strategy of organisations. The best is yet to come.”

Don’t miss Booking at the Talent Intelligence Conference

Catch Simone Dooley and Kari Carney from Booking.com (and many others) at the first-ever edition of the Global Talent Intelligence Conference. On September 27-28, Intelligence Group will organise the Talent Intelligence Conference in collaboration with ToTalentStratigens, Werf& and the Talent Intelligence Collective. Book your tickets here.

Florin Ciontu (The Stepstone Group): ‘AI is a revolution in the online recruitment market’

The Stepstone Group’s mission is a fairly simple one: the right job for everyone. Active in more than 30 countries, they are responsible for one of the world’s leading job platforms, with a singular aim: ‘to disrupt the job market and make it work properly’. And to be able to come good on that mission, the Group has focused on implementing Artificial Intelligence within its core offerings.

The rush for Generative AI

The Stepstone Group has used AI for a number of years, but Florin Ciontu, Senior Vice President Product B2C at The Stepstone Group, was surprised and excited to see the rapid development of Generative AI. “In particular Large Language Models (LLM), a type of AI that has been trained on large amounts of text and is able to understand and summarise natural language. We’ve had quite a few colleagues already working on AI and it was remarkable to see how quickly everyone rushed to explore the potential of the new technologies.”

A group effort

Over the past year, Ciontu says The Stepstone Group has had more than a hundred colleagues contribute with ideas for using LLM’s. “Such as Open AI’s GPT-3 Turbo and GPT-4, which are also used by ChatGPT. And several products have already entered development. In addition to using these models in our core products, we have also decided to make some of our core job search services in Germany available directly through ChatGPT and the Open AI interface. This is an opportunity to bring our services to an early adopter audience and is also part of our ongoing exploration of new channels and user experience paradigms.”

Better matching

While the GenAI discussion usually takes place around what it promises: generating content for recruitment, Ciontu says AI has long been part of core matching technologies. “Particularly as a way to deliver high quality and personalised job search results. The use of AI in this area continues to evolve, with Large Language Models enabling a deeper understanding of both jobseeker profiles and job ads, and therefore better matching.”

“At The Stepstone Group we have been fortunate to have talented and passionate teams who have been able to build products around these new technologies in just a few months.”

Beyond matching, Generative AI now enables us to offer guidance and advice across the entire jobseeker journey, including areas such as help with drafting CV and cover letters or preparing for interviews. These features have only recently been rendered. At The Stepstone Group we have been fortunate to have talented and passionate teams who have been able to build products around these new technologies in just a few months.”

New AI Interviewer

One of the key features, as recently launched by the Stepstone Group, is an AI Interviewer. “Our AI Interviewer prototype provides advice and guidance to jobseekers by acting as an interview coach. The AI can generate relevant interview questions based on the job ad, provide feedback and help refine answers, allowing jobseekers to prepare for the unfamiliar situations often encountered in interviews at their own pace and with confidence.”

“AI will not replace recruiters, as the human touch they bring to the hiring process, including personal rapport, cultural fit, and other ‘soft’ factors, remains essential for successful recruiting.”

“This can be a very useful tool and ultimately a nice complement to what has traditionally been an entire industry consisting of books and other interview preparation materials. “However, AI will not replace recruiters, as the human touch they bring to the hiring process, including personal rapport, cultural fit, and other ‘soft’ factors, remains essential for successful recruiting.”

User feedback at the centre of everything 

While the usage of AI is becoming more prevalent, a survey by Pew Research Center has illustrated job seekers aren’t all that keen on having their futures decided by AI. They asked 11,000 Americans about their attitudes towards AI and the workplace, and a majority (66%) said they would not want to apply for a job where AI helps make hiring decisions.

For The Stepstone Group, the job seeker is always at the centre of any type of product build or innovation, Ciontu says. “Even when we leverage AI, the starting point is always the user’s pain point and, ultimately, the goals of the tasks they want to accomplish. Traditionally, these tasks have been fulfilled by products, based on more classical algorithms. The biggest opportunity for using AI is simply to make the experience in existing products much more fluid and natural.” 

“In other cases, we can use AI to enable greater and better-quality support from HR specialists. In a sense, AI is not replacing human interaction; rather, AI is replacing classic algorithms and augmenting human potential. Still, there is always a fine balance, so whenever we implement a new tool, the ultimate decision to go live or not is based on our user feedback.”

AI ethics: the onus is on suppliers 

For job seekers, it may just be another case of time that may heal any concerns about the way AI is being used by companies to screen and assess candidates. But along with potential benefits of new AI technologies, come fundamental questions in areas ranging from ethics to data protection and copyright. “Existing EU regulations touch on some of these aspects, and new ones are being developed that will hopefully provide a framework for the industry.”

“We have colleagues focused exclusively on data ethics and we are actively working to integrate solutions to detect and remove bias.”

“However, the field is moving very fast. Hardly a week goes by without some kind of significant innovation, so providers and users of the technology need to play their part. At The Stepstone Group, we have always seen it as part of our role to act responsibly and proactively to address these issues. We have colleagues focused exclusively on data ethics and we are actively working to integrate solutions to detect and remove bias, misinformation, harmful or toxic content.”

AI as a companion 

So what are some of the long-term AI targets for The Stepstone Group? “AI is nothing less than a revolution in the application and recruitment market. With ‘the great people shortage’ ahead, AI is being used to improve both job search and recruitment”, Ciontu says. “Ultimately, if I am a jobseeker, an online job platform like Stepstone should be my job search companion that knows me, brings me all the relevant job ads and simplifies everything. A companion that is always there for me and cares about my success.”

