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.
Let’s get to know James Hine, the man behind True Blue Thailand
Lydia: Hello, James. Thank you so much for taking time off your busy schedule. So a warm welcome to you, James, and we are excited to have you here.
James: Thank you, Lydia. It's a pleasure to be on the show. I’m looking forward to having a chat with you.
I'm sure you've got tonnes to share about IT recruitment, specifically. You have a strong track record in recruitment. In particular, IT recruitment, which is at the top of mind in the recruitment space today. So you're from the UK, where your career began about 15 years ago, and you moved from role to role specializing in IT recruitment progressively over the years. So today, you have co-founded True Blue in Bangkok, where you are also the MD.
So walk us through your own journey in your own words, James. Why did you choose recruitment after completing a degree in History and International Relations?
James: Well, that's a very good question, actually, Lydia.
A little kind of prelude to that. I originally went to university to do computer science. My father really kind of pushed me in the direction of computers. I was pretty good with computers growing up. I kind of had a bit of a natural flair and talent for using computers and doing a bit of programming and things like that.
My father said, ‘look, computers are the future. You should study this at university.’ However, I quickly realized that it wasn't really for me. I'm not a stereotypical sort of IT person. I kind of got there on my first day and I just didn't really fit in there. After a year, I decided that I was going to change my course and do something that I enjoyed and had a little bit more of an interest in, which was History and International Relations.
Then, I was looking for a job. I had a friend who worked in the recruitment industry. He was making very good money. He was just a bit of an outgoing guy, confident, a bit of a natural salesperson, and he sold me the dream.
I started applying for recruitment roles, and here we are. 15 years later, I'm still in the industry. I thought it was just going to be just a stop-gap while I worked out what I really wanted to do. I guess I was good at it and enjoyed it.
Lydia: You had an early start in computers. Some kind of programming from the beginning. So, you already had a knack for it, and now IT recruitment, which is kind of, in a way, full circle.
James: I mean, I was by no means a programmer. I used to experiment a little bit when I was at school. It’s when computers were just really starting to become very popular, and everyone was getting them at home.
I always had a bit of natural ability with computers and an interest in technology. So, it was just kind of the natural route to go to university to do computer science. But, as I mentioned, very quickly, I realized that was not for me and decided to change.
Lydia: Today, you have started True Blue. That was four months ago or in April this year.
James: Yes, we officially launched on the first of April. I'm excited. It's a challenging and good start so far.
Lydia: So, what are some of the highlights from TrueBlue this year that you can share? Are any exciting plans in store for the second half of the year or into 2023?
James: As a new player in the recruitment market, we need to establish ourselves, and we decided to go down the graduate route. So, we've hired trainees. And the advantage of doing that is that they don't come with any bad habits.
You can train them how you want them to be trained. They don't have that kind of mindset where they know better, so they absorb everything that you want them to absorb. But it is a bit of a slower process.
What we're hoping to install is a best-in-class practice for recruitment here in Thailand. I myself, as you mentioned, am originally from the UK, and was fortunate to be not only working for some of the biggest recruitment companies globally but also trained by some of the best and most well-known recruitment trainers around the world. I think training and developing of the team is vitally important.
I think that's something that a lot of the recruitment companies here in Thailand really don't focus on too much. So, we want to be different. We want to have that continuous training and development. This year is really about developing the team, putting the foundations in place, and building an elite-level IT recruitment company is what we're aiming for.
Lydia: Most of these trainees, or the graduate approach, as you have said, are they all from Thailand? Or do they come from other countries?
James: Yes, all Thai. So, most of them are fresh university graduates. If I’m not mistaken, for two of them, it's their first job. Another two have different experiences in different areas, including some sales experience. There is this one girl who has changed careers, which is great. But generally, all Thai nationals and their first job in the recruitment industry.
Lydia: That's interesting because the IT sector or the IT recruitment industry is also something that is booming and needs a lot of attention. So, a fresh approach to that might be the way to go as well.
IT Recruitment: the takeaways
Lydia: You’ve spent more than five years at Ancor Thailand, heading up the IT recruitment department and even IT outsourcing, correct? So, this was definitely a significant period for growth in IT recruitment.
So, what might be the three most important takeaways on IT recruitment that you've seen during this time?
James: I think if we generally speak about the marketplace that was accelerated by COVID, then we can say that there were a lot of people who jumped on the bandwagon.
IT was one of the sectors that wasn’t really affected by COVID. In fact, in many areas, it benefited. A lot of the software and tech companies really needed to ramp up their hiring. A lot of companies had to go through or forced digital transformation, to accommodate remote work.
