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Ep 464: Optimization, Automation and Augmentation


As talent acquisition rapidly adapts to disruptive times, innovative ways of working and new technologies are being adopted at an unprecedented pace. So, where are the most successful TA teams focusing and what are the mindset shifts we are now seeing in the industry?

My guest this week is Will Staney, founder of Proactive Talent and co-founder of industry community The Talent Brand Alliance. Will has a long history of innovation in talent acquisition and shares his insight into the short-term and long-term strategies the most successful TA teams are currently building.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The current state of the market

• Staying lean and nimble while adopting best practices

• What are the most successful TA teams focusing on

• Retention, culture and brand

• Working on short-term and long-term simultaneously

• Optimization, automation and augmentation

• Agile RPO

• The rise of the gig economy in talent acquisition

• Game-changing technology

• The link between employer branding, DE&I and profit

• Human-centric recruiting and the future of talent acquisition

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.


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Matt Alder (Intro) (55s):
Hi there, this is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 464 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. As talent acquisition rapidly adapts to disruptive times, innovative ways of working and new technologies are being adopted at an unprecedented pace. So, where are the most successful TA teams focusing, and what are the mindset shifts we are now seeing in the industry? My guest this week is Will Staney, founder of Proactive Talent and co-founder of industry community The Talent Brand Alliance. Will has a long history of innovation in talent acquisition and shares his insight into the short-term and long-term strategies the most successful TA teams are currently building.

Matt Alder (1m 45s):
Hi, Will, add welcome to the podcast.

Will Staney (1m 48s):
Hey, Matt, thanks for having me.

Matt Alder (1m 50s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Will Staney (1m 55s):
Sure, yeah, I’m Will Staney. I’m a former recruiting and employer brand leader, turned consultant. And my professional mission over the last 15 years has really been to help innovate and modernize the field of talent acquisition. So as a practitioner, I did this in my work, come challenging companies I worked at to experiment and try new things. And then I would share those successes or failures through speaking at a wide variety of HR conferences. I think the last time I was on your show was back then. But you know, now I kind of do this in two ways. I’m the founder of Proactive Talent, which is a holistic talent acquisition consulting firm that in kind of an agile RPO that is helping to extend the capabilities of in0house recruiting teams and build modern recruiting engines and best practices.

Will Staney (2m 43s):
And we do that from talent attraction, like employer brand strategy, media content to hiring, where we do recruiting strategy and optimization, and technology implementation. And then on-demand recruiting, which is sort of our flexible, modern take on RPO. The other way, and the other thing that I do is I also co-founded Talent Brand Alliance, which is a professional community of talent brand practitioners. So people doing employer brand and recruitment marketing, TA leaders, and internal comms folks to help them learn, collaborate and network within really this growing and evolving field. We’ve got an online community with mentorship programs, and regular monthly calls and trainings, as well as our summit events, which are kind of experiential workshops to new take on conferences, where you learn from 100 different people instead of just a dozen speakers from some large companies with bigger budgets than you right.

Will Staney (3m 36s):
And so, you know, we have our next one actually coming up here in Chicago, October 19, through 21st at the Chicago Athletics Center. Yeah, that’s me and what I’ve been up to.

Matt Alder (3m 49s):
Fantastic, fantastic, so much stuff there. And obviously, you’re a keen observer of everything that’s going on in talent acquisition, and you’re obviously touching a lot of employers through the work that you do, and the community that you’ve built. So I’m really interested. Obviously, very disruptive, confusing, changeable times. What are you seeing in the market at the moment? What’s your perspective on where we are and what’s going on?

Will Staney (4m 17s):
You know, Matt, I would sum it up in one word right now, which is uncertainty. I think no one knows what’s going to happen next, which makes it hard to plan and budget for a lot of these companies. I mean, we have war, pandemic, broken supply chains, global recessions, political and social unrest, inflation, right? It’s a hard time right now. Right? But, you know, so you’re seeing companies kind of freeze up literally. If they’re freezing hiring, some are slashing budgets. They’re kind of holding their breath before making future growth investments. And in some of the sectors that were really booming during sort of the resurgence after the recession, right?

