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Ep 455: Talent Rediscovery


Reaching out to past applicants about new roles has always been a challenge in talent acquisition. Poor technology, tight timescales and inflexible processes have often limited the effectiveness of talent rediscovery. However, AI is now starting to drive some change, and talent rediscovery is becoming an ever more effective strategy.

My guest this week is Mike Watson, Head of Customer Advocacy at Eightfold. Before he joined Eightfold, Mike was a long-time Head of Talent Acquisition, and, in our conversation, he shares his unique insights into the benefits and practical results of AI-driven talent rediscovery.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The current state of the market and the effect on talent acquisition teams

• The threat of losing recruiter intellectual property

• Warm passive talent versus cold passive talent

• What the ATS can’t deliver

• Driving ROI but reducing time to hire

• Talent Intelligence

• Communication strategies and best practices

• Which employers are doing talent rediscovery well

• Where is the technology taking us next?

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Support for this podcast comes from delivers the talent intelligence platform, the most effective way for companies to retain top performers, upskill and rescale the workforce, recruit top talent efficiently and reach diversity goals. is deep learning artificial intelligence platform empowers enterprises to turn talent management into a competitive advantage.

Matt Alder (Intro) (48s):
Hi there, this is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 455 of The Recruiting Future Podcast. Reaching out to past applicants about new roles has always been a challenge in talent acquisition. Poor technology, tight timescales, and inflexible processes have often limited the effectiveness of talent rediscovery. However, AI is now starting to drive some change, and talent rediscovery is becoming an ever more effective strategy. My guest this week is Micheal Watson, Head of Customer Advocacy at Eightfold. Before he joined Eightfold, Mike was a long-time Head of Talent Acquisition, and in our conversation, he shares his unique insights into the benefits and practical results of AI-driven talent rediscovery.

Matt Alder (1m 42s):
Hi, Mike, and welcome back to the podcast.

Michael Watson (1m 44s):
Matt, thank you so much. It’s nice to join you again. It’s been probably over a year since I last joined you. So it’s always nice to connect with you.

Matt Alder (1m 53s):
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, time has just flown by, since then. And it’s great to be talking to you again. But for those people who may not have heard our previous conversation, could you just introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Michael Watson (2m 5s):
Sure can. So my name is Michael Watson. And I work at Eightfold, which is a talent intelligence platform. We’re the inventors of that. And we’re really based around AI trying to enable AI for good. And we have the mission statement of enabling the right career for everyone in the world, which really means leveling the playing field, eliminating resumes, eliminating job descriptions, and making it really about the skills you have. And when I say that, I always think about the person that maybe didn’t go to college, but they’ve been a bookkeeper for 20 years, keeping ledger’s, and keeping companies running. How do we make it so we can enable them to get a job in corporate America, if that’s where they want it to, where traditionally, the education has been holding them back.

Michael Watson (2m 55s):
So really trying to use AI for good and in that regard. So prior to joining these folks, and I’ve been with them for about two and a half years now, as a former customer of theirs. So the first I hate to say how long, but the first 20 some years of my career, Matt, we’re all on the talent acquisition side of the house. I spent the first 10 years on the contingent side, and then moved over to corporate America where I held just about every job over there. I was a coordinator, sorcerer, recruiter, gotten to management. And I was with a company called Gigamon, when we were faced with having to hire 300 people. We are 700 person company. We had to do it very, very quickly.

Michael Watson (3m 35s):
And I went to my leadership to ask for additional headcount. And they said, No, and that’s when I found Eightfold. And after doing some research and getting some demos, I realized that I could accomplish all these goals by simply tapping into my talent network that I had there from past applicants, right. I was using Jobbi. It was 75,000 people in my database. I had to make 300 hires. And I kept on asking myself, “Well, why do I need to keep going back to the well and finding new people when I have great people in my database?” So fast forward to now I’ve helped build out our customer success team. And now I’m moved into a new role.

Michael Watson (4m 17s):
We call customer advocacy, where I’m really working with them on strategy insights on how to leverage their talent pools for the most efficiency.

Matt Alder (4m 26s):
Fantastic stuff. And I really want to kind of get into the details around that sense of talent, rediscovery. And what people should be thinking about in terms of accessing the talent that they already have communication with. But before we get into that, though, just I’m sort of asking everyone who comes on the podcast, the same question at the moment, which is, we’re obviously in a very interesting market at the moment in terms of what’s going on in the labor market? And what’s going on with employers? You’re in a position where you speak to sort of lots of employers on a regular basis. Well, what are you seeing happening in the market, at the moment?

