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Ep 392: Leveraging Recruiting Technology

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Talent Acquisition is having to evolve at speeds we have never seen before, and recruiting technology is playing a central role in enabling this transformation. However, the recruiting technology ecosystem has never been more complicated and confusing. Building an effective tech stack can be challenging.

My guest this week has a considerable amount of advice to share on the best ways to leverage recruiting technology in the dynamic environment employers are currently operating in. Ryan Dull is the Founder and CEO of Sagemark HR and an expert in pairing best fit technology, innovative process and industry best practices.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Talent Acquisition challenges

• Technology adoption

• Building Tech Stacks to improve efficiency and increase conversion

• How much of recruiting will be automated

• How do TA leaders make sense of the market?

• Stakeholder buy-in and support

• The impact of vendor acquisition and investment on customers

• Broader technology trends to keep an eye on for the future

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcription:

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Matt Alder (1m 5s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to episode 392 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. talent acquisition is having to evolve at speeds we’ve never seen before and recruiting technology is playing a central role in enabling this transformation. However, the recruiting technology ecosystem has never been more complicated and confusing. Building an effective tech stack can be a real challenge. My guest this week has a huge amount of advice to share on the best ways to leverage recruiting technology in the dynamic environment employers are currently operating in. Ryan Dull is the Founder and CEO of Sagemark HR and is an expert in technology, process, and best practice.

Matt Alder (1m 53s):
Hi Ryan, and welcome to the podcast.

Ryan Dull (1m 55s):
Thanks, Matt. Great to be here. Excited about our conversation.

Matt Alder (1m 58s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Ryan Dull (2m 4s):
Sure. Absolutely. My name is Ryan Dull. I am the Founder and CEO of Sagemark HR. I’m a 26-year talent acquisition veteran. What we do at Sagemark HR is we help make selecting talent acquisition technology solutions easy for TA leaders.

Matt Alder (2m 23s):
Now, there are so many things that I want to talk to you about on that particular topic because it’s one of my favorite topics to talk about on the podcast. Before we do though, let’s just delve into your backstory a little bit deeper. Tell us how you came to do what you do and why you do it.

Ryan Dull (2m 39s):
Yes, absolutely, Matt. As I mentioned, I’ve been in and around talent acquisition my entire professional career, 26 years. The first bulk of that, I’ll call it around 18 years was all in corporate recruiting, working for organizations to help them, in most cases, build and optimize their talent acquisition practices. The later part of my year, as I was an executive over talent acquisition, I helped three or four organizations transform or create their talent acquisition organization. In that process, as I was going through that with my teams and with other leaders and we built a strategy, I always loved technology.

Ryan Dull (3m 22s):
That was in the early to mid 2000s where I’m recruiting technology was really starting to emerge and build its capability. It was really exciting. There was more than just an ATS to look at. In our processes, we’re building the strategy, my teams and I were frustrated and confused by the solutions that were out there. We had challenges trying to identify the right tools for our specific needs. Through that process, I had made a few mistakes early and then vowed I’m going to figure out a way not to make mistakes. I came up with a system or a process to help ensure getting that correct every time, perfected that within my own teams, and then started working with some of my friends who were sharing that issue of being confused by all of the technology that’s out there, trying to figure out what was right for them, and RFPs not working great and being disappointed after they bought it.

Ryan Dull (4m 28s):
Out of that, Sagemark HR was born. I did it by accident, but it was solving a problem that I needed. That was eight years ago now. Since then, we’ve worked with over 200 different organizations and TA leaders to help them identify what their needs are, prioritize those needs, and identify the best-fit technology solutions from the ecosystem that match those needs.

Matt Alder (4m 56s):
Recording this towards the middle of November 2021, we’re coming up to the end of what has been another just unprecedented year in terms of everything that has been going on. Obviously, a lot of the employers that I’ve had on the podcast have some real challenges that they’re having to deal with. I’m sure that that’s the case with the employers that you’re working with and talking to. Out of everything that’s going on, what are the challenges that you’re seeing the most in the market at the moment?

