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 our weekly episodes.
My name is Lydia and joining us today is Thomas Woodhams from Hawk-Eye Innovations.
Welcome, Tom. Good to have you.
Thomas: Hi, Lydia. Thanks for having me here today as well. I'm excited to be here.
“I Live and Breathe Anything About Tech”
Lydia: So, I picked up from your LinkedIn when I was looking through it, and I saw that you’re a tech recruiter who codes. Could you tell me a little bit more about that journey? How did it happen? Were you coding first? Or did you start recruiting first? Which one informed the other? And what impact has it had on your role in recruiting?
Thomas: I think from an early age when was 14 when I started getting into computers. I was massively into building my own computers. So, I was always quite creative when it came to building stuff. I liked upgrading things, making them faster, and upgrading the RAM, and graphics card. I always wanted to try and have the best setup. So, I had a massive passion for technology at an early age anyway.
I went to school and got a BTech [degree] in computers, but I actually ended up going into sports, became a lifeguard, and then got into sales. I kind of fell into recruitment. But I’m massively into data, I play a lot of chess. You can find out a lot from chess games, you can actually download your existing chess games. Then you can see the data of all the different moves.
Being in technology, I’ve always had a massive passion for it. Working within data and engineering, I love this sort of stuff outside of work. So, when I’m actually speaking to people, I’m not just having granular conversations, I’m able to have somewhat technical conversations.
So, with regard to data, I felt like Python and SQL are the best ways for data science. They are the best methods or coding languages that can actually look at data, manipulate data, and build models, for example. I’ve been coding for just over two years now. But it’s always just been a massive hobby outside of work. Just like the nerd in me that has loads of data and I can just put it into a model, for example, predictive modeling of what my chess games might be in the next five to ten games.
So, that’s always helped me massively and that’s kind of my background of how I got into coding. It’s a lot different from any other recruiters. I think there aren’t many recruiters that do code and if they do, that’s amazing. But it’s not just that I turn up for work and call myself a tech recruiter, I live and breathe it, not just inside of work, but outside of work as well.
Lydia: So, Tom, not many recruiters might have that advantage of having technical expertise or being organically interested in that subject to be able to have those conversations with candidates. We’ll go to that later.
Moving to your role at Hawk-Eye, what are some of the key areas that you prioritize now that we’ve entered 2024? You’re in sports technology, and you’re looking at the upcoming Olympics and all the technologies that are going to be deployed in this period. So, what are some of the areas that you’ve prioritized in this role?
Thomas: The areas that I look after are specifically engineering. That could be front-end, back-end, QA, or DevOps. Those are the key areas that I focus on. Normally, it’s only the needs of the business that dictate what is needed. We go by what we’re doing. We’re currently hiring in Hungary at the moment, building a tech hub. So, an upcoming tech hub out there. This obviously brings in a diverse set of skills.
But yeah, engineering is my passion. I probably wouldn’t work in any other industry, not just within sports. But in tech in general, it’s not like when I speak to people, I feel like they’re my people when it comes to tech, and that’s something I will always do. But those are the key areas that we’re specifically recruiting for any tech engineering function in general, but predominantly it will be front-end and back-end, as I mentioned. Those are my key areas, in general.
Asking Hiring Managers the Right Questions
Lydia: In terms of dealing with or creating the job brief meeting with your hiring manager, what might be the process that you use to ensure that you’ve got the right elements, the right criteria that you’re looking for, and also making sure all parties are informed at the same time?
Thomas: It’s a really good question. A lot of it is about getting buy-in from hiring managers because obviously, they are dealing with technical knowledge day in, and day out. They know what they’re doing. So, the difference in expertise is completely different from what I know to what they do.
But with regard to the process, I actually use a tool called Meta View, which is an AI-generated problem-solving tool.
I record all my hiring manager calls because I’m quite forgetful when it comes to admin and trying to cram loads of information in, but I ask better questions. This could be anything from how the team is set up, what kind of projects they will be working on, what kind of versions of the tech they are using, and when are they going to be upgrading the versions.