Michael Watson (5m 4s):
Yeah, it’s interesting, Matt. And I’m hesitant to call it a recession. I’m not sure what to call it because you still see us hiring like crazy. In some markets, and some segments, I think if you look at software engineering that hasn’t slowed down at all. But you’re starting to see TA departments, and recruiters, and coordinators being laid off, which is usually the first indicator. That we used to say this all the time. The first people to go were TA, and the first people to come back were TA. So, when you look at a company that I love, like Netflix, which I’m use all time, they laid off a bunch of their recruiters. And we’ve seen some other organizations, not just our customers. We’ve seen a few customers be impacted by the economy as well.

Michael Watson (5m 46s):
But, you know, we’re starting to see out there in the market that TA teams, recruiters, sorcerers, coordinators, are starting to be impacted, which is kind of a leading indicator. So yeah, I’m hoping that we can pull out of this sooner than later. But we are starting to see TA teams be furloughed, or being shelved a little bit to hopefully be brought back sooner than later.

Matt Alder (6m 12s):
I think one of the most unusual things about this current climate is that’s happening in some sectors, and in certain kinds of roles that people hire from. But at the same time, there’s still huge talent shortages, and lots of people really struggling to recruit. So it’s kind of a very strange mix picture, isn’t it?

Michael Watson (6m 31s):
It is, right. And the thing that used to drive me nuts as a former TA leader was when you lose your recruiters like this, a lot of times you lose that intellectual property that goes along with them. They knew who the next silver medalist was. They knew who to reach out to once we had an open position. And in traditional ATS systems, there’s no way to capture that. So when you made these broad cuts, and you laid off your recruiting teams, in many ways you were starting from zero again. When I brought a new recruiters, people that didn’t know the business, people that didn’t know people that we had interviewed in the past and maybe weren’t quite ready. So, I’ve always been pushing for, “Hey, instead of laying these people off, or, furloughing them, or a lot of them are contingent workforce instead of letting those folks go, let’s repurpose them during these times.

Michael Watson (7m 25s):
So we don’t lose that intellectual property. Because to the point of this podcast, we talked about talent rediscovery. The recruiters in the past have been such a key to that. I think it’s been long lost on some of the executives.

Matt Alder (7m 37s):
Yeah, I mean, obviously, I couldn’t agree with you more on that. And you bring up an interesting point about Talent Rediscovery. There is that it’s not something that as an industry, we’ve done sort of particularly well in the past. And it’s interesting to see now how technology can help, how technology can fill some of those knowledge gaps and things like that. Before we kind of get into it any deeper. Give us your sort of definition of talent rediscovery. What does that mean in 2022?

Michael Watson (8m 10s):
Now, this is my own vernacular. But I started using terms warm passive talent and cold passive talent. When I was using Eightfold that my previous company. And how I would phrase that with hiring managers? Because I don’t know where we got this notion that, “If you ever applied for a job, you were no good.” I would meet with hiring managers year after year that would tell me, “I don’t want to meet with somebody who applied. I want you to go out there and find someone who’s not actively looking.” And I always found that to be crazy. It’s like, there’s great people that are applying let’s reach out to them. So with that being said, once I had the Eightfold platform in place, my notion was, “Okay, these are folks that have applied.

Michael Watson (8m 54s):
These are folks that know who we are. These are folks that have shown interest in us.” To me that should be your first stop when a position is open to see if these folks are still interested. Because as a recruiter, it was much easier for me to go to somebody who knew who I was, that was familiar with me that maybe had been referred by a friend in the past, and have that conversation then starting from scratch and having to explain what my company does, what we do, if we’re the leaders or if we’re followers, right? So I started asking this question on my hiring managers. “Hey, would you rather see warm passive talent or cold passive talent?” In almost every single time, they’re like, “Oh, I want to see warm, passive talent.” And that’s when I would go on to explain to them.

Michael Watson (9m 41s):
All right, we have a database full of warm passive talent. Right? And that’s when I’d say, “Hey, these are folks that know who we are. They’re applied in the past that had been referred in the past.” So once I kind of returned, how we went about Talent Rediscovery, I got a lot more buy in from the hiring managers in that regard is like, “Okay, yes. Let’s take a look at some of these folks.” So that just changing the way we talked about it and phrased it for folks, really seem to have a big difference in getting the managers to buy into it.

Matt Alder (10m 12s):
I mean, it really is, it’s a bit of a recruiting math, isn’t it? That you always have to source new candidates every time you have a new job posting. It’s interesting that so many people still believe that.

