EP40: S.Hayward Consulting - Building Expertise in Contingency Recruitment (With Samantha-Leigh Hayward)

All-In Recruitment is a podcast by Manatal focusing on all things related to the recruitment industry’s missions and trends. Join us in our weekly conversations with leaders in the recruitment space and learn their best practices to transform the way you hire.


This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Lydia: Welcome to the “All-In Recruitment” podcast by Manatal. In this podcast, we explore best practices, learnings, and trends with leaders in the recruitment space. If you’ve enjoyed our content so far, please subscribe to our channels on YouTube and Spotify to stay tuned for weekly episodes. I’m your host, Lydia.

Today, we have with us Samantha-Leigh Hayward, a Global Talent Specialist at S.Hayward Consulting based in Cape Town, South Africa.

Thank you for joining us, Samantha.

Samantha: Thank you so much for having me.

Samantha’s Journey In The People Space

Lydia: So Sam, you have vast experience in the people space. Could you walk us through your journey and some of the areas in which you specialize?

Samantha: Certainly. Like most people, I fell into recruitment 17 years ago and started as a tech recruiter in an agency. Over the years, I founded three recruitment agencies, with New Beginnings being the last one. Closer to the COVID pandemic, I decided to change the business model and offer more in-house contracting services. So now, I do contingent recruitment and contracting.

Lydia: Contingent recruitment and contracting for tech, specifically?

Samantha: Yes, for tech companies. The majority of them have been in South Africa, but since COVID, it has expanded internationally.

Lydia: What regions do you cover now?

Samantha: I cover regions globally, as long as you can hire on your site. However, I haven’t worked in Australia yet due to the time zone difference. But I do have a few clients in the US, the UK, and Ireland.

Building Strong Relationships in Contingency Recruitment

Lydia: So Sam, I understand that you’ve created a community on social media for those in the recruitment industry. What was the aim behind that?


The aim is to get everyone to collaborate, network, connect, and learn from each other.

I think we’ve been one of the few industries that have bonded and got onto the same boat. So this is a really good space for us to share and also to share our findings. As you know, AI tech is moving at a rapid rate and we’re going to need a community to stay on board.

Lydia: How many people do you have in that network, right now?

Samantha: We have almost 800 people in our Facebook group. LinkedIn is growing a bit more slowly, but it still grows steadily every month, which is wonderful.

Lydia: So, in terms of contingency recruitment, what does it take to be a successful contingent recruiter?

Samantha: Definitely nerves of steel. I think it’s one of the few jobs where your sales product can decide at any moment that it’s not for sale. But in all seriousness, the most important thing is building relationships. The majority of my clients have been with me for at least 10 years, and the same goes for candidates.

It takes time to build a steady contingency model, but it can definitely be done.

Lydia: So, it takes years to build relationships and trust. Relationships are key to succeeding in this field, apart from skills and technology. How do you build strong relationships with clients that lead to higher trust and returning business?

Samantha: My previous boss always referred to meaningful relationships. That’s the key. With my clients, I know the best times to contact them and their working hours. The same goes for candidates. This sets me apart from agencies that come and go. It’s important to have a partnership and a more personal relationship.

Lydia: So, in scenarios where there is distance and the client is far away, maybe in a different time zone or cultural setting, how do you go about building a relationship with them?

Samantha: Being authentic is a big thing for me. From the start, when you’re meeting and taking down the brief, it’s important to be honest about who you are. If you can find the person, be completely authentic and transparent about it. I find that relationships are built quicker that way. We also have lots of Google team face-to-face conversations. It’s not quite like having coffee in person, but it’s the next best thing.

Overcoming Challenges in Contingent Recruitment for Tech

Lydia: Let’s talk about tech recruitment. You’ve been in the space for a while now, Sam. What does a recruiter need to know or do to solidify their expertise in contingent recruitment for tech?

Samantha: I believe the tech industry is vastly different from other industries. I have experience hiring for finance and then crossing back over to tech. It’s important to understand the caliber of people we’re dealing with. Engineers have their own ways of being interviewed and communicating. It’s also important to understand the basics of tech. I’ll never be able to keep up with all the details, but I do know what a tech stack is and why certain technologies are hard to come by. This helps me level with clients and tell them it won’t take me a week to hire.