Will Staney (4m 58s):
And so, but there’s other areas where there’s a lot of funding going in into clean energy and supply chain and infrastructure that we’re seeing stay pretty steady, but a lot of them are, those industries are, I would say, not as evolved in modern in their ways of hiring. And so they’re hitting a lot of friction in that tos. You know, just tech, for example, has been on a decade plus run of growth, right? And, you know, kind of inflated valuations. And they’re now starting to hit a reality check, right? These companies, what they need to do now is to stay lean.

Will Staney (5m 38s):
And in while we’re still seeing some layoffs in the sector, I think it was about 44,000 layoffs and big tech companies here in the US and over 77,000 additionally, globally, right? At the same time, they’re still struggling with a talent shortage, especially in the areas of engineering. And so they need to stay lean and nimble while adopting some best practices. Because, you know, the most, kind of the saddest part of this is seeing, a lot of these companies laying off recruiters, and talent folks first, right? And we know, that’s a part of our industry. We know that how that goes. But it’s still it’s painful to see, especially after, gosh, just the beginning of this year, and last year, you couldn’t hire a recruiter, if you tried, they are in such high demand, right?

Will Staney (6m 25s):
And so what we’re dealing with in this market right now, it’s just all the extremes. It’s like, up and down. And up and down. I can tell you, as a small business owner in this industry. It has been anxiety driving, but you know, this is what we signed up for. This is the things that we’re helping clients navigate.

Matt Alder (6m 43s):
You know, obviously, I agree with everything you say there because I’m saying exactly the same thing. And I think the Tech talent is interesting because I had a guest on a few weeks ago who were talking about the tech layoffs. And kind of very astutely. They pointed out, this doesn’t mean that there is a sudden new pool of tech talent. That’s okay. You know, it’s still just too difficult to recruit data scientists and software engineers is there ever was.

Will Staney (7m 11s):
Well, yeah, because the unemployment in that sector is still less than 1% because these industries are getting laid off. And they’re very easily finding another role. And it may not even be in big tech, because every company is a technology company now in the year 2022.

Matt Alder (7m 27s):

Will Staney (7m 28s):
So everyone’s looking for great developers across the board.

Matt Alder (7m 32s):
It’s obviously very difficult for heads of TA and TA teams at the moment in terms of they’re being pushed and pulled in many, many different directions. And there’s lots of things going on. What do you feel that they should be focusing on? Or what are you seeing the sort of the most successful team TA teams focusing on right now?

Will Staney (7m 54s):
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think, most immediately showing value beyond just getting butts and seats. That what I’m seeing some of the best TA teams do right now is really focusing on retention, culture, brand, if hiring is slow. But I think as far as all TA teams, I think you can kind of separate this into short term and long term. But the long term doesn’t mean to wait. You need to do both of these things right now, some of the best organizations and a lot of organizations that I’ve been working with, and we touch over 200 companies a year, right? And in the short term, it’s three things – optimization, automation, and augmentation.

Will Staney (8m 39s):
Right. And so they are optimizing their process, they’re optimizing their tech stacks, and updating their technology, removing a lot of the administrative burden of their recruiters so they can stay leaner and be even more productive and focus on candidate experience right. But also automation, meaning there’s a lot of good technology that is coming to bear that automates a lot of things that used to be really administrative, right? So not just optimizing their process, but then automating that well with both humans and technology. And then augmentation, so because what I’m seeing the market a lot that companies are going from a big hiring push to all of a sudden freezing hiring, and then then the open hiring a little bit more and then they’ll freeze based on kind of what the markets doing, interest rates, and stuff like that.

Will Staney (9m 31s):
And so what you need to be able to do is to augment yourself, right? And I think using like a model that we do at our talent, the way that we’re doing this is we have sort of an agile RPO where we’ll extend their team of recruiters and help them fill positions with experienced recruiters that they can turn on and off based on the hiring demand, or let’s say they need a tech recruiter and then they that all of a sudden the tech hiring is done and they need to now focus on sales, we can swap that out for sales recruiter really quickly. I wish I had something like that when I was a TA leader, like at Twilio, where I get a hiring plan at the beginning of the year, and before the first quarter is even over, it’s changed, either increased or decreased.