Instead of asking what this candidate looks like and what is their background, it’s actually drilling into more technical knowledge and having better technical conversations. So, as soon as I speak to the hiring manager, these are the types of questions I ask. I ask about the sprints, if they are two-week sprints, how the sprints are run, how they engage with other people, and how the other teams communicate with people.
It’s more about having a better understanding of the teams. Instead of having someone, for example, HR, saying, ‘Here’s the job advert, this is what we want, this is what the key criteria are,’ it’s like, ‘Right, okay, well, let’s talk about the team perspective, how many are in the team? How does everyone communicate with each other?’ as I just mentioned.
So, I record these calls just because it helps me understand at a deeper level when it comes to recruiting the people, or the candidates. It helps me have better conversations with candidates instead of saying, ‘Join a job. Yeah, how much is it? What is it?’ You know what I mean? It’s kind of just reading out the standard bulk. So, I try to give that experience from start to finish where it’s actually speaking to someone who knows what they’re talking about, and having better questions.
So, when you do have a typical day as an engineer, it’s not just ‘Oh, you come to work, you’re doing this,’ I’m able to talk about more architectural decisions within our code base, what kind of libraries we’re using, and I can go from there.
Lydia: And are these the kinds of questions that are typically asked by candidates during your discussions with them, preliminary?
Thomas: It really depends on the candidate. Personally, I like people to leave knowing exactly what they’re doing, the kind of challenges they’re facing, the kind of code they’d be working with, and the kind of work they’d be doing, instead of just saying, ‘Oh, this is a good opportunity. This is how much I’m getting paid. These are the benefits.’ They usually do the normal generic stuff that you would get from a typical recruitment call. I like to paint the picture of what they would be expecting, instead of coming in on day one and saying, ‘This is what I signed up for.’ They already know, preempting or setting their expectations.
Most techies, in general, and in the engineering space, are quite introverted people. So, sometimes that can actually be quite overwhelming not knowing what actually is going on. I think that’s the main consensus when it comes to candidates.
When I’m actually talking to candidates, people see that I attract people through my content that I post on LinkedIn, from podcasts, and from different channels. People already have a general conversation and they know enough about me already, sometimes a bit more information than I know about myself. So generally, I have a good conversation, and people pick that up from the conversations that we have, and how I’m presenting my technical knowledge or the questions that I’m asking. That way, I can actually get better conversations from them.
Lydia: And all this comes together- the knowledge of the space and your personal brand definitely lends a huge amount of support here, right?
Thomas: It does massively help. I would be lying if I said to you that the personal branding piece doesn’t matter. Obviously, my personal brand reflects on Hawk-Eye, and I want to have that whole personal brand. That’s something I’ve worked on myself because I have my own recruitment business. Previously, it was all about the personal brand and selling yourself.
So, what I’m trying to work out more is to see the bigger picture of Hawk-Eye. As much as I love people working with me for a personal brand, I also want to promote Hawk-Eye’s personal brand as well, and what we actually achieve. So, that’s kind of where we’re at with it.
Educating the Hiring Managers About the Market
Lydia: How do you position a Hawk-Eye as a differentiated market for especially talent that's in very high demand at this point?
Thomas: It’s a good question. Very good question. To be fair, it is very much about a personal brand. I think, in general, if you are passionate about sports, and you know from TV, if you’ve watched Wimbledon, or you’ve watched football, for example, or basketball, let’s say, then you kind of already have a buy-in. The brand is already there because you’re seeing it day in and day out of what’s actually happening in sports. And obviously, that’s linked to Hawk-Eye.
So, it’s one of the things that it’s about getting the right people who live and breathe the same concepts or values. And to be fair, it sometimes does actually sell itself because you do get a lot of applicants for particular roles who want to work within an environment that we are currently creating for our clients.
Lydia: The hiring process itself, a slow process can often be a major obstacle to ensuring that you’re hiring the right people for the right project at the right time. So, how do you approach this process? Including technical assessments, for example, what might be some ways to become more efficient in terms of hiring or even attracting the right kind of talent and keeping that talent pool ready so you can tap into it whenever you need?
