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Nick Marsh of Makeshift recently introduced the term Talent Hacking.  His contention was that hiring was broken and there existed a movement towards a new way of thinking.  How did it come to this?  Why is it that the world of recruitment can be called out as broken with no argument to the contrary?

Long ago in the mists of time and still the case at some less progressive organisations, recruitment was owned by HR.  From behind the dull-warmth of privacy screens and bloated software that referred to people as resources, recruiters began to stir.

Often regarded as the "noisy ones" on the HR floor, recruiters slowly began to emerge and be recognised as having a legitimate skill set.  A skill set that was distinct from their agency counterparts and yet not in keeping with the silo'ed silence of HR departments.   Moreover it was a skill set that was distinct from those of the HR generalists.  Over time the recruiters in more progressive organisations moved further away, diversified further and were allocated distinct budgets.  The dual pressures of speed from the business and for frugality from the finance department meant that in-house recruiters had to adapt the way they worked and began to become introspective - there wasn't just one skill of recruitment but many.

The role of a recruiter has been split in many organisations and so to reflect this and also to highlight there particular skills there are now many different job titles in use - from Sourcer, Headhunter, through Talent Acquisition Specialist, the Orwellian sounding Staffing Officer to Talent Scout there seems to be a new way to describe yourself each day.  So is "Talent Hacker" doomed to become the next in a long list of buzzword-like titles?

I hope not.

Hopefully we can avoid the pitfalls of buzzwordism if we make a clear distinction as to what a "Talent Hacker" actually is.  Firstly, I don't believe it's a job title at all.  Talent Hacking is a methodology.  At best it's a philosophical stance taken by a recruiter to adapt and experiment and at worst it's the sharing and usage of a number of disparate tools to expedite hiring.

In Nick's original article I was quoted as saying that “Hiring is still waterfall in an agile world”.  What I meant by that is that a "traditional" hiring process is slavish in adherence to accepted dogma. A job description is produced, it's disseminated through advertising channels, resultant applications are pushed through a pre-defined process and those lucky enough to have impressed will be hired.  In this process, there is no feedback, no learning and no space for creativity...worst of all there is no scope to delight the candidates.

With the Agile/Waterfall divide in mind, I propose that the Talent Hacking outlook can be formalised by borrowing (stealing) from the Agile Manifesto.  The Agile Manifesto is a statement of values for software developers, reinforcing those elements that are of greater value when developing software.  Similarly we can list those things that we feel are important when hiring, like this...

While there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.


Hires over Processes
 
Too often in large recruiting organisations the pressure to maintain robust process and measure the performance of recruiters in the organisation means that we lose sight of the reason we're all there in the first place.  Measuring and rewarding things like number of candidates contacted or the number of contacts who made it to second stage is good practice but if the team isn't hiring it's all just "busy work".  A robust and fair (free of bias) process is important. Processes are ways of doing things that are more efficient - they must make a workload easier to complete or faster, you can think of them as collections of efficiencies.  If they do not add benefit they are no longer of value.  A lot of larger organisations hang on to process as though it was a life raft in a rising ocean of change, once the process is no longer effective (which you should periodically test for) abandon it and find a new more effective process.  A point here on "Best practices", to paraphrase Mary Poppendieck, author of "Lean Software Development" - Best practices are solutions to other people's problems that you may not have.  So much of the processes of recruitment are done simply because "it's how we did it at x company" or worse still "it's how I've read x company do it".  Process is great to ensure a level playing field and to expedite the flow of a candidate towards being hired - if it isn't doing either of these things it should be questioned and if found to be lacking changed.
 
Data over Anecdotal Evidence
 
The Talent Hacking approach loves data.   Sourcing, screening and shepherding a candidate towards being hired calls for a lot of decision making.  Decisions are better when supported by data.  Even if you cringe or break out in hives whenever someone says "Big Data" there is little doubt that the digital exhaust trails that people now leave behind them have made them easier to find.  Ask a tame recruiter you know if they can find your email address, I'll bet they can and it won't be from anywhere you remember writing it... Data supports a hiring plan, salary benchmarking, advertising response rates, recruiter performance, process improvement - it's all around us as recruiters.  Building a living breathing data set from which you can answer the future unknown questions will be one of the best investments for success as a recruiter.  Even better, a recruiter's standing in the business can be improved from the simple provision of the raw data.  The Talent Hacker will go further and provide insight to hiring managers - affecting change and having a direct effect on the success of the business.  It is the data that will enable the wider business, as consumers of the recruitment service, to answer the all important "Why?".  Why do we value this more than our own anecdotal evidence?  Anecdotal evidence is only ever the outcome of a single case, often it informs a bias or shapes action in a way that may have been right in a prior instance but not for the current one.  A Talent Hacker loves to hear the anecdotes of others because in unpacking them you can ask those questions that reveal what is "true" to an individual. They do have value, but I'll take the data.
 