Ryan Dull (5m 29s):
To start with, definitely, the most challenging talent market I’ve seen in my lifetime, probably your lifetime as well. That is unanimous amongst everyone that I talk with. I usually work with organizations that probably do at least a thousand hires a year, but I have several clients that do in excess of a hundred thousand hires a year, so a little bit higher volume recruiting. The challenges are many right now. I think from a market perspective, you have a reduced number of individuals available for the roles.

Ryan Dull (6m 10s):
I think you have on the corporate side, usually, a higher number of roles open so you have a supply and demand issue there. I think there is a challenge around the number of positions that are open and the scale and capability of internal delivery models. Most of the organizations I talk with are having their recruiters running a desk that, maybe historically, had 20 to 30 requisitions that they were working on. Now, it’s 50 to 70. In some cases, over a hundred. A lot of issues around how they scale their delivery model to meet those demands.

Ryan Dull (6m 54s):
It, definitely, is a more difficult and constrained environment for the available talent. Then on top of all of that, you have the great resignation and lots of turnovers, as well as a market that has seen the highest demand ever for recruiting resources. The people actually doing the work are being targeted, are turning over at higher rates than we’ve ever seen, and being compensated at greater compensation levels than we’ve ever seen, not to mention DE&I initiatives and a whole host of other things so this is definitely the most challenging market we’ve ever experienced.

Matt Alder (7m 39s):
Absolutely. There is a lot going on. That would be an understatement to say that. Obviously, we could talk about all of these things, but I just wanted to pick up on something that you said there about scaling and recruiters having to do more at speed against the background of a very challenging market. One of the things that really stood out for me this year is that we seem to be seeing this genuine evolution in the way that recruiting is done based on some of the technologies that are now available. Whereas some things may have been discussed in theory for a number of years, I’ve certainly had lots of people coming on the podcast and talking about how they’re reinventing the way that they do recruiting using the various technologies that are available and that are evolving very quickly.

Matt Alder (8m 23s):
What are the tech trends from this year that really stand out for you? What have you looked at and thought that is the future, that is where we are going?

Ryan Dull (8m 35s):
Absolutely, I think one thing that has happened that is a positive out of the last 18 months of challenges is it’s really been a catalyst for the evolution of TA delivery models and the adoption of technology. I think it has really accelerated that and I think for the positive as well. I have a saying around technology that I talk with leaders around and I was saying, “You’re never really going to be free to be strategic in your organization until you get your tech stack right. The reason I say that is by not having the right technology in place, you’re constantly going to be reacting.

Ryan Dull (9m 23s):
You’ve got variability. You’ve got all sorts of issues that are going to be dragging you down into tactical issues. Once your tech stack is right and you get a repeatable, reliable, efficient process that is enabled by your tech, that can really help you.” I think the trends that I’m seeing that I’m really excited about are I think there are and have been a lot of AI solutions that help to automate some of the tasks on the front end and through the process. What I’m most excited about are the types of solutions or designing an integrated stack of solutions that help to remove friction in the process for the stakeholders, improve the experience for all involved, and really free up the resources on the recruiting side to do their highest-value activities.

Ryan Dull (10m 25s):
An example of this would be maybe a solution that you could put in if your recruiting teams are still manually scheduling, doing some first-level screens, or collecting information from candidates that are important but fairly tactical routine tasks. There are a lot of excellent solutions that can do that on a real-time, automated basis that can really provide efficiency scale and improved experience for the candidates. nd so I would say that’s an example of one of the trends, but overall, just how people are building out their tech stacks to remove friction, increase efficiency, increase conversion at each step in the process, which is really what this is all about.

Matt Alder (11m 12s):
That’s so interesting. I want to come back and talk a little bit more about tech stacks and strategy in a second. Before we do though, I just want to pick up on that point about automation because that’s come across overwhelmingly in the last few months that the companies are automating more of their recruiting. They’re using AI. They’re removing that friction. In many cases, increasing the quality of the candidate experience. We’ve been debating automation in recruitment for a really long time. Where do you think it’s going to end up? How much of recruiting is going to be automated in the medium to long term?