“While there is quite a bit of work to do to accomplish this vision, the progress in key technologies such as the ability to have conversations in natural language has already brought this future closer. We can imagine a similar type of scenario for hiring managers who will no longer have to spend time on tedious coordination. Finding or rescheduling appointments, but instead focusing on the areas where they bring most value.”

Continue reading

Marlene de Koning (PwC): ‘Talent Intelligence is all about making evidence-based decisions’

Within PwC, De Koning leads and expands the People Analytics & HR Employee Experience tech department. She will soon publish a book on the impact of technology on employee experience. Previously, she worked at both Microsoft and LinkedIn to bring digital transformation to the world of HR. De Koning is a keen follower of all developments happening within HR spheres, particularly the rise of Talent Intelligence. 

What is the difference between Talent Intelligence and People Analytics?

‘Talent Intelligence is all about combining internal and external recruitment, talent attraction and labour market data. What does your target group look like, is it a reflection of the general population? Maybe your audience is 20% male and 80% female in the labour market, how is that reflected in your organisation? Is this in line or do you want a more balanced workforce to reflect the market? These are the types of questions you can answer.’

‘Employees go through a cycle, from onboarding to offboarding and in each stage employees produce data points. With the analysis of this data, employers can continuously make data-driven decisions.’

‘People Analytics, on the other hand, refers to making decisions about people within your company based on the data and insights you have about them. Employees go through a cycle, from onboarding to offboarding and in each stage employees produce data points. With the analysis of this data, employers can continuously make data-driven decisions. This hard data enables organisations to gain insights in how to achieve a higher productivity and results in a better strategy and happier employees. Incidentally, these two concepts are sometimes interpreted differently or used interchangeably.’ 

You have been working on People Analytics for years. Why is it such an important topic for every company, large or small?

‘It is important to decide what you want to focus on as an organisation. The world of work is changing rapidly. The more insight you have on your workforce — for which data collection in my view is required — the better. This data allows organisations to implement policies strategically. It’s all about gaining strategic insights on your own organisation. That’s so important in making decisions.’

How can you make intelligent decisions within your organisation? 

‘Organisations need to identify what they are struggling with, is it a talent attraction or retention challenge. Do we have to attract different talent? What does the labour market look like? Is that reflected in our organisation? Sometimes oganisations run into demographic problems, or the departure of — too many — people from the company. Why do they leave, and what can be done to prevent it? Are you dealing with a lot of absenteeism? The more data organisations collect, the more interventions they can make.’

‘Organisations do realise that their employees are their human capital, but struggle to understand what they do and which actions allow employees to thrive. This is particularly true for knowledge workers. People Analytics can help unravel the mystery, no wonder People Analytics is one of the top trends we are seeing now and every study agrees in this being a top of mind for more and more companies. There is a prediction that says that by 2026, 30% of organisations will use forms of behavioural economics and AI/ML-driven (Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning) insights to nudge employees’ actions, leading to a 60% increase in desired outcomes.’

To what extent does AI affect your work, talent intelligence and people analytics?

‘The effect of AI is immediately seen in organisations for example on the skills of employees. When thinking about strategic workforce planning, you see that many companies plan for a short term. But with the arrival of AI, many jobs are changing and this effects your workforce. In 3 to 5 years, the world of work will look very different. Another example that effects our work is, Copilot, Microsoft’s new AI tool, that helps employees to be more productive in their daily work. This has a direct effect on talent and the organisation.’

How are you going to shape your workforce in 2 years with the use of technology?

‘At PwC’s Legal Business Solution, for example, we will be working with AI start-up called Harvey. It is a platform that is build on OpenAI and ChatGPT technology and uses natural language processing, machine learning and data analytics to automate and analyse massive volumes of legal data. All outputs are inspected and reviewed by PwC professionals. AI does not replace lawyers and is not used to provide legal advice. Further within the HR department the way we’ve always worked will change too, which you can respond to with AI and People Analytics.’  

Alison Ettridge calls Talent Intelligence a ‘bridge between strategy and execution with data’. What do you think is new about that approach to HR?

‘Well for me, it’s all about the infamous ‘you have to measure something to really know for sure’ (in Dutch we say: meten is weten). It’s about making evidence-based decisions. Personnel is one of the biggest costs of your organisation, which alone is important for the rest of your business strategy. You can use that strategy on all kinds of components. Increasing wellbeing, as I write in my upcoming book, often results in extra vacation days at many companies across the world.’

‘Personnel is one of the biggest costs of your organisation, which alone is important for the rest of your business strategy.’

‘That may sound really nice to some, but does it really have the desired effect? That’s something you need to measure. If your employee is on the verge of burnout do they then feel completely recharged due to extra 5 days of vacation or a massage, then you have solved the problem. Otherwise analysis can help in understanding how to provide different solutions or even prevent the problem.’

Could you give any more examples of what it has resulted in?

‘For example when our clients conduct a quarterly survey to gather insights about the engagement of their employees, different questions related to engagement, wellbeing and other HR topics are asked. As an employee you score the organisation and share how involved and/or stressed you are. These data insights help organisations understand if employees are stressed and what differentiating factors between those stressed employees and other groups of employees are.’

‘Another example: when gathering insights around wellbeing, questions that can be answered are: is it important that employees have a large network, or is more regular contact with the direct manager a significant differentiator in creating more engagement or wellbeing. Once the right factor is determined, HR can take the appropriate actions and measure the effect of these interventions.’