Generally, the tech sector was pretty robust throughout the pandemic. You saw a lot of recruitment companies jumping on the IT sector. Companies that didn’t really have a background in IT before would open IT divisions.
I would describe that there are a lot of new players within the market. Some established companies wanted more IT. That’s been one of the observations from the last few years.
I think leading on to that or leading from that, was that the market was quite stagnated. You had a lot of people who didn’t necessarily have much experience to be brutally honest. These are people that are very good within the tech recruitment space, and they were going out and trying to lowball or lower rates.
I think the saturation of the market did have some effects. Many companies tried lowering their fees, and a lot of companies would put pressure on you a little bit because of the new players in the market. A point I would like to make is that cheap usually means poor quality.
The third point that I would like to make is that it is really important that you don’t forget about the fundamentals of recruitment and actually aim to provide good quality service and ultimately, provide what the clients are looking for, which is effectiveness and timely service. It also includes providing good quality candidates.
I think from an internal perspective, COVID made a lot of recruiters become very lazy. There were some good advantages of having online interviews, zoom meetings, and team interviews. It was necessary at the time. But now, for example, there are a lot of recruiters that are still very lazy, and they would like to work from home all the time. These recruiters want to just to virtual meetings. They don’t meet people face to face. They don’t even meet their colleagues face to face.
“It’s more important than ever to go back to the recruitment fundamentals of building relationships with people, and you build better relationships in person.”
So, these are my three main takeaways over the last two or three years.
Designing a smooth and strong interview process
Lydia: Meeting people in person really goes back to the whole nature of recruitment itself which is dealing with people and establishing those relationships.
Now, competition for skilled IT candidates is so fierce that the length of the interview process itself becomes an area of focus. The relationship part is one part of it, and then you move them on to the interview process itself.
Some candidates, of course, may lose interest, especially if they’re in demand.
If the process takes too long, what are some factors that recruiters should consider when they design an effective interview process, especially for IT?
James: There are two ways to look at it, Lydia.
I think you've made a good point that sometimes it's too long. I've known companies to have seven or eight stages of interview and it's very rare that you're actually gonna get someone that goes through that whole process, many people will drop out throughout that process, because A, it's too long, B, they get offers elsewhere, or C, they just lose interest.
So, it's striking a balance, because, on the flip of that, there are a lot of companies that have perhaps had to shorten the interview process, which I know, as a recruiter, we love short interview processes. That's the kind of the holy grail for us.
But, at the same time, the worst thing that you can happen as a recruiter, or from a business perspective, is dropouts. Candidates start with an organization and then after a week, a month, two months, or three months, whatever it may be, they leave because it's not a good fit for them.
“I think it's about striking a balance. It's about having a comprehensive enough interview process that you are identifying not only the technical elements of the job.”
It’s about asking, can they do this job technically? Which is pretty much all companies hire for.
But actually, the reason that a lot of people are unsuccessful within the first three or four months is not because of technical skills, it's more about cultural fit, and maybe they neglect that in the interview process. So, it's about having a comprehensive process that covers technical and cultural fit, not being too short, but also not being too long as well.
But I think if it is a little bit longer than you know, maybe a one-stage process, it's important that there's a quick process in between interviews because the market moves very quickly. The demand for IT talent is vast, and a lot of companies are moving super quickly. So if you're too slow, you miss the talent.
The industry and its growth moving forwards
Lydia: So, IT recruitment is moving really fast, but so is talent acquisition as an industry.
I noticed LinkedIn data from this year showed that talent acquisition specialists ranked third among the top 10 fastest-growing entry-level job titles last year, with a year-on-year growth of 175%. What's also interesting is that the staffing and recruiting industry is the number one for entry-level talent. It's got a 50% year-on-year growth, too.
So in your experience, what might be some of the factors driving this growth?
James: Recruitment in general is one of the only kinds of industries where you can go straight from university and earn really high, especially within the agency sector because there’s commission on billing. I think this has been true for a long time about the potential earnings people can get from the recruitment industry without having any real experience.
There are not too many other jobs where you can go in and earn similar amounts of money as what you could in the recruitment sector and within an agency environment in a short period of time. So, I think that’s one factor.
Another factor is that it’s just becoming more of a respected career. When I started out, especially in the UK, you were viewed as being a car salesman. It wasn’t really that much of a respected career. Recruiters kind of had a bad reputation, especially agency recruiters.