Ryan Dull (11m 54s):
Yes, I guess that’s hard to answer for me. I think it will continue to grow in its importance and its adoption in the organization. I’m a big believer in every situation is unique. I try hard not to generalize around solutions or things like that. I would say, in different areas, so depending on the roles that you’re hiring for, the target candidates that you’re trying to get, and what’s really important so what value did you need to add through the process?

Ryan Dull (12m 34s):
I think there will be organizations that will succeed who will really seek to understand that, define that, and then almost have different degrees of automation in their process depending on the type of roles and where it makes sense. For example, if you’re hiring at 10,000 frontline hourly workers versus a thousand application developers, the role could be very different in not only how you would use it, but the expectation of that candidate.

Ryan Dull (13m 17s):
The right way, I think, to think about it is to be more prescriptive and focused in general and trying to build a stack with solutions that you do have that capability to make it different. Does that answer the question for you?

Matt Alder (13m 37s):
Yes, absolutely. I think it leads very nicely onto the next thing that I wanted to cover, which is about building a tech stack. I think that with a huge amount of investment that is being put into HR and recruiting technology at the moment, we’re just seeing almost an endless array of fascinating solutions that seem like they might be really useful and deliver value. I know that if you’re a TA leader, you’re just looking out at the market in this sense of bewilderment in terms of the choice is overwhelming. What should I buy and how should I go about doing that? How do you advise the employers that you deal with in terms of just moving forward with just so much choice out there?

Ryan Dull (14m 22s):
Yes, that’s a great question and in essence, that’s the reason my business exists. My value proposition was born out of my own problem eight years ago and the market has exploded since then. It has become just even more increasingly complicated now. Always what I advise the people that I interact with, whether I’m having conversations or it’s an actual engagement, is just to be very careful. Mistakes are expensive. Mistakes are costly. This is not an easy ecosystem to navigate and understand. Organizations, I think at the first part, you need to start with a strategy and you need to start with clearly understanding what your needs are, how to prioritize those needs, what type of requirements you have for solutions, what level of partnership you need from the solutions.

Ryan Dull (15m 19s):
There’s a whole host of things that you need to decide before going out and trying to identify the right solution for your needs. I will tell you what doesn’t really work is the basics like “I think I need something,” or “Somebody told me about something cool so I’ll just buy that,” or “I think I need something, I’ll Google search who does this stuff, and then I’ll put them into a procurement run RFP and that will all work out good though.” Those are pretty much both recipes for failure. I would say you need to be very strategic. You need to be very thoughtful. You need to clearly understand your needs, define your requirements, understand what the ROI is that you can expect for this, and what the experience you’re looking for working with a partner.

Ryan Dull (16m 7s):
I advise people around that, and also just be careful and talk to experts. I don’t say that to be self-serving. I say that because I’ve seen so many mistakes with people trying to navigate the complex ecosystem and clearly understand capabilities of solution providers and what they really need on their own, they have an intern, they have like procurement, or IT run with it. It almost always ends up where they’re disappointed out the back end. There is definitely a methodology and a strategic way to go about this to ensure your success. Leverage experts, leverage peers.

Ryan Dull (16m 48s):
Get as much information as you can and really try to seek to understand what it is that you’re looking for and what the capabilities really are in the ecosystem to build your tech stack.

Matt Alder (17m 11s):
You mentioned procurement and IT there. Obviously, one of the huge issues for many people who are listening are managing internally round choices within technology. Lots of people might be pushed in a certain direction because they’re using a particular HR system, they using it as a suite of products and they’re being shoehorned into the recruitment aspect of that, or people have to make very strong business cases internally to invest in certain aspects of recruiting technology. What advice do you give to people in terms of getting that stakeholder buy-in across complicated organizations when it comes to building out recruiting tech stack?