PwC is renowned for testing new technologies. Could you tell us about the wearable devices pilot?

‘Measuring wellbeing is super complex: different factors contribute to wellbeing; financial, mental and physical factors all contribute to an employees’ wellbeing. So, in 2019, a pilot group of PwC employees in the UK volunteered to wear devices connected to their work calendars. This way, the firm could receive anonymised data that linked, for example, stress levels to meeting sprawl. The pilot also revealed a clear difference between actual stress, which was measured from the heart-rate-variability feature on the wearable device, and perceived stress, which was tracked through a daily survey that asked participants how stressed they felt.’

‘So, in 2019, a pilot group of PwC employees in the UK volunteered to wear devices connected to their work calendars. This way, the firm could receive anonymised data that linked, for example, stress levels to meeting sprawl.’

‘Maybe technology will help organisations to make everyone work more efficiently, and that allows the company to implement a 6-hour workday. Or the company decides that this efficiency contributes to have the employees produce even more, in these 8 hours. The latter can cost the organisation more than the return if many people get burned out. In my opinion we have to take care of our employees and if technologies allow for more productivity, perhaps a 5-hour working day in six days would be better, for example for those employees who are caregivers.’

Finally, can you speak about your session during the Talent Intelligence Conference and your new book?

‘Historically, HR lags in implementing technologies compared to elsewhere in the company. In my book I call for more collaboration between HR and IT. HR historically is a people profession and focused on the human side of things and not the technical or data side. For example, recruiters like to interview people, to interact, not necessarily to analyse data. But if, for example, you have to solve a staff shortage, an organisation can decide that everyone needs to work harder and work more hours or can ensure that departments work more productively and efficiently with the skills that are present. Data technology can play a crucial role there. I don’t think everyone is aware of that, of the power of technology and data. I believe that HR and IT have to work together, it’s a team effort.’ 

Don’t miss PwC at the Talent Intelligence Conference

Meet and listen to Marlene de Koning at the first-ever edition of the Global Talent Intelligence Conference. On September 27-28, Intelligence Group will organise the Talent Intelligence Conference in collaboration with ToTalentStratigens, Werf& and the Talent Intelligence Collective. Book your tickets here.

 

Toby Culshaw (Amazon): ‘Talent Intelligence is single fastest growing area of HR’

“Talent Intelligence is the augmentation of internal and external people data with the application of technology, science, insights and intelligence relating to people, skills, jobs, functions, competitors, and geographies to drive business decisions”, says Toby Culshaw, the Head of Talent Intelligence at Amazon. “As a field, Talent Intelligence is still new, and largely ill-defined, due to the impact of Covid-19 and the associated increase in labour market volatility, Talent Intelligence is arguably the single fastest growing area of HR.” 

“Due to the impact of Covid-19 and the associated increase in labour market volatility, Talent Intelligence is arguably the single fastest growing area of HR.”

Book your tickets for the Global Talent Intelligence Conference

In September 2023, Toby Culshaw will headline the first-ever Global Talent Intelligence Conference. Book your tickets below to the inaugural event on September 27 and 28 in Amsterdam, Hoofddorp. 

‘Data is the key for any effective talent strategy’

Culshaw is the Head of Talent Intelligence at Worldwide Amazon Stores. Previously, he was Global Head of Talent Intelligence and Executive Recruitment Research at Netherlands-based technology group Philips. In 2017, Recruiter Magazine named Culshaw as one of the 11 Most Influential In-house Recruiters. In following years, he has consistently ranked every year from 2019 until 2022. He is also the founder of the Talent Intelligence Collective, a Talent Intelligence Mentor at Udder and a co-host of the Talent Intelligence Collective Podcast. Suffice to say: he knows what he’s talking about, but how has his role progressed?

“In the last decade we’ve seen an increasing maturity of the external labour market data vendors enabling a rapid expansion of internal talent intelligence capabilities with reduced barrier to entry.”

“Across the last two decades in sourcing, recruitment and executive search, I have always held data to be key for any effective talent strategy”, Culshaw says. “In the last decade we’ve seen an increasing maturity of the external labour market data vendors enabling a rapid expansion of internal talent intelligence capabilities with reduced barrier to entry.”

“This expansion has seen a rapid development of the internal customer groups seeing work move out beyond Talent Acquisition, into broader HR and the business. This has coincided with talent challenges becoming an increase business challenge, giving Talent Intelligence teams unmatched access to senior leaders throughout this time. I have been lucky to be able to help direct some of these teams and challenges through this time.”

The benefits of Talent Intelligence

At its core, talent intelligence is about using data and analytics to improve a number of different phases and elements of the talent acquisition process. “The world is facing an unparalleled skills and talent shortage; attracting, engaging and retaining talent has never been more vital”, Culshaw says. “Given this context having an integrated and strategic holistic Talent Intelligence strategy will be vital to give external labour market context for future sustainable growth for organisations.”

“Having an integrated and strategic holistic Talent Intelligence strategy will be vital to give external labour market context for future sustainable growth for organisations.”

While Culshaw can’t speak about specifics of Amazon or Philips user-cases, he sees five benefits standing out. “TA Applications: sourcing and intelligence, through name generation, talent mapping, pipelining and engagement. HR applications: in the form of workforce planning, cultural assessment, organisational design benchmarking, comp & bens benchmarking and cultural diversity. Then there’s Competitive Intelligence, for both talent and business. For the former, it’s about creating competitive hiring strategies and talent flows. For the latter: go-to-market and competitor strategy. Finally, for business applications, the benefits are location strategy, the go-to-market strategy, bid support and M&A intelligence.”