Understanding which companies work with which technologies is also helpful for headhunting and saves time on research after receiving the job description.

Lydia: How long did it take to reach that level? How much research did it involve?

Samantha: It took over 10 years. It’s not something that can be forced. As you gain experience, it gets easier. And I think with most things in life, the older you get, the easier it gets.

Lydia: What are some common challenges in contingent recruitment? And how do you overcome them?

Samantha: I think the biggest challenge would be onboarding new clients and creating trust. As a contingent recruiter, you don’t necessarily have a say in the interview process, the speed of the process or the time in which feedback is given. When a client doesn’t trust you in terms of when I’m pushing and when I’m needing feedback, often a placement can fall off quite quickly.

And as you know, tech needs to move at double the speed. So trust needs to be formed and the client really does need to follow our lead because candidates are taking charge these days.

Lydia: And how does that compare with your experiences as a contract recruiter going into a company and being with them for a specified amount of time?

Samantha: It’s certainly easier.

I think when you’ve invested six months into a company, the client has brought you on board for a purpose. They know that things need to improve. They know that they’ve taken on somebody who specializes in their area, and they’re open and willing to receive feedback in ways contingent companies aren’t necessarily wanting feedback.

They might think that their process is perfect. So it definitely is easier to work with a contract company most of the time.

Effective Interview Processes and Recruitment Strategies

Lydia: Are you able to advise the company in terms of hiring processes or interview processes or their feedback and time etc.? In what ways are you able to advise a company as an independent recruiter in-house, as opposed to being a contingent recruiter?

Samantha: I would say it could start from what the company offers and employer branding because most of the people that we speak to aren’t happy. So we really know what they are looking for. We really are at the core of what candidates want.

We can advise clients on what they should be offering around the interview process and the speed at which that happens, as well as give feedback on technical assessments, although that’s going to change radically now with AI, which will be very interesting to see. And even up to the onboarding, recruitment doesn’t end when the offer is signed. A lot of impact is made when the candidate is onboarded at the same time. So from that entire process, we can definitely give good feedback.

Lydia: Do you have any examples of any successes that you’ve had in recent years?

Samantha: With regards to working on the whole process?

Lydia: Yes.

Samantha: I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with companies that have had phenomenal heads of HR. I have worked at smaller companies where we’ve created or implemented the first ATS and started creating the first pipeline. That’s also key in creating a future of work. So there certainly have been some wonderful successes, but we’ll only really see that in the long term.

An ATS system is just a structure. But what I’d like to see in a year’s time is our candidates reaching out to the company directly because of the marketing that was implemented and HR contacts candidates that are currently on their database because there should be a large backlog of candidates that could be contacted.

Lydia: Speaking of the interview process, you mentioned earlier how certain engineers prefer a type of interview style or process. So in the competition for skilled tech talent, which is so fierce, the length of the interview process itself can become an area of focus. Some candidates, particularly those in demand, may lose interest if the process is too long or if there’s no feedback being given at the right time. So what are some factors that you think a recruiter should consider when they design an effective interview process?

Samantha: Recruiters should know their clients, from their culture to technologies to what the future is going to look like for the candidates. When they do the screening interview, we can eliminate at least two rounds of interviews for the company. So HR wouldn’t have to interview and maybe the line manager wouldn’t either because we can assess the culture and very basic technology fits. Then the second round of interviews could be the tech assessment and then your final interview. Recruiting certainly can take time off. And as you said, it’s really essential that interview processes speed up.

Utilizing Technology to Optimize Hiring Practices and Improve Candidate Experience

Lydia: Speaking of technology, which we did earlier, there are plenty of tools to automate hiring and streamline that process, shorten it, make it more efficient, and eventually bring about a much better candidate experience. So how can technology like an ATS such as ours, Manatal, help to ensure that your hiring practices or hiring standards have been met?

Samantha: Sure, so I manage several hiring managers in the company. There are times when I can see that Tom, who heads one department, makes placements with me after he meets three candidates. But Sarah in another division needs to see six; that’s her comfort zone and then I can see that she can make a decision. So I often track the hiring managers, what my cycles have been with them, how long the placements have taken, and what the processes have been.