Will Staney (10m 14s):
And I either have too much full-time recruiters or not enough. And what that avoids to is having to do the culture damage of hiring recruiters, and then firing them. There’s a startup here in Austin, I have a friend that works there, and that they hired a recruiter at $150,000 a year, right and that pandemic was their hiring. And then immediately within three months of that recruiter being there, having to let them go. And so if you’re just augment us some that gig economy, which I know we’ll talk about little later, that’s great. So short term optimization, automation, augmentation is what a lot of them are doing.

Will Staney (10m 55s):
And then long term, really having a focus on candidate experience employer brand. And I say it’s long term because it takes a while to really do that, well. You have to figure out who you are, start building awareness of your employer brand. And in building the kind of content that showcases what it’s like to work there. We’re still very much in a candidate-driven market, right? And so, but you have to start now. You have to start now, especially while maybe hiring is a little bit slower. This is a good time to start building the engine that you need for when things come back. Because inevitably, whether looming recession or not, inevitably things do come back.

Matt Alder (11m 35s):
No, absolutely. And you know, just constant change, constant disruption. And, you talk about augmenting there, which is kind of really interesting in terms of how people can cope with that. I suppose, traditionally, our industry hasn’t been very quick at changing and hasn’t been typically a kind of a very agile, and it’s set up. I mean, you run a small business that successful and kind of expanding quickly. And small businesses always have to move fast and be agile. What would your advice be to people running teams in terms of how they can kind of adjust that culture to keep up with the just the phenomenal pace of change that we’re seeing at the moment?

Will Staney (12m 14s):
Absolutely, I think it’s a lot of things that I did when I was in bigger companies before moving in as a consultant, right, which was, you know, they had a lot of different points, solutions, multiple vendors for various aspects of the candidate lifecycle. I think, gotta move away from that, to more holistic partners and integrated systems. Integrated tech stacks give a better, more actionable data, so you can move quicker. I remember when I was at VMware and SAP, great, great organizations. A very large, very comes from to change the process, but you know, I was able to work to really optimize the process globally and get away from sort of the bumper sticker approach of recruiting stack and start integrating technologies together, so we can be more nimble to navigate the changing pace of hiring.

Will Staney (13m 5s):
And so, your typical models of support, when you have a lean recruiting team, like your typical RPOs or contingent hiring can, honestly that’s why I started practice talent, because I was a TA leader, and I needed to adjust in changing disrupt really fast. The typical models of support. And what I found them to do is they kind of damaged the bottom line, because if you needed to hire people quick or using contingent search firm, yeah, you don’t pay up front, but boy, do you really want to pay five times for every hire like the goal is to hire people. And so, but they also hurt your recruiting process, because they’re bifurcating the process.

Will Staney (13m 50s):
It hurts candidate experience and the employer brand. So it all makes it really hard to be nimble as well, when you’re locked into some long term contracts with an RPO or needing like complicated integrations, to have all your tech stacks talk to each other. And we are living in the era of cloud and API-based, ATSs and CRMs, right? You can, that play a little bit more nicer. And so, some of these use these ATS is becoming really popular, like NEO greenhouse in iCIMS. And so, they play a nice, they’ve either bought the additional accompanying tech that you need to be able to disrupt and be agile and move fast, but, or they play nice with others, right?

Will Staney (14m 34s):
And so, you know, from a tech standpoint, there are some real solutions here that can save money and time and allow you to be a lot more agile because you’ve got real time data. You were finally in the era where you can actually measure the effects of everything that you do from a recruiting standpoint, pretty accurately, whether you’re a small business or a large business. And then as far as like your resourcing, I mean, it’s just being proven that agile RPO is a way to go, hiring can have a lot of stop and go, like I was saying, right, but you need to be able to add firepower when you need it, and then turn the hiring spigot off quickly as your business demands change, right?

Will Staney (15m 15s):
So you’re insert the gig economy, and the gig economy has increased 30% during the pandemic, by the way, Matt, right? So like, more workers want the gig lifestyle, even recruiters want that gig lifestyle, and they like not being tied down to just one company for a large part of their career.

