EP19: Klaviyo - Taking Talent Acquisition to The Next Level with Automation, AI, and Technology (With Paul Abercrombie)

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.


The transcript has been edited for clarity.

Lydia: Welcome to the All-In Recruitment podcast by Manatal, where we explore 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 for our weekly episodes.

My name is Lydia, and joining us today is Paul Abercrombie, Director of Talent Acquisition from Klaviyo, who is in charge of talent acquisition for Europe, the Middle East, Africa, as well as Asia Pacific.

Hi, Paul. Thank you for joining us.

Paul: Hey, Lydia. Well, thanks for welcoming me.

Stepping Outside Of The Comfort Zone

Lydia: It was great to have you here. So, Paul, you've spent almost your entire career in recruitment and talent acquisition. You started with a role as an internal recruiter with the Ministry of Defense for some years and then moved on to become a sales recruiter. 

Then you spent the last 13 years or so in talent acquisition, focusing on these regions, Europe, Middle East Africa, and also APAC. 

That's a huge geographic coverage right there. So, tell us about your experiences through these years. What has kept you in the TA space?

Paul: Yeah, absolutely. So gosh, when I think about how long I've been recruiting now, it makes me feel a little bit old, to be honest. But yeah, nearly 20 years in total. But as you said, 13 years in the tech space. 

So, I started at the Ministry of Defense in the UK as a civil servant, where about thousands of civil servants in the UK work for various government organizations. It was a great learning experience for me. As a civil servant, you kind of have a career mapped out in front of you, so it's quite comfortable. But ultimately, I felt as though I wanted to kind of push myself and challenge myself in the commercial world. And so yeah, sort of six years on the recruiting team there. 

Then I moved to a company called Saleslogic, a sales recruitment agency, and I was employee number one. So the founder, myself, and then we hired sort of two or three other people very early days when I joined in 2009. I did manage to be successful, find some clients, and get some good momentum. I look back very fondly at that time. It feels like a short time, two and a half years, taught me so much and put me out of my comfort zone so many times.

It really helped me as well figure out what's important to me and what I enjoy. Ultimately, where is my skill set? So that then led me to join Bazaarvoice, which was actually a client of mine from an agency perspective. 

Ultimately, that's the direction I wanted to go, like in-house with a tech company, and to cut a long story short, I ended up moving over to Bazaarvoice. In 2009 having an in-house team was still a bit of a novelty like in the US, but it certainly built out a lot more. But an internal TA function in a company at that time, in Europe, we’re about 25 to 30 people, so still very small. 

And so it was exciting because there weren't a lot of people like me in London at that time. I've started to see more and more of it, but it was a really exciting step for me. 

With a lot of the skills that I learned from the agency world, I was able to move over to Bazaarvoice and help that team scale and grow. So in total, I was there for 12 years, which is a huge amount of time like it's especially in the tech world. You sort of see for four or five years, and that's usually considered, it's quite a good time. 

But for me, it was an amazing journey there. I joined as a recruiter, I was then promoted to senior recruiter, and then I was given the opportunity to lead the global team from London. So we had a team of recruiters and a manager in the US as well that reported to me as my team in London. 

But by that time, we also had a team in Lithuania and a team in India as well. So, it truly was a global role with people in all those time zones, including people in my team and hiring managers themselves. So, it was a long time, but a brilliant experience for me, and also, on a personal level, I've got so many fond memories of my time there. But it was just the right time for me to go and do something else. Klaviyo came along, and in truth, I sort of heard of the company, relatively familiar with tech firms.

Being A Great Communicator Across The Board

Lydia: So, you've had your base there already for 12 years.

Paul: Exactly. So, the mission here at Klaviyo was to grow out of EMEA and then in time, look at APAC as well. That's exactly what I've done, essentially. 

What's kept me in this field? So, it's obvious that bringing opportunities to people through their careers at great companies, likely Klaviyo, Bazaarvoice, or Saleslogic. It's just very rewarding, right? Seeing people come through, seeing them join the company, seeing them grow and be promoted through the company. It's just very rewarding, and I've taken a lot from that through all my years of doing that. 