Thomas: A lot of it comes down to Talent Acquisition if I’m being brutally honest. Certain people, in general, have worked in the business for a long period of time, and the market has completely changed now. As you mentioned, personal brand is a massive factor now, as are social settings.
When it comes to the hiring process, the key thing is to be able to educate hiring managers. So, it wouldn’t even start with the candidate’s process, it would start with educating the hiring managers.
This can actually be down to salary benchmarking, the Talent Acquisition pushing a particular candidate, or going to lose a particular candidate. Normally, one wants to go no more than three stages. I think anything over three stages, there’s a loss of interest for each round of hiring.
So, at that point, it is about keeping people engaged. How I potentially would do that is obviously to speak to people. If I have a candidate that I’m regularly speaking to with regards to gaming channels, or when I’m looking at a CV, when having a conversation, I will add them to those particular channels or gaming just for a long period of time, even if they didn’t accept the job. It’s good to have different means of keeping people in touch.
But 100%, it has to be coming from the Talent Acquisition, educating about what the market is like because Talent Acquisition is out in the market day in and day out. Whereas hiring managers and engineering managers are just focusing on the jobs and the projects that they’re currently working on.
So, it’s kind of them being in four walls where we’re obviously the eyes and ears out in the bigger world knowing what’s going on and how much of a demand there is.
It’s definitely about educating people, the hiring managers, and how to improve it and obviously coming up with better ways of doing things. Sometimes it does need a bit of a push from us as Talent Acquisition to actually say, ‘Just to let you know, this is what’s happening in the market,’ and sometimes you do have to give a bit of a push and state the reasons why. Obviously, the data doesn’t lie in general. That’s one of the things, educating hiring managers and obviously, there’s mention of trends and what’s out there at the moment.
Lydia: A lot of that involves market intelligence, the use of technology. It’s just about collecting or collating that data and making sure you’re analyzing it and breaking that down in a way that your hiring manager would be able to understand immediately, without going back and forth.
Thomas: I totally agree.
Building a Relationship with Candidates as a Non-Techie
Lydia: In terms of building relationships, you’ve got your podcasts, your personal brand, and you’ve got this group of audience that you’re close to, or rather, they’re familiar with you as well. How do you build relationships with technical candidates, especially when you’re discussing technical knowledge related to a role?
Going back to the point earlier, where perhaps groups of recruiters were moving from one vertical or one industry to the next and jumping into tech, and trying to speak the techie language. Now, how do they go about building that kind of relationship with technical candidates, especially when they want to start the conversation in terms of technical skills?
Thomas: I think I have to thank my ADHD for the creativity that I have because I do it without thinking. I get really focused. I don’t just look at a candidate and think, ‘Oh, that’s a good fit.’
I do a lot of detective work based on this. This involves looking at the kind of posts they like, some of the activity on LinkedIn, and the stuff they are engaging with. Suddenly, I can paint a picture in my head. They like gaming, and they are certified in Java, or AWS, for example. I’ve already built a story from what they’re about. I can picture in my head what kind of profile that person has or what that person might be like, by the way they communicate.
When it comes to building relationships, it’s not just about saying, ‘Hi, hope this email finds you well, here’s a random job offer.’ A lot of people get put off by that approach.
Each approach I take is tailored. Each individual message I send, whether it’s a connection on LinkedIn or a personalized message when I’m reaching out, will always be tailored to that individual. That includes the language, tone, and words that I’m using. I also use familiarity. For example, if they like to post about PlayStation, I’ll share some of the games I’m massively into.
This is the kind of game that I play. It’s about building that common ground with a lot of people.
A lot of people think that approaching someone in a scattergun approach when it comes to recruitment is about needing to get the numbers, especially more than an agency background where you’re trying to hit a target. But then you end up neglecting the personal build-up or the rapport with people. So anyone joining this market definitely wants to get involved with coding, even from basic stuff, which you can learn online, and to start spending a bit more time with people to actually learn about them.