I should say that this was not justified in many cases. I think it was a bit of a myth. There probably were minorities spoiling it for the rest of us. But even so, I don’t think it had as much respect as a profession as it does now.
I think the evolution of talent acquisition as a profession had made that even more of a point because I remember when I first started in the industry, talent acquisition didn’t really exist. It was not a recognized function within HR. I think that’s really developed over the last 10 years or so really. From my experience, it’s becoming more and more prevalent.
I think it’s just a growing profession. Most companies are now hiring talent acquisition teams, and some of these can be very large, depending on the size of the organization.
I think that as an industry, it’s growing, and it needs more people to support that growth.
Want to attract candidates? Know their expectations & Strategize
Lydia: So, that's entry-level in growth year on year for staffing and recruiting, and also the evolution of talent acquisition over the past 10 years.
Let's talk about headhunting and executive search in the IT sector. Have there been any changes, James, in terms of candidate expectations, maybe post-pandemic, especially?
James: I think the major change is that people want flexibility now. I think it’s very non-negotiable for a lot of candidates. Working Monday to Friday, 9 - 6 in the office days are in the past. Let’s see if that will change in the future or not. Maybe not.
But I think the one thing that COVID has accelerated is people’s desire for that flexibility, to either work from home or work from anywhere and not have to be in the office every day. It’s not just executive-level candidates that this is true. I would say that this is everything from entry-level right through to an executive level, where one of the first questions we’re getting when we’re speaking to candidates is what is the working arrangement? Can I work remotely? Is it hybrid? How many days in the office is it? This is something that is an hour and everyday conversation when you’re recruiting people.
Lydia: That candidate expectation is then going to evolve and perhaps become the standard operating method across companies then, right?
So that brings me to my next point, which is a prediction from Korn Ferry. A report by Korn Ferry says that by 2030, the demand for skilled workers will outstrip supply, and it's pretty common knowledge, I would say.
James: I think that's already the case in the IT sector, to be honest.
Lydia: With this, comes a global talent shortage of more than 85.2 billion people. And to quote that report, says signs are already emerging that within two years, there won't be enough talent to go around. You've already said so, and two years as a prediction is not a long time at all.
So, how should companies be strategizing in terms of talent acquisition now that you've shared that it has become a function that's been taken more seriously? How should companies be strategizing in terms of talent acquisition now?
James: I think there are a few elements to this.
I think number one is training, bringing people in, and training them on the tools that you need them to have. A lot of the time, we get it in, in the industry where a company will want particular skill sets, they might need a developer with a certain language, but that language might be very, very niche. There might not be a huge amount of people in the marketplace with that.
So, I think internal training is really important. Also, partnering with universities. I guess having that kind of conveyor belt, if you like, of fresh blood coming into the organization. Then being able to train them up and then, like my final point on this, is to retain that talent, which is one of the hardest things for any organization, and it's one of the biggest bugbears for all managers.
Doesn't matter if you're in IT or whatever industry you're in. Retaining your staff is such an issue and companies do neglect it quite a lot. You have to look at the reasons why people would stay with your organization.
“It's how you stand out from the market, your branding, what you do differently, the training and development, the career progression, all of that sort of stuff is going to be more and more important to attract the talent, but then also retain the talent as well.”
Recruitment Tools: what are their impacts?
Lydia: We're talking about Gen Z’s, which, as you know, are already coming into the workforce, and we've got a large group of millennials at this point. Then you also have Gen Z, who are still moving through the education system, and perhaps even starting off their own businesses today.
So, you brought up a good point about training them maybe in technology and the use of technology and bringing everyone in a company together in terms of upscaling. We spoke quite a bit about some of the challenges as well, and there are plenty of tools out there for recruiters specifically. One of them is our solution in Manatal, which is an ATS.
So, what kind of impact do you think that these technologies and tools will have or have on recruitment?
James: To be honest, I think it’s going to be a long way until tools replace the human touch. I think still, the most important factor of a good recruiter is the human and soft elements. So, the soft skills, the critical thinking, the being able to connect the dots, and then also being able to communicate and build relationships with people. So that’s the most important element.
But what automation tools do is free these guys up to do more of what actually makes them money and take away a lot of those menial tasks that back in the day, used to take hours or so to do, such as uploading information to an ATS system or reformatting CVs, or expanding a network on LinkedIn. Now, there are a lot of automation tools that can do this for you.
“I think the main advantage is that it frees you up to be able to actually do the things that are going to benefit you more as a recruiter, and that is meeting people, building relationships with them, and ultimately sales.”
