Welcome to All-In Recruitment. A thought-provoking, insightful series of podcasts. This series dives deeper into understanding what diversity hiring means in the modern day. Additionally, we come to learn more about the importance of recruitment tools and technologies can have in streamlining the process.
The transcript has been edited for clarity.
Lydia: Welcome to the All-In Recruitment podcast by Manatal where we explore the best practices, learnings, and trends with leaders in the recruitment space. If you like our content, please subscribe to our channels on Youtube and Spotify to stay tuned to our weekly episodes.
My name is Lydia, and joining us today is Anita Lettink, a partner at the Strategic Management Center based in the Netherlands and founder of hrtechradar.com.
Hello Anita, and thank you for joining us on this podcast.
Anita: Hi Lydia. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here.
Lydia: So, Anita, you’ve spent more than 20 years in consulting, holding corporate and executive leadership roles, and working with large global companies. Walk us through your journey towards HR and why this space matters to you.
Anita: I accidentally moved into the HR space. I worked in the technology sector, and a former colleague of mine had joined an HR company. He then reached out to me and said, “we’re doing some really cool stuff with technology, and I think it’s something that you would enjoy. Would you come and interview with us?” At first, I thought, ‘well…HR…’ That doesn’t sound cool to me at all. But then, I decided to go and have a conversation with them. I heard what they were doing was very state of the art at the time, which is why I decided to join.
Then, shortly after the Internet crisis happened and companies weren’t interested in buying state-of-the-art technology anymore. Instead, they wanted to buy technology to run their HR service centers. So, over time, I pivoted and started to work with CHROs (Chief Human Resources Officer) to really understand the business and to help them facilitate HR departments into becoming more efficient and effective through the use of the technology that was available. It meant that I had to talk about HR topics, visit HR departments and learn a lot about the workings of HR.
From then, it was the combination of how you can best run HR using the technologies that were available and also which are the best technologies to help your employees thrive. This somewhat became a red threat throughout my career in HR.
Lydia: You founded HRTechRadar.com over two years ago during the pandemic, and you’ve got all these experiences with you. So, what is the mission behind it?
Anita: So shortly before the pandemic, the company that I had worked for was acquired, which made me decide that this was a great moment for me to step out and do some traveling. I was supposed to be on sabbatical, but then, as you know, all the borders were closed, and I couldn’t travel at the time. But, at the same time, I was approached by young companies who were in a tough position, and I had worked with them before.
These companies told me that they were unable to show their solutions anymore because all events were canceled. They were unable to get in touch with CHROs (Chief Human Resources Officer)because they wouldn’t pick up the phone as they had other things to do. Everyone was just trying to get their companies through the first months of the pandemic. I decided that they deserve to have a place where they can be spotlighted, and that’s how I founded HR Tech Radar as a company that acted as a central point where young companies at the time could have a profile.
I wrote about them, and I also used my network as I have an extensive network in the HR space to draw the attention of my audience to these young companies. I believe that to properly handle the problems of the 2020s or at least of this decade, you need to be ready to support a modern workforce which means you need modern tools and modern solutions.
For me, that was a really good way to bring the two together. I’m really happy to say that some of the companies that I’ve worked with in the early days of the pandemic have eventually gone on to receive funding rounds from big investors and are now some of the star companies coming out of the pandemic. So, that really served a purpose at the time.
Lydia: That’s interesting, Anita. How young were these companies? You mentioned that they were young companies, so how old were they on average?
Anita: Most companies, or at least all the companies that I’ve worked with were founded after 2015. The reason why I chose that year was that I found it to be an important year where solutions to modern technologies such as running the cloud and using the latest and greatest available technologies could be bought and used for the next 5-10 years to serve your workforce needs.
Lydia: As your tagline says, “the word of work is really changing rapidly.” It runs parallel with the rapid changes that we see in the technology that you earlier pointed out. A PWC survey that I recently saw stated that 58% of companies use HR technology to find, attract and retain top talent. So, what would you say are the three HR Tech trends in the near future?
Anita: I’ll start with a trend that is not quite a tech related, but it is an HR trend that does explain the other two trends.
