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Ep 564: Recruiting In AI

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AI and recruiting have been extensively discussed this year in podcasts, blogs, conferences, webinars and LinkedIn posts. However, the one angle I’ve not seen covered is what it is like to recruit for AI professionals.

Such a new industry means a severe shortage of experienced talent, and AI companies must work hard to outsmart their talent market competition.

My guest this week is Lauren Saltus, a Senior Recruiter at Runway, an AI research company focused on the creative sectors. In our conversation, Lauren shares her experience of refocusing to become a specialist AI recruiter and discusses some of the critical factors that influence talent in this area. There are some great insights here, not just for AI recruiting but for anyone who is operating in a market where there is a significant skill shortage.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The current state of tech recruiting and why AI recruiting is different

Accelerator programs to develop deeper talent pipelines

• Creating a research brand to attract talent

• Individual managers as talent magnets

• Diverse hiring, bias and recruiting people with untraditional backgrounds

• Training AI on diverse datasets

• What is the future for recruiters?

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Transcript:

Matt Alder: Support for this podcast comes from Harver, the industry leading hiring solution helping organizations optimize their talent decisions. Rooted in over 35 years of rich data insights, backed by I/O psychology and cognitive science, Harver delivers a suite of automated solutions that enable organizations to engage, hire, and develop the right talent in a fast and fundamentally less biased way. Visit harver.com. That’s H-A-R-V-E-R dotcom to learn how you can take the smart path to the right talent.

Matt Alder: Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 564 of the Recruiting Future podcast. AI and r AI and recruiting have been extensively discussed this year in podcasts, blogs, conferences, webinars and LinkedIn posts. However, the one angle I’ve not seen covered is what it is like to recruit for AI professionals.

Such a new industry means a severe shortage of experienced talent, and AI companies must work hard to outsmart their talent market competition.

My guest this week is Lauren Saltus, a Senior Recruiter at Runway, an AI research company focused on the creative sectors. In our conversation, Lauren shares her experience of refocusing to become a specialist AI recruiter and discusses some of the critical factors that influence talent in this area. There are some great insights here, not just for AI recruiting but for anyone who is operating in a market where there is a significant skill shortage.

Matt Alder: Hi, Lauren, and welcome to the podcast.

Lauren Saltus: Hey, Matt. Good to be here.

Matt Alder: An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Lauren Saltus: Absolutely. My name is Lauren Saltus. I’m based in Brooklyn, New York. I’ve been working in recruiting for the last seven years. In tech startups, for about six of that with a brief stint at Adobe after my last company was acquired. I am now working at Runway, which is an applied research company making a content creation platform for artists and creatives with the use of machine learning and generative AI. Super excited about the industry and really excited to be here chatting with you today, Matt.

Matt Alder: Fantastic. Lots of things I want to ask you, but before I do, tell us a little bit more about Runway and the AI solution.

Lauren Saltus: Yeah. So like I said, Runway is a content creation platform. Really, I think our main mission is to democratize access to creative tools and allow more people anywhere to tell their stories.

Matt Alder: Fantastic stuff. So I’m presuming that a lot of the recruiting that you do is in the tech market. There’s obviously been a lot of headlines and narrative about what’s going on in that market this year. What are you seeing in tech recruiting at the moment, and what do you think the prospects are for 2024?

Lauren Saltus: Yeah, great question. It’s obviously an interesting market right now. When I talk to other recruiters or heads of people, there’s a clear difference in the general market and AI market. In tech, there’s so much great talent on the market right now and I am starting to see companies start to fight a little more for that talent, which is exciting. But even though there’s a lot more talent on the market right now, there’s a shortage of AI talent. These skills are so specialized and it’s such a new industry, it creates a huge difference between the booming AI market versus tech in general. What’s interesting is since it’s such a new industry, a lot of people don’t have these skills and are just learning it now. So finding really senior people in the space is difficult and it’s competitive with everyone racing to be that industry leader.

This will definitely continue in 2024. The last year alone in AI has been game changing with all these new developments unfolding. I even expect the next few months alone to change the landscape pretty drastically.

Matt Alder: In such a fast moving effectively new industry, I’m really interested to know, what are the skills that are needed and what kind of backgrounds are you looking for in people?

Lauren Saltus: In terms of skills, obviously, machine learning and research roles are really hot right now, especially those around optimization considering the fight for compute. So until more becomes widely available in the space, this will be a huge focus for a lot of folks, especially in the startup realm. That being said, there’s a lot of different skill sets under that AI umbrella that are really sought after right now, whether you’re looking for folks with expertise in computer vision or natural language processing, for products ranging from autonomous driving, or conversational chatbots, health tech, or creative technology like Runway. I’m excited to see this continue to progress.

I mentioned earlier, a lot of people don’t have these skills but a lot of people want to get into AI, especially generative AI. Most people that I speak to right now, even if they’re not necessarily open to new opportunities, they’re keeping their eyes peeled for roles or opportunities to break into the industry. I think a lot of companies are going to start taking advantage of this and capitalize on top engineering talent that doesn’t necessarily have this ML background but are excited to learn and dive into the industry.

For instance, Runway, we’re working on an ML fellowship program. So taking folks with engineering expertise, and giving them exposure and the opportunity to learn from some really, really talented folks in the industry, and hopefully transition them into that role at Runway in the future.