Candidate Care: how to maintain it
Lydia: So, that feeds into the candidate experience itself. The more time you have, the more time you get to invest in the candidate's experience.
So what would you say, in your experience, are some of the ways that recruiters can ensure candidate care throughout the recruitment process?
James: I think it is very simple. It's communication. If you speak to any candidate, and you ask them ‘what's the worst thing about recruiters?’ Almost always, the first thing that they will say is ‘oh, I interviewed for a job, or they approached me about a job, and then I never heard back from them again, I never got feedback, or whatever it may be.’ Now, I know recruiters are quite often juggling a lot of balls and spinning a lot of plates, and occasionally, things like this will slip by the wayside.
But I think overall, as an industry, we've got to do more to ensure communication in good times and bad times.
What you'll find is that a lot of recruiters will shy away from those bad conversations, the negative conversations like ‘you didn't get the job,’ or ‘they don't want to interview you,’ or whatever it may be. They'd rather just ignore that person or just hope that that person forgets about it, rather than actually phoning the person up and giving them that feedback.
“Communication is the most important thing, ensuring that the candidates are always in the loop. They always know where they stand and that the communication for both positive and negative conversations is fluid.”
Lydia: Then you keep that relationship going as an engagement.
Lydia: Keeping them warm and eventually finding some prospects that might work for them and also for your client, right?
Recruitment is about building relationships. I think I've said relationships quite a few times in this discussion. But, it's so true that the best recruiters have good networks of candidates and good networks of clients. And you get those networks from doing a good job and when you leave a good impression on people. And that really does come down to your communication.
I think going back to the point that I made before meeting people and doing more face-to-face meetings. Now that we're coming out the end of the pandemic and there are pretty much no restrictions, recruiters should go back to meeting people in person because that's ultimately how you're gonna build these relationships more long term.
Starting out in recruitment today, here’s what you should know
Lydia: I was going to ask you if you had any advice for anyone starting out in recruitment today, but I think you pretty much covered quite a bit about going back to the fundamentals, meeting people, and establishing those relationships.
But in your own experience starting out in recruitment coming from a different field, what advice would you give? Is there any other piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in recruitment today?
James: Yeah, don't be lazy is the first piece of advice. Always be looking to improve and step out of your comfort zone. The things that you don't like doing are the things that you need to do more often. I think we're all guilty of that. For example, online branding is a really important part of being a modern-day recruiter, but not everyone is comfortable putting out content and doing videos and things like that. Even myself, it's not something that comes naturally to me, but I've had to force myself to be a little bit more active in this area.
Lydia: Personal Branding, you mean.
James: Yeah, personal branding.
Also, getting yourself out there, trying to put content out on LinkedIn, doing things like videos, all of that sort of stuff.
Public speaking has never been something I've been a huge fan of, to be honest with you. But I've kind of seen the benefits of it, and I've pushed myself to do it. The more you do something, the more comfortable and better at it you become.
I think that was just the main point of recruiters. There will be things that you don't particularly like doing, it might be cold calling, it might be meeting clients face to face, it might be meeting candidates face to face, it might be networking events, but all of these things are actually the things that you need to be doing more of, and quite often it is those things that you don't enjoy doing that you need to do more of.
That would just be my advice to step out of your comfort zone and just always be looking to improve.
“It doesn't matter if you've got five days of experience or 15 years of experience. There are always things that you can do better, and you should always be looking to grow and learn and take training on board.”
Lydia: I imagine these are the kinds of things you say on a daily basis to your new team that's coming in, fresh from graduation or fresh from their studies looking to find experiences in recruitment.
Thank you so much, James. I wish we had a longer period to talk, but we have to wrap this up. It's been a great pleasure having you on this show. Thanks for sharing where True Blue is going right now, what the space of IT recruitment is today, and the goals that you have for your own people. I think these are very inspirational.
For those who want to find you or look True Blue up, where do they go?
James: Sure, I think the easiest place to find me is on LinkedIn. I'm pretty active on LinkedIn. So, you can find True Blue on LinkedIn, or our website is www.trueblue.co.th.
Lydia: Excellent. Thank you, James. Wishing you all the best for True Blue and looking forward to hearing more from you later, perhaps towards the end of the year, to see where this is going.
James: Awesome. Thank you so much, Lydia. It's been really nice to speak with you.
Lydia: We have been speaking with James Hine, who is the co-founder and managing director at True Blue in Bangkok, Thailand. Do look out for future podcasts from All-In Recruitment, and stay tuned for our next video.