I recently had the pleasure to sit down with Andrew Levy, Senior Director of Employer Branding and Recruitment Marketing at Employera. Andrew and I have worked together for years during my time at Glassdoor and his position as Head of Talent Attraction/Employment Brand at Autodesk, Uber, and WeWork to name a few. I couldn’t wait to ask him my burning questions around talent attraction and what it will take companies to scale hiring in 2020, especially if faced with tough challenges like a recession.
Here’s a recap of our interview.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known sooner that’s made the biggest impact on your ability to recruit top talent?
Levy: All of you employment brand/recruitment people out there know this problem — there are endless vendors after your attention. I wish I had learned tricks for managing the volume of vendor relationships and getting the most out of them early in my career. My approach today: realizing you don’t have to manage tons of individual vendor relationships at a time. You can build one or two “aggregated” relationships through agencies — this is particularly true for recruitment marketing with partners like Appcast or Recruitics. The time savings is enormous.
I actually think that programmatic advertising is the single most impactful thing a talent organization can do to recruit top talent. It takes the guessing out of your media partnerships by focusing on funnel data and what it tells you. The beauty here is you no longer have to listen to the sales pitches from all those media vendors. You can treat each vendor like a test and scale up the ones who work based real funnel performance data. Managing this through an automation partner is the key to scaling and recruiting top talent.
I know you asked for “one thing” but I’m going to give you a few. Another “one thing” to recruit top talent is around “brand-building” campaigns for talent acquisition. I’ve learned to treat these types of campaigns like a garnish on your recruitment strategy. I’ve found it’s much more important to get great control of the funnel through programmatic advertising first, then focus on just a few branding campaigns that are hyper-targeted at your company’s most immediate, critical talent segments. Don’t try to do too much at once. Rather, look at your recruitment strategy and channel selection and make sure it’s delivering against the demands of the business. Do fewer activities and ruthlessly prioritize the activities that have the most impact on demand.
Q: What’s a common misconception that stands in the way of ‘greatness’ for recruiters and recruiting teams?
Levy: This may not be a misconception but rather a trap that recruiters and recruitment teams fall into. We tend to look to the shiny-shiny cool stuff to solve all of our recruitment problems. By this, I mean those cool, new point solutions and vendors that you can bolt onto your ATS to optimize some little issues in the recruitment process (e.g. AI interview scheduling, video interviewing, etc). These vendors can sometimes be more hassle than they’re worth because of all the work they take to implement, rollout, train and maintain. What’s more, these small pieces of tech often don’t solve the root cause that is preventing you our your team from being great.
Q: What can organizations learn from how unicorns (and soon-to-be unicorns) recruit?
Levy: I do think that unicorns have a willingness in their cultures to break a lot of things and fail frequently. I’m glad I spent many of my professional years growing up in unicorn companies. I was afforded the space, budget, and support to try so many (some zany) experimental recruitment marketing tactics that failed so badly I should be embarrassed. But I’m not. Where I’ve worked, leadership at all levels fostered and encouraged this break/fail culture. You learn to be resilient to stay positive when things don’t go right. Fail/break culture is something great that I think a lot of companies can and should adopt from unicorns. Unicorns could stand to adopt some things from other more established companies as well — like corporate governance — but that’s an issue for another day.
Q: What’s your favorite recruiting productivity hack?
Levy: My personal one is a vendor called Todoist. It creates a to-do list to organize your day, week, etc. It gives you visibility into everything on your plate and creates an easy way to prioritize, sort, and reschedule what needs to come first in the day. I’m hopelessly addicted to it.
Q: As recruiting scales, the headaches might scale, too. What advice do you have for companies as they grow their recruiting in order to keep the stress levels, miscommunications, and general chaos to a minimum?
Levy: As you scale, be sure to invest in supporting functional groups within talent acquisition like operations, analytics, employer branding/recruitment marketing, and program managers. There is so much stress on recruiters to perform; I think it’s important to build out the other functions within TA to support recruiter’s needs and limit that stress. Recruiting can be a brutal job — thankless and repetitive. Recognize that fact and allow space for your recruitment teams to work on passion projects. That can go a long way for retention and happiness. You need to let people grow and innovate to prevent burnout, especially as organizations grow.
Q: What types of conversations should recruiting leadership have with the organization’s executive team as they prepare to scale?
Levy: Scaling is expensive. When you get to a certain size, scaling requires a lot of headcount and supplemental programs within TA like recruitment marketing. The costs for marketing alone can grow to become one of the largest line items in the company’s HR budget. In most instances, recruitment marketing and talent attraction isn’t a standard or existing line item in anyone’s budget so getting leadership and finance on board to invest in some cases millions of dollars can be a bumpy road. Have the marketing discussion with execs early. Don’t get caught needing six or seven figure investments in marketing that’s not budgeted anywhere!
Another critical conversation(s) for recruitment leadership to have with execs is headcount planning/budgeting more generally. The sooner the company’s headcount budget is set, the better. The sooner recruitment leadership knows headcount, the sooner they can right-size the team and supporting staff. If you enter Q1 without a headcount plan in the hands of the Head of Talent Acquisition, your company is not going to hit its hiring goals and the business might slow down. That’s not good anyone! These conversations need to happen more often and earlier on in the year.
Q: What are some not-so-obvious problems that can arise (or have arisen, in your own experience) during times of scaling?
Levy: I’ve worked at companies hiring 10,000 roles per year. However, hiring doesn’t always move at that breakneck speed quarter after quarter. There will be the occasional hiring pause. When things pause or slow, this is not the time not to freak out about the recruiting team’s size. Don’t exit all those excellent talent acquisition people that you hired to help scale the company. Retain as many as you can and use their expertise to focus inward on talent acquisition. Take advantage of hiring pauses to focus on optimizing your talent acquisition programs and projects (e.g. campus, diversity, TA operations, job descriptions, etc). And let’s face it — without fail a few months later your hiring picks up dramatically and you need the people you just let go.
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