Michael Watson (10m 24s):
Yeah, well, I think, you know, Matt, I’m old enough to remember recruiting that a milk crates before the internet was really a thing. And the same transition we went to online and digital versus the newspaper, we’re seeing that again now, with the use of AI. Many folks just aren’t familiar with it. And I don’t blame them. When you have 25 wrecks on your plate, and you’re responsible for filling 12 to 15 requisitions a quarter. And now you’re asked to do something new, where the system you have is working, you can get a lot of pushback on that change. So I think part of this is explaining to folks that, “Hey, we’re going to help you be even more efficient, we’re going to give you more work life balance back, no more having to sit on your couch at 9:30 at night and source 200, 300 resumes.

Michael Watson (11m 15s):
Let’s the AI pointed out to us who we should be reaching out first and talking to first.” So yeah, I think like you said that there has been a myth there around that. But I think with the use of a platform like Eightfold. And if we position it right, change management is key. But I think we’ve positioned the straight to recruiters, all of a sudden you see that like Juan, and they get it. And then all of a sudden, instead of doing 12, 15 placements a quarter they’re doing 20, 22 placements a quarter.

Matt Alder (11m 45s):
I think there’s also kind of a big meth on the candidate side here, which is shipping pervasive. For years, again, it as you said, even before the internet. So I remember a very long time ago, when I was applying for my first jobs, and I got these using, I’m aging myself now but sending letters in the post. Something like post stuff. I remember getting very polite rejection letters back saying that they were going to keep my application on file, should anything of interest come up. And obviously that wasn’t the case. But I think when we move to sort of ATS and digital, I think that there is this kind of assumption that for lots of people who apply for jobs that their resume will be found or somehow connected to it to a job that might happen in the future.

Matt Alder (12m 29s):
But in my experiences ATS have never been able to be very good at delivering on that. Have they?

Michael Watson (12m 36s):
No. They haven’t, right. And that’s why, many ways when we’d send those emails out, you knew, I knew everyone knew that that really wasn’t the case. That you had to reapply if you want to be considered again. And that was my whole thing with using Eightfold is, “Hey, let’s tap into these folks. Let’s reach out to them saying, “Hey, I had your resume from a few years ago. Looks like you’re a great fit for this now. I want to figure out what you’ve been up to, and see if you might be open to this.” That’s a much different conversation than saying, “Hey, you don’t know me from Adam’s goat. Let’s have a conversation.” And not only that, Matt, but when I was doing this, this was pre COVID.

Michael Watson (13m 21s):
This was when unemployment was at an all-time low. We’re competing with companies like Google and Facebook. I’m right in the heart of the Silicon Valley. So I’m competing with this top companies in the world. And so for me, what I found out was, if I could tap into those folks using this AI, and this, the other thing I said all time is just because we rejected someone three years ago, because they needed one more year of experience. Well, now that we’re three years into that this person might have that experience we need. So why not reach out to them, find out what they’ve been doing, refresh that information, and get those over to our managers a lot quicker than running to LinkedIn and sending out a bunch of in mails there.

Michael Watson (14m 4s):
So it to me, that was the key. Now, it worked for me, right? I remember going to my CHRO, and saying, “Hey, If this works, I think I’m going to be able to shave 10 days off my days to hire, which we equated to a small company. But we equated that to a million and a half dollars and increased productivity.” So by tapping into this, folks. And here’s the thing. Once, we all know how it used to work. I would sit down with the hiring manager. I would have that intake meeting. I’d say, “Og cap came at what are you looking for? You’re looking for this, that, the other.” Okay, I’m going to disappear for a week or two while I go cast my net and reach out to folks.

Michael Watson (14m 44s):
I change that paradigm. I say, “Okay, Matt. I’m actually in my system now. I can see that we have over 200 really great fits for what you’re looking for. How about I reach out to the top 20 right now before I walk out of this meeting, or, you know, I also increase my diversity hiring across the board.” So maybe I go to you and say “Hey, Matt, I know that diversity is important to you, how would I reach out to the top 20 diverse candidates in my slate right now before I even walk out of this door?” In many times by doing that, by the time I walked back to my desk, I would have some responses, hey. And now this is also before we even posted the job. So think about this, right? As recruiters, we have this, I guess the state of Nirvana what we call it zero days to hire.

Michael Watson (15m 29s):
If we can get to the zero days to hire where a requisition is open, and we know exactly who to reach out to, who’s exactly right for the position. Now, is it possible to get there? I know it’s tough. But I have found that by using a system like Eightfold, we can get closer to that zero days to hire, because now all of a sudden, whether or not the recruiter stay, whether they leave, they move on to another job, they have to be laid off because of a soft economy, that intelligence around who we’ve interviewed in the past, who the silver medalist was, I kept all that in Eightfold. So I wasn’t really dependent on the recruiter walking out with this intellectual property.