The first trend is obviously the labor shortage. In some countries, it happens because of demographic reasons. In other countries, there are different reasons. But, a labor shortage is something that is currently happening in a lot of countries around the world.
This brings me to the second trend, which is that there is a need to develop people from a skills perspective. We are living through a time where there is a digital revolution or digital transformation, and that means that there are changes in job requirements. Not everybody has the right skillsets. I’ve seen a lot of companies developing new solutions to help employees develop the skillsets that they need and to fulfill the demands of modern/new jobs. Many of these people had their education around 20 years ago, and maybe they took some courses along the way, but they’re not really prepared to take on these jobs, especially because there’s so much technology involved now.
The last tech trend that I see is automation and Artificial Intelligence. Essentially, helping people to do their jobs by taking away repetitive, manual activities that could be executed by machines. The interesting thing I think is that surveys and research now show that people are not afraid that a robot will take away their jobs. In fact, it’s the opposite because people have so much work to do, and there aren’t enough colleagues to help them get the work done so they welcome the opportunity to have a robot deliver some of the work they deem to be low-value and that way they can focus on high-value activities.
I think demographics or labor shortage, skill solutions, and automation are the tech trends for the next couple of years.
Lydia: How should recruiters and HR leaders prepare themselves in order to embrace these trends? The trends don’t look too far into the future. Some of them are already happening. So, what should they equip themselves with?
Anita: I think when you look at HR leaders and also recruiters, they are very busy these days. People have come out of the pandemic where they were fully dedicated to making sure that everyone stayed healthy and were able to work, especially HR leaders. New policies and procedures needed to be created. So, as a result of that, everyone was super busy.
Coming out of the pandemic, recruiters started to get super busy because there were so many job vacancies. In most cases, companies had started to grow unexpectedly, and they were heads down in making sure that vacancies get filled. So, what I find so important is that even though you’re busy, you should still take an hour or even thirty minutes every week to reflect on what you’re doing and see if there is a better way to do it.
In recruitment, a lot can be automated these days, but not a lot of people do that. I know it takes time out of a busy schedule, and you might not want to devote that time to do so, but it could save you considerable time over the next couple of months.
“I think you should take a step back and see how you can benefit from some of the latest technologies or maybe from a different solution and see what you can do to bring that in-house and help you get the job done.”
Lydia: A report from PWC says that the top challenges for HR departments are, as you’ve rightly pointed out earlier; retention, recruitment, and employee upscaling. How might technology be helpful in such instances?
Anita: I think it’s a combination of technology and people. If you look at the new technologies that come into the market, the interesting thing was at the start of the pandemic, most of these technologies were centered around the remote workforce. Then, last year there were indications of a labor shortage. So, you would suddenly see a flip to talent acquisition and talent management solutions.
People understood that we had a problem attracting candidates, and we also had a problem retaining the people that already worked for us. We needed to do better. There are now many solutions that help you see how people are doing. For instance, what I find fascinating is that some companies have developed bots that will pop up during the work week on the screen of an employee and ask a question such as, “how are you today?” or “is there something that I can help you with?” or “do you have a question?” And based on the answer given, they can assert what that employee's engagement is.
They will then be able to start a conversation, and they can also provide some help. If that employee, for instance, says, “look, I’m struggling because I can’t find a daycare for my kids.” The bot can show solutions that might work for them. It can help with practical things. The company and the employer will not be able to read the conversations but based on the tone of voice, they will know how their employees feel and what the engagement is.
The interesting thing is that employees really open up to bots. It’s because the bots aren’t their managers, and they find them to be non-judgmental. As a result, they tell the bot more than they would tell a person. Some companies that have applied these technologies have done really great in the area of retention because the bot has already figured out that there is a problem with an employee as the manager notices that there is.
This is also because of the tone of voice of the conversation. There’s a lot you can discover with technology these days that you probably wouldn’t be able to figure out on your own, so that’s just one example. There are, in fact, many more.
I would say in the area of employee upscaling, one of the things that I find really interesting to follow is personal coaching. In the past, executive coaching was a phenomenon and it was mostly offered to the top ten or top fifty of the company. But now, technology allows you to offer personal coaching to a much broader employee group. That is also something that is in development where a lot of new companies are popping up and offering all kinds of solutions that help with employee upscaling.
