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Ep 425: Building A High Performing Talent Acquisition Team

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I know that many TA Leaders who are listening are currently scaling or rebuilding their talent acquisition teams. Market challenges and rapid advancements in the sophistication and availability of technology have changed the game for talent acquisition in the last 24 months. So how do you structure and scale a high performing talent acquisition team to meet the needs of 2022?

My guest this week is Alison Kaizer, Head of Talent at Lunchbox. Alison is currently scaling a talent acquisition team in a highly challenging market sector and has some practical insights on tech stacks, team structure, metrics and competitive advantage.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The difference between a good TA team and a world-class TA team

• The current market for tech talent

• Communicating culture in a remote process

• Putting technology at the centre and building a scaleable tech stack

• How to find, assess and structure a TA team

• What are the metrics that matter?

• Using mission and culture to drive competitive advantage

• What’s next for talent acquisition?

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcript:

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Paradox: The AI assistant for recruiting (42s):
Then visit paradox.ai to learn more.

Matt Alder (1m 5s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 425 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. I know that many TA Leaders who are listening currently scaling or rebuilding their talent acquisition teams. Market challenges and rapid advancements in the sophistication and availability of technology have changed the game for talent acquisition in the last 24 months. So how do you structure and scale a high-performing talent acquisition team to meet the needs of 2022? My guest this week is Alison Kaizer, Head of Talent at Lunchbox.

Matt Alder (1m 44s):
Alison is currently scaling a talent acquisition team in a highly challenging market sector and has some practical insights on tech stacks, team structure, metrics, and competitive advantage. Hi, Alison, and welcome to the podcast.

Alison Kaizer (2m 1s):
Thanks for having me.

Matt Alder (2m 2s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Alison Kaizer (2m 8s):
Sure. My name is Alison Kaiser and I’m the head of talent at a company called Lunchbox, which is basically allowing restaurants to digitize their ordering ecosystems and compete with third-party by owning all of their data.

Matt Alder (2m 24s):
And tell us a little bit about your backstory, how you came to work at Lunchbox, what kind of setup you got there, all of those kinds of things?

Alison Kaizer (2m 32s):
Sure. Yeah. So I’ve been recruiting for almost 10 years at this point, starting an agency and then moved over to a fast-growing tech startup based in Toronto, although global called Ritual. And I was there for about three and a half years and really enjoyed the experience and always will sort of chat with founders in my network because of the amount of that kind of startup experience that I have. And I was introduced to the CEO of Lunchbox by way of my network, not really looking to move, but we just sort of fell in love. I was so obsessed with the mission of Lunchbox and the CEO, Nabeel, has such a people-centric approach that’s so unique in comparison to some of the other CEOs I’ve sort of worked with and spoken to in the past.

Alison Kaizer (3m 19s):
And so I decided to come over, really building from scratch and in an almost greenfield opportunity like we didn’t even have an ATS kind of thing. And now I have a team of seven and we own all recruiting from the tech side through to go to markets along with a lot of the strategy around culture and employer branding and so on.

Matt Alder (3m 42s):
And tell us about the recruiting challenges that you face.

Alison Kaizer (3m 46s):
Yeah. I mean, there are numerous. The market is so crazy right now. So I think the biggest challenge we’re dealing with is getting engineers to reply to us, to be excited, to go through the process, and to close when there are these large behemoth companies that are paying really, really insane salaries for these engineers and we’re a series B. Attracting the right talent and getting them to join the team is a huge obstacle. Although, I will say those who ended up joining generally ended up staying and are fantastic. So it’s worth the effort. The other side of it is really just the pains of being in a small company that’s still growing and building. So making sure we’re asking the right questions in our interview process, making sure that we’re training, hiring managers and interviewers to facilitate great interviews and provide an excellent candidate experience and all of those sort of operational things that make the difference between an okay talent team in an organization and a really top tier best in class one.

Matt Alder (4m 46s):
And how has recruiting changed for you over the last two years? Has it made those challenges more acute? How have things evolved?

Alison Kaizer (4m 54s):
I think there are two major changes in the last couple of years. The first is just the competitive nature of the market. There are so many more tech companies and the supply and demand disparity with engineers is growing significantly with a lot of those big companies becoming even bigger, becoming global without being in office they’re comping really the same across the board. And it’s just a lot more challenging to get great talent than it used to be, more expensive, more difficult to get people involved and engaged, difficult to cut through the noise. So just the market element has shifted significantly. The other piece of things that’s adjusted is just the way we interview and engage talent.