It's also always going to be challenging in whatever capacity within TA you are. There are multiple skill sets that you need to use. I've seen this more, and more lately, particularly, you need to be a great salesperson, a consultant, be strong at marketing, be a project manager, and be a data analyst. You have to be strong in all of those areas, and give you variety, and what's more exciting than that?

Lydia: And you've got to be a great communicator because you're dealing with people as well.

Paul: Exactly. Stakeholder management. Internally, dealing with hiring managers, employees, VPs, C-level execs, and, just as importantly, candidates. Externally, being able to sort of articulate a company's vision, goals, and values as well as how that may link with their own particular vision and goals. And ultimately manage a process with those candidates as well.

Adapt And Grow: Facing Challenges In TA Head On

Lydia: So you've been overseeing talent acquisition across EMEA and APAC for Klaviyo for just over a year. Now, that's an interesting post-pandemic period. So, what are some areas of TA and recruitment you have prioritized since you've taken on this role?

Paul: My first priority was really building out my team as needed people here to deliver what is laid in front of us, basically. So, we went from one person to six in the team, including myself and a recruiter down in APAC.

It's challenging to have so many new people so quickly, but at the same time, it gives you a great opportunity to sort of set the groundwork, set the right expectations, and develop a bit of a rhythm for the team. 

So, the first focus really was on building partnerships with the business, hiring managers, and the people on my team. This is because they are not used to having such good in-house resources.

From a people's point of view, we were really able to step up in lots of areas and show how we can add value to the process and ultimately drive a successful talent acquisition strategy. 

Working hand in hand with those stakeholders and hiring managers is the key thing, right? That partnership needs to be tight, shared, and it needs to be one that is very open and honest as well. If you do that, everything else kind of will lead on from that. 

If I think back on some of the subtleties of the pandemic and how we had to adapt and change that, there are a few points that spring to mind. We continue to interview remotely today, focusing on building out our processes to ensure that we are evaluating candidates, skills, and competencies as you'd expect. But also, at the same time, allowing the candidate to get a real feel of Klaviyo and what we're all about from a values perspective and doing that remotely is more challenging. 

Even in the world that we've now adapted to, where interviewing over Zoom or whatever is pretty much the norm, we still get a sense that it's harder to give that candidate that real sense of what the company is all about. Some companies will sell themselves and they're well-known global brands. But for smaller sorts of companies like us that are trying to build that brand out there, it's a little bit more challenging. So, we've definitely had to work quite hard on helping every touchpoint of the process, help to build that picture of Klaviyo, our values, what we're all about, and why we're an exciting place to come and work.

Lydia: Did you already have some kind of foundation already set up in terms of what the employer brand might be?

Paul: There was definitely a foundation there, and I should say the work is still ongoing. In truth, we still need to develop it further. But a lot of the fundamental pieces, just like how a hiring manager would engage, and so many great things. 

Some of the ways we sell Klaviyo are by talking about a particular benefit or really highlighting career growth and the development plans within the company. There were some incredible things that we're doing here that we weren't necessarily articulating in a really strong way to candidates. So there was a baseline, lots of quick wins that we developed.

It’s About Candidates This Year And Beyond

Lydia: You've focused on the EMEA and APAC regions for years now, as you've just said. So it has that pandemic period, maybe the post-pandemic period even. Has that changed the TA market in these regions, in your experience?

Paul: Absolutely, yes. I'll speak about my own views and my own experience of it. Depending on what industry, sector, and where you are in the world, it will probably be slightly different. But I've sort of seen it in two waves.

It’s the first wave within the technology industry that the company sells technology to e-commerce businesses. During the first nine to 12 months of the pandemic, everyone in the world had kind of figured out what was going on. They believe that this is going to be around for a while, and we will need to adjust and adapt in some ways. 