Candidate experience over Corporate Responsibility
 
Beyond external marketing and websites, a recruiter is often the first human interaction anyone has with a company.  When they are doing their job well they are exemplars for the brand - impassioned spokespeople it's their enthusiasm that will bleed through in both their communication and deeds. So many recruiters at large organisations are a product of their environment they hide behind turrets built from template emails, missed phone calls and a fear of feedback.  An in-house recruiter walks a tightrope between advocating for the candidate and for the company at the same time, straying too far in one of these directions will not be beneficial.  A Talent Hacker takes a third position.  We must be aware that the talent war is over and that talent won.  Too many recruiters want to take an aloof position leaning towards the institutional arrogance that permeates some companies - "we don't have to provide feedback", "you're only worth a bland template email", "we have hundreds of candidates".  I'm sure this was a perfectly reasonable stance to take...until it wasn't.  You only have to look at Glassdoor.com to see reviews of interview processes that call out companies for their broken internal communication, ignorant recruiters and interminable, arduous processes.  For the Talent Hacker reading Glassdoor reviews is like a family owned restaurant being reviewed on TripAdvisor, scary as hell and a potential powder keg.  A recruitment process should feel like a personal service, the realisation that organisations are no longer all powerful and that bad reviews will stop people from applying hasn't fully permeated a lot of companies.  As humans we love to share, and embellish, a juicy story of bad service and this penchant for negativity can be mitigated by a recruiter doing their job well.  Recruiters should protect their employers they do have a duty to them, but if it comes at the neglect of hundreds of individuals whose only crime is to have applied for a job then it might be wiser to limit the damage and stop recruiting altogether.  
Responding to change over Following a plan
 
In life there are always events that are outside of our control.  As a recruiter we are often either privy to insider information or at the mercy circumstances outside of our control.  From hiring freezes, through acqui-hires to redundancies there are many business events that impact a recruiter.  The Talent Hacker must be aware of this and work hard to ensure that all parties, hiring managers, team, wider business and candidates are given the information where appropriate.  Working at the coal-face of recruitment often turns up interesting information that could be of great use to other areas of the business, if you don't forge these feedback loops you are effectively losing out.  It can be simple things like competitor hiring strategy or market rates rising in demand for a particular skill, however it can also be large and impactful learnings that should be used to adapt and change strategy - mass redundancies at a competitor, a new product launch or even rumours of mergers and acquisitions, candidates reveal a lot of information that could be useful - not listening to this let alone not reacting to it is missing out.  Change can be a valuable tool and resistance stemming from traditional models of yearly planning can only leave an organisation exposed to risk.  A company I once worked for lost 32 senior developers within three months - did they stick to a static hiring plan?  Of course not! ...but the changes shouldn't have to be that drastic to trigger a period of re-evaluation.  The Talent Hacker doesn't seek to control but instead knows that change will happen, they are not wedded to alternate contingencies but rely on experiences to suggest different paths to follow if the need occurs.
 
I like the appreciation of a new wave of recruitment thinking.  There have been pockets of genius in the underbelly of the people hunting game that have been hidden for too long.  From the boolean greats who sift through data to find that one unknown diamond of a candidate to the recruiters who do so much more than their remit, trusted advisors to candidates, hiring, housing and relocating their candidate's families and pets as they go.  Perhaps the Talent Hacker flag is one we can all unite under,   recruiters and candidates might be all the better off for it.

This manifesto is by no means an exhaustive list of what is to be a Talent Hacker and I welcome input to clarify the definition further.  By offering a definition we can at least trigger the debate and hopefully give the label more meaning.

Views: 144

Tags: Corporate Recruiting

Comment by Matt Charney on July 16, 2014 at 12:36pm

Matt: Awesome post. It's pretty obvious that the war for talent is being waged in cyberspace (that sounds like a Van Damme movie tagline) and that hacking is a critical competency for winning the recruiting battle. I also agree that recruiting and procurement are becoming increasingly interconnected, and therefore, Lean and Agile methodologies only make sense to adopt as a proven best practice as part of the process by which we look at human capital supply chains. Great read, and appreciate your sharing.

Comment by Tim Spagnola on Thursday

Awesome post Matt!!!

Perhaps the Talent Hacker flag is one we can all unite under,   recruiters and candidates might be all the better off for it.

You raise solid points as to why this is a direction we should all be pushing towards.

I appreciate you sharing this on the RBC.

@Matt C - nice Van Damme mention

Comment by Keith Halperin on Thursday

Thanks, Matt B. This looks very much like what I put out about 18 months ago:

http://www.ere.net/2013/02/04/the-agile-recruiting-manifesto/

Manifesto for Agile Recruiting

We are uncovering better ways of hiring people by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Quick, quality hires over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Principles behind the Agile Recruiting Manifesto

We follow these principles:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of quality hires.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  • Deliver quality hires frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  • Internal customers and recruiters must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals.
  • Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a recruiting team is face-to-face conversation.
  • A quality hire which is on time and within budget is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable employee development.
  • The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to professional excellence and first-class service enhances agility.
  • Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.
  • The best requirements, processes, and hires emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

I think it’s a pretty good statement of what we recruiters should strive for. What do you think about this? Does it reflect what you believe and want to strive for? Do these principles seem practical and achievable, or do the cold hard realities of corporate recruiting “bloatocracies” dominated by the “GAFI” Principles of Greed, Arrogance, Fear, and Ignorance/Incompetence prevent anything like this from being done?

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