EP31: Thoughtworks - Why Recruiting Is a Sales Role (and More) (with Reece Fallon)

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.

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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 with us today is Reece Fallon, the Director of Talent Acquisition at Thoughtworks. 

Good morning, Reece. Thank you for joining us from Toronto.

Reece: Morning, Lydia. Thanks again for having me.

Reece’s Journey In the Talent Acquisition Space

Lydia: Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got into the talent acquisition space?

Reece: My background is mainly from a sporting experience, organizational management with a minor in environmental science, and my MBA.

After school, I didn't look at job titles. I looked at more competencies that come with them where I thought, at the time, people from sport [background] would do well, and the second is recruitment. So I returned to London, and the city has a strong recruitment landscape, especially for junior people who want to learn and ramp up quickly. 

So I looked at competencies, the competitive nature, and the meritocratic environment they offer. I wanted to [work] somewhere where I could grow quickly and use everything I had learned in sports in a job. That's how I found my way into recruitment. 

I worked in London for a year and worked my way up to the ranks into a senior recruiter. Then I had a fascinating opportunity to move to Canada, where I continued in the technical recruitment space for about three and a half years. And then now, in my most recent role, a director capacity, looking after all things recruitment.

Lydia: So, what were some early steps that you had taken for yourself to help you transition from being a senior technical recruiter to managing a team of recruiters in Thoughtworks? 

Reece: I think it's still learning to this day, and I think it's that we will continue to learn. As a manager, the mindset had to shift from an individual contributor. 

Initially, I come from an agency background, where it's "how many numbers can you put on the board?" Now, you're looking at internal strategies that people you hire work directly next to you, contributing to the company's success. 

I used to have a mindset similar to an agency's, but I've changed it since then. When I first joined my current job, the shift in my thinking was noticeable, but the most significant change came when I started managing a team. It's you have to switch to take that team-first approach. So asking questions and listening to your team was the biggest eye-opener that initially helped me.

When approaching each new team member as a blank slate, it's essential to discover what motivates them, their strengths and weaknesses, and where they hope to develop. Understanding that a 'one size fits all' approach doesn't work, especially in talent acquisition, is essential. Sometimes, people succeed in recruitment by being extremely extroverted or making numerous calls daily, but that's not always the case.

And flipping it on that side, requesting honest feedback from my team is super important. So having feedback early on how I was managing them, how I was doing, and what they were looking for more from me, in retrospect, really helped. And the biggest one that stands out is shifting that mindset to becoming an accountability partner. 

So what I mean by that is leading by example and being the change I saw when I was in their shoes. I think that's really important.

Being that accountability partner and thinking about how we want to lead from a strategy perspective helped me go from a senior technical recruiter role to more management.

Lydia: So, with your background, how did you apply your athletic traits to manage a team of recruiters?

Reece: For teams to do well, you're only as strong as your weakest player. 

So building everyone up and giving everyone time and attention was crucial from an athletic to a recruitment perspective. 

And then, I'm very competitive, which also comes from my athletic side - providing that competitiveness in the team but keeping it friendly, fun, and fair. How can we actually compete potentially, then against other companies in our space, and get ahead of competitors in that retrospect, as well? So, from a team-building competitiveness perspective, athletic recruitment was pretty seamless.

Lydia: How would you illustrate this value proposition? Are there any success stories you'd like to share?

Reece: So, what Thoughtworks is presenting in that extraordinary impact sort of space, it's, we look at in some creating meaningful and lasting change through technology. So for us being a consultancy and working very closely with clients, it's more so developing innovative software solutions for them and also working in that social good space. 

That's something, especially in this day and age that we're in. It's more about how much revenue we can get. Although it's important to ensure that everything we do generates revenue, I also believe that companies should aim to do social good and help others, even if it means providing pro bono services, as long as they have the resources to do so 

An example of something we did at Thoughtworks is developing an open-source platform that provides financial services to unbanked populations in developing countries. Again, that platform developed at Thoughtworks has been implemented in several countries and has helped bring financial inclusion to millions of people. 

From my personal perspective, the impact is going above and beyond. Of course, you do your day-to-day servicing clients, that revenue-generating projects, but is there more that we can do?

Lydia: And with that value proposition comes the need to manage expectations, ensure productivity, and also team cohesion in the workforce. 

So how do you go about fostering that in Thoughtworks?

Reece: Yes, even with that remote aspect, Having that shift is challenging, right? I'm not going to sit here and say it's super easy to take everything that potentially works well when you're in the office to foster that culture remotely as well. 

So, as a business, we prioritize clear project planning and goal setting to encourage our employees to focus on delivering high-quality work. And with that comes culture. And honestly, it's at the forefront of what we do. And where we found that growth perspective to be able to really help us is that we're very flat as an organization. So it's a real opportunity to grow from within. If you look at many people from Thoughtworks, they've had multiple careers and different areas throughout the business. 

Let's say you start in the growth and sales team. That doesn't necessarily mean that in X amount of years, you wouldn't have an opportunity to work in the product space or potentially even the design areas. 