From someone’s active LinkedIn profile, you can tell a lot about what kind of person they are by the types of content that they like. You can do this yourself. You can go into activity, look at the candidate, and then you can see all the posts. It’s all there for you. But I think sometimes it’s about being a bit more creative. You have to spend a bit more time showing a bit more care to people. It’s not like a slapdash approach. It’s about having that genuine bond with someone.
Especially when you’re speaking to a lot of people, and you’re looking at the content that they like, and then suddenly you’re writing content. They’re like, ‘Oh, how did you know that?’ But you’re already looking at the content and the type of likes. So, that piece of content might relate to them because they love gaming, for example. And then suddenly, you’re listing out the games that they like. And suddenly you’ve got a correlation. ‘Oh, they like the same games I do. How did you know that?’ And then it kind of just comes with experience, talking to people, building rapport with people.
I’m quite quirky when it comes to this. I won’t just make a joke for the sake of making a joke. I’ll make something funny to break the ice because a lot of people, as I said, engineers are quite introverted, and it’s sometimes quite hard to bring that personality out of people. So, I kind of like to make a bit of a joke of it, ‘I’ve stalked your profile,’ whatever. And only 1% of requests that I get, or connections with people, have ever said no.
Using Generative AI to Leverage Candidate Feedback
Lydia: It’s interesting that you talk about making that first connection. Hyper-personalized, or really just tailored to that person by getting the nuance into who this person is, and trying to understand what they like. Now, moving into the use of maybe Artificial Intelligence, chatbots, etc., and then you’ve got automated messages going on. I mean, these messages are going up and not necessarily personalized. So, what would be the best use of generative AI in recruitment or even overall in Talent Acquisition?
Thomas: I actually did a post about this today. It was about how you can utilize something like ChatGPT to leverage feedback for candidates. A lot of people focus on the ones that can’t be bothered. And it’s probably just me being straightforward. When it comes to writing content, you can tell from a ChatGPT post if someone has used it to write their own posts. The AI systems on LinkedIn are great, especially for people who don’t know where to start when it comes to making connections.
But something I would advise is to use that [AI generated content] as a baseline or a template. Then personalize it and add your own little tweaks or your own personality.
What ends up happening is, everyone is sending the same AI-generated messages when it comes to candidates. So, how does that make you stand out from the crowd? It doesn’t, because that might have been great at the beginning when it was new. You think, ‘Oh, well, they know loads about the job and stuff like that.’ But when you’re suddenly getting an influx of candidates, and they’re all the same, how can you actually point out a standout candidate without going on someone’s profile? Or actually, going through their skills and qualifications or having a CV?
How does that candidate actually stand out to me? Unless someone said to me, ‘Oh, I love your podcasts.’ And then obviously, with the AI-generated connection requests, they are certainly really good. I’d love to chat with Matt, and I want our guests to say, ‘Hey, should I say, let’s say Alex Partridge, for example.’ But then suddenly, I’m more interested in that particular post, because they’ve already mentioned a podcast that they’ve seen on Alex Partridge, and then it’s more of a talking point, instead of having a generic message that 100 people send all the time.
It’s worth always trying to use that if you find it challenging to write, which a lot of people do. Even I’d make sure you’re trying to personalize it with something that is relatable for that particular person so it does stand out.
Opening Up for Greater Inclusion, Including Neurodivergence
Lydia: In terms of using generative AI or even crafting a job description, for example, when it comes to D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) in tech talent, especially, we’ve heard plenty of perspectives that it all comes down to the tone and language that you use to attract diverse talent, especially in the tech space where you want to see a little more diversity. So, what strategies or ways do you recommend to approach diversity in hiring, especially in tech?
Thomas: It has come a long way from where it was before. A lot of people used to say ‘It’s a fast environment’ or ‘It’s a dynamic team,’ and you’re left wondering, what does that actually mean? Say what you mean. Like, it’s a dynamic team. But in any case, it’s just one of those things.