‘Start scrappy and messy’

For those seeking the benefits of Talent Intelligence, what advice would Culshaw have for organisations who still have to start from scratch? “Don’t be afraid of diving into things”, he says. “Start scrappy and messy, use the tools and resources available for you already both internally and externally. There are many support mechanisms available. Be it the Talent Intelligence Collective resources (podcasts, benchmarking surveys, articles, blogs, networking group or YouTube channel) or as a foundation it may be worth reading my book Talent Intelligence: Use Business and People Data to Drive Organisational Performance.”

Skills for Talent Intelligence leaders

So what are absolute musts for a Talent Intelligence leader in the 21st century in terms of their own skillset? “The most important skills for a Head of Talent Intelligence include advanced data analysis and interpretation, strategic thinking to align talent initiatives with business goals, and strong leadership abilities to manage teams effectively. Additionally, market intelligence, communication, and adaptability are essential to stay ahead in the ever-changing talent landscape.”

The impact of AI on Talent Intelligence 

While talent shortages persist, the most recent change has been led by Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based tooling, which has disrupted many industries throughout the world. Is there a future wherein AI and TI live happily ever after? “I think the applications of AI in TI are numerous”, Culshaw says. “Much like how the evolution in the vendor landscape was a catalyst for change I see this also being a catalyst to turbocharge Talent Intelligence teams.”

“AI can be a catalyst to turbocharge Talent Intelligence teams.”

“It will significantly impact TI by revolutionising data collection, analysis, and interpretation. Its ability to process vast amounts of data and identify intricate patterns will lead to more accurate talent insights, enabling organisations to make data-driven decisions without the need to invest in as many individuals headcount wise. We will see the role of the data translator and business consultant really increasing in value to navigate the broader organisation and embed TI across companies.”

Alison Ettridge (Stratigens): ‘You can use Talent Intelligence to predict your competitor’s next move’

Alison Ettridge is founder and CEO of Stratigens, a company based in Cardiff, known for its software application that provides strategic decision intelligence. Stratigens mission is ‘to help companies join the dots between the labour market and workplace so that they make decisions that are data-led, fast and cost effective’. Ettridge says that you can’t make good decisions without good data, and yet business leaders are forced to make decisions with little, or no, data at all.

Ettridge loves helping HR Directors take data and insight to the Board so they can make smarter decisions about where to grow, where to invest and the diversity of their business. She has spent twenty plus years in the world of people and talent – from her first job in executive recruitment, to sales at monster.com and then into the world of talent research and intelligence. Stratigens provides Talent Intelligence data and insights and she helps clients apply it. Together with Toby Culshaw (and others) she has a podcast: The Talent Intelligence Collective Podcast. During the Talent Intelligence Conference she will tell about her experiences in and views on Talent Intelligence.

 

 

Q: You describe your position at Stratigens as Chief Believer, and your CTO is called ‘head of making magic happen through tech’. Sounds like neohippies in tech. What do you mean by Chief Believer?

A: (Laughs) ‘I like that question! My job title is about getting people to believe in the art of the possible when it comes to all things talent and intelligence. That belief comes from me being an “evangelist”, an advocate on all of those things. So that makes me kind of chief believer. And the stuff we get done, is about “making magic happen”. The reason that kind of job descriptions spread through the business is because it highlights one of the big challenges in talent intelligence: data.’

‘Me being the Chief Believer started as a bit of a gimmick but in fact holds a message in how much we have to do to clean, categorise and make sense of the data before it is useful to our clients.’

‘Because the data we need is in thousands of places, it’s really messy, it’s really unstructured. And job titles provide a great example of how different people in different businesses call themselves different things. So how do you make sense of all those different job descriptions from a data perspective? Me being the Chief Believer started as a bit of a gimmick but in fact holds a message in how much we have to do to clean, categorise and make sense of the data before it is useful to our clients.’

Q: So how did you get involved with Talent Intelligence? 

A: ‘I’ve spent 26 years in the world of talent in some way, shape or form, always on the supplier side and always in businesses that were challenging thinking. I worked for monster.com when they were the first recruitment job site, for example. Nobody had ever put adverts online. 15 years ago, I  got into this consultancy world of talent intelligence and joined a business that was called Talent Intelligence. The team was made up of a guy whose background was talent and a guy whose background was military intelligence. And this combination of gathering and aggregating information from the external world and using it for either strategic or tactical purposes, is very interesting. Then I went on to be on the leadership team of three talent intelligence consultancies, doing qualitative research.’

‘I began to realise the absolute power of talent intelligence, but I was paying qualitative researchers to search online for data, right? And, and their power is qualitative research. So I just thought, well, there’s got to be a better way of getting the data. Another thing that really occurred to me was that all of the work that we were delivering to HR directors and Chief People Officers was always after a questionable decision had been made by their company. They were always getting a report in order to present to the board why they needed more money or how they were going to sort out  problems caused, in part, to the decision being made without insight into the labour market.’

‘At Stratigens we are passionate about preventing companies making business decisions without thinking about access to the skills they need to deliver on them.’

‘Then I said, I’m going to build a piece of software that can help organisations make faster, smarter, better workforce planning decisions. At Stratigens we are passionate about preventing companies making business decisions without thinking about access to the skills they need to deliver on them.’

‘Organisations are scared to refer to people as assets because people are individuals, but actually as a collective, they absolutely are an asset. Until companies start to treat their collective skills base as human capital, (whilst still treating individuals as individuals) then actually things won’t change. Companies do research on their clients, they do research on their markets, they do research on their competitors all the time, but don’t do research on the one thing that impacts most on their ability to deliver their business strategy. And that’s access to the skills that they need. We need to start thinking more commercially about all things people.’

