Welcome to All-In Recruitment. A thought-provoking, insightful series of podcasts. This series discusses ways to develop the right people strategy in startups from the get-go and build on that to create a strong company culture. We are joined by Alexander Grant, Director of Recruitment Operations at RLC, Thailand, who shares with us all his journey into the field of recruitment. The trials, tribulations, and successes he’s had over the years, as well as key advice for those looking to start out in recruitment today. We also learn how using an applicant tracking system can be of use in overcoming such challenges.
The transcript has been edited for clarity.
Lydia: Hello, Alex. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule. You’re here with us to share your wisdom, so a very warm welcome to you. We’re excited to have you here.
Alexander: I’m very excited to be here. Thanks, Lydia.
Lydia: You’ve had a vibrant career of seventeen years, starting out for six years as a parliamentary correspond in the UK. Then you moved to Bangkok, where you taught English for a while, and then you eventually moved into the recruitment space.
Today, you are the Director of Recruitment operations at RLC Recruitment in Bangkok. It’s an exciting time to be in this industry, as we were just talking about earlier. Perhaps you could walk us through your journey. In our own words, what drew you to recruitment, and maybe describe a little bit about what you do in your role today?
Alexander: I worked in an English language school and was the Education Center manager. I’ve never in my life been in sales before. Then I started to get involved in sales. I realized that if you go into sales with a kind of pure heart and that you want to help people, then it’s quite rewarding. But they didn’t pay me enough, so recruitment became a natural step. I got to join a company where I had the opportunity to make a lot of money at the time.
I’m in my early thirties. I’m starting to get ready to settle down, so recruitment was the perfect step for me.
To answer your question about what I do at RLC, it’s probably better to see what I don’t do, as I take care of all of our recruitment operations, our ATS system, and our technology. I help manage all the staff, and I take care of our recruitment process, whether it is contingent, executive search, or maybe exclusive projects that we do.
I recruit and evaluate tech partners. We love technology here, and we want to invest in technology all the time. I also do a lot of our business development along with our MD.
Lydia: Good to know. You do a lot in your current role and especially the last few years that you’ve spent at RLC, where you do all these things. It also coincided with the pandemic.
So, what are some of the highlights, wins, or insights you’d like to share with us in your experience from the last two years?
Alex: What I would say first of all is that the pandemic was tough for so many people. When I joined the company, I was here for two months. I got married, and then COVID hit. So, going into a new business was tough. But I am quite proud to say that one of my tasks was to disrupt the recruitment market by using the RLC secret sauce. I’m happy to say that we’ve done that, and we’re continuing to do it.
2021 was one of our most profitable years in business, considering we’ve been around for ten years. So, to do that throughout the pandemic is very exciting. Another big highlight for us was being able to become AEDPA compliant before the laws changed in Thailand. We haven’t printed a resume or downloaded resumes for about a year now.
Lydia: How long did that process take, though?
Alex: A long time. Our office manager at the time had to attend many webinars and seminars. For me, I had to work on the operation to see how we could implement that internally. With our ATS partner, we were able to make that work.
Lydia: RLC is the talent space for manufacturing, engineering, logistics, and supply chain. You yourself are in the executive search space.
I saw one report citing that CEO turnover was also high last year, together with the great resignation. Any thoughts around this within the context of Thailand and maybe the Southeast Asian region?
Alex: I think in Southeast Asia, things are a bit different. But in Thailand, particularly, I think the great resignation was a little bit of a myth. I think Thai companies and some of the multinationals that were here are quite hesitant to make significant changes, particularly with the integration of work from home. Trying to bring in a senior executive into a workforce where they’re not meeting the staff face to face, I think they were a bit worried that things would go wrong. But as we’re coming out of the pandemic now, I think things are going a bit crazy. There are a lot of companies that are starting to make changes or CEOs that are evaluating their time in their organizations.
Lydia: More companies are changing the way they operate now that it’s a post-COVID or rather the reopening phase, whichever way you want to label them. But with hybrid work and more and more people becoming hyper-connected, how should recruiters maybe be thinking about hiring the right talent?
Alex: Well, first of all, I think we kind of shifted to becoming more transactional since the pandemic. People think that messaging on LinkedIn or just having a phone book can be enough. But I think more importantly than ever, you should be having at least video calls with your candidates and making sure, if possible, that you can meet them.
I think in the past, candidates maybe didn’t have as much choice as they do now. I follow a thought leader called Greg Savage, who uses a metric which is called motivation to accept.
“I think not only do we need to evaluate that the candidate is the right match for our clients, but we need to evaluate if our clients are the right match for the candidate.”
More importantly, we need to know that they have the motivation to accept another offer. If you get further down the line and you find out that the candidate was just seeing what was out there, then there’s a lot of chance that could go wrong. I think the offer stage is where we see that offers are turned down 80% of the time because we didn’t check that motivation.
Lydia: How do you go about doing that? How do you check motivation?
Alex: You really need to dig deeper into what their motivations are. What do they want? For example, if you have a senior person whose been imposed for one year, then are they wanting to move because there are company problems? Are they looking to get a higher salary? What is their real motivation to move? Is it to enhance their career, or is it for money? There are a lot of different things you can do, but if you’re just doing a screening call, then it’s really impossible to get that information.