And then cross-functionality, where we look to work and agile methodologies, partnering with being extremely cross-functional. It's amazing for clients, and it really fosters that collaboration. What's also extremely important now is diversity and inclusivity. 

So we're working hard to create a culture where all employees feel valued and respected. And having those key points alludes to that value proposition.

Assessing Candidates Amidst the Ever-Changing Trends

Lydia: What we're seeing nowadays in talent acquisition is that many new trends are emerging. We're seeing a rise in different types of work arrangements, like contract work, and the need to build more connectivity within the workforce, all while maintaining productivity. Hence, soft skills and teamwork are as critical as technical skills. 

In your opinion, Reece, what might be some steps or tips to assess talent in this new trend?

Reece: I agree. With the new sort of remote-first world we're all living in, communication and team collaboration are needed at an all-time high. The majority of the candidates that I speak to and would even feel this myself; if I was looking to join a business, it's how are you fostering a culture remotely. And, again, that's a whole other topic in itself. But it's super important, and really keeping employees happy, the value proposition strong, and alluding to that business sort of results.

So assessing both technical and soft skills, something that's really stood out to me recently is hiring for potential and just for pure technical skills because there is no such thing as a perfect candidate. And in the remote world, being in consultancy, soft skills are extremely important, and emphasizing teamwork is massive.

Let's use our engineering interviews, where we use a pairing interview, which is much more collaborative than just a coding test or assignment. Because what that lets us do is not only we can measure technical aptitude but also collaboration at the same time. It's a great way to look for potential over experience. 

So, again, of course, previous experience is important, and it should be noticed. But that shouldn't be the only thing that we look at. And, as I just mentioned, try and assess candidates in a real work scenario. Could we provide candidates with an opportunity to showcase their skills in a real-world scenario, like an interview, rather than just relying on a coding test or other evaluations that don't give them a chance to fully demonstrate their abilities?

Lydia: It's interesting how you talk about hiring for potential because my next question is related to future-proofing recruitment. Hiring for potential is definitely a great point to meet there. What other ways to think about this aspect?

Reece: I think alignment is really important. So alignment with your internal staff in teams, it's an all-time high. 

"I really feel like it is, especially when you envision some growth within your business. So something that we're really looking to do here is to be proactive in recruitment rather than fostering a reactive approach to hiring." 

Instead of being reactive and scrambling to fill roles as they become vacant, we want to be proactive and anticipate what our business will need in the future. By analyzing industry trends, we plan ahead for Q1 to Q4 and stay ahead of the curve.  

Because, again, yes, you may hire them. But are you all the time going to get the best people for that role? Are you able to incorporate DE&I? Are you able to hire for potential when you do that if you're reactive? If you get lucky, but probably not. 

"So I think aligning talent acquisition and business functions is important." 

And we've seen great success doing that recently. Because we're even looking at industry trends, right? So, for example, is there X type of skill set that is really hot in the market right now? If it is, we need to get ahead of that. We need to be creating projects and reach out to these people. We must set ourselves runways of eight to 12 weeks rather than the traditional four to six because that will allow us then to get ahead of the curve. 

And as I just mentioned, staying current with industry trends and technologies. So again, relating to proactiveness, keeping up with what's happening in your industry or market, whether it's related to technology or not, can be incredibly helpful. By staying informed and up-to-date, you can gain a deeper understanding of the trends and changes that impact your work.

And then building a strong person or an employer brand - promoting the company's values and missions. By getting it out there, attending events, and really being a champion for the business you're working in from an employer side, but also a strong personal brand. 

Having that strong personal brand is never going to hurt, either. And summarising all that, it's collaboration, like ensuring your recruitment strategies align with the company's overall business and future needs, right? 

We've seen many layoffs recently where this hasn't happened. It's been a very reactive state to the market. Everyone else is hiring, and we might need more talent. Let's make sure we hire just as quickly, and then it doesn't actually meet the needs of the business. That would be my main goal with them. But it doesn't always work. There will always be reactive roles 100%, but if you can get ahead of them as quickly as possible, it will help.

Impact of Technologies and AI in the Talent Acquisition Field

Lydia: You made some great points, especially when you're talking about looking into what the trends are. You are preparing yourself for the trends that will directly affect the niche you're watching out for in those spaces and then matching that with a strong EVP or employer brand even. 

Also, in terms of keeping up with trends, AI has been widely adopted in many aspects of business today. We see the different kinds of use cases for ChatGPT, at least in the last two or three months.

How can talent acquisition professionals benefit from artificial intelligence?

Reece: Yeah, that's really interesting. It seems like ChatGPT is everywhere at the moment, and I played around with it yesterday evening just to see its power, and it's crazy.

Lydia: Did you try something out? Did you try to create a document or some letter?

Reece: I wanted to see how well we could write InMail to prospective candidates. So I just typed in, "write InMail to a prospective candidate from x company, using the top three selling points in technology. And within two seconds, it wrote a really good InMail. Honestly, I had to sit back and be like, "This is crazy." It was really good quality. But there are pros and cons. 