Q: One of your hashtags on LinkedIn is “using labour markets and analytics to drive radically smarter workforce planning”. So what does that look like in real life? 

A: ‘It’s about using data to make smart decisions, typically about your workforce. Our clients use Stratigens in three, possibly four fundamental ways. First: making sure that they are optimising their location footprint. To make sure that they have access to the people that they need. And that might be physical, or it might be virtual: how do we optimise to make sure that we have access to the right people? And the only way you can do that is by understanding hotspots for talent. Supply is shrinking in Western Europe and the US generally and population demographics show this is not going to change so we must look for skills populations elsewhere. 

Second: what are the related skills to the roles a business needs and how can companies use that to inform their learning strategy. Which of the skills do we need to keep as an organisation, and which skills do we need to train as an organization? Then you get down to the individual and and their skills and decide how important is it that we train, develop, and retain them.

The third one – this one I’m really passionate about: our clients use our insight to benchmark the perceived diversity of the external labour market. But most organisations, if you ask them where their diversity targets have come from, it’s a finger in the air. You wouldn’t make any other business decision in that way. You’d use data to inform it. If you are hiring subsea engineers in the North Sea, there is no point in saying to a hiring manager, your team must be made up of 40% females, if the external labour market has only 10% of that labour market made up of females. These three cases are all fundamental to good workforce planning. 

‘You can use talent intelligence to look through the lens of your competitors to see what their next move is.’

The last use is the real power of talent intelligence. You can use talent intelligence to look through the lens of your competitors to see what their next move is. If your competitors suddenly start to hire a whole bunch of new skills, or they suddenly start to hire skills in a new location, then that is a leading indicator of what their next activity will be. For example: Apple hired a lot of individuals from Intel from their chip function six months before they terminated the contract with Intel, because they decided to build chips in-house. As you can see, data answers and informs so many different decisions.’

Q: In your keynote at the Talent Intelligence Conference you are going to combine what’s happening in the world right around us now, and look at how does that relate to TI. How do you combine TI with for example Brexit, or the war in Ukraine?

A: ‘Let’s first look at straight macro demographics and the impact these will have on the availability of skills. We don’t have enough people in the US and Western Europe to do the jobs that we need them to do. Even allowing for the fact that AI will take some of those jobs. Secondly, globalisation and digitalization mean  everybody is after the same skills. The third thing that will impact  is climate change. We are going to see movements of populations around the world as a result of climate change, and therefore understanding where those skills groups are, where those movements are going to be, is critical to an organisation.’

‘And then the fourth is the political challenge, whether that’s Brexit, which 100% impacted on people’s ability to hire and attract talent in the UK. Or whether it’s a change in government, like the possibility of a Sin Fein government in Ireland or a second Trump government in the US. Regardless of what your views are politically, you need to be able to plan  what that means for your business.’

‘Data Intelligence is at its most powerful when it looks at big movements, every 30, 60 or 90 days.’

‘Sometimes this can happen very fast. Like for instance the Ukraine War. Millions of refugees in Western Europe, including a lot of highly skilled people. Is Talent Intelligence able to react, almost live to that kind of very dramatic changes? Yes – qualitative and primary research can see this very quickly. Data Intelligence is at its most powerful when it looks at big movements, every 30, 60 or 90 days.’

Do you want to learn more about Talent Intelligence?

On September 27-28, Intelligence Group will organise the Talent Intelligence Conference in collaboration with ToTalentStratigens, Werf& and the Talent Intelligence Collective. The speakers of the event will include Toby Culshaw (founder of Talent Intelligence Collective and head of talent intelligence at Amazon), Alison Ettridge (CEO at Stratigens), and many others. The Talent Intelligence Conference spans two days and will be held at Headfirst Group in Hoofddorp, Amsterdam. Buy your ticket here.

Steven Ehrlich (Radancy): ‘Agencies that don’t digitise now are going to be in trouble’

On the outside looking in, it could be quite the mismatch: the smooth-talking Steven Ehrlich of employer branding and recruitment technology expert Radancy and the world of agency recruitment. However, when you dig a little deeper, the New Yorker is perhaps the best match for agencies that are so keen to digitise, but in practice still run into ‘ a number of cultural problems’. 

Recruitment is recruitment

“It doesn’t really matter which way you look at it, corporate or agency: recruitment is recruitment”, Ehrlich says. “It’s about fundamentally using the right tech, data and analytics. Organisations that do that directly ensure that you’ll fill your funnel with the right people. That is just as relevant for agencies as it is for corporates. I really don’t see any difference in that.”

“Any recruiting organisation that does not digitise will be in trouble.”

Ehrlich sees a need for all companies to digitise — but agencies in particular should not be left behind. “If the discussions are always about scarcity and the lack of candidates, I think it’s time you look in the mirror. You need to understand that, from the career site all the way to the CRM, you need data and analytics as the foundation of your recruitment strategy. Any recruiting organisation that does not focus on digitalisation now will eventually run into trouble.”

Untapped potential

That focus may not be quite there, as recently illustrated by Bullhorn research. Bullhorn report shows. Just 14% of respondents of the Recruitment Trends, Insights and Data Industry Report 2023 state that no digital transformation strategy is currently implemented. 50% say they are at an early stage of adoption, while 36% state they are ‘advanced’. Room for improvement, argues Bullhorn.