Ryan Dull (17m 57s):
Yes, Matt. That’s a really important question and really important to the industry. I would say that, first and foremost, the talent acquisition leaders have to lead this and have to be the point person that is leading this because they understand their delivery model. They understand clearly the needs of the candidates. They understand and have the vision for the experience they’re trying to create and so they have to lead and they cannot step out of the way to let a typical RFP or procurement-driven process happen. What I would say is that the first part is some education is that the talent acquisition and recruiting space has quickly evolved from what is typical and maybe some other functions, whereas more of a system play where you get a big, large system in place that can do most things.

Ryan Dull (18m 58s):
Then you can have success if you select the best overall system for your needs. That doesn’t work anymore really in this space. It’s as much more of an ecosystem play where you need to be able to quickly and efficiently integrate the best solutions for your specific needs and experience that you’re designing for the moment into that, whether it’s a base system or a standalone, whatever it is there. I think there needs to be some education around where the industry is going and about the ecosystem. It’s about talent acquisition, whoever’s responsible on TA, leading that process, educating those stakeholders, partnering with them through the process, understanding what the needs of procurement are, what the needs of it are, what the needs of the legal team and other compliance folks, and really trying to orchestrate that through the process.

Ryan Dull (19m 59s):
You can’t let it go. Also, I would just say that traditional RFPs rarely work in this space because it tries to commoditize all of these solutions and maybe drive some price down, but in reality, all of these solutions that exist in the marketplace, even in the same niche area of focus have very different capability, very different experiences, partnering with them and those things. It’s oftentimes really difficult for traditional procurement processes or RFP processes to discern that, understand, and make the right decision if you don’t have that experience buying these exact things.

Ryan Dull (20m 40s):
I guess in the recent past, even buying it three years ago doesn’t really help you anymore right now, because it’s evolving so quickly.

Matt Alder (20m 54s):
We’ve talked about just this rapid adoption and evolution in the technology and recruiting process that’s been going on in the last few months. That might make this a very difficult question to answer, but I’m going to ask it anyway. What surprised you most in terms of recruiting technology in the last couple of years?

Ryan Dull (21m 17s):
I think what has surprised me most, I’m going to answer this in two ways. One, less about technology. I think I was really surprised by what happened in the recruiter space around the demand for recruiters. For the first time ever, recruiting resources being more in demand than computer engineers, computer programmers, application developers, and those types of things that I didn’t think that was going to happen. That surprised me. What that does and how I bring that back is that reinforces the need for your tech stack and the technology in place to be able to create that scale and efficiency and allow the recruiting resources you do have to operate as efficiently and strategically as possible.

Ryan Dull (22m 11s):
What surprised me, I think, in the tech space on the other side with all of the solutions is the, I guess, explosion of investment in M&A activity over the course of the last 18 months. Not just that it’s happening, but how much that can impact what it’s like to work with these different solution providers. I think there’s a surprising trend that’s happening that I see on the experience partnering with solutions, depending on how much and who they get their investment from, as well as acquisitions in the space where once a solution that was great two years ago is acquired and brought into a larger player that may have a different vision and thing, and how much the capability of that solution and experience working with them can change very rapidly.

Ryan Dull (23m 18s):
That’s surprising and that’s something that I try to educate and work with my clients a lot on to help them understand some of that in the marketplace and how that needs to come into their decision-making around what solutions work best for them and what they really need from those solution providers.

Matt Alder (23m 42s):
Absolutely, that’s a great point. It is. It’s another complicating factor when it comes to choosing technology. What’s going to happen? Are you going to get the level of service that you’ve been expecting? Things could get a lot worse, but I suppose things could also get a lot better, couldn’t they?

Ryan Dull (23m 57s):
Yes, they absolutely can. It’s not always for the negative. It’s just something, to your point, that you have to be aware of. Very rarely do I see that type of or that level of investigation, discussion, or due diligence happening through the selection process in technology around. Did you get a series B investment, C, or D? Where are you in your evolution? Who are the investors and what are their goals? How does that align or conflict with the previous goals that you’ve had? If somebody has purchased you, what has changed in the vision?