Additionally, companies in the industry really began to accelerate in terms of hiring. All of the companies, particularly in this space, selling to e-commerce realize that the industry was going to accelerate very quickly through COVID. So, within itself, the share of trade in 2019 was 14%, and that moved to 17% in 2020. So only a 3% change, but in global commerce, it is a huge amount, and we saw this continue through most of 2021, indicating there is still, sort of, this momentum. 

What we've seen in more recent times is that it has changed a little bit which I will talk about later. In that time of accelerated growth for e-commerce, it had a knock-on effect across the business. Like my team, sales teams, marketing, and customer service, everything was growing more quickly. In addition, the ability to find the right to attract, to find a track, and to find and attract the right talent was so competitive during that time it was particularly challenging.

Meanwhile, the second wave is about some changes in terms of the talent market as a whole. Some things have changed and will remain forever, and I think it truly is now a candidate-driven market. 

Companies have to recognize things that are important to candidates and make sure that they are making themselves an attractive proposition to those kinds of things. So, if I think specifically about areas around work-life balance - which is hugely important to me personally -  and every colleague around me and choose the openness to remote work in company values and position on things like sustainability or giving back, I see more and more of that being very relevant. 

And then diversity, equity, and inclusion - those are more than just sayings. What does this mean for employees? What results have you had, and what is in place to make sure it can create a legacy within a company rather than just a one-off moment in time? 

So, something that will grow as the company grows as well. Previously, compensation was always thought of as the biggest driver in a candidate's decision. But I see now these things being equally important, especially when it is about work-life balance and diversity.

We Saw It Coming Before

Lydia: Yeah, so these are all really big changes or other gradual changes, actually not sudden, but it's forecasted.

Paul: Yes, I do wonder. Even if the pandemic hadn't happened, we would wish for that, I'm sure. But if we would sit here three years ago and look at the future of work, I suspect a lot of the things that have happened. We would have said I suspect, in 10 years, most people will be working remotely. But the pandemic accelerated all of that, and I think that is a benefit in some ways because it's kind of accelerated our move to the future of work in some ways.

Lydia: And there's also this uncertainty about where we're moving into in terms of the economy and where it's headed to. So, there are plenty of question marks in terms of how businesses would do. For instance, we've seen companies that have laid off their staff. 

Additionally, there are plenty of things that we are going to face going into 2023. But given all these changes that you've just talked about, and especially the need to quickly find the right talent and attract them, how did it change your approach to TA in this one year plus in Klaviyo?

Paul: In that first wave, where everything just started going very quickly, it was very competitive, and there was a very high demand for talent across the board. Going back to what I said earlier about recruiters having to be multi-skilled in lots of areas, that situation almost forced itself upon the talent acquisition industry. In other words, you had to step up across the board in all the different areas, and TA needs to be the thing that's always been in terms of delivering good talent into an organization, but it needed to step up in those other areas. 

To give an example, employer branding is a big one. But some companies are lucky enough to kind of have an in-house team that develops and employs brands, and we're fortunate enough to have one here at Klaviyo. 

But lots of smaller companies won't be aware of where that happens as it basically falls within talent acquisition. Ultimately, now they have to kind of construct this vision and this brand that they can then portray to candidates. Even in larger companies that have that function, it still needs to kind of filter out through the TA team. But I see so many companies, particularly small companies - with one or two recruiters -  they don't do so many wonderful and creative things due to probably budget constraints that ultimately drive great engagement one way or another. 

So, the employer branding bit really sticks out to me. But then this whole notion of recruiters having to become these multi-skilled individuals, like before, had the job board candidates apply screen candidates, past managers, but now it's a lot wider than that. To be honest, it was evolving to that before the pandemic as well. But again, I just think the pandemic accelerated that.

It’s All About The Speed and Quality In The Talent Market

Lydia: Did it put added pressure? I would imagine it has on the speed for hiring. I mean, you need this down right now and then all these things coming together, like employer branding, sourcing. Then you've got to find the right fit, and maybe there’s a lag in terms of timing. Has it in any way affected the time to hire?

Paul: It has. I think about the space that I'm in, and there's always been a need for speed. Let's say the demand for talent is high. When you're in a high-growth company, the target is quite aggressive. And so then you have to sort of really ramp up your processes to match that. 