Especially in automation lies a great potential that currently remains untapped at most recruitment agencies. Sourcing and reporting (both 34%) appear to be the processes most automated at agencies in the Benelux. Screening and validation (33%) scores marginally less, while communication with candidate after the assignment (20%) lags a little behind.

Don’t lean on a 20-year-old strategy 

With a vast number of available technological options, Ehrlich argues it’s a challenge for agencies to keep up with all the latest trends and tech. “If you’re an agency recruiter, and you’re just filling vacancies as quickly as possible, without always realising who you’re working it for, then you’re really up against it. Then don’t lean on the practices of 20 years ago. You now have AI-powered platforms that can identify the right talent faster than we could ever do ourselves. If speed is the desire, then digitise now.”

“You now have AI-powered platforms that can identify the right talent faster than we have ever been able to do ourselves.”

As a cloud-based software provider, Radancy delivers technology with one primary goal. “To improve the entire candidate journey, while allowing recruiters to work more efficiently. For us, it’s all about enabling candidates to have a much better experience at a lower cost, while allowing companies to hire the most qualified talent.”

Don’t mess around with employer branding 

With Radancy, Ehrlich advises hundreds of companies every year with pressing employer branding issues. So should agencies also be able to advise on any employer branding issues? I think that’s ultimately up to employers to get their employer branding right. Unless that is really where the expertise lies, agencies should not mess around with defining employer brands or recruitment campaigns. But I do think they can learn something from strategies we deploy. After all, it’s all about the right form of communication, for the right person at the right time.”

“Unless that is really where the expertise lies, agencies should not mess around with defining employer brands or recruitment campaigns.”

Evolve or die

As Ehrlich packs his bags for the next recruitment-related conference, the keynote expert has one last bit of advice for agency recruiters. “You see companies are using agencies less to recruit people. They see that with certain tech solutions, they are perfectly able and capable of managing the whole process themselves. I think that is why it is important for agencies to take time to reflect: who do you want to be in this digital world?”

“Our tech is now being used by companies that would otherwise go to agencies.”

“Ultimately, we help organisations entice candidates with a smart dose of storytelling, referral campaigns and data-driven information. Which ultimately fills a talent pool, even with passive talent. What tech and digitalisation makes possible now, wasn’t even an option 20 years ago. Perhaps somewhat wryly, but our tech is now being used by companies that would otherwise go to agencies. As Darwin once said: evolve or die.”

Hette Mollema (Workday): ‘Companies need to invest in a solid foundation first, not in point solutions’

Throughout Hette Mollema’s eleven year stint with Workday, he’s seen his organisation grow rapidly. Mollema initially started his Workday career 11 years earlier, in 2011, as Workday’s first sales boots on the ground in Europe by heading up the Workday team for the Benelux. He then moved to the Alps, supporting the Swiss and Austrian team in their next wave of becoming mature Workday regions. Mollema spent six more months in Austria as the company’s managing director — before finally moving back to home soil as Vice President Benelux in February 2022.

“If you would have told me eleven years ago that we’d come to a point where we have 60 million employees within our solution, I don’t think I would have believed you”, Mollema says in an interview with ToTalent. “But I knew that our founding fathers had a real eye for cloud-based solutions — though they thought it would primarily be SME’s using the service. But as you saw the demand for cloud-based solutions grow rapidly, the 60 million suddenly became completely realistic.”

No use in crying over bad data

As European organisations became much more data-driven in recruitment, cloud-based solutions like Workday naturally became the go-to product. But according to Mollema, the reason for any success doesn’t just come down to the software. “We’ve always maintained a viewpoint that companies first need to invest in core data. In their foundation, and in data management. In less subtle terms: there’s absolutely no point in investing in machine learning or skills-clouds if your data is polluted.

“We’ve always maintained that you need to invest in a solid foundation first — not in so-called point solutions.

Mollema likens it to building a house. “You don’t start with a fancy kitchen and a dormer”, he said. “You need a solid foundation to build on, or nothing will work. And that’s where I believe we’ve generally been different in comparison to other companies in the HCM sphere. We’ve always maintained that you need to invest in a solid foundation first — not in so-called point solutions.

Emphasis on skills 

With Workday’s skills cloud, the company has successfully built a skills ontology that aims to cleanse, understand and relate job skills data. Skills cloud is built into Workday’s HCM and aims to leverage machine learning to help companies get a better grasp on what skills they truly need. “I think the transition to a skills-driven approach is somewhat of a common trend among our users”, Mollema added. “Whether it’s JustEat or Robeco, we see many of our customers currently investing in that type of tooling. Now I’m no Nostradamus, but in the future, I can see skills-driven labour markets becoming the norm.”

And on retention

Retention’s been another keyword for Mollema and Workday in recent months and years. Whether through the Great Shuffle, Resignation or the Quiet Quitting trends — some organisations are finding it tough to get a grip on what their employees are truly feeling. “It’s all directly linked to employee empowerment”, Mollema said. “Feeling at home within an organisation or a culture isn’t just about whether your salary is right, or getting along with the boss — it’s about a sense of belonging.”

To ensure that sense of belonging is at least talked about, Workday acquired Peakon in 2021. It enables intelligent listening for companies of any scale, by using machine learning to collect and analyse anonymous feedback from employees in real time. The platform lets organisations continuously collect employee feedback and, more importantly, provides a way to turn that feedback into dialog and action.”

“If you don’t view your own people as your number one core value, you can’t pretend your clients are.”