So in the future, we’re not thrown off by sending one CV and then another and then knowing that they need to see more. I do keep our stats and our ATS does track that. And then also to know where the majority of the candidates have come from. If I’m working with a hardware company, they’ve got quite a few risk strengths of trades. So I look back at the history of which companies the candidates have come from and it saves me a lot of time interviewing candidates that can’t move there as well.

Lydia: Now, that’s interesting when you look at the habits of the hiring manager themselves and you see what their preferences are so you just sort of shorten that time that you take to have.

Samantha: And that again just stems back to the relationship. Yeah, absolutely. Knowing their preference and really wanting to make the hiring manager feel comfortable with the decision.

Lydia: As a contingent recruiter, for instance, and being outside the organization, do you have more opportunities to meet the hiring manager? Or do you deal directly with the talent acquisition or recruitment team in-house?

Samantha: I would say a couple of years ago we would mainly deal with HR and the in-house recruitment team. It certainly helps to meet the hiring manager. And as I’ve aged, I’ve become a little bit more confident and have requested to speak with the hiring manager. It’s not that I want to override anyone’s process. If their process is to deal with HR and the hiring team, that is what I follow.

But often the message is lost in translation from the hiring manager to the hiring team to the contingent recruiter. So it’s good to know what the hiring manager is really looking for and to know their personality. That can also bridge the gap with culture. I know which candidate is going to work well with a hiring manager.

Lydia: So, what are some ways to bridge these gaps where you’ve got communication going on with HR, the recruiter, the candidate, and the hiring manager? How do you bridge these gaps in your experience?

Samantha: It’s a really good question. I think it’s really just about communicating a lot. No news is news. In tech, it can take a week or two to find candidates. To prevent people from feeling uneasy with no communication, I’m always in talks with the people who need me to tell them where I am in the screening and interview process. If I don’t have any candidates, I normally have most of the hiring managers on WhatsApp and will pop them a little message with an update just to ease them. So they don’t feel unsettled that the recruitment team isn’t managing the process either. But then again, it depends on the relationship.

Exploring the Impact of AI on Recruitment - Personalization vs. Automation

Lydia: It’s about relationship time and speed, being consistent with communication, and engaging with both your client and candidate to keep them both warm. That’s quite a lot to juggle for these days, especially when things are going so fast. How do you think AI is going to impact this? How would AI benefit or help in such instances?

Samantha: To be honest, I haven’t jumped on the AI wagon. I’ve attended quite a few webinars looking at how AI is going to assist recruiters, but I haven’t seen the benefits just yet for myself personally. Most of the placements I make are via headhunting and it’s extremely personable. I check my ATS to see if I’ve met the candidates and if I can have a reference to the conversation. This is something that AI will never be able to take over - my personal experience with the candidates.

So I just can’t see where it can fit in for me because my whole business is based around relationships and soft skills. But I’m open and listening, attending all webinars and waiting for the penny to drop. We’ve rewritten a few job descriptions to try to beef it up a bit, but it just doesn’t come across as if it’s from me. All my posts and everything that I make - if somebody had to put that next to AI, they could hear my voice in mine. And I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want to ever be a generalist, someone who just sounds like everyone else because I think I’m going to lose my search for contentions.

Lydia: What advice would you give someone who’s starting out in recruitment today, in the era of AI and all the technology that’s happening today?

Samantha: It’s all about meaningful relationships. Now is the time to start getting to know the clients personally, from the HR team to the receptionist (although I don’t think we have receptionists much these days since we contact everyone on their mobiles) to the hiring manager. And if you can’t get to the hiring manager, fight your way in there. For candidates, it’s really important to understand when they can talk, when they can’t talk, what their bugbears are and for them to trust you is really vital. So maybe don’t jump on the AI or tech wagon too much and come back down to having meaningful relationships.

Lydia: Thank you very much for your time, insights and generosity with your knowledge. I really appreciate it and I’m sure the audience listening in would want to connect with you. What is your preferred channel?

Samantha: LinkedIn for sure. Like any other recruiter, we all need it 24/7.

Lydia: Thank you so much, Samantha. We have been in conversation with Samantha-Leigh Hayward, Global Talent Specialist at S.Hayward Consulting in South Africa. Thank you for joining us this week. Remember to subscribe to our channels to stay tuned for more insights from All-In Recruitment.

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