But what I'm seeing now is an industry, the work of my team, and probably lots of similar teams out there, is more of a kind of shared understanding of how competitive the talent market is, and how collectively we can work together to try and make our hiring processes as efficient as possible. 

Nevertheless, it is not sort of a drop in the bar or skipping steps or fundamentally missing any of the key points that we need to cover with candidates. So, I see it more as a shared responsibility, as opposed to the TA team. It just needs to go faster. Everyone needs to go faster, and everyone needs to think about how to do that. But also, speed doesn't necessarily equal great results all the time. It's a balancing act. 

We are measured on time to hire in my previous company, but it's always with a caveat of quality. Ultimately, that's the biggest driving factor behind it.

Automation Is Among The Trends For In 2023

Lydia: As you have said, there are plenty of challenges up ahead for talent acquisition - looming downturn, maybe in critical talent shortages. There's this survey from Manpower Group that shows how talent shortages have reached a 16-year high. 

Three out of four employers report difficulty getting the talent they need, as you've just illustrated earlier. So, what are some talent acquisition or recruitment trends to look out for as we head into 2023?

Paul: I think heading into 2023, there are a few things that spring to mind that a lot of stuff I've kind of already touched on.  Also, in a couple of areas that haven't been talked about, like automation of processes and I see that in two parts. 

First, artificial intelligence is becoming better and better. There are opportunities to use tech in smart ways that will help drive efficiencies in your process but not impact candidate experience. 

"If you're in a large and well-known company, and after posting a marketing job, you get 1000 applications for that role. Now, firstly, that's a great situation to be in, but it throws out all kinds of challenges around how to manage that in the best possible way. There are technologies out there that can scan resumes and CVs by using AI to make quite smart assessments for the 1000 applicants to get the top 20 candidates based on certain criteria. Those are the ones that perhaps get focused on. So I think automating processes through AI will become more and more interesting.” 

I think the other piece that there is interesting, in my opinion, is companies being perhaps in terms of sharing information and building their brand around the diverse opportunity that a candidate might have within a certain organization. I see that as something every company is doing. But I could see it becoming the number one factor that an employer will focus on sharing with candidates.

Lydia: Shifting into 2023 and beyond, we've seen so many companies using more and more technologies, as you've said, and these technologies require some amount of tech talent to come in and drive them, right? 

So, what would you say, coming from your tech recruitment experience as well, the biggest challenges facing tech recruitment now, especially moving forward into the future? And how might we tackle them?

Paul: Yeah, it's a really tough one for tech recruitment. Companies are working to keep that top talent which is a good thing. So, the talent that is strong and successful they're being well looked after by their current companies. My experience with Bazaarvoice is probably more relevant where we have to really look globally at where those talent hubs are. We haven't traditionally looked at the US, and we built an engineering team in the country, which served us really well through our high growth time. 

But over time, we realized that ultimately focusing on one location wasn't just becoming more competitive. It was something everyone was almost becoming a bit exhausted with because it was pushing things too much. We had to diversify geographically, and initially, we opened up in Belfast in Northern Ireland, and then we moved into India much later on. 

We ended up with like three talent hubs across the globe - the US, Belfast, and India. And it was really successful in terms of opening markets where there was a whole new playing field for us to go and look for talent. 

What we then saw had this sort of initial buzz, excitement, and growth. But then, within each of those locations, it would become more competitive as well. So we sort of had a mini occurrence of the same thing in each one, But working across three locations was a lot more successful for us. So, I would say to those companies that they just need to be ready to be open-minded to global working and global locations. 

I know in engineering, that makes it very difficult sometimes with the teams, and you have your scrum teams and your products that you're focusing on. But I think that would be the number one thing to help people straight away. And then all of the other things that I've touched on, just ensuring a company is very open with their values and their plans and what it's like to work there and work-life balance and growth opportunities. 

All this sounds very obvious. But the more work you can put into that, the better. And then compensation is an interesting one. I think the companies that are looking after their top talent it's often competing, right? 