“I would say personal coaching is definitely a trend to watch out for, and it’s something you should see if you can apply to your company because ultimately what it does is it offers a personalized experience for employees and anything you can do to personalize your HR experience is a win.”
Lydia: Speaking of trends, there is one that is being talked about. It’s called reverse recruitment, which is widely defined as companies applying for candidates instead of the other way around. So, what are your thoughts on this strategy, and in what instances would companies opt for this?
Anita: First, reverse recruitment isn’t new. I think it’s becoming broader applied at the moment. But certain companies like law firms and financial firms have always reached out to students from top universities. These students often have had 10 job offers before they’ve even graduated. It’s a really good way to get in touch with someone who might be a great candidate for you very early, develop a relationship with them and get them to work for you once they’ve graduated.
I think what you now see is that more companies are applying that principle. If you want to go down that path, you have to do it really well because you shouldn’t wait till the candidates are close to graduating to reach out to them and offer them a job. You have to develop a way of building a relationship with these candidates one or two years before they graduate.
Again, if you want to go down this route, then you have to think the whole process through and deduce if your company will be able to support spending two years developing relationships with these candidates before you actually hire them. I don’t see this as being a good strategy for a lot of roles. Still, if you are sure about the education that your typical candidates have, and you know which schools deliver the best candidates, then this could be a very valuable route for a company to take.
Lydia: Suppose, in terms of demand for talent, there’s also very fierce competition for tech talent and suppose this is also the space in which some companies might be looking towards sourcing candidates.
Lydia: I like how you brought up that it’s not a new practice, and it’s been done in law firms and even, as you said, finance. Now, it’s gone into the technology scene. In terms of technology and automation, that brings me to my next question. What kinds of technology would HR leaders and recruiters need to consider in order to execute a successful recruitment strategy?
Anita: Well, most companies by now will have an Applicant Tracking System. That means whenever you have a vacancy, candidates will apply for the job, and you will then run them through a funnel from a long list to a shortlist. A lot of these steps will get automated so that you only spend time as a recruiter on the profiles that are really interesting to you.
There are two things that you need to watch out for. Firstly is that up until now, companies have been able to increase the requirements for roles without too much of a problem because there were more than enough candidates to consider. So what you see now is that because there are fewer candidates available, it might be a good idea to look into your system and understand how these decisions are being made, who is being turned down and such.
Your talent pool might actually hold a lot of potential candidates that you don’t consider just because your requirements are still somewhat on the high-end instead of the requirements that are absolutely necessary to fulfill these roles. I think there are a lot of candidates in the talent pool, more than what companies think there are.
Secondly, I would urge companies to do is to contact candidates that are turned down. What I see is that as candidates move through the stages, they’re turned down, and they are still not contacted by companies because they are out of consideration. But you never know if you might need that same candidate for a future role.
“A candidate will always remember how you treated them in a prior application.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen candidates making remarks online about the application process, and sometimes, I find that I’m a bit flabbergasted because these technologies allow you to tell candidates at the time that they’re out of consideration. Why would you not use that and send them a nice messaging saying, “well, for this role, we’re not considering you anymore.”
Because the consequence of not doing so is that people go online and talk about these companies in a derogatory way which leaves a mark on your brand. I think companies could do more by using these features and functionalities of recruitment systems to their advantage. Sometimes, it can become a liability when they don’t. That would be my observations around the use of technology in recruitment.
Lydia: You bring up great points on how every step of the way in the hiring process affects the candidate, and the candidate pool is so wide and large. It’s diverse, in fact. How might technology help in ensuring diversity in hiring practices?
Anita: It’s a really good question, and I think it’s also a question that companies are struggling with, especially when it comes to using technology. Many of these systems now have Artificial Intelligence built into them and that means that the software is making decisions for you. You have to be very alert to the types of decisions that they are making. What has been happening is that based on successful hires, many ATSs can ascertain that these are the characteristics of a successful hire so therefore these are the people or the resumes that we should be advancing to the next stage.
We all know the examples of companies that overly rely on these types of technologies, which then end up with a non-diverse candidate pool, and consequently, a non-diverse workforce. One of the things or one of the practices that I applied in my past roles was that for every hire we had, we had a diverse group of interviewers.