One of the key things at the moment is saying ‘It’s a family environment.’ I did a LinkedIn post about that. People know when others say, ‘It’s a family environment’ that people will probably get overworked. There’d be a lot of rumors, and gossip. You’ve already got one family. Why would you want another family at work? I don’t know. I mean, I spend a lot of time with these people.
But it is definitely about the tone and I think also having reasonable adjustments in the criteria at the beginning of job adverts does massively help. Because obviously, we’re promoting that and that’s at the forefront.
But it’s like having ADHD. I was diagnosed nearly five years ago and I’m on medication. Having that on my profile has not just given me people who have seen that I’ve been diagnosed, They have seen what I write about and people feel open to actually have a conversation about their own challenges with it. It could be ADHD or it could be neurodivergent in that particular neurodiverse space. You actually are getting people opening up because you’ve opened up about it.
That’s the whole reason why I talk about ADHD part, to try and help promote it. So, when you’re talking about non-diverse talent, it’s sometimes actually good to present people like neurodivergent on either the webpage or we have a culture, safe space, for example.
The language is definitely important, especially with applicants as well, with those long application forms. Loads of processes, people do actually tend to be switched off quite before that, especially with obviously long, long job descriptions. So, it’s definitely about the tone of language, say what you mean, is kind of how I normally put it, but kind of put at the forefront of reasonable adjustments, like, it’s fine to apply, isn’t it? It’s just about being yourself. And that’s the stuff that I promote online.
Lydia: Your podcast is also on mental health and that's the topic that is very close to you.
Thomas: The ‘Be You’ podcast is basically designed for ‘being you.’ It is for you to come up and talk about your story, being yourself in a safe space where you can just talk and it’s not judged. The podcast itself comes from all different people’s backgrounds. Women in Tech, obviously, someone who owned Blood Bible. Well-being in the workplace and mental health in general are obviously important to me. But the podcasts are not designed for mental health, the podcasts are designed for you to be yourself, pretty much.
That’s from all different backgrounds. That could be someone who’s an ADHD expert, a doctor in ADHD or psychology, they could be an engineering leader. But yes, it’s designed for all types of different backgrounds and for people to come up on stage and talk about themselves, what they do, and where they are now.
From Diagnosis to Success
Lydia: It’s interesting that you also raised a very important point about being tactile and introverted or by nature, not as outgoing as they would normally like to be as a candidate. So, I think that’s pretty interesting to see the ways in which you break that down using a more relatable approach, actively, proactively finding out who they are in order to make that conversation break the ice, as you said.
So, I’m sure you’ve come across so many recruitment instances in which there have been successes or even times when it probably didn’t work out the way that you wanted it to work out. What is your favorite recruitment story in all these years?
Thomas: All these years? Well, I’ll probably do. There are loads and loads of stories. One of them relates back to the ADHD that I’ve talked about. I had a candidate that I found online and then read and just looked at his profile. He actually came back and looked at my profile as well, sort of like a game of table tennis, and mentioned ADHD, and what that entailed.
So, when we actually had a conversation about a vacancy that he was obviously looking to apply for, he said, ‘I saw that you do stuff about ADHD and stuff like that.’ He said, ‘Oh, I’m actually going through the ADHD diagnosis at the moment. I’ve told my family this year.’ We ended up having probably about an hour of conversation on the phone, over a Google Meet like this, talking about the process, and what to expect.
Then obviously, he had the diagnosis and then went on medication. But he said, ‘If it wasn’t for your input and how you discuss it, and how you’re so open about it, I probably would have had more anxiety going into that initial diagnosis meeting with the psychologist to actually get that. But it was your words and strength and what you’ve explained to me, so I was ready to set my expectations.’
He’s on medication and he’s doing really well and has been in his current employer for two years now. That’s in the public sector, in government. I thought it was quite open and honest for him to talk about that. But where I’ve talked about it openly, honestly, I felt more comfortable approaching and being able to talk to me. That’s probably one of my success stories of him opening up and getting the diagnosis, and then telling me that he did. And now he’s having a better life. So, that’s kind of what it was about.
Lydia: For you to open up like that and really protect yourself or for who you are really, and just being very open out there as your personal brand, was that a challenging decision? Or was it something that took time for you to decide not to do? Would you want to do that or not?