Matt Alder (15m 34s):
Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean there’s a lot that you were talking about there. Just to I suppose to pick up on the gig economy bective that. Obviously, agree with you, I’d see this as something that’s only going to grow and grow and grow as we move forward. What implications does that have for employee experience and employer brand?

Will Staney (15m 57s):
Yeah, absolutely. I think it expands it. Expands the kinds of experiences that employees can have. And the way that you can talk about the experience of working with or even partnering with your company. Right? So I think we need to move away from the idea that we always need a full-time resource or employee to solve a problem or add capabilities. Sometimes you only need a few months of an expert. They can come in, help build the machine. I think that’s what I realized. I realized I was a TA leader in these high-growth tech companies. And I would, you know, I come in, I like building the machine. And then once it was in maintenance mode, I also got bored, I was just that type.

Will Staney (16m 38s):
And then there are types that are good to be those folks that you just always need that are there to maintain that machine. But sometimes you just need experts to come in, build the machine flexibility, and then you just need to have the staff you need to maintain it. And so I think more workers want flexibility. And this model of support helps with that. You know, from an employer brand standpoint, can really highlight the flexibility, autonomy, and in many cases, the work-from-home aspects of gig economy and project based work and lifestyle. And so these employees are, sub-contracting partners. So, and honestly, I think both, you know, in Europe and the US, we’ve got some, some labor laws that make this more difficult, that need to be updated.

Will Staney (17m 25s):
And I think eventually they will. But there is some ways to be able to do that make them feel a part of a team, but not cross the line of treating them as employees. And I think you see this in the upper works, and the door dashes and food delivery and logistics companies seem to be figuring this out. And a lot more people are doing that type of work. But I think it applies to our industry as well.

Matt Alder (17m 49s):
In terms of sort of moving back to technology. You spoke there about how textiles can be much more agile than they were in the past. I mean, we can all remember the bad old days of taking two years to implement an ATS. And actually, for many organizations, that’s still the reality that they live in. You also mentioned automation and some of the really interesting sort of technologies that are coming onto the market now. What’s really catching your eye at the moment? What do you think the tech is that’s out there that’s going to be the sort of the game changer over the next couple of years?

Will Staney (18m 29s):
Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great question. I’ll give you my favorite analogy for this one, I’m kind of talking to a client about their strategy and their tech stack. And it’s, you know, your strategy is the road that takes you to your destination, and the technology is the car that you’re driving. A great strategy, even in a beat up old Ford will still get you to destination. It might be slow, but you’ll get there because you have a nice smooth road. You know, exactly where you’re going and what turns you need to take to get there, right? But a supercar won’t go too far down a road. Down a rough and bumpy road, right? It actually break down. That was meant for Jeep and you’re driving this supercar.

Will Staney (19m 10s):
So you need to have both a solid strategy and a good tech stack aligned to that strategy. I think something that I experienced as TA leader was this push towards our organization, towards innovation, which is great but to just try to adopt all the best tools. But it we started getting that that bumper sticker thing I talked about, where it was too much tech, it wasn’t all talking to each other. And so and we didn’t take the time to really think about what’s our strategy? What’s the candidate experience we want to have? What’s the process we want to have? And then take that strategy. And this is what I do. I help a lot of our clients with their RFPs both designing them and then analyzing the different vendors to find the right thing. But the first thing I work with them is to get a deep understanding of that strategy.

Will Staney (19m 56s):
But the technology that is really appealing to me right now is it’s really this cloud-based API-enabled ATSs. I mean greenhouse, we do close to 200 greenhouse implementations a year. For small business, that is an eight-week process. For a really large business, that is a 16 week process at most. So it’s changing. It’s not two years anymore for these types of cloud base. And then I think I seems to I think having a good ATS like that, that is a core of your tech stack opens up a whole world of possibilities because they play friendly with the emerging tools that you need to add on for, what we talked about earlier that automation AI, but as well as marketing and reference checks, etc, right.

Will Staney (20m 42s):
I’ve also really loving what paradox Olivia is doing. I think for high-volume recruiting, they’ve completely automated the process, but in a human way with technology. The fact that it used to take fast food companies, days or weeks to hire someone. Now, it can take as little as an hour or two. When you scan a QR code and the drive-thru, you can go through the whole process with Olivia and do like just what they’re doing with virtual hiring events and other stuff. A really big fan of them. I’m actually going to HR Tech next week to just play with all new tech, meet with some partners and just see what’s new, and out there.