Alison Kaizer (5m 35s):
I mean, when I started in talent, I met every single candidate in person. It was very much about getting in a room and seeing how you interact with folks, whiteboarding on a physical whiteboard and things are very different now. It’s completely remote. And so fostering an excellent candidate experience and being able to communicate and give folks a sense of what culture really looks like is more challenging in a remote environment obviously and makes our jobs as talent more difficult.

Matt Alder (6m 6s):
So you mentioned there that you effectively started with a blank slate and you’re scaling the team and the processes and everything. Tell us about the role technology plays in that. I mean, how do you build a tech stack that scales, and what are the most important technologies for you?

Alison Kaizer (6m 26s):
It’s such an excellent question. And I’m such a firm believer in leveraging technology in any way I can as opposed to just adding an additional head to the team. So the way I’ve always evaluated is looking at the way I spend my time in my day and think about the things that are taking up the most time and how I can kind of ease that. The only thing that really can’t ever become, you know, reliant on technology and tools as the actual interview and conversation in itself, anything else you can really leverage tools and be smart about it and allows you to keep a very lean team. So certainly we rely on an ATS to keep organized from an administrative perspective.

Alison Kaizer (7m 6s):
And in terms of booking candidates, I’m a huge fan of Greenhouse. I always have been. The scheduling is excellent. And the reporting is out of this world, which is so important when you’re constantly looking to improve your process. And it’s also easily customizable where you can go in and build and change your interviews on your own with very fast speeds, without having to rely on an external individual to adjust for you like with some of the other ATS. And so that’s something I always recommend. It’s highly scalable and a tool that once you’ve implemented, you can keep really for the entire lifetime of your business. And it really, really works. It’s foundational. The other tools that we use, there’s one around sourcing.

Alison Kaizer (7m 48s):
So again, if you’re looking at sourcing, this strategic piece is really figuring out who you want to reach out to, but a lot of your time ends up being spent with admin, drafting emails, sending the emails, setting reminders swag with people, following up with them multiple times. And so we use a tool called TopFunnel that basically allows you to create a template, a template an email for a specific job with some qualifiers. So, hi, first name, I noticed your experience at X so I thought I would reach out, and it basically allows you to scrape a profile, whether it’s on LinkedIn or AngelList or Facebook, or even, you know, an Instagram profile. Scrape for an email address associated and it will compose the email for you to allow you to send that email along with a drip campaign.

Alison Kaizer (8m 29s):
And also connect that candidate to the ATS to Greenhouse so if they respond to you, you don’t have to physically upload them. You can convert them to a candidate with rapid speed. So a lot of the administrative time that gets spent sourcing that can be better suited for solving strategic problems than talking to candidates is much more efficient because of this tool. And again, continuing to focus on data to make sure that we’re operating effectively, it allows you to AB Test verbiage and look at metrics around which get higher response rates.

Alison Kaizer (9m 11s):
It also will tell you what percentage of your outreaches to female and underrepresented groups. So for any company like Lunchbox that cares deeply about diversity, that is a huge factor and it makes tracking that incredibly easy. So I highly recommend. The third is really around data and reporting. So there’ve been times I’ve had a hundred roles open and just reporting to hiring managers and having them understand the status of everything, and also having data exist in a very digestible and visual format has always been a challenge. And there’s a tool called TalentWall that integrates into Greenhouse that is literally where we live. I mean, unless we’re looking at a scorecard, we’re rarely even in Greenhouse and basically, it creates a visual overlay of all the roles you have in Greenhouse.

Alison Kaizer (9m 56s):
So you can see where everyone is in the funnel, what the source is, when they’re booked, if a candidate hasn’t been contacted in a certain amount of time that you can set, they become yellow or red and you can filter by that to make sure no candidate goes uncontacted for an extended period of time. And it’s also self-service. So you can provide the links to TalentWall to all of your hiring managers and at any given time they can log in and see exactly how many candidates are in the funnel, where they are in the process, when they’re booked, and it makes reporting literally effortless. They download it into a PDF and uploaded into a Slack channel a few times a week with some notes to add a little bit of color, but it makes reporting an absolute breeze.

Alison Kaizer (10m 37s):
And it also integrates and overlays of the Greenhouse and transfers a lot of that data into incredible, beautiful visual reports that you can filter by function, by recruiter, all kinds of different ways that allow you to just really see how you’re doing in an incredibly digestible and visual way that also can be obviously sent out to hiring managers and we really live in this dashboard. So it’s really excellent for us and removes all of the administrative time around just kind of typing up status updates for folks or trying to download and adjust data into a digestible format. And then the last tool that we use that I’m such a big fan of is called CrossCheck.