Thomas: It’s a really good question. It is one of the things that I think about. Anyway, when it comes to LinkedIn, a lot of people put the post out and automatically you think, ‘Oh, my God, what are people going to say about me?’ You’re making yourself really vulnerable because you’re putting your heart out there and literally just sticking your heart on a post and thinking, ‘Please don’t break my heart, please don’t break my heart.’
It gets to a point where you think, ‘Okay, people are actually enjoying it, people are actually leaving comments on it.’ There is a part of ADHD, which is RSD, or Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, where if someone says something bad, you can go into a bit of a shell, and people might think they don’t like you. You can overthink it, you can think about it for days.
So, I think it does come with confidence and just at the end of the day, which I’ve had to work through the challenges, is that all your content is not going to please everyone. What happens is that you end up trying to please everyone else by saying the right things when really you should be focusing on what you want to say because you’re the expert in your space.
I think it’s one of the things where it’s taken me a bit of time to build confidence up. Since building that over a period of time now, probably over the last three years, I’ve probably helped over 10 people conquer a fear. It’s not my job, but I enjoy helping people. So, it’s like self-gratification and actually talking about the condition in general actually helps you.
Being able to document it online and being able to help, do you find this challenging, or is someone else in the same boat? Suddenly you find that all the things that you say about ADHD or being divergent, everyone is feeling the same or has come through similar challenges. So suddenly, you’ve got a pool of people that all get what you’re saying. It’s quite nice when it comes together. But yeah, as I said, it’s more of a confidence thing and I think that just comes with time.
Find Your Rhythm as a Recruiter
Lydia: And impacts being made. I think that's the most important thing. Whether it's 10 or 100, it's still have that impact that's been made. So yes, that's a great story to hear.
Finally, Tom, what advice would you give someone who's starting up in recruitment today? I mean, this is a role that has become so multifaceted compared to maybe 10 years, or 15 years ago.
Thomas: I think anyone coming into this space should definitely learn from other people, especially those with more experience. But if I’m honest, you can take as much advice on LinkedIn as you want from loads of different people. Sometimes, it can feel a bit overwhelming, because everyone’s saying something different.
To be fair, just find your own rhythm, your own space. Find how you do things. Your ways might not be different from my ways, and so on and so forth. But it’s worth just getting involved, even to start posting about it. There are genuinely good people on LinkedIn. You could ask an engineering manager, for example, what they would like to see. Always constantly go to the source, like a hiring manager, or ask what they would like to see from a recruiter.
You have to think outside the box, but with recruitment, don’t think that overnight, you’re going to become the best person ever. I would say, take each day as it comes, and try not to learn too much. And try not to listen to everyone else, what they’re saying. Just try and focus on what you want to do, and try and do it your own way and put your own stamp on it.
Lydia: Thank you so much, Tom. This has been great. I mean, it’s generous what you’ve just shared with us, and also looking into the vulnerability associated with putting yourself out there and being relatable to those who might want to explore something more about themselves. Thank you so much for your time and your insights.
So, you have a podcast and your LinkedIn, you’re pretty well known. But for the benefit of our audience, if anyone wants to contact you and maybe take that conversation further, where can they find you? How can they connect with you?
Thomas: You can just drop me a message on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to help anyone, even if it’s around ADHD, which is a space I’m familiar with. Even if you’re feeling a bit sad one day or feeling a bit down and trying to work out what ADHD is, I’m happy to be that source of confidence, like ‘you’ve got this’ and give you that reassurance.
I’m more than happy for anyone to connect on LinkedIn, as long as you state in a note that you’ve listened to the podcast, and you want to connect with me and discuss some valuable points. That’d be the best way.
I look forward to it and thanks so much for having me here as well. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.
Lydia: It's been a pleasure having you, Tom. Thanks so much for making the time.
We have been in conversation with Thomas Woodhams of Hawk-Eye Innovations. Thank you for joining us and remember to subscribe to stay tuned for more weekly episodes from All-In Recruitment.