Will Staney (21m 24s):
But it’s an exciting time. It’s I feel like we’re finally in the time for recruiting tech that I’ve been hoping for, for about a decade now. I came from more of a digital marketing background and then applied that into recruiting early in my career. And so it feels like we’re starting to finally catch up. I think, lastly, the one I’m really loving right now, too, is Eightfold. You know, we worked with Postmates during the pandemic and into 2021. And part of that was helping them leverage Eightfold to essentially build their own LinkedIn and use AI to better candidate match. But not just candidates coming in, but against your entire employee base, integrating into your HRS, so that you’re first looking and analyzing the people that you already have for new positions before going externally.

Will Staney (22m 12s):
They also really help with some great AI around D and I. And through that you’re working with them building their employer brand, optimizing there Eightfold and greenhouse integrations and systems. I mean, we were able to increase female applicants into that company by 90%. We increased their diversity initiatives by over 50%. And so it really is possible now the things that we’ve been talking about, we’re going to do for the last 10 years in this industry, we’re actually able to do them.

Matt Alder (22m 48s):
We totally are. And they’re all great vendors doing some amazing things. It final question too, for you. And obviously the most difficult question. We’ve just spent 20 minutes talking about how unpredictable everything is. But I’m interested to get your thoughts on what you think the future might look like for TA. So if we’re having this conversation in sort of 18 months, two years’ time, what do you think we’d be talking about? Or tentatively, what do you hope we’ll be talking about?

Will Staney (23m 17s):
Yeah, I’ll cover both. Because I really do think that we could split this up into where TA is going next and where ta needs to go next, I think. And so as you know, as we just talked about technology is developing and gets adopted, because we think about the fact that I think less than 10% of organizations have even adopted things like programmatic job advertising. Like AI, that’s autopilot for job posting and in budget optimization. I mean, it’s there’s just so many efficiencies there that you can do in less than 10 person organization or even doing that part.

Will Staney (23m 57s):
And so, I think overall though, as this stuff gets adopted, I think TA will become a lot less transactional and more human-centric as we go. I remember doing a keynote, at source con a few years back and saying, “Hey, AI is not coming to take recruiting jobs, AI is coming to liberate you to be more human and get rid of a lot of the administrative stuff.” So I think will, will become less sales and transactional driven and more marketing and brand awareness. And, you know, employer branding is really having its moment, especially during the pandemic when there’s so much focus on employee engagement and employer brand, right. So I think that’s the natural path and I’ve seen it slowly start heading there over the last decade or so.

Will Staney (24m 42s):
But it’s not fast enough. I’ll be honest with you. But given the example with just programmatic, for example, right. However, I think TA also needs to do the work that is necessary within their businesses to not be seen as a cost center anymore. It’s just not. TA isn’t not within HR. You know, instead of seeing it as a cost center at the executive level, we CEOs need to start seeing recruiting as the main profit center of a company, where long-term thinking and investments would help companies grow more in symbiosis with their business strategy to drive better profitability.

Will Staney (25m 24s):
There’s a real business case to having a great culture, a strong employer brand. We know that a strong employer brand, which is owned, typically by the experiences they have with your recruiting department, right? Make you more profit. We know when we do the work of DNI and this is just business data that exists that when we become more diverse within our leadership teams. You’re 30% more profitable, right? And so hiring is still way too reactive. And that’s why I started Proactive Talent to help companies think more well, proactively about hiring. It takes being able to do the work now that you know, you’re not going to tangibly see for six to 12 months, but also will get you to a point where you can get out of the reactive minutia and start moving up the maturity model chain of your hiring in and do a better job of it to allow your business to scale.

Will Staney (26m 17s):
Not too fast, not too slow, but right, when, and where, and how you need it to.

Matt Alder (26m 22s):
Will, thank you very much for talking to me.

Will Staney (26m 25s):
You got it. Thanks for having me.

Matt Alder (26m 28s):
My thanks to Will. 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. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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