Again, it's still very early. It will help if you're looking to switch up some ways to communicate, especially from a recruitment sense, or you even want to have your own education. For instance, if you're writing an InMail, "what are the top three challenges of X company that you're looking to hire from?"

It will provide that to you much quicker than you do in your own research. So for that concept, it's good. I think it's great for that. 

"But for recruitment as a whole, I wouldn't want our industry to lose its authenticity. Especially because we're working with people." 

We're not selling a SaaS platform or one set product that does the same thing repeatedly.

I wouldn't want us to lose that in-person touch well. And that's even through written communication. So it's really cool. And I know AI is going to become massive and growing, especially in our industry.

But now I'm on the fence. In a few months, I might change here and there, and now it's great in some aspects. But I would only use it sometimes because you want to keep your self and brand. You also want to make what's good about you.

Lydia: So Reece, in your opinion, what is the impact of recruitment technologies such as Manatal's ATS, for example, for hiring, and what are the benefits that you've seen in your experience?

Reece: It's massive for efficiency. Many of the tasks that you may have had to do manually in a hiring process are now automated. 

So again, that frees up a lot more time and allows you to focus on what's more important, as I alluded to earlier on - that strategy on that sort of go-to-market on that EVP rather than manual tasks. That then leads to that improved candidate experience, right? Any recruiter, anyone working in that talent acquisition space, like candidate experience, is at the forefront of what we do.

I feel many of the technologies we can use allow that seamless and personalized experience. Touching on personalized experiences is really important because we've all been through interview processes where we feel like just another number, or it takes ages for recruiters to get back to us. 

So I feel like implementing technology, even if you're rejecting a candidate, is a lot more "personable." It's a lot more direct. And that really leads to one positive candidate experience, and it also leads to future hires because that person may not be a fit now. 

And then it's data. Any talent acquisition function that wants to improve must be data-driven. Now, using this technology provides cleaner data and broader insights at a click of a button. 

I still love Excel and spreadsheets, but having to go through and look at all the data manually, you can get them done with a click of a button. By using this approach, it becomes easier to plan your next move strategically and reach a broader range of candidates. We've had great success with building our candidate pipeline using this method.

Reece’s Advice for New Players in the Talent Acquisition Game

Lydia: ​​What advice would you give someone who's starting out in the talent acquisition space today?

Reece: So more what I've alluded to earlier, learn to sell. People may think that's a strange thing to say since it's a procurement role and not a sales role. I'm a big believer that talent acquisition and recruitment are about sales. 

"It's a very multifaceted sales role because you're selling the business that you work for. You're selling the role. But then internally, as well, you're also selling the candidate in some retrospect to the hiring managers."

So having that sales acumen, and again, this doesn't mean like a "sell me a pen sort of retrospect," but being able to sell in this industry is very important. Another one I'll touch on is building your personal brand, internally and externally, both as important as each other.

"I think once you build your brand internally, you're going to have a lot easier conversations with hiring managers." 

They're going to listen to you, respect you, and they're going to have confidence in where you want to go. 

And especially if you're in a bigger company, internally building that personal brand is very important, as learning the business inside out. That is probably one of my biggest tips today because if you learn the business that you work for inside and out and the roles that you're hiring for as well, you can really pivot your conversations from what you've learned. 

I'll emphasize that because we've all been on the other end of a phone call where it's especially the recruiter screen, it's extremely scripted, which is fine in some retrospect because you have to get the key points out. 

But if a candidate asks a question, or you want to find out more about the company, and it still stays on that script, from a candidate experience perspective, it isn't good.

And there is no set template for what makes an amazing recruiter. So, be yourself. Everyone does it differently. Take advantage of any app that works for you and what you enjoy about the industry. But even if I'm doing something, it may mean something other than that's going to work for you and vice versa. So be yourself. 

And then, finally, don't be afraid to fail. That is super important. You're going to fail over and over again in recruitment. It's tough. You're going to have highs and lows. But again, don't be afraid to fail. Keep going, and the results will come.

Lydia: It's an interesting perspective thinking of sales as consultative and persuasive. For example, for both the candidates or even passive candidates, also your internal stakeholders, people who have to ultimately depend on your insight as well to make a choice, and that's really valuable advice. 

So, thank you very much for your time and insights today Reece. Those who are listening in would like to know where to connect with you. So where can they find you?

Reece: Yes. So LinkedIn is absolutely fine. You can search for my name Reece Fallon, at Thoughtworks. Always happy to connect on LinkedIn. Also more than happy if anyone is new to the industry or just looking for some tips or, again, wants a general conversation. 

Definitely feel free to reach out to me. For anything Thoughtworks related, you can check out the careers pages on that as well. 

Lydia: So, thanks again. Reece. And we have been in conversation with Reece Fallon, the Director of Talent Acquisition at Thoughtworks. Stay tuned for more weekly episodes of all in recruitment. Thank you.

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