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Ep 533: Engaging With Top Talent

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Despite months of layoffs and challenging economic news, engaging with top talent is still very hard. It’s even harder if you are hiring for an employer with very little profile or brand awareness in your target talent markets.

So what strategies are employers using to engage with top talent, and what lessons can large enterprises learn from small and agile start-ups when it comes to storytelling and the effective use of tech stacks?

My guest this week is George Morriss, Head of Talent Acquisition at Lindus Health. George has vast experience in building hiring strategies for high-growth start-ups and has practical advice to share on how TA Leaders should respond to the disruption we see in the market.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Market recalibration

• Why engaging with top talent is still so difficult

• Recruiting with no employer brand

• Consistency of storytelling

• The balance between resonance and hyperbole

• Transparency in the hiring process

• Candidate experience as a point of difference

• How to deal with an overwhelming choice of technology

• Building a tech stack with tools to solve specific challenges

• Interview training

• Minimising the administrative burden on recruiters

• Lessons from start-ups

• How should TA leaders prepare themselves for the future?

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Transcript:

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 2s):
Hi there, this is Matt Alder. Welcome to episode 533 of the Recruiting Future podcast. Despite months of layoffs and challenging economic news, engaging with top talent is still very hard. It’s even harder if you are hiring for an employer with very little profile or brand awareness in the talent market that you’re targeting. So what strategies are employers using to engage with top talent, and what lessons can large enterprises learn from small and agile start-ups when it comes to storytelling and the effective use of tech stacks? My guest this week is George Morriss, Head of Talent Acquisition at Lindus Health.

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 46s):
George has vast experience in building hiring strategies for high-growth start-ups and has practical advice to share on how TA Leaders should respond to the disruption we see in the market.

Matt Alder (1m 59s):
Hi George and welcome to the podcast.

George Morriss (2m 1s):
Hey, thanks Matt. Great to be here.

Matt Alder (2m 3s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please, could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

George Morriss (2m 8s):
Sure thing. So I’m head of talent at Lindus Health. We’re a next gen CRO, which is a Clinical Research Organization accelerating clinical trials for biotech and healthtech pioneers. I was previously a venture back startup founder, co-founder prologue, which is a candidate first applicant tracking system, and I was also a managing partner at talentful, the embedded recruitment provider after five years as an enhanced talent leader.

Matt Alder (2m 33s):
Fantastic stuff. So huge amounts of experience and very keen to ask you this first question, which is the same question I’m asking everyone who comes on the podcast at the moment. What are you seeing in the market at the moment? Is it still a challenge to find the right talent? How are the kind of mass layoffs that we’ve seen in tech affecting everything? You know, what’s it like out there from your perspective?

George Morriss (2m 53s):
Yeah, the hiring market at the moment is probably the strangest I’ve seen in my 10 year career. It feels as though we’re in this really interesting phase of recalibration. So where we had a shorter transitional phase post COVID that was mainly driven by shifting bias for specific working models, greater impetus on finding work with purpose. We’re now experiencing, as you say, these mass layoffs in both enterprise and earlier stage tech companies. And the second order effects of that, I think companies are still adapting to navigate. It’s worth mentioning really high caliber talent is always hard to engage. So nothing has changed there due to layoffs. Everybody’s still competing for the same folks. The same principles applies always have, finding talent is quite straightforward, particularly at the moment.

George Morriss (3m 40s):
But anyone given a strong short list, anyone can populate a potential talent pool given the data available online and through LinkedIn, et cetera. But actually engaging that talent, engaging those candidates consistently through a bilateral hiring process is the trickier part and even more so right now. So particularly given the fact that recruiting functions are oftentimes stretched now. What I’m seeing is that the most important thing has become minimizing, your administrative burden, leveraging your recruiting team, and the activities where they have the propensity to maximize candidate engagement and specific affect, specific outcomes and metrics we know to be important like offer throughput, interview stage conversion. I don’t think that much has changed beyond a lot of the tactical level engagement with candidates.

George Morriss (4m 26s):
And the principles actually remain the same in terms of how you approach that particularly early stage.

Matt Alder (4m 31s):
I’m interested to explore that further. Particularly with those candidates that it’s hard to reach and hard to engage with. How is it best to attract and onboard talent like that? I suppose specifically how important is sort of employer brand and brand awareness within that and what happens if you don’t have those within that particular market?

George Morriss (4m 52s):
Yeah, in my view, great early stage recruiting is primarily centered around two things. So, the first thing is narrative building or storytelling from your recruiting team and actually consistency of that storytelling from the hiring team who are engaging candidates throughout the hiring process. And the second thing is building really deep resonance between candidates and your mission and team. So I suppose on the first thing in terms of storytelling, before you can convince candidates to sign a contract, you of course need to convince them that your journey, your company is meaningful to that person, right? It’s going to be fulfilling work and they’ll be an integral part of it. It’s really easy for candidates to get that and to understand that when they’re speaking to a brand that they’re already familiar with, right?