They're getting 10, 15, or 20% bumps in their salary. And it's very hard for any company to then just continue to say, “well, we'll pay 10% more,” and so on and on. I think that's kind of finished now where companies are just like, “Okay, that's getting a bit out of control. How can we build all of the other things to make this attractive for people?”

For tech talent, it comes with global mobility pay and the ability to work from anywhere. Career growth and goals are particularly important right now. Don't get me wrong. The compensation pieces will always be there. But I would say that flexible working pieces and the pathway within the companies have become one of the important factors.  

Tackling Diversity Hiring and Employer Branding]

Lydia: I suppose that's where Employer Branding, as you mentioned earlier, would play a big role, just to show people and give them a vision of what their life or their career might look like in your organization and how far they can go.

Paul: Absolutely. That should jump out when people look at a company. The way brands market to us is we see an advert on the TV, we notice something online, we see it in the newspaper, we see someone wearing the shoes or whatever, and we start to build a picture of that brand. And a brand can do it because its stuff is out there in the world. 

"In a TA situation, you only have a few opportunities. It's your job that you've posted. It's the link that that person then clicks on. It's that first conversation with the recruiter. It's the conversation with the hiring manager. It's a subtle thing like the email signature of the person that you're interacting with. We only have so many opportunities to build that brand, and we have to do it well.”

Lydia: There are some candidates who I've seen personally, and we also have heard people share that they see the brand, and then they get a second validation of what it's like to work there by asking someone else, “Hey, what do you think of this brand?” 

There's also another thing that does matter. The need for maybe brand ambassadors are coming from within as well. 

Paul: We've developed a system such that any hiring manager that is interviewing people at Klaviyo will go through hiring manager training, and they will learn to understand how to think about jobs, and how to build interview processes and think about competencies, thinking about how to interview people, etc. 

But there's a piece on there as well around how to articulate the brand and what it means to you and how you can pass that on to candidates. And it needs to be authentic. It has to be balanced. I want someone to be very open and honest with challenges. Because ultimately, I think people are drawn to those challenges. And they see how there's an opportunity to go and fix those challenges. 

There's a lot out there, such as Glass Door and others, that candidates will be able to get a very good picture of that brand. And then when they talk to someone, if that doesn't quite match up with other stuff, then all of a sudden, it does ring for your alarm bells. 

“So, I think authenticity is very important in building that brand message as well, especially in a one-to-one scenario when you're talking with a hiring manager.”

Lydia: That's interesting. Because earlier, you mentioned the use of technology moving into 2023. And plenty of companies today use HR technology or recruitment technology to find, attract and retain top talent. But going in that direction, what might be three HR tech trends in the near future?

Paul: I would say the automation piece is important now, and it'll continue to be more and more important. The interesting thing that I’ve seen is the usage of AI to target candidates. I guess that would be less for companies directly, but for job boards or agencies or whatever, it might be the ability to look at the community and to match jobs to people and to interact with those people telling them about jobs. 

You're kind of building a system there that is more aligned with the way people live their lives these days, interacting with media or whatever it might be. I think the old system, where you have a job board or candidate searches and applies for a job, it's still relevant today, but I feel it's slightly out of date. 

And to have those job boards evolved now into more of a network or community where they're applying for jobs, but more of a two-way thing, there's a communication from the tech to the candidate and then a decision is made, and they apply for the jobs, then they take it from there, basically. So, I think that the automation and AI piece is very important there. 

When you asked me this question, the thing that sprung to mind was the consolidation of tools. There are so many tools out there that almost blow your mind, and honestly, if I said yes to everything, I would just never get anything done because there is a tool literally for everything. Which is great, but at the same time, it makes getting stuff done, sometimes very difficult because there are so many tools that you have to think about or use. 

I love the idea of consolidation of tools. And this is something that I'm not going to sell. You're not gonna sell off here. It's more for the people that are working at some of these larger scales. They can consolidate channels and tools into one place. I feel as though it would make everyone's lives a lot easier. 

