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.
This 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 weekly episodes.
My name is Lydia, and with us today is Nontobeko Phale, a Recruitment Manager most recently with Baker McKenzie. Welcome, Nontobeko. Thank you for joining us.
Nontobeko: Good morning, Lydia. Thank you so much for having me on your podcast this morning.
Nontobeko’s Journey in the Talent Space
Lydia: So, what has your journey been like in the talent space? What is your growth story?
Nontobeko: I started off at an agency straight from university. At that point, I didn’t really think about going the recruitment route. I guess I was still trying to find my feet in terms of what it was that I wanted to do. So, I took the opportunity that was offered to me. Through that, I discovered that talent acquisition is actually an area that I enjoy and am passionate about.
The first few years involved a lot of learning, just discovering myself personally and also in the professional space. I spent the first four years or so at an agency to external agencies. I worked with some exceptional clients, mostly within the financial services and professional services. That time really taught me the importance of client relations.
It was through those relationships with my clients that I was able to get an opportunity to join KPMG. That opportunity came at the right time when I was really feeling like I had reached a ceiling in terms of working at an agency. I wanted to push myself into a slightly different role in terms of recruitment, just more internal.
That opportunity opened a whole lot more opportunities for me. I worked for some exceptional companies, managers, and stakeholders. It’s been a journey of learning and discovery. And I’m not yet at an end. I’m still learning, I’m still discovering, but so far, it’s been a fruitful journey.
The Competitive Landscape of the Legal Sector in South Africa
Lydia: Your most recent role was at Baker McKenzie, where you were managing recruitment for EMEA. Is that right?
Nontobeko: Yes, I was most recently with Baker McKenzie. And at Baker McKenzie, I guess I was part of the EMEA recruitment team, which was regional. But my role predominantly was looking after the South African office.
Lydia: So, what are some observations you’ve made about the demand or even the availability of talent in this region? Are there any interesting insights you’d like to share?
Nontobeko: Every hiring manager, across sectors and industries, wants to hire the best. There’s a lot of competition for key talent or strong talent in the market, which is, of course, limited.
There’s a lot of competition in terms of acquiring the best talent in the market. But just narrowing it to the legal sector, especially in their space where they can begin to operate, there’s also a lot of competition.
International law firms are recruiting key talent in South Africa, which poses a big challenge for the local market. We hire and develop a high level of skill, and once they’re at the point where they’re really thriving and we see future prospects of them possibly being partners in an organization, they then get this lifetime opportunity at a firm in London or in the US. So in terms of talent, there’s a lot of competition, but that’s not only limited locally. It’s also coming from the international market.
Lydia: That’s an interesting observation to make. Because then, you might also position the company as a place of growth, making it attractive to a whole new segment of job seekers or applicants or candidates. So, on that note, how do you position the company or the company that you’re representing as a place of growth?
Nontobeko: It’s very important for any company to align itself with what’s current in terms of the job market. Understanding that the type of talent currently in the workforce has very different expectations is one thing that the pandemic has made quite clear.
Having a healthy work culture is very important. Candidates want to know that they have flexibility in their work, where they can find a balance between personal requirements and professional requirements.
This is why the hybrid model works so beautifully because it allows one not to always be in conflict with choosing to go to the office or attend meetings and prioritize work while also neglecting personal needs.
The hybrid model really gives you flexibility in terms of how you manage your time. It also makes sure that you still deliver because there’s an expectation from an organization that you will deliver on what’s required from you. The importance of a healthy work culture is very important. But also growth; everyone wants to be developed, they want to be in a position where they’re able to reach their full potential and really push themselves.
If it’s an organization where opportunities are available and talent is nurtured in the sense that you’re given a platform to grow academically or just in terms of your work and development, those are the ingredients that any organization really needs in terms of nurturing and keeping talent.
What Recruiters and Hiring Managers Look for in Candidates
Lydia: How important is the balance between academic achievements and practical skills when it comes to evaluating potential candidates at a law firm, such as the one you worked for, Baker McKenzie?
You’ve got your academic history and achievements, but you’ve also got practical skills. These are the kinds of skills that you need today, perhaps not just academic or technical know-how, but also many other kinds of digitized skill sets, communication skills, etc. So, how important is this balance?
Nontobeko: I’ll just speak from my experience and what I’ve observed over the past few years. Yes, academics are important. Academic achievement is very important. But it also depends on the type of role that one is recruiting for in the sector.