The way that I do interviews is that I do a mixture of comprehensive interviews, and then I really test them on their motivation. I personalize things to get to know people and learn about their personal circumstances and why we’re even talking.
Lydia: For instance, companies that are looking to partner with an agency; what might be some of the ways they can get the best results from a recruitment partner? I know you’ve written about this before as well.
Alex: I think it depends on the company. A lot of people just want the end result, but a lot of companies don’t realize what a recruiter goes through to get to that end result.
Being in a partnership for recruiting, you should be asking for deeper market insight. For example, if you want us to head on from your editor, then you should be asking questions like what is our competitor doing? What are our competitors paying?
“When a client retains your services, we have the ability to do that. When they don’t, that’s when it becomes more of a speed game. There’s a lot more flexibility. We can provide data, we can even analyze the recruitment hiring lead times, and we can do a lot more.”
I think the myth is that executive search costs more when actually it doesn’t because you’re getting so much more for your money. I think one of the things that I looked at when doing recruitment is that I like to solve complex challenges.
A lot of people have specialisms—for instance, finance specialists, loan specialists, and engineering specialists. Me, I’m a problem-solving specialist. That’s what I love to do. When I get down to sit with the CEO, and I can pick their brains, and they tell me their problems, and if I can solve that problem, then that’s something which is personally rewarding to me.
Lydia: There are many solutions such as this. When you’re problem-solving, you will probably also be looking at some of the trends that might be coming up in the future.
For recruiters in the executive search space like yourself, what might be some of the trends that they should prepare for in the near future?
Alex: Last year, I actually attended a course at Cornell University with some of the leading talent acquisition people in the world. You have people from General Motors (USA), and you have people from Palo Alto, IT, and the global heads of talent acquisition. I learned a lot about what was happening in the US market. It covered two topics, with the first being global mobility.
"Moving senior people across countries. Will this become easy to do in the future? Will there be directors that can direct their staff from other countries? Also, when it comes to global mobility, it's the issue to do with packages because people still want to be paid. But are they going to be paid less because they’re not in the country? This is a big challenge that will come up pretty soon. I’m sure about it.”
The second is about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In the course that I did, they said that 56% of American CEOs rate diversity and inclusion as their number one topic to address within their workforces. I think for Thailand, it’s a very tricky subject because Thailand is essentially a one-race country, and there are so many jobs that foreigners can’t do or people from different nationalities can’t do.
But then you’ve got the difference in quality between males and females. One of the things that we found with the pandemic is that a lot of women that work from home don’t want to come back to the office because of their family situation, as they got to spend time with their children.
It’s how companies really deal with that. I think for RLC, particularly, this is something that we’ve personally addressed. We’ve made our workforce a safe place for people of different religions, sex, and gender. It doesn’t matter. We welcome everybody.
Lydia: I guess this is where employer branding becomes very strong, especially now when expectations are changing.
So, what might be the role of employer branding that set companies in a well position and attract the best executive talent?
Alex: I think in the past, the way companies went about hiring some of those senior people is that those people had to prove they were good enough to be within the company. But it’s changed. Companies must prove that they’re good enough for the candidate to join. If an employer is going into an interview and they realize it’s not going to work because of interrogation. Companies need to show why this person should be joining them as well, and working on EVP is crucial.
”If a company has sustainability goals, if a company has diversity goals, if they know what they want and they want equal pay across the organization, then they should be using this in their EVP because for millennials, it’s a high source of attraction.”
Lydia: Millennials and Gen Zs are preparing to enter the workforce, right?
Alex: Yes. For sure.
Lydia: It’s 2022 now. We’re halfway through it, and we’re going to end the year soon. It’s safe to say that any company today, and over the past few years, has become or should be a tech company.
What would you say are maybe the top three challenges facing tech recruitment today, and what might be the solution around it?
Alex: In RLC, I actually run the tech desk as well. We’ve made a conscious decision now to stop hiring junior to mid-level developers because the request for these people is gone. We can’t find enough good candidates. Clients will come back to us and say that they’re not good enough for us or that they want too much money. The candidates have so many choices that they don’t care. They will simply take whatever option they can from the six or seven opportunities they have. This makes us fail more often than we’d like.
We want to make sure our clients are happy. So, rather than upsetting our clients, we’re saying, “Look, we’d love to support you on other physicians, but for the junior, mid-level, we’re done.” I think you’ll find a lot more companies following our trend. There are some recruitment companies which are quite unique. They put the board on the wall, and they have 20 recruiters. They will say to go for it, try to place it. The chances of it going wrong are difficult. The first challenge is the talent shortage in the country. The second biggest problem is that neighboring countries know that Thailand is cheaper. So, now they’re starting to pick the talents as well. So, that’s the second one. I guess maybe another challenge facing tech recruitment is the language skill of Thai candidates. I think it’s getting a lot better. But English proficiency in Southeast Asia, Thailand still ranks as one of the lowest. So, it's really tricky to get the vast volume of candidates that are needed.