Alison Kaizer (11m 18s):
We use it for references. Obviously, references are a heavy lift. Generally, they’re done on the phone. It’s 30 minutes per reference. You have to take notes. It’s manual. Often, they don’t end up really being leveraged after. And it’s really a missed opportunity in my mind. I would never hire someone without ensuring that we’ve got a strong reference back. And what CrossCheck does is it basically allows you with one click to send a reference request to the candidate. They’ll fill out a self-evaluation, which is excellent for a manager, you know, a future manager to get a sense of how this person identifies their strengths and potential areas of improvement. And then the candidate identifies the three or however many you want references.

Alison Kaizer (11m 58s):
You can note whether you want them to be managers or peers or direct reports and structure the reference how you would like, and they get notified to fill out this report. There are a number of templates based on roles. So there is a certain template that asks questions specifically for an engineer or an engineering manager or a salesperson or a talent person. So they’re extremely relevant. And once the reference has been completed, it comes back in an incredibly digestible visual report that flags areas to watch out for, core strengths, and it’s just very actionable, right? Like we send those reports out to managers and they always read them.

Alison Kaizer (12m 38s):
And it’s so clear whether someone is strong and the areas that they really need to work with this future hire on when they come in the doors. So it makes the references strategic and really digestible. And the other element of that tool that’s fantastic is the references can opt-in and say they’re interested in your company. So it’s actually also a tool for recruitment. So sometimes we’ll hire an awesome engineer and three of the references are also engineers and they’ll all in and say, “I want to work at Lunchbox too. That looks really cool.” And then they’re warm leads for us to go and reach out to and great people know great people. So I mean, these four tools are really the core of our stack and they’ve allowed us to hire hundreds, literally hundreds of people with a very, very main talent team.

Alison Kaizer (13m 25s):
And I just can’t say enough about any of them.

Talent Rebelcast (13m 31s):
Attracting, recruiting, and retaining great talent has never been harder, but why? We know we need them and they need us. So why are we making it harder? Pull up a chair, listen and laugh along with Allyn Bailey and Tracey Parsons, as they dissect the industry, solve problems and scoff at and sass the status quo. Join the rebellion with the Talent Rebelcast and question everything you know about the world of work.

Matt Alder (13m 59s):
To focus on your team for a moment, you mentioned that you’re building a team, you’ve built a lean team. Obviously, building a high-performing talent acquisition team in the current market where there’s just a massive shortage of recruiters is very, very challenging. How did you find, assess, and structure a team if you’re scaling up your business?

Alison Kaizer (14m 19s):
It’s a great question. So I’m a firm believer that everyone ultimately should be a generalist. And I think that’s a byproduct of me being part of a reduction in force and the only individual retained. I’d never worked on engineering. I got thrown in and I learned, and I love it, but I think ultimately most recruiters want to become a head of talent one day. And in order to do that, they need to touch everything and should have broad-based knowledge about the full business. So the way they structured the team is bring people on that different core areas of expertise, but only folks that are interested in learning more broadly. And my team is so unique in that everyone really helps and coaches each other.

Alison Kaizer (15m 1s):
So we had someone on the team, she actually just left to move into engineering. We’ve moved her into an engineering intern role at Lunchbox, but her background was highly technical and she was interested in learning more. So she came in and was able to coach and train up the other girls on where their engineering gaps were, but really held that area of expertise. There’s someone on our team, her name is Megan, whose background is largely sales-focused. She’s been crushing it on engineering. I mean, she’s really, really excellent and has been interested in learning that. And then I have someone that came from a generalist background originally in someone more junior that’d be trained on from scratch on everything. So I do think that’s unique, a lot of larger orgs, separate the engineering and go to market recruiters.

Alison Kaizer (15m 46s):
But this is so nice because it’s constantly challenging the recruiters to learn new things. They always remain interested and engaged. And if someone wants to go on vacation or whatever it may be, someone else can cover for them, right? Like everyone just really understands holistically what the others are doing or someone, you know, if someone’s capacity becomes limited in some way, in a role needs to pivot to a different recruiter, they can take it on. So that’s the way the recruitment side is structured. And then we have talent operations person who manages all of our tech stacks, posts our jobs on all the job boards, does all of our tooling and processes. She’s excellent. And we have a coordinator as well that helps with scheduling and admin and a lot of our kind of employer branding projects and so on.

Alison Kaizer (16m 32s):
But overall, it’s actually quite a lean team.

Matt Alder (16m 36s):
You’ve mentioned metrics. If you, a few times in the conversation, what are the metrics that you think really matter in talent acquisition?