So, you would always talk to people from different cultural backgrounds, age groups, and other diverse backgrounds. We thought it was important that people understood who they would be working with in the future. We let diverse hiring teams make decisions on the candidates, and that meant having different decision criteria taken into account when choosing who they want to work with. Using these diverse interview teams was one of the main, or I would say, successful ways of getting a more diverse workforce for us.
Again, I would say that you should use the technology up to a certain point but ultimately people are making the decisions. I know that it is always the people that make the ultimate decision, but maybe you should bring them in a little bit earlier.
I would like to raise another point which is that there’s also a liability that you might run into when you use Artificial Intelligence. As an employer or as a recruiter, ultimately, you’re responsible for the decisions that are being made and the questions that I always ask my customers is, “when things go wrong, and a candidate takes you to court, are you able to explain to a judge the decisions that were made during the selection process?”
If you can’t answer that question even before something happens, then there’s something wrong that you need to fix. Whatever decisions are being made by Artificial Intelligence in your ATS, ultimately, you’re responsible for them. You need to figure out what they are if you currently don’t know what they are.
Lydia: These are ultimately decisions made by people in order to hire people, and Artificial Intelligence comes in as a great example in terms of streamlining the process, such as in terms of selecting, making suggestions, and recommendations. Those are some great points that you shared earlier about ensuring diversity in hiring practices. Now, what are some actionable steps that you think leaders and hiring managers can take to ensure diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
Anita: My first advice would be that you should set the right example. You can’t tell your people that you foster a diverse and inclusive environment if your team is all the same. It doesn’t matter if it's from age or cultural perspective. I think that leaders have to lead by example, so their teams need to showcase the diversity that they expect from everyone in the workplace.
If you start at the top, people will always look at what’s going on at the top level. If you do the right thing there, that will trickle down into the workplace. I also don’t think that it is wrong to set KPIs on diversity when you come from an environment that is non-diverse and you want to deliberately change that because you want to represent in your business or you want to mirror in your business what you see your clients or the people you work with doing.
Those are some of the things that you can do. Now, if you find that hard, then there are so many organizations available now that can help you reach your goals in these areas. So, don’t be afraid to ask for external help if you find it difficult to accomplish this internally. It’s a very sensitive topic, and it is very easy to get it wrong.
Once you get it wrong, then you can’t fix it anymore. I think the other thing is that you have to be sincere about it. If you do just one or two diversity hires, and everyone is aware of it, then you’ve lost the game. This is not something where you say, “we do one and two, and then we are okay.” This is something that you need to infuse into your organization. It is a culture that you embrace, an attitude that everyone must embrace to ultimately end up with a diverse and inclusive workplace where everyone feels welcome.
“Being sincere about it and leading by example are two of the most important things you can do from a leadership and hiring manager perspective.”
Lydia: Anita, in your opinion, what might be the role of employer branding? I know you mentioned this earlier about how the candidate's experience, if it’s unpleasant, ends up outside and that it becomes a dent in your employer’s brand. So, what might be the role of employer branding in attracting diverse candidates today?
Anita: Employer branding does not start at the moment you want to hire someone. Instead, it is something that should be started long before your actual vacancy. It is your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter accounts and the way that you position yourself on your website. When you consistently show what life in your company is like and that reflects diversity and inclusion, then it becomes a non-issue because it shows that this is something that is normal in your company and you have a diversified workforce.
Make sure that people, when they start to become interested in working for you, can look at your external communication and see that, “oh, this is not something that they changed to last a month. This is something that they embraced a couple of years ago. It’s life as usual at this company, so it is not an issue.” I think that is the most important thing that you should do from an employer branding perspective.
Lydia: Thank you very much, Anita, for your time and your insights today. I’m sure the audience watching us would want to connect with you. Where can they find you?
Anita: The audience can find me on LinkedIn if they search for my name Anita Lettink. They can also look up my website anitalettink.com. That’s quite easy, I would say.
Lydia: We have been in conversation with Anita Lettink, founder of hrtechradar.com and partner at the Strategic Management Center based in the Netherlands. If you like our content, please subscribe to our channels to stay tuned for more weekly episodes of All-In Recruitment.