EP3: UB Source - Creating a Memorable Candidate Experience (with Mark Laothavornwong)

Welcome to All-In Recruitment’s third podcast in the podcast series where we interview talented and skilled professionals in the recruitment industry. For the third episode, we are joined by Mark Laothavornwong, Senior HR & Talent Acquisition Consultant, and Managing Director at UB Source who shares with us today knowledge and tips on the recruitment industry based on his years of experience. Listen/Watch to learn from Mark about how you can create a great candidate experience to contribute to a strong employer brand.

Getting the right talent can be simple, but it’s how you get them to stay that’s the tough part


The transcript has been edited for clarity.

Lydia: Welcome to All-In Recruitment. Thanks for making the time. I know you've had a long week last week and also this week is super packed for you. We're so excited to have you here.

Mark: Thank you Lydia for having me. I'm very excited too.

Mark Laothavornwong: Who is he?

Lydia: So let's start a little bit with your background. Just in a nutshell, you've had an expansive career in recruitment.

You started as a recruiter and you moved into making your own HR materials. That's a great enterprising attitude to have very early in your career, and then you went on to start an HR Tech company before going into regional talent acquisition. 

So, all in all it's been more than a decade in the recruitment industry. An exciting period to be in the recruiting industry. Perhaps you can start by telling us a little bit more from your point of view, your journey and your current role.

Mark: So, can I actually say hello to everybody first?

Lydia: Of course.

Mark: Hi, my name is Mark and people call me Uncle Bear.

About my career, I've done quite a few things in the past. Basically, I was working for a recruitment agency. I worked for HR consulting firms, learned a lot about leadership development and I got a chance to be an author. So I wrote a career book, and I was basically a career coach as well; helping people find jobs and how to plan their career.

Most recently, I joined this martech unicorn, basically leading the creating team across Asia Pacific and I learnt a lot from working with hiring managers.

Right now, I'm the managing director for Uni Source. We provide recruitment, we provide HR consulting like employer branding, recruitment marketing and also interview training for hiring managers.

Today I'd like to share my knowledge and expertise. I hope that it can be very useful for you guys as your job.

Lydia:  I'm looking forward to hearing more about your thoughts on the candidate experience. You mentioned you have a podcast and that's Uncle Bear that you're known as. So you've gone into podcasting yourself and you're also a prolific writer. So you've written a book and you regularly write blog pieces on this specific topic.

How's that been for you so far? Any interesting feedback or comments you’ve received?

Mark: I'm very grateful that people actually find it useful. So I do write pretty often on LinkedIn right now and you know, normally when I write, I try to make sure that the content I provide, people can find it useful and share it at the end.

I've gotten people who actually reach out to me to ask more questions about the content that I wrote, and some people like to say thank you.

So I feel like if I keep doing that and keep contributing useful content to the audience, I can learn a lot from them as well.

Tackling tech recruitment challenges today

Lydia: There's certainly a lot of useful content. People want to know what the newest insights are. Especially in the past 2 years, we've seen a push towards digitalization and most companies today are forced to be or they have to be tech companies.

In terms of recruitment, going back to your core expertise, what would you say might be the top three challenges facing tech recruitment today and how do we tackle them?

Mark: Alright Lydia.

Maybe I can emphasize on a few, maybe two challenges that I found to be the most fascinating.

The number one reason is that I think that maybe companies don't have strong enough employer brands.  I've talked to a lot of people and they've told me that it's really hard to find candidates in the tech industry. For me, I believe that there is enough but normally when you look for candidates, you want only one person for one position right? You don't need a lot of people, so how do you actually win them over, convince them to join your company. If you have a strong employer brand then to do that it's much easier.

How do you know if your employer brand is strong? There are quite a few ways to see. You can see when you post a job, you can get a lot of applicants or does it take long for you to find candidates. The time to till is a problem. So when you know that, maybe my company doesn't have that strong of an employer brand, you might do a few things.

For me, because I used to be a talent lead impact so I actually created some projects about employer branding by myself. But if the company has some investment, they can actually hire someone like an employer branding manager. I think that way, there can be a dedicated person to actually launch the project to be an EVP - employer value proposition.  You can either use an agency to help create that or you can create by yourself. Once you create that EVP, you can involve people from your company to help amplify your values.Maybe you can run a workshop, provide a course to teach them how they can become an ambassador, how they can write thought leadership posts on social media like LinkedIn or Facebook.

I think that way can really help the employer brand to get better and better. So that's like one of the first challenges I have seen. 

The other challenge I think is that companies have rules to improve the skill and the quality of hiring. I think to do that, from my experience, recruiters or talent acquisition teams must be more engaged with the hiring managers because if they don't leverage them then it's going to be very hard for them to improve the experience quality

How can they do it? For example, they can indicate to hiring managers to be more engaging with the hiring process. They can leverage their networks. They can maybe join the sourcing process or so to help the recruitment team to source the candidate. Maybe they can help in selling and closing the candidate

Hiring managers are key to success for any hiring activity to be successful. They can make or break the result. They can break candidate's experience.