George Morriss (5m 38s):
There’s media coverage around what they’re up to. There’s potentially a wealth of data online on places like glass or around what it’s like to work in that place along with a bunch of other channels. But for early stage startups, they don’t have that. And so the impetus falls on you as the recruiting team to those details for them and to provide that interest. And the balance between resonance and I guess selling the proposition and hyperbole is quite a difficult one, right? Because a lot of what you speak to at early stages, the potential of what you’re doing, it’s very easy to get hyperbolic around that. But ultimately what this is about is having a really structured approach to how you speak about what you’re doing to build that resonance.

George Morriss (6m 21s):
Starting with the problem that you are fixing. Providing that exposition, that bird’s eye view of the incumbent solutions in your space or if you are building a, if it’s a product innovation rather than a process innovation where there’s no incumbent product in that space, like explaining why this is something that’s going to be really impactful. Talking about your progress thus far in real practical terms, talking about the grand ambition that your team has in order to address that problem set you’ve already referenced, and then identifying the challenges and barriers to success on that front. Transparency at Lindus Health is one of our principle values, but transparency broadly in recruiting is extremely important at early stage because what that enables you to do is build that trust with candidates and that rapport.

George Morriss (7m 6s):
A lot of recruiters at early stage will shy away from talking about the inherent challenges with what they’re doing because it could be seen to scare away people and decrease their buying to what you’re doing to see these problems. But actually, particularly if you’re hiring really strong talent, they want to understand what the problems are. So, I think a level of proactivity on that is super important and helps feed into that resonance with hiring great people at an early stage. And that transparency, a degree of reciprocity throughout the hiring process. So acknowledging that process is a two-way street. Like these are the kinds of things that are so important when you don’t have an employer brand.

George Morriss (7m 47s):
and there’s maybe not a familiarity from candidates with who you are and what you’re doing.

Matt Alder (7m 52s):
And what are the ways that you can tell those stories through the process or at that kind of almost that kind of marketing stage that sort of go beyond just those one-on-one conversations?

George Morriss (8m 4s):
Yeah, I think a lot of what we do at Lindus Health, which has a really profound effect on candidate buy-in to what we’re doing is being able to reference, I mean it’s going to be very specific to us, but reference specific white papers and specific collateral that’s come out of well-recognized institutions or publications around the problem space that we’re dealing with, right? So this is about, not just us saying it, but leveraging collateral outside of our own work and being able to point at specific studies or specific articles in crunchbase and be able to say, “Okay, this is why this is important. In many ways, this is what we talk to our investors about.

George Morriss (8m 48s):
This is what we reference when we’re talking to our customers. Like the problem space that I’m referencing on this one-to-one level is something that there are other third parties talking about and identifying as a problem.

Matt Alder (8m 60s):
Over the last few years there’s been an almost bewildering amount of technology, new technology coming into the market with all kinds of different, sometimes quite strange use cases. How as a sort of a TA leader, a TA team, do you deal with that sort of influx of technology? How do you make sense of it?

George Morriss (9m 20s):
Yeah, it’s really easy to be overwhelmed by what’s out there. I think your hiring technology stack should absolutely not be this arbitrary collection of shiny things that you are reacting to is inbound messages from salespeople come in, but rather a set of tools that help you solve specific challenges. So, a useful exercise is to identify broad stage specific challenges proactively think about the things that are going to be coming up on the horizon that you will have to deal with as a TA leader. So that could be things like interviewer capacities you scale and new interviewer training where a tool like something like mess use is incredibly useful, or really clean data capture and reporting, which becomes more important as you scale where an ATS like Ashby or prologue is incredibly impactful.

George Morriss (10m 11s):
It’s really about speaking to maybe your investors head of talent, speaking to a broader network of later stage talent leaders to identify the things that they learned along the way and then assess the relevance to you. And then secondly, thinking about probably on a quite reactive basis, what the unique company specific challenges you have up. In my experience, that could be something like your company hiring very specialized roles where there’s limited talent pools. What technology is going to help you address that? And then go out and find that yourself. Maybe it’s something interview training is sometimes something that comes up as a unique company specific challenge. If you’re hiring specialized roles, do you have a broad range of staff internally in the business who are able to actually assess candidate skills in those spaces and identifying the technology if there is any, that can help you with that specific challenge.

George Morriss (11m 3s):
So, I think this is about stepping back from the myriad options out there and saying, what problems do we have? And then saying, what technology is out there that can help us as a vehicle solving that problem rather than following what’s arbitrarily called best practice or what everybody else is using.

Matt Alder (11m 23s):
How have you seen the recruitment process evolving over the last few years? And how’s technology supporting that, really focusing on technologies that are useful? How’s the process evolving? How is technology supporting that evolution?