Matt Alder: It sounds like recruiting in this industry is highly specialized in terms of not just in terms of understanding the current requirements, but anticipating what’s needed in the future. Initiatives, like you just mentioned there in terms of growing talent and developing those skills. You said you’ve been working in recruiting for some time and tech recruiting for some time, but I imagine you’ve had to learn how to be an AI recruiter. How do you do that? How’d you become a recruiter in the AI talent market, and what advice would you give to TA professionals and recruiters who are moving into different industries in terms of how they adapt and learn?

Lauren Saltus: Yeah, great question. This is my first role in AI in the industry. So I’ve been in the industry for about seven months now. In my opinion, a truly good recruiter should be able to work in any market. It doesn’t matter whether that’s health tech or fintech or AI. I have no background in engineering or research. I am, on the other hand, extremely curious and I love learning, which I think is one thing that’s helped me learn the AI market as I’ve ramped in my role at Runway.

But where I think my skills really lie are project and process management and questioning everything. Building your core skill set around those three things, I promise that framework will be applicable to learning any new market.

Matt Alder: We talked about how difficult it is to find talent. What’s it like attracting talent to a smaller business in an area that’s dominated by giant tech companies with one imagines unlimited budgets and resources to get the talent they want?

Lauren Saltus: Yeah. Obviously, I mentioned it’s a competitive market, especially larger companies have been, like you mentioned, expending so many resources to attract this top talent. I think one of the things, like I mentioned earlier, is really around your research brand and employer branding in the area. That’s no longer just ensuring that you have a LinkedIn presence, but that’s really creating a well-known top research brand within the industry. So focusing around publications and making the work that you’re doing well known.

And then again, like I mentioned earlier, programs to get more folks into this space, so like that ML fellowship program I was talking about before, and ensuring that you’re marketing those programs and really allowing all of this to be seen.

Matt Alder: You also mentioned that you were offering people the opportunity to work with some brilliant minds in AI. Are some of the individual managers and people within your company, are they a draw in terms of recruiting people as well?

Lauren Saltus: Yeah, absolutely. At Runway, we think of ourselves as an applied research company. And so we have this internal research function that is, not only following the top research in the industry but creating that research. I think that’s really one of the main draws in working with some of these talented folks in the industry and allowing people to transition further in.

Matt Alder: How do you focus on diverse hiring? How do you make sure you have a diverse workforce?

Lauren Saltus: Yeah, such an important question. So of course, there’s the basics, like, ensuring you’re consciously putting effort every day into building diverse pipelines, starting at that top of funnel. This could be diverse job boards, sourcing, or even emphasizing this with any third-party recruiting agencies or tools you might be working with. Ensuring your interview panel is diverse. Some good baselines we like to use are never an all-male or an all-white panel if you can avoid it.

At Runway, we make an effort to look for untraditional backgrounds. So we don’t require degrees. We check all of our job descriptions for inclusive language to ensure as much diversity at that top of funnel as possible. For example, tools like Eploy or gender decoder are some good ones we’ve utilized in the past. I’m sure on the podcast you’ve heard the phrase, “If you have a brain, you have bias plenty.” So in order to be aware of this and actively combat our own biases, we’ve also created an unconscious bias and interview training that we conduct with all new hires within their first three months or before they hop into an interview panel, if that comes sooner.

Not going to lie. It is challenging for certain functions, but if it’s something that you deeply care about– Not just recruiters, but your leadership team and the rest of the company need to deeply care, if that’s something you can all get behind, you’ll prioritize it and continue to improve.

At Runway, it’s really in our values. All our founders are immigrants. We’re building a product for a creative industry which is so diverse. And not just that, us and our users are making content that millions of people could see. We have the ability to have an impact on diverse representation in media and films. And that’s huge. For example, our research team explicitly focuses on making our model outputs more diverse and training on diverse data sets. So when you ask it to generate a CEO, it’s a mix of genders and races and ethnicities in those results, and not always just a white man in a suit. Our team is actually publishing a research paper on that this week. So excited to see that come out. But it’s just so, so important to have a team that cares deeply about pushing the industry forward here.

Matt Alder: Generative AI has dominated the conversation on the podcast this year, really in terms of how it’s disrupting recruiting and what the future might look like. What do you think the future is for recruiters? What do you think your job would look like in five years’ time?

Lauren Saltus: That’s an interesting one. I think the function has changed so much, even in just my seven years in the industry. My first job in recruiting out of college, it really used to be all about good relationship building with candidates, but this really isn’t the case anymore. Yes, if you’re in recruiting, it’s an extremely people focused function that is a prominent aspect. But I think the future of recruiting really lies in your ability to adapt and learn to these AI tools and utilize those new tools also around driving process those organizational skills. Like I said earlier, really questioning everything, like, really getting to the bottom of each question that you’re asking. Building close relationships is important, but that alone won’t make you successful anymore. It’s just not scalable in recruiting. But if you have a systematic and organized approach to recruiting, you’ll be golden.

Matt Alder: Lauren, thank you very much for talking to me.

Lauren Saltus: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me, Matt. This was a blast.

Matt Alder: My thanks to Lauren. If you’re a fan of the Recruiting Future podcast, then you will absolutely love our newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast. Not only does it give you the inside track on what’s coming up on the show, you can also find everything from book recommendations to insightful episodes from the archives, and get first access to new content that will help you understand where our industry is heading. For a limited time, subscribe to the Recruiting Future Feast newsletter and get instant access to the video recording of the recent Remixed Webinar on AI and Talent Acquisition featuring some of the smartest thinkers in the industry. Just go to mattalder.me/webinar to sign up. That’s Matt Alder dotme slash webinar.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. You can find and search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. And don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter Recruiting Future Feast. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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