When it takes longer, the candidate experience becomes poor and they can help increase the quality of the employer brand as well. So I feel like the recruiter or talent acquisition team should really work with the hiring managers.

Hired the wrong talent? Here’s how you can rectify it

Lydia:  Those are two of the challenges we see quite commonly amongst companies that want to hire tech talent, especially tech talent is needed across the board now right? There's also the challenge of maybe hiring the wrong talent in the urgency to hire. 

What might be the solution for that?

Mark: I think one way is definitely how you can help your hiring manager to interview better, to assess better.

I’ll give you an example. Normally hiring managers tend to focus on the hard-skills or someone from the same industry. Especially in the tech industry, they want someone from you know let's say, you want someone from tech right and for hard-skills it's trainable and when compared to attitude or values or their culture fit, those are the things that are very hard to train.

Recruiters can build a program to help hiring managers to nail how they can use behavioral questions better such as how they can stop using bias to assess those candidates.

From my experience, I was actually involved in these kinds of projects for impact. We actually created a global program for training all the hiring managers. But I was responsible for the impact.

The impact recruitment tools can have

Lydia: You make a great point. I think that the hiring managers do as you said "make or break the hiring experience" and the end result.

So we spoke quite a bit about the challenges and there are lots of tools out there to automate the hiring process. Our tool at Manatal is one of them.  What kind of impact do you think these technologies and tools can have on recruitment?

Mark: From my experience, I think it makes so much of an impact when it comes to your decision, what you want to do and what kind of projects you want to initiate.

So basically for me, how do I know what to start or what to stop. It's based on the data that I get from the applicant tracking system because normally, I look at this data pretty often and analyze it. But not only do I analyze it, but I try to understand it by myself and then  I have to communicate this data across to all stakeholders.

For me, I managed the impact report so I communicated the data through a presentation. I call it a quarterly talent review or QTR. In this presentation I showed the data, time to fill, how long does it take to find a candidate, what is the referral rate, what is the sourcing rate or agency rates and how many people did you hire from those channels.

Let's say if the referral rates come down, then you might want to use a  referral program. So I shared this information with the stakeholders.For me, I had to share this with the functional leads. For example, sales leaders, marketing leaders and performance leaders. So I also shared this with the country managers as well. Without data, without the platform, I haven't found a way to do this effectively.

Lydia: You've been in recruitment for 10 years.

Have you had to work through a time where there was not much data available for you to make these presentations and present this information to the hiring managers?

Mark:  I used to just use my own platform and you know it was let's try this and let's try that but without actually knowing why there’s a point already then there’s only so much you can do when it comes to recruiting. How do you know which one to do first, second or third? Or which one you should not even do anything about?

So yeah, I've been through those days where I just did whatever I wanted to do, whatever I felt creative about, I did it. But, I don't think it's that effective.

Caring about the candidate: how to ensure candidate care

Lydia: All that leads to how recruiters and hiring managers and actually how entire organizations deal and handle the candidate experience right? It goes back to your main point today. This is something you've been very passionate about and of course it's extremely pertinent to both recruiters and candidates.

What would you say are some ways that recruiters can ensure candidate care throughout the recruitment process?

Mark: I think first of all, I'd like to say that for me personally, I'm passionate about this because you know when I work with candidates and especially when I write something, I get a lot of candidates sending me a message and telling me about experiences where they felt negatively towards those employers. 

That's why you know I really want to help companies to become more equipped with ways of improving. So, I can share from my experience, I think there are two steps I would recommend.

The first step would be to measure where you are because otherwise you wouldn't know what your status is.

Are you providing a good experience or are you providing a bad experience? How can you know? The first source of truth would basically come from the ATS. I just spoke about it.  You read a lot of data from the applicant tracking system. For my ATS that I use, it has this candidate survey, you can create questionnaires and you can set it to be sent out after the second round of interviews. Then every time when you interview two people and you reject them, in the third round it will be sent to them. They will input answers and the comments.

Start from that and then use that to talk to your hiring managers. Use that to talk to the stakeholders and improve.

The second source of truth is you can also learn from the agencies. Let's say you use recruitment agencies. I think they can help you gather this information. So let's look at the agency that helped you for the past year. You're going to ask them "hey, did you hear any good feedback or bad feedback from the candidates? What did they say about the company?".I think that's very useful information.

The last one would be the new joiners. The new joiners who just joined you. In the onboarding process, maybe you can take time to talk to them and ask them to give honest feedback and you know really find out what can be improved.  Once you know where you are, you will know what to do next.

So the second step is to take action. You can improve the recruiters or talent acquisition teams directly. For me, I would normally help my team to improve the candidate experience like when they do phone interviews.  At the end of each call, they can just provide a holistic view of the process. So, you can let them know who will be in the interview, how many rounds, and how long it's going to take.

By giving this transparency to the candidates, they will know what to expect and they will think that this is very professional.