“We have a pretty strong vision on how we manage our own employees”, Mollema continued. “We quite often hear companies make bold statements about how they view customers as their number one core value — but I think that can’t be right. Because if you don’t view your own people as your number one core value, you can’t pretend your clients are. Because your people are the ones dealing with them. Within Workday, we’re very aware of the fact that we’re a tech company, and not HR advisors. But we do know that employees are our number one core value.”

Redefining the business case

Workday works as a subscription model, with businesses constantly having to redefine their business strategy — and Workday constantly having to produce some type of a business case as to why they should be the chosen software provider for any given company. “And I think that’s what makes my job fun”, Mollema said. “Because for us — it’s so useful to go back to a customer after three years and look at what their expectations were at the start, and what the tool has ended up doing for them.”

“The fun is in finding out how the tool helped increase retention numbers or how it filled skills.”

“It makes our benchmark more accurate, while it helps us redefining our own business case. And that isn’t just limited to numbers wherein we show that a generic task that used to take 30 minutes, now only takes eight. The fun is in finding out how the tool helped increase retention numbers or how it filled skills. It’s an integral part of the branche and being able to help organisations make those things tangible, so they can operate and act swiftly upon it — there’s a lot of fulfillment in that.”  

Read more:

Stephen McGrath (Candidate.ID): ‘Recruiters need to become spearfishers, not netfishers’

Candidate.ID is the world’s first marketing automation technology for talent acquisition. The company was founded in 2016 by Adam Gordon and Scot McRae and is based in Glasgow, Scotland. It automates repetitive candidate engagement tasks and allows talent professionals to personalise and manage multi-step candidate engagement workflows with customisable omni-channel campaigns where today’s candidates are living.

Building powerful talent pipelines

With Candidate.ID, recruiters can see in real-time which candidates are engaged, measure their intent, and focus on those who are the most engaged and the best fit for the role. “We’re enabling recruiters to build powerful talent pipelines”, says Stephen McGrath, Solutions Consultant at Candidate.ID. “All to build and nurture in-demand talent.”

You must identify where you’re getting them from, which assets and what content is required. Lastly, you need to make sure you nurture those pipelines.”

Where talent scarcity has become the bona fide number one subject, McGrath sees three things to focus on in creating a talent pool. “You have to identify your long-term company needs. Where are you going? Are you expanding? Are you re-locating? You must formulate a long-term plan. Then you must identify where you’re getting them from, which assets and what content is required. Lastly, you need to make sure you nurture those pipelines.”

From netfishing to spearfishing

 But let’s take a step back, as getting them into the process seems to be the hardest part of any recruiter’s job. According to McGrath, much of it comes down to a hire-ready mentality. “It takes continuous engagement, but that doesn’t happen nearly enough. Twenty-one years ago, we placed an advert, which the candidate saw. Then the recruiter pushed them through the process, and we defined that as hire-ready.

“The problem I see is that we could be nurturing the rest, even if they’re not ready or right for a job at that exact moment in time.”

Where McGrath sees it going wrong in recruitment could be related back to fishing. “So often we’re netfishing, where we throw out a cast net, select some fish, and simply throw some back into the sea, allowing them to swim away”, he says. “But the problem I see is that we could be nurturing the rest, even if they’re not ready or right for a job at that exact moment in time. We could be sending them monthly newsletters, industry insights and spearfish them. Keep engaging them and pull the trigger when they’re ready.”

‘You cannot afford to lose any candidates’

In a nutshell, that’s what McGrath and Candidate.ID look to solve. “In this current climate, you cannot afford to lose any candidates. But so often we look at short-term needs rather than 6, 12 or 18 months down the line. If you’re hiring five or ten different people for the same role, you need to be doing something new. You need to filter candidates on engagement and really build a picture of who they are.”

“When someone’s engaged with the content you’re putting out across several contact methods, the higher they score, and the more hire-ready that candidate is.”

So, how? “Track it all”, McGrath says. “Say you send out newsletters, is that person opening them? Or are they leaving them unopened? Are they watching a video all the way ’til the end, or do they not even click it? Do they respond to an invitation for networking event, or do they ignore everything coming their way? That’s how you judge whether someone’s engaged. And when someone’s engaged with the content you’re putting out across several contact methods, the higher they score, and the more hire-ready that candidate is.”

The future of scoring models

But according to McGrath, it may still take a while before scoring models, as developed by Candidate.ID, become the norm. “We’re the only company that does it in recruitment. However, in sales, it’s done all the time. Albeit in a different way and it’s all presented differently. But the adverts that you’re seeing because you’ve spoken about something, clicked something, or scanned a QR code at a bus stop. It took people a little while to figure out that it’s not accidental.”

“Initially we all got a freaked out and said: ‘Oh no, we’re being stalked’. But those first-party cookies are available to everyone. What we do slightly differently is providing a scoring model where we turn things into trackable links. So, I can take any webpage, run it through our system, and track it. That technology is readily available for anyone.”

“I guess the other difficulty is getting buy-in from a traditional industry that says: ‘we’ve always done it this way, we’ll always do it this way’.”

“We’ve been around for five years, and nobody has done it yet”, he says. “I don’t know. I guess the other difficulty is getting buy-in from a traditional industry that says: ‘we’ve always done it this way, we’ll always do it this way’. It’s our job to ensure that people understand that the safety concerns aren’t actually a hindrance but could help you control it.”

‘I wish we didn’t call it tracking’

Tracking could be the democratic choice as the world’s least-favourite word. “It does sound scary, and I wish we could use something else”, McGrath says. “Cookies are called cookies because it’s a nice word. That’s the sort of scenario you’re up against, where you have to make sure you don’t scare off anyone.”