Ryan Dull (24m 42s):
What is it like to work with you and partner with you? What does your pipeline look like? All those types of questions make a difference because there are many great solutions out there, but they don’t always match with exactly what your needs are, and also, the level of service and what it’s like to partner with them is very different in this space.

Matt Alder (25m 9s):
We’re obviously talking about the technology trends and the reality of recruiting right now in 2021. As we both know, technology never stands still in the same way that recruiting technology has been evolving at a huge pace in the last 12 months. Generally, technology has as well. Obviously, there are a number of trends probably currently sitting outside of recruiting that are going to affect the way that we look at things over the next few years, whether that’s the metaverse, what’s going on with blockchain, or lots of other things that are happening. What are the broader tech trends that you’re keeping an eye on? What do you think is going to come in and affect the industry moving forward?

Ryan Dull (25m 54s):
Ye, I think the two you mentioned, definitely the metaverse as well as blockchain will enter into this space I would see. The other trend that I’m seeing is an evolution away from a traditional applicant tracking system and organizations trying to either build their tech stack or find other ways to take the experience for both the recruiters, the candidates, and probably the hiring managers as well, outside of a traditional ATS in order to remove friction, make it easier to do that.

Ryan Dull (26m 35s):
I think that’s a trend that I’m watching closely. It’s interesting too I think the other trend. A quote that I love from Abraham Lincoln was, “The best way to predict the future is to help build it.” Another trend that I’m really interested in and that I’m trying to do my part and with my clients is really thinking about the tech stack as a whole. How can you partner with the solutions you have in your tech stack to provide them insight into what your needs will be in the future, forecast those needs, and how can they use their R&D investment to design really along the lines of what their customer and client needs are.

Ryan Dull (27m 20s):
Helping really focus in that space and guide the development of solution capability directly with the solutions is something that I’m actively doing and, and really interested in how that plays into the broader market trends. Can you get almost this mass customization in the space? I know every solution provider out there is really wincing when I say that if they’re listening right now, but I think that the needs are very specific at a lot of these organizations. Their vision is very specific on what success looks like for them so being able to build that stack and the capabilities in a customized fashion is really an interesting thing to watch.

Matt Alder (28m 8s):
I think that leads really nicely into my final question, which is what does the future look like for recruiting? If we were having this conversation again in two years’ time, what would we be talking about?

Ryan Dull (28m 21s):
I think, in the shorter term, I would say in the next two years, my belief is it is going to continue much the way that the talent market has been. It is to be a candidate-driven process. Historically, where you have more clunkier-based systems and human-driven interactions where candidates might apply, they’ll wait around for the organization to drive the process on their timelines. I know all of that is shifting rapidly. It’s already shifting and will continue to shift where, in the industry, you need to design your tech stack, your process, and your delivery models in order to remove the friction for candidates, make it very easy for them to drive the process, as quickly or slowly as possible, to get the content they need to make decisions and move on to the next steps, to do that in a frictionless, mobile environment, and just make it easier for them to get the information that they need to make the decisions to move forward at each tollgate in the process, as well as make it easier for hiring managers to make those hiring decisions as people have driven through the process.

Ryan Dull (29m 43s):
I think it’ll be much easier, much faster, and much more candidate-driven in this space.

Matt Alder (29m 55s):
Lastly, where can people find you and how can they connect to you?

Ryan Dull (29m 59s):
Yes. Thanks, Matt. People can find me on LinkedIn, Ryan Dull. They can also find my website. It’s Sagemarkhr.com. Also, my email address is RyanDull@Sagemarkhr.com. I also have a podcast called TA Leaders and that website is TAleaderspodcast.com.

Matt Alder (30m 24s):
Ryan, thank you very much for joining me.

Ryan Dull (30m 28s):
Thank you very much, Matt. My pleasure.

Matt Alder (30m 30s):
My thanks to Ryan. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks so much for listening.

Matt Alder (31m 25s):
I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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