Lydia: Integrating these tools to match what you need at that point in the future. I think you raised an interesting point earlier about the solutions that would help in terms of finding diverse hires and looking for diverse candidates. Diversity is a huge piece. And lots of people are trying to bring their hiring strategies towards diversity and trying to open that up. 

And a big aspect of ensuring that you have diverse hires is also making sure that your recruitment teams and members and your team are diverse themselves. So, what factors that leaders, such as talent acquisition heads, and heads of recruitment teams, should be thinking about when structuring a team of diverse recruiters? 

Paul: When looking at diverse hiring, there is a temptation sometimes to think oh, I need to invest in a new tool or building strategy or launch this initiative within the company. I actually feel diverse recruiting is honestly just recruiting done well. And that might go against the grain sometimes. But I think if you're building your OTA strategy or recruiting strategy from the ground up, and you think about all the things that you need to do well, almost organically, that should bring you to a place where you're creating a good and diverse recruiting system. 

So, you're removing influences on unconscious bias in your process. You're developing a competency-based interview framework that is consistent from one candidate and the next, ensuring that you're leveraging all the channels for incoming candidates. 

Over-reliance on one can have a negative effect on diversity. For example, if we hire 10 people and all 10 people are referrals to the company, chances are there will be some adverse effect on diversity there. Train your hiring managers on this and develop an ongoing cadence to ensure it remains top of mind. 

I touched on it earlier with our hiring manager training, and we go into that as well. All these things, I feel like a fundamental piece of recruiting and if you do all of these well, the net effect of that will hopefully positively impacts your diversity. Now, if you're in a situation where you feel you're doing all of that and you're still not seeing the results, then that's probably the point where you think, “Okay, we need external support through an agency or from the ground up, work on different initiatives, etc.”  And by going back to my point, one of my colleagues here at Klaviyo, she helped me understand in great detail that a good diverse recruiting strategy is just recruiting done well, in my opinion.

Lydia: What about the recruitment team itself?

Paul: I think your recruitment team ultimately needs to be a very good balance of diversity. If you need to leverage all of the different avenues for candidates coming in, and if you have a recruitment team that is all the same in one way or another, then ultimately, the flow of candidates could look similar from one recruiter to the next. 

So, it's very important that you think about that as you build out your recruitment team. I'm lucky enough here to have four females and one male in my team and a real mix of ethnicity within that as well. And that allows us to hopefully see a positive impact on candidates coming through.

Lydia: When you've got people from various backgrounds, like your team, who are articulating the employer brand, you will come from different perspectives as well, which enriches the employer brand, especially for diverse candidates. So, it plays a big role, definitely in attracting diverse candidates, as you mentioned earlier. Do you have any perspectives on that one?

Paul: Yes, it's very important. An employer needs to be very inclusive in the way that they attract and then keep diverse talents. I see more and more going back to some of the challenges that we spoke about earlier. A lot of companies are realizing that they need to attract more diverse talent. 

And so then, internally, the diverse talent that we have is getting attracted to other opportunities. And so the talent that we have here, we need to ensure, across the board, that there are those growth opportunities, that there are those development opportunities, learning opportunities, that people can really grow with the company, we need to ensure that our leadership teams are diverse. And so people can aspire to look outwards, and sort of see that path for them. And that sends a big message internally.

I think it's very important for companies to celebrate diversity to recognize all the different events throughout the calendar year that are significant to different people. I love it. When I go on to LinkedIn, and I scroll down, and I see all these various celebrations in different parts of the world for various events, I think that's a really important piece of it as well. So that individual knows their company values.

Connecting with Paul

Lydia: Thank you very much, Paul, for your insights today. And for the benefit of our listeners and those watching. Where can they connect with you?

Paul: They can jump on to LinkedIn and find me the Klaviyo. There's not a lot of cool Abercrombie out there. So you'll find me easily enough.

Lydia: And we have been in conversation with Paul Abercrombie, Director of Talent Acquisition EMEA and APAC at Klaviyo. If you like our content, please subscribe to our channels and stay tuned for more weekly episodes from all in recruitment.

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