Lydia: We spoke quite a bit about the challenges and the different parts, not just tech recruitment but the overall challenges when it comes to changing ways in which companies operate. Let’s talk a little bit more about automation tools in the market for recruiters, such as our solution at Manatal. What kind of impact do you think these technologies and tools would have on the recruitment process?
Alex: Well, I think first of all, when automation was mentioned, a lot of recruiters were like, “Oh, we’re going to be replaced. We don’t use automation tools”. But, when I joined RLC, I looked at the way things were done, and it was too manual. We were wasting a lot of hours on administrative tasks, which I thought didn't offer much value. I came from a bigger company that used to have different departments doing things. They had an English checking department. They had a department to do your resume, a department to do this, to do that. Here, we didn’t have that luxury.
“We’ve utilized all our ATS systems and our technology to remove pretty much all of the administrative work that we previously did. That’s what’s enabled us to have a lot more time to spend with the people that matter, who are our candidates and our clients.”
Lydia: How many hours do you think you spent on manual tasks?
Alex: I think probably over 15 hours a week. That’s some of the stuff we’re spending on.
Lydia: Where’s that 15 now? All reinvested into client time and candidate time?
Alex: Back into our candidates and clients.
Lydia: Let’s talk a little bit about the candidate's experience. What would you say from your experience so far are some of the ways recruiters can ensure that candidate care is taken care of? Is there candidate care throughout the recruitment process?
Alex: I think that what we strive to do as a business is to get back to every candidate and tell them if they’ve been successful or not. I think the biggest key is to have multiple touchpoints throughout the process.
Unfortunately, a lot of recruitment is transactional. We’re busy. We have a lot of different tasks to do. But if you interview a candidate and you only speak to them at the interview stage and the off stage, then how are they going to relate to you? How are they going to trust you? How are they going to reveal to you some of the problems in the process? It won’t happen then. What I do with my staff is that we have our first call, then have a follow-up call to tell them about the company. The follow-up call also tells them about the interview. We follow up to make sure that after the interview they had, we see how it went. Before we get to the offer stage, we’ve had about seven to nine touch points, where now this candidate really buys into what we’re doing. If it goes wrong, we then give the candidate true feedback and guidance on what they can do next time. What this has really led to is that a candidate could actually be rejected upon their first job. But when we contact them, and we’ve done a good job, that means the candidate trusts us. We can place them a second time around.
Lydia: I believe such touch points and valuable feedback that you give candidates do result in a relationship that goes beyond just a job opening, I suppose.
Alex: Yeah. But, when it comes to touchpoints, it doesn’t mean we have to arrange phone calls. We’ve got modern technology where we can use automation tools. You’ve got Line which is the social media application that we use in Thailand with Whatsapp. I think if you have a mixture between email, phone, or Whatsapp, then you can still maintain that engagement. Ultimately, if there’s the opportunity to meet them face to face, then, of course, we will try to do that too.
Lydia: Alex, you’ve had vast experience in the recruitment space. On the other hand, you’ve also seen some of the most challenging periods in recruitment. What advice would you give to someone starting out in recruitment today
Alex: First of all, I would say that you should be ready for disappointment. Unfortunately, we are the classic middle people. We are not the final decision-makers. We are the people that open doors and give us opportunities. You have to realize that is our job. We can’t force people to take jobs. We equally can’t force our clients to accept candidates. Our job is to guide, motivate and basically share with our candidates why this could be a good opportunity for them. If the candidate ultimately decides it's not, then there’s nothing we can do. We have to be able to intercept that and that’s the hard part of improvement. You can do everything right, and it can still go wrong. From a business development standpoint, you’ll hear the word no more than yes. But you shouldn’t be disheartened because you will get those years in doing the right thing. Also, you should never think about the money while you’re working on a deal. You shouldn’t think, “I hope I make this much money,” because ultimately, it will go wrong if you think that way. You’ll be thinking with a greedy heart. If you focus on helping clients and have a mindset that you’re doing the right thing for a candidate, then you will make money, and you will be successful.
Lydia: It’s a rewarding career to see people move forward because you’ve had a part to play in it as well.
Alex: When you see somebody who you’ve placed in a junior managerial position, and now they’re the director of the company, or they’re a director that’s grown the business 30% in a year or so, it feels fantastic. I’ve been that person that put that job first.
Lydia: Excellent. Thank you so much, Alex. I wish we could speak longer, but we have to wrap up. It’s been a great pleasure to have you on the show. Thanks for making the time. I’m sure the audience would want to know more about you and RLC. Where can they look you up?
Alex: Look me up on LinkedIn. My name is Alexander Grant. You can find us at RLC-asia.com. A new website will be launched soon, which I’m very excited about. Feel free to message me if you just want to say hi or if you’re looking for a job in recruitment yourself. Thank you, Lydia. It’s been a pleasure.
Lydia: Excellent. We’ve been speaking with Alexander Grant, who is the Director of Recruitment Operations at RLC Recruitment in Thailand. Do look out for our future podcasts from All-In Recruitment, and stay tuned for our next episode.