George Morriss (11m 38s):
The process itself for high growth venture backed tech companies, we’ve moved from a world where recruiting was a procurement process in many ways. There were lots of candidates available and the company was the buyer. And we’ve shifted to a place where the candidate is the buyer and the the company is the seller, right? So, that dynamic has totally been flipped on its head over the course of the past 10 years. What that means in real terms is that the impetus on you as a talent leader and on your recruiting team is to think about, how to adapt to that shift?

George Morriss (12m 19s):
and what kind of things, what kind of technologies you can be leveraging to do that. Where I really view it as quite similar to what’s happened in customer success and in sales. Where like it has to be customer first or in our case candidate first versus what it was previously where it was very much a transactional process. The greatest shift that happens as a product of that dynamic and flipping on its head is the importance of minimizing your administrative burden and freeing recruiters to focus on the work they do best. Generative AI is a large part of that, but there are myriad tools out there that will help recruiters really focus on what they do best, which is building that buy-in with candidates, having great availability for communications, quick turnaround times on responses, and not just being bogged down in the weeds in terms of calendar scheduling, coordinating diaries, and that sort of thing.

Matt Alder (13m 16s):
So, you’ve obviously worked in some very high growth, high paced environments with talent that’s a very difficult to recruit. I’m always interested in terms of what sort of big enterprise companies can learn from the type of organizations that you’ve worked for. What do you think the main lessons would be for someone who is running TA in a very large organization who might be listening?

George Morriss (13m 42s):
Early stage startups who recruit very well. All of the early stage startups I’ve worked with that have gone on to hire hundreds or thousands of staff. They all treat candidate experience and candidate engagement as a point of difference. So you as a smaller company have an advantage in that. You can build, you have better ability to, on a person to person level, build that relationship with them. And so I think that is probably the biggest thing for larger companies that can oftentimes as you go through a hiring process with them, seem quite transactional, is like really building that rapport.

George Morriss (14m 24s):
And even better than just providing really constant updates, providing relevant, ideally personalized information that adds this sense of buy-in across the hiring process. It’s not about, oftentimes you see larger companies building that buy-in at the front end of process and then when they’re looking to close a candidate, like really reiterate or really encourage, emphasize buy-in at that point when they want to close a deal. But actually having that thread of candidate engagement throughout the process. Just in and of itself is a point of difference. And that’s something that the really great early stage hiring teams all do.

Matt Alder (15m 3s):
Obviously, the biggest topic of conversation so far this year has been the impact of generative AI on recruiting and talent acquisition. What do you think that impact is in the medium term and in the long term? What are you seeing? What are you predicting?

George Morriss (15m 21s):
So in the medium term, generative AI is probably the principle driver of reducing the administrative of burden. So you think about the labor intensive tasks like collating job specifications, crafting outreach messages, these kinds of things. That’s where generative AI has the most impact in the medium term. I do still think that people want to deal with people and increasingly depending on the complexity of generative AI models and what their capabilities look like, actually having that human to human level interaction and putting an impetus on the kind of verbal and in person, that will become a point of difference.

George Morriss (16m 3s):
So it’s important to maintain some semblance of that person to person interaction. In the long term, I think it means we’ll have smaller recruiting teams as companies grow because your capacity will be improved through automating some of this work to a generative AI model. And I think that particularly on the, I guess a more project oriented side projects like, I guess making uniform job specs. Like all of this sort of stuff that sometimes would take an inordinate amount of time like two – three years ago, those kinds of things aren’t going to be a problem in the way that they were previously in terms of the time sink that they are from a more mid to senior level in the recruiting space, that kind of work or experience and that kind of work will become less relevant and you will see more mid through senior level talent folks stay with their hands on the tools and be leveraging that experience of person to person contact and candidate engagement that they’ve developed so well.

Matt Alder (17m 1s):
And that leads nicely onto my final question, which is how would you advise TA leaders to prepare themselves for this future?

George Morriss (17m 11s):
Ultimately, I think in the next two to three years, the kind of like next macroeconomic cycle, there’s still going to be a real focus on like the key metrics need to be important in recruiting. Offer conversion, stage conversion, time to fill, and across all of those things like efficacy in terms of costs is going to be super important. So, in the medium term, two or three years, I think that’s going to be super important. In the longer term, I would say building a familiarity with the very progressive transformative tools that are coming into the ecosystem is going to be very important.

George Morriss (17m 58s):
And actually like diving into those products and understanding the lexicon and the semantics of how we speak about them is going to be incredibly important. Because at the moment, on a kind of IC level, lots of recruiters are like using these tools, but it would be very easy for TA leaders to become detached. If they’re not using those products on a day-to-day basis, if they’re not the person sitting on a demo, if they’re not the person who’s assessing and dissecting those tools. So, I think staying as close to that technology when you’re assessing it. Staying as close as possible to it when you’re assessing it, is going to be an incredibly important part of TA leaders preparing themselves for the future and staying relevant.

Matt Alder (18m 36s):
George, thank you very much for talking to me.

George Morriss (18m 39s):
Thanks for having me, Matt.

Matt Alder (18m 41s):
My thanks to George. 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 our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast, and 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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