Michael Watson (16m 11s):
I now had an intelligent system that kept track of all of this. And that’s what really served us well. That’s what enabled us to shave 11 days off our days to hire and increase diversity hiring across the board, because I didn’t have to go to LinkedIn. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to go to some of these other sources. But you finally in the analogy I would use is Eightfold it’s like a painter’s palette to me. And imagine the painter Bob Ross that used to be on public television. And he had his palette there, and he had all these different colors. To me, those different colors represented all the different recruiting channels that you could use.

Michael Watson (16m 52s):
And if one of those recruiting channels was represented by the color blue paint. Why do I need to go out and get more blue paint when I have plenty of blue paint in my talent network that I could leverage? So I didn’t write, I didn’t have to go to the paint store and get more paint. I had plenty of paint there, but I never had a palette before that would lay out all of those. Now, there could be times you look at your palatte and you’re like, “I don’t have any more blue paint. I gotta go to LinkedIn, I gotta go to Indeed. I gotta go to these sources. I gotta tap into my employee referrals. But I finally had a system of intelligence that laid everything out for me, so I can see and make those decisions in real time with the hiring manager there in the room.

Michael Watson (17m 38s):
So that was incredibly powerful for me.

Matt Alder (17m 42s):
And I suppose what would be your practical tips for TA leaders and TA professionals who are listening? But particularly around things like running the communication round something like this. Because obviously, if we’re talking to people in these pools of talent who have previously applied, and not got a job, or time has passed, I mean, what are the sort of the best practices and the most effective ways people should be kind of reaching out and keeping themselves up to date with what’s going on, in terms of rediscovering this talent?

Michael Watson (18m 14s):
It’s a great question. One of the very first things I did, once we implemented Eightfold was we ran a campaign to all 75,000 people in our database. We reached out to them. We said, “Hey, we understand that you’ve shown interest, it’s in the past. We might have reached out to you, we might have not reached out to you. But we have this new platform in place. And we would love for you to come back in, bring your resume, apply for jobs, see what you’re a fit for.” So that was the first thing we did was we kind of fell on the sword and says, “Hey, we might have failed and reached out to you in the past like we had promised. But we have a new system in place.” And I asked my CHRO to do this. So help craft a message. So it’s coming from the top.

Michael Watson (18m 55s):
It’s not coming from the director of TA, or it’s coming from recruiter. Like this is coming from our chief people officer. And then once we reach out to those folks, we had an influx of past candidates that were reapplying with their updated resumes. And once again, when you’re using a system like Eightfold. It’s understanding the skills that they’ve gained in the last few years. It’s updating their profile, and it’s recommending them for jobs that clearly they’re fit for. But it’s also recommended them for jobs you might not have ever considered them for. And Matt, I think I’m a perfect example of that. I went from 23 years of recruiting to all of a sudden running customer success. Because the Eightfold platform told the leaders here that, “Hey, all these skills that Mike has running TA teams and recruiting, and all of that thing, all of the things you do over there, also equate to being a good customer success leader.

Michael Watson (19m 48s):
So I think by doing that and tapping into those folks, and reaching out in a campaign. And then I took it one step further is I said, “Okay, now the Chief People Officer sent out a note, leaders, my technical recruiting leader. Now you reach out to all the technical folks as a follow up message. And my GNA recruiters, you reach out to the GNA folks. My sales recruiters, now you start reaching out to the sales folks.” So they felt even more connected. They felt like it was even more personalized. And then we just kept on cascading it down from there. Then individual recruiters reaching out to folks, in their network and people that apply in the past. So I think a.) it’s got to be meaningful and you have to mean it.

Michael Watson (20m 29s):
And you can’t send out these messages and have people apply that you don’t get back to a month. I had a mantra that we recruit people the way we want to be recruited. If I’m not right for something, let me know I’m not right for. If I’m a good fit for something, then let me know and let’s move quick and see if this is the right fit. You know, I would say to all my peers out there, reach out. When you have a platform like Eightfold, it’s very, very easy to reach out to those folks in your database. You know, I’ve used other ATS systems, I won’t name them. But I’ve used just about all of them. That was very, very hard to do, very hard to do. And that’s why many times we just skipped it and went right to the external job boards looking for folks.

Matt Alder (21m 10s):
Tell us a little bit about the experience of the clients that you’re working with for clients who are working with Eightfold. What kind of results do they gain from implementing this kind of strategy?