Alison Kaizer (16m 45s):
It’s such an interesting question because I think in some ways it depends on the team. We used to look at hires on our team and the time to hire. And the truth is that was never an issue. Like the team is so high-performing, we’ve never not closed a role and we’re always operating with relative speed. If things get closed down, it’s because we need to take a step back and reevaluate whether we need the hire or something has foundationally shifted and we don’t want to push and just motivate people to close, right? The focus should be on quality. So we’ve actually stopped formally measuring times of hire and number of hires. Although, I think for a lot of organizations, they should be, right? If the issues are that they’re moving too slow or things aren’t closing, then you want to make sure you’re looking at those metrics.

Alison Kaizer (17m 30s):
Our most important metric on our team is quality of hire. It’s not just getting people in the door, it’s making sure they’re the right people. And the way we measure it currently is extremely simple, which is at 45 days, a hiring manager gets a survey that basically measures how the person is doing. Are they exceeding expectations? Are they meeting expectations? Should we not have hired them just to make sure that early indicators of success are strong. We also look at Greenhouse survey feedback. So Greenhouse auto sends candidates surveys when they get rejected or hired, 75 percent is considered good. And we strive for 80 percent plus positive feedback. We have a survey we send to our internal stakeholders as well.

Alison Kaizer (18m 11s):
That’s basically like, how is the talent team doing? Do you feel supported? So looking at how our performance is viewed both externally and internally, we look at a number of offers that are declined, right? Because if a lot of our offers are getting declined, something is broken. We’re not selling properly. Our comp is off. We shouldn’t be getting to the hundredth folks, then not being able to close them. So we definitely measure that as well. And then we’ll look at overall activity. It’s not that we have a specific benchmark of exactly what it needs to look like, but I think it’s important to track number of candidates we’ve sourced as a team per month, number of calls that we’ve done, just even from a resourcing perspective, to know when we need to add to the team based on bandwidth and so on.

Alison Kaizer (18m 54s):
So those are the core metrics we track, but there are so many. The only one I would say across the board, every single company should be tracking is quality of hire. So not just are we closing roles, but are we hiring the right folks?

Matt Alder (19m 7s):
You mentioned earlier that your biggest challenge was the competition that you have in recruiting engineers. And you’ve talked about technology and metrics and your team. What else is there in the way that you work that allows you to persuade people, to join your organization in such a competitive space?

Alison Kaizer (19m 27s):
I think Lunchbox is just a really good place to work. I mean, the people that come here are driven by impact. They’re excited by the mission. They’re interested in the culture. They want to work with this team. All of our original engineers are still here. We have a massive culture deck that we share broadly with folks that talks about what it’s like to work here. And it’s certainly not right for every single person. If someone is motivated by specifically money, which there’s nothing wrong with that. For some people, that’s the most important thing, depending on where they are in their life. That it’s probably not the right place. I mean, we’re competitive for our stage, but we’re not Google. But if someone is looking to get that larger company experience and, you know, wants to work in Netflix or Google, we’re just not the right place.

Alison Kaizer (20m 13s):
The folks who are interested in building that are really scrappy, that wants to be on a smaller team where they know every single person and be able to kind of go to bed at night, looking back and saying, I built that that’s meaningful. And I really had impact here today. It’s a great place to work. So we actually are sort of known for almost scaring candidates and allowing them to opt-in, just being really transparent about what things are like here, the challenges and the benefits, and the right people decide that they want to join. But it’s relatively rare that we get to the end with someone and don’t close them. I think throughout the process are really transparent about everything that’s so exciting about coming here and by the end, most candidates are excited and they do want to join.

Matt Alder (20m 56s):
Final question. What’s next for talent acquisition? What would we be talking about if we were having this conversation again in two years’ time?

Alison Kaizer (21m 4s):
It’s such a difficult question to answer. I think there’s going to be an increasing, it’s already sort of in the forefront or so much in the forefront, I should say, but diversity and inclusion is going to just become increasingly and increasingly important and an absolute requirement, even just from a business perspective. I mean, your team should reflect your customer base and should be equally diverse. So that’s going to be huge as well as the continued emphasis on tooling to drive efficiency and to be as effective as possible to remove bias. Yeah, I think those are really the two big things that I see continuing to grow and shift and a continued focus on remote work, flexible work, and just continuing to iterate on ways to get candidates excited and interested.

Alison Kaizer (21m 55s):
I’m seeing a lot of sending out looms to candidates when you’re sourcing them, videos, and customize things to even get them interested. So it’s becoming so much more of like a white-glove exercise just to cut through the noise and I believe that’s going to become even more challenging.

Matt Alder (22m 13s):
Alison, thank you very much for talking to me.

Alison Kaizer (22m 14s):
Thank you so much for having me.

Matt Alder (22m 17s):
My thanks to Alison. 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. So you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time. And I hope you’ll join me.

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