From a graduate recruitment perspective, your academic achievements and what you’ve achieved during your academic career are really key in terms of how an organization is going to perceive you. Future success is very much predicted through your academic performance, and it plays a huge role in the early interview process. The better you achieve compared to your peers, the more accolades you have in terms of academics, and the higher the chances that organizations are going to be attracted to you because they identify something in you that they can predict as future success.
But the more senior you get, we can’t underplay the importance of technical skills and experience. That’s very important. When we go into a market to look for someone to fill a position, that really plays a role because you want to hire someone that is aligned to the current and future requirements of a role. So technical experience really plays a role in how you grow in your career.
In certain sectors, upskilling yourself academically can be a plus in terms of an add-on to your technical experience, which can be seen as an additional benefit. But yeah, playing around in terms of how you can be perceived by a recruiter and hiring manager is key.
Embracing Technology as a Strategic Partner for Talent Acquisition
Lydia: In terms of cultural fit, or cultural add, as we may call it today, how do you assess cultural fit or cultural compatibility during the recruitment process and why is it important?
Nontobeko: Assessing cultural fit is very tough, to be honest with you. Culture is not something that is written on your face. But I guess it’s how you interact with the candidates, how they interact with you during the recruitment process, and how they respond to questions that are posed at them.
Finding ways of picking up those cues during an interview process is key. Scenario-based questions are one example that I can give in the sense that the candidate gets to tell a story of themselves, of how they’ve dealt with a situation, or how they’ve made a contribution to their current or previous organization. Through that, you can then assess whether what they’re saying aligns with the type of person and skills you’re looking to hire or not. Does that align with the values of an organization? Are they a fit culturally?
To give a simple example, if you have a candidate in an interview process who is very rude, that’s not a positive trait that anyone would like to be associated with. So, it’s about having the ability to pick up those cues during the interview process.
Unfortunately, there’s no cut-and-dry assessment that one can do that can definitively say, “Yes, you are a fit.” But some organizations will use tools such as psychometrics to pick up on personality and culture and align these with the organization’s values and the candidate. Through these tools, they can then determine if someone is a fit or not.
Lydia: Moving into this topic of assessing candidates’ suitability, how is technology impacting the recruitment process? And what role does it play in assessing candidates’ suitability?
Nontobeko: Technology is beautiful in that it’s transforming everything from what we know, to what’s currently available, to how we do things, and for the better. It has made processes more efficient and streamlined. It’s a great tool for us to have. But I don’t think we’re yet in a position where we have fully embraced the benefits of technology and how it can better our industry, which is talent acquisition.
I think there’s still a bit of hesitation in terms of the thinking that it’s going to replace us. If a company can write a script that is able to run an entire recruitment process efficiently, then why would there be a need for a recruitment consultant? So, through those questions and doubts, I think there’s a little bit of hesitation in terms of how we fully embrace technology.
But there are some companies that have really taken time to invest in technology and improve their processes. And I think if we can get to that position, recruitment or talent acquisition can be seen as more of a strategic partnership to the business. Instead of just a back-office resource where you get a job spec from a hiring manager, you go source candidate interview and then hire them, but really be involved in terms of the strategy and with the direction that an organization is headed to by being a strategic partner.
But yes, technology is amazing. There’s still more that we can do. I think we just need to get to a position where we can fully embrace it and not think of it as something that can take away our jobs in the near future.
Build Relationships and Support the Business with AI
Lydia: So, it’s interesting to see how technology comes into the picture and also elevates the sort of skill sets that one might already possess, right? And it allows them to focus on other things. On that note, also, there’s been, as I already know, widespread adoption of AI across all aspects of business today. How do you think talent acquisition professionals can benefit from AI?
Nontobeko: I think I’ll just take an example. The recruitment process, particularly how it typically runs, I think there are many steps in the process that AI can assist us with in terms of running those processes. The admin portion of recruitment can definitely be streamlined into AI to be more efficient by using technology. Video interviews, I think, are also part of what we can do differently in terms of how we engage with candidates.
Just moving away from the more traditional ways of doing things and giving us or allowing for a period of time where you can have more engagement with the business, engaging with stakeholders, and fully being invested in the business itself, and how you can support from a talent acquisition perspective. So yeah, I think that’s just one thing that I can think of. There’s more that we can do in terms of how we streamline our processes and just take away the admin part, especially for me, too much admin.
Lydia: It’s not just one person, but across the board, there are tasks that are done on a daily basis that perhaps don’t really add value to your long-term goals. You might have other long-term growth goals as well. So, wanting to build those relationships, etc.