Michael Watson (21m 22s):
So we’re seeing a tremendous reduction in time to fill across the board from majority of our customers. And one that I’m thinking of in particular, is there’s a gentleman named Justin Gill from Activision. Where they came back and said, “Hey, we’ve seen the largest uptick in talent rediscovery that we’ve ever seen. I think, when we looked at their numbers for 2021, 41% of their hires, were previous applicants.” And yeah. I mean, that number blew me away. We had to go back and check the data, because it seemed like such a large number. But think about this, if almost half of all your hires are coming out of folks that you’ve engaged with in the past, why wouldn’t you invest even more engaging with those people?

Michael Watson (22m 7s):
There’s no reason you can’t get that 41% up to 50, 55, 60%. And not only that, but that’s when you can look up sponsor jobs, I’ve paid for advertisements, I’ve run campaigns on job boards. But once again, if I’m able to leverage my folks internally, then I can save budget money on those campaigns. I can save money on recruiter seats and other platforms, because I don’t need to leverage them as much. So yes, we’re seeing a tremendous effect across the board. Now, when you leverage in some of the other offerings in our platform, scheduling, campaigns, events, it all feeds into this ROI machine that that’s constantly trying to do things more efficiently.

Michael Watson (22m 57s):
So right, whether it’s talent discovery, and you’re using our scheduling on top of that, we’re seeing people get people through the interview process, 20-30% faster by using that. So when you add all these things together, and you use one unified platform for this, we’re seeing tremendous success from our customers in filling positions faster. And think about this when you do that, now, this is hard to measure. But in essence, you’re cutting down on your attrition rate. Because that person that was holding down two or three jobs because of a position went unfilled, all of a sudden they filled the position faster. They were less likely to give notice, or for your product teams, that were having to delay product releases, because they didn’t have enough people there to help with this.

Michael Watson (23m 42s):
All of a sudden, we’re filling positions faster. Now they’re able to release product on time. They’re able to hit their deadlines. And it goes across the board. Sales folks, right now all of a sudden, you miss your number by $7 million, because you don’t have the right people in place. There’s a lot of downstream efficiency that’s gained from this. That’s very, very hard to measure but we know it’s there, because we’re seeing products get out faster. We’re seeing our customers hit their sales quotas and their numbers. It has a lot of downstream effects on the positive effects that will take place by using something like this.

Matt Alder (24m 22s):
And final question, where do you think the technology is taking us next? What do you think is going to be sort of possible in the future in I don’t know two or three years’ time maybe?

Michael Watson (24m 32s):
Yeah, I used to say in 20 years, but I think that’s way too far off. I think to your point in the next three to five years, I think you’re going to see that resumes are a thing of the past. I think what you’ll see is we all will have a digital skills fingerprint. And job descriptions will also be a thing of the past. When you look at our jobs intelligence engine where we’re helping architect, what skills companies need to move forward and be successful. So it’s not about the written job description. Can you do this? And we’re looking for skills. And when we do that, I think within the next few years, that job descriptions and resumes will be a thing of the past.

Michael Watson (25m 16s):
Like will have almost like a digital fingerprint. We’ll see a job. We’ll express interest in it. And when it fits on both sides, we have the skills that they’re looking for, you’ll automatically go to an interview stage. Or even that, I worked in the contingent workspace long enough, you’ll see for some roles, that if you match the skills, what we’re looking for, here’s your start date, come on down and fill out paperwork, and let’s get you going. Now, I also want to say this real quick. It doesn’t solve for the culture fit, or the cultural addition. We can match people very, very quickly. But then I think we’re, you’re still run into some time figuring some things out, is if it’s the right culture fit.

Michael Watson (25m 58s):
But I do think that with the use of skills, and you look at our jobs, intelligence, architecture, yeah, I can see this moving to, “Hey, you have the right skills. Once you come on down and start with us on day one, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Matt Alder (26m 12s):
Mike, thank you very much for talking to me.

Michael Watson (26m 16s):
Matt, it’s always my pleasure. Best wishes.

Matt Alder (26m 19s):
My thanks to Mike. 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 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.

Matt Alder (27m 11s):
Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

Chad and Cheese (26m 49s):
Do you love news about LinkedIn, Indeed, Google and just about every other recruitment tech company out there? Hell yeah. I’m Chad. I’m Cheese. We’re the Chad and Cheese Podcast. All the latest recruiting news and insights are on our show. Dripping in snark and attitude. Subscribe today wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Chad and Cheese (27m 30s):
We out.

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