“If we’ve always been doing it that way, why are we having events talking about doing things differently? Something needs to improve.”

But it may be something the recruitment industry may simply have to get over. “It’s a question of going up against an industry that has an establishment, right? One that says: we’ve always done it a certain way, and we’ll continue to do things that way. For me, it’s quite simple. If we’ve always been doing it that way, why are we having events talking about doing things differently? Something needs to improve.”

Integrating and embedding

Earlier in 2022, the news broke that Candidate.ID was to be acquired by enterprise recruiting platform provider iCIMS. “It’s all still early days, but really exciting”, McGrath says. “We have plans to integrate the best in class with Candidate.ID and with iCIMS. As far as product innovation goes, we’re talking our marketing automation skills and tracking and sourcing methods through into robust CRM features. Then we’re looking at certain great standalone iCIMS features and embedding them into Candidate.ID. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Read more:

 

 

Michel Franken (Sterling): ‘I think we’re reaching a turning point in employee screening’

Michel Franken’s first week at Sterling didn’t quite go according to plan. “I started on September 9th, 2019”, he told ToTalent in an interview. “The day before I was supposed to fly out to Sterling’s head-office in Swansea, I didn’t feel quite well. So I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with a kidney pelvic inflammation. He told me flying wasn’t such a great idea — but I wasn’t going to miss the first day on the job.”

Then Franken, accompanied by a healthy dose of painkillers, flew out. “I somehow survived the first day”, he continued. “But the next day, the pain just kept getting worse as my skin-colour quickly transformed into yellow. I tried to keep up a good appearance, but as the clock struck 11AM, tears ensued. I then booked a last-minute flight to Eindhoven, where I somehow convinced border control that I was fit to fly. A few hours later, I was at the hospital. It appeared not to be a kidney pelvic inflammation but gallbladder stones that were causing the inconvenience. A month later I was operated. My colleagues still regularly call me a die-hard for coming over in the first place.”

First man on the ground

After that shaky start, Franken then got to work as the first man on the ground in the Netherlands for Sterling, a company that has built its foundation on 45+ years of experience in background checks for employment, employment screening and education verification. “With about 5000 employees in total, it is a big organisation to be a part of, but the levels of communication are outstanding.”

We want to build the foundation so that clients can get the very best out of their employees.”

“Sterling’s mission is very much no-nonsense in the fact that we simply want to put people first”, he continued. “That’s why we wake up every morning. We want to make sure that our clients’ people feel are safe. And when everyone feels safe, then great things can happen. We want to build the foundation so that clients can get the very best out of their employees.”

“For every country, we have a tailor-made fact sheet wherein we depict what can and cannot be screened.”

Sterling is, in every sense of the word, a worldwide organisation. Operating in nearly 200 countries, it has excelled at adapting to the ever-changing world of screening regulations. “We’re constantly monitoring what happens around the world”, Franken said. “For every country, we have a tailor-made fact sheet wherein we depict what can and cannot be screened. Every country has its own set of regulations, which can make it a real challenge.”

Not enough screening in Europe… yet

For Europe, employee screening still isn’t quite the norm. Sterling research among Dutch HR professionals illustrated that only 63% of candidates for full-time positions are screened, while the part-time percentage lies at a mere 37%. Franken: “Those percentages are gradually growing, but some are still slowly coming to terms with the notion that they can’t do it themselves. If you don’t have access to the right data, it could take you a long time to verify a candidates CV.”

As soon as applications start trickling in, Sterling’s work begins. “We really look at it as a partnership with a client. The first thing we do is reach some type of consensus over the way we’ll screen: which jobs require screenings, and to which degree? We then look at whether the screening is allowed — because you can’t screen everyone if you don’t have legitimate access to the right information.”

“I’d say about 75% of applicants would add in a little white lie to their CV.”

After receiving the candidate’s consent, the filtering starts. Whether they’re white lies such as a rounded-up number of years work experience or a degree that wasn’t quite attained, Sterling’s checks will filter out any inconsistencies. “I’d say about 75% of applicants would add in a little white lie to their CV. Particularly in modern-day hybrid or remote arrangements, you want to check that person’s integrity. That then frees up a bunch of time for your HR department.”

Screening 23,000 for the NHS

As the United Kingdom started its long-awaited vaccine roll-out, it came paired with another challenge: there wasn’t nearly enough staff to deliver jabs. “It is mandatory for someone to be screened when he or she delivers vaccines”, Franken said. “So, we were tasked with the incredible challenge of screening approximately 23,000 candidates in a matter of months, to ensure that the vaccine roll-out could move ahead as planned. That’s something we’re immensely proud of.”

‘We’re reaching a turning point’

Franken foresees screening steadily becoming an integral part of talent acquisition strategies. “I think we’re reaching a turning point”, he said. “Where organisations will see that they’re missing out on talent from their competitors who are screening. To get an inflow of quality candidates, you’ll need to screen — because having that as part of your job market communication will scare off candidates you don’t want in the first place.”

“Even if you’re struggling to fill enough jobs, you want to make sure that those who you do hire, end up being the right people for the job.”

“You’ll always get people who will pimp their CV’s and aim to take advantage of a tight labour market. But even if you’re struggling to fill enough jobs, you want to make sure that those who you do hire, end up being the right people for the job. We all know the cost of a bad hire, that’s something you want to avoid. Even if you just add a line in your job advertisement to say pre-employment screening is part of the hiring process — that will absolutely get you less, but much better applicants. It’ll work even better if you actually do screen.”