You know the other thing you can do is to engage with your hiring managers. Tell them how to provide a good candidate experience, how they can sell the company you know and how they can treat the candidates.

One of my tips that I like to use is to tell them to treat the candidates as if they are their siblings like brother or sister because you will never want to treat your brother or sister badly. So use that kind of mindset to treat the candidate and you will get a more positive candidate experience.

Keeping things warm: building a candidate relationship

Lydia: That being said, the tricky parts are usually when a candidate applies for a job but they don't get a reply and they feel as though they've been ghosted or when a recruiter has to reject a candidate. So this is a tricky one. 

What are some ways recruiters can reject candidates but keep the relationship warm.

Mark: I would say there are two types of candidates. Let's say the first group is those who just applied to your roles, I mean your positions.

Then you go through their resumes and you find they are or they're not the right people. If you have the ATS or applicant tracking system, you can basically just use the template. 

You're trying to write in a way that is friendly and maybe more empathetic I would say and use that to send to them. I normally have a rule that when we go through this applicant review, we have to do it within 5 days. So this is for the first group.

The second group are the people who have actually gone through your process. Let's say they have the first interview, the second interview. Some of them actually go through the presentation round, so they are the people who actually spend some effort and time with you. So you need to treat them with even more care. The way that I find to be the most effective is you need to give them feedback; that's definite that you have to give to them.

But when you give them feedback, use what I like to call the sandwich feedback approach. You provide bullet points like you are not moving forward because of this reason. The first bullet point is positive, great communication, strong experience in sales or something. Then the second one or third one can be a negative one. But the negative feedback shouldn't be something that is attacking them. It shouldn't be something that is too personal. Try to use some sentences that are a little bit softer.

For example, you can say something like "limited experience in B2B sales, mismatched in terms of working style". Something like that doesn't sound too bad. But try to find something that makes sense because if you give them something after three rounds of interview, they are overqualified, then they will be like what, it doesn't make any sense.

So yeah, I think using this sandwich approach will really help and then in the last paragraph, I would recommend adding “if you have any questions at all, feel free to contact me”.

Lydia: It's all down to how you communicate and the source skills of the recruiter and how they can make best use of the templates that are there so that they can communicate the difficult messages easily and keep that relationship warm.

Mark: You know Lydia, I want to add one thing. I actually have this experience dealing with some executive candidates. They go through five rounds of interviews.

Lydia: 5 rounds?

Mark: Yes. You know, a  very big position. When you want to reject them, you can't just do the sandwich approach anymore because they spend so much energy, time and effort. So what I did was, I actually had to ask my management team to write a paragraph that I can actually use to send to those candidates.  Or if I really need to talk to them, then I will talk to the candidate on the phone saying that if you need to get more feedback, my director is happy to speak to you about it.  When you say something like that, they're totally appreciating what you're trying to provide to them and you will leave them on a very high note.

Lydia: The recruiter has actually spent time and is giving them that kind of value that they've given during the hiring process. That's a great example. Thanks, Mark.

Have doubts about starting out in recruitment today? Here’s some advice for you

Lydia: Obviously you've related a lot about you know your own commitment to candidate care and candidate experience, so you've had a vast experience in this space.

What advice would you give someone who is starting out in recruitment today? And we ask everyone this question.

Mark:I think that if I would advise anyone who is just starting their recruitment career, I would tell them that they should learn how to be more analytic. How can they use data to talk to their hiring managers? You know if you talk to the hiring managers without any data at all, everything that you talk will be your opinion and people don't care about that. So, if they are prepared and  they go talk to the hiring managers during the calibration session,they  use data to show why they can't find the right candidates and use that opportunity to prioritize what the hiring manager can change the priorities of the role. It can help them close the role faster.  

So like I mentioned before, the hiring managers are the ones that can make or break you know your results. So, you know make sure that you have to data to show to them every time.

That concludes the end of All-In Recruitment, Episode 3

Lydia: Excellent. Thank you so much, Mark.

Those are really great points that you have narrated and shared with us today from your experience and also just focusing on the role of the recruiter and being proactive in giving feedback and also to maintain good communication skills for candidates who have come through long interview processes and it's nice that you have a 5 day time or at least a time-frame in which you reply candidates who have applied if they are rejected.

So thank you so much for your time today, Mark. It's been a really great pleasure to have you on the show.

I'm sure the audience wants to find out where to look for you. Where can they find you?

Mark: I'm very active on LinkedIn, so if they go on LinkedIn and they just search for Uncle Bear, I believe there's only one Uncle Bear on LinkedIn. So yeah, they can just search for that and you know they can just search Mark Uncle Bear and find me.

Lydia: Mark Uncle Bear? 

Mark: Yes

Lydia: I think that will be easy to find.

We've been speaking with Mark Laothavornwong who's also known as Uncle Bear. He's the senior consultant for talent acquisition and also the managing director at UB source and he's based in Bangkok, Thailand.

So do look out for future podcasts from All-In Recruitment and stay tuned for our next videos.

Mark: Thank you, bye.

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