So these things are ChatGPT. We’re seeing all sorts of versions of that coming out. Generative AI is taking over everywhere, and we have plenty of use cases out there. So, have you used it before?
Nontobeko: I’ve played around with ChatGPT from a personal side. I actually enjoy it. I’ve also played with a few AI tools that are available in the market. But I haven’t yet been in a position where I can just play around with those tools professionally.
Hopefully, in the near future, I can be in a position where I can actually be able to apply that in my day-to-day life, see the benefits, and see how it works. But for now, I’ve worked in spaces where recruitment and how it runs has been pretty much traditional, with a little bit of technology that’s introduced, but not at a wide scale.
Lydia: So, there’s great potential for growth in that case, right?
The Evolving Role of Talent Acquisition Professionals
Lydia: A place for it to grow in a way that you want it to grow based on how you perceive the technology. So separately, we spoke about this, we spoke about how technology is coming into play. You, yourself, as you say, technology is beautiful, right? And that also means that the person using that technology would have to then evolve in terms of skill sets.
So, how would you describe the role of a Talent Acquisition professional in today’s context? What does the Talent Acquisition Professional need to be or need to have as key skills?
Nontobeko: I think one, analytics. Yes, maybe not as a developer or as a data analyst. But analytics, I think it’s one of those skills that are slowly coming into the space of talent acquisition and actually showing its benefits. Because we live in a time where data is important. And recruitment has a lot of data itself. So, it’s being able to know how to manage and how to interpret the data that you have for the benefit of the business. So analytics, I think it’s one of the skills we really need to invest in for the benefit of Talent Acquisition and the future of that profession.
But also, if we’re going to transition and see ourselves as more of a business partner, then we need to understand that that comes with communication. Having strong communication is essential so that you are able to articulate and communicate your ideas to the business in a manner that they are able to understand. And that can be translated easily into understanding the importance of stakeholder management.
And yes, it’s always been there. You can’t think of recruitment with talent acquisition in the absence of stakeholder management because that goes hand in hand. But it’s really seeing its value and how that has evolved over time to now. I think those are some of the skills that we really need to have business acumen which links into my other point, where in terms of partnering with the business that comes with understanding the business acumen that is expected of you.
And also just being present, being available, and being flexible. One thing that I’ve realized is that the more you work in and engage with business on a one-on-one basis as a business partner, you need to be flexible. Because requirements and expectations from this perspective change all the time.
And you can’t have a narrow mindset or a fixed mindset that this is how things are; this is how things ought to be. But there are times when, yes, processes are important. But there are times when you really need to understand the expectations of a business and see how you can be a bit flexible in terms of your processes so that you can be in a position where you can better assist that business.
Leveraging Networking for Process Improvement
Lydia: And those are all key skills and ways to upskill the current skill set of talent acquisition professionals, right? In order to prepare for the future, what advice would you give to someone who’s starting out in recruitment or even talent acquisition today, given the market, technological changes, and the disruptions we see? What may be an advice or pieces of advice that you’d like to give?
Nontobeko: I really think we need to embrace technology more. So, embrace technology and be resourceful. I think it’s very important to be resourceful in a business. Be proactive, be flexible, but also understand the importance of networking. Especially if you’re still starting off in your career.
Networking can really take you a long time in terms of later in your career. You might find yourself in a position where you need assistance, or you are in need. And you can actually use a network to fill that need and to get assistance. So, networking is very important.
It also gives you insight in terms of understanding what your peers in the industry are doing. In other sectors, what are they doing differently? What processes do they have that perhaps you yourself in your organization can adopt in actually making your processes more streamlined, or more efficient?
Lydia: Well, thank you very much, Nontobeko, for your insights and also the observations you’ve made about practices in hiring and recruitment, especially in your region in the industries that you’ve worked for. So thank you very much, I really appreciate that. And so, for the audience listening in, they might want to contact you or take the conversation forward. So, drop your contact details.
Nontobeko: Firstly, thank you so much for inviting me to this conversation. I really enjoyed engaging with you. I’m available on LinkedIn, and my LinkedIn handle is Nontobeko Phale. So yeah, if anyone wants to reach out, they can get ahold of me on LinkedIn.
Lydia: And we had been in conversation with Nontobeko Phale, Recruitment Manager most recently with Baker McKenzie. Thank you for joining us and remember to subscribe. Stay tuned for more weekly episodes from All-In Recruitment.