EP9: Mushawar UK Ltd. - New Ways to Recruit (Maheen Noor Sooomro)

Welcome to All-In Recruitment. In this episode, Maheen Noor Soomro from Mushawar UK Ltd., takes us through her vast experience in the recruitment industry and discusses how new and existing recruiters can adapt and adopt certain technologies and strategies in order to stay relevant in times of change.


The transcript has been edited for clarity.

Maheen Noor Soomro: A self-made recruiter and business owner

Hello, Maheen. Thank you so much for your time today. You had quite a busy schedule last week, and I’m so glad that you made it for us here at All-In Recruitment.

So a very warm welcome to you, and we’re excited to have you.

Maheen: I'm excited to be here, honestly.

Lydia: Maheen, let’s start with you. You’ve been in the recruitment field - across different roles for a good 15 years now. This is a very impressive profile of growth in the field. You served in-house early in your career, and then moved on to specialize in talent acquisition, employee engagement, talent mobility, and even coaching.

And today, you are the Director of Talent Acquisition, HR Employment, and Solutions at Mushawar UK.

Walk us through your journey and, maybe, on what has kept you in the talent space.

Maheen: Well, I think that I’ve always recognized myself as being someone who thrives on interaction. I’m an introvert, but very early on, I realized that as long as I pushed myself, I do enjoy people, and I like learning from experiences.

It’s been 15 years in this industry. I started out as an HR generalist in the oil and gas sector, and very soon, I realized that if I wanted to excel in my career and go somewhere which is new and has the potential to grow, then I needed to make a choice.

I then stumbled across the Information Technology industry, and I realized that this sounds like it’s going to be something challenging. It’s innovative and something that’s just starting off. I want to be a part of it.

I worked for a Dubai-based company, and there, I got the opportunity to work with diverse markets such as China, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. It introduced me to technological hiring. I realized that this hiring comes with a strong employer brand whose requirement was to reach out to people, tell them how your brand was different and show them the new technologies and skill-sets that you could offer them.

I’ve seen that in this industry, if you’re pitching people for a role, then these people would want to know where they’re going to go next and how they’re going to improve on their tech stack. If they feel like a product, technical skill-set, or project is quite redundant in terms of the skills required, they’re not going to join your organization.

I started working for one of the top IT names in Pakistan. I think that was another big break because I got the opportunity to introduce HR metrics, framework, and structures that I learned early on from a structured industry such as the oil and gas sector to an organization or industry that has no real structure and was just at the start of building itself up.

I then started my own agency by myself with no assistance. It’s been about seven years now, and I’ve not looked back. I now work across two geographies and have two entities and two teams working with me remotely. It’s fun and exciting. We look after North America, Europe, and the UK markets. We also look after the Middle East, South Asia, and Asian Pacific markets. I can tell you that they’re very different markets and have very different hiring needs.

Lydia: I like how you’ve honed your skills in those high-growth industries and how you’ve looked into sharpening these processes. You’ve taken these skills and processes with you into your own agency, and now you’re addressing these issues during a very interesting time for recruitment and also for the economy

Overcoming disruptions in the industry: the way moving forward

Mushwar is the name of your agency where you offer services in HR policy and process as well as career development solutions.

You’ve worked for 15 years in this industry, so what might be the key shifts in policies that HR leaders must be more attentive to, and are there any specific pillars, given the disruptions we’ve seen over the past two years?

Maheen: I’ll tell you that before COVID, we were speaking about making HR policies more inclusive, acknowledging that there’s a more diverse workforce and that this workforce required different types of values in order to be able to attract them.  If you recognize those values, understand them, and are able to cultivate them in your processes, then it’s great because you’re acknowledging a lot of people. But, it’s also a very difficult time for the people in the legal industry, HR industry, and the management side of things because they have to overcome these sorts of challenges.

I know that a lot of my colleagues are still working on discovering what gender neutrality means and how to address it in processes, how to address different kinds of family units, and small things such as managing maternity leave when someone is having a baby of their own but also if that person has adopted a child because you now have a different kind of family dynamic happening.

Small things like maternity leave or options for different kinds of diverse people in this sphere and acknowledging that COVID and remote working bring both a problem and opportunity are what we had to address.

Lydia: That’s a very interesting thing – remote working. The inspiration for that is looking at the Netherlands and how they’re looking to introduce that into their law, to make remote working a law, a right, basically. If this really does shift that way, if one country does it, then it’s likely that other frameworks will also follow in different places.

So, what might be some of these kinds of shifts that you will expect to see?

Maheen:  We’ve been saying this pre-COVID as well as during and post-COVID that you have to get used to it. You have to make your systems capable of managing remote employees, and you have to come up with ways to keep your employees engaged even if they’re working remotely. A lot of business heads don’t agree that if you’re working remotely, you can engage your employers and retain them. That’s not true. People with families and responsibilities at home will tell you that they are much better off working in hybrid models and working remotely. These people are working twice as hard, doing a lot better, and there is less waste of time.

You have to understand that remote working is here to stay, and it is something that you will have to get used to. You have to make policies, you’ll have to make performance metrics and create trackers in order to make sure that you’re in touch with your employees and they’re able to deliver what you need.”

What you need is better communication about the performance metrics, the benchmarks they need to achieve their targets, and clarity on that. Employee communication needs to be a lot clearer and less vague. Your policy documents should not require an employee to go to a legal counterpart to interpret what you’re saying. Contracts should be easily communicated to your employees. They should not require assistance to understand what kind of clauses they’re signing on.

You also need to understand that employees are not only saving money but also the time when they are not communicating five days a week in an office space. They can start work at 8 or 9 because all they need is just a half-hour head start. The possibility of going on breaks is lesser.

I’m not saying that this completely kills the point of working in a one-on-one environment. People would love to come and meet each other time and again, but remote working is here to stay.

Everything is becoming digital, so you can’t say that remote working is not possible. If you’re saying that remote work is something your company is not interested in, then you’re going to be without talent very soon.

The Great Resignation: the fallout and the road to recovery

Lydia: The Great Resignation has affected those in the C level as well as those in mid-management and also those who are very fresh into the workforce. We’ve heard a lot about the Great Resignation and the candidate-driven market but there was an interesting piece from Korn Ferry that discusses how this mass resignation trend may stall due to the growing possibility of a recession.

So, in your opinion, what would this mean for recruiters?

Tech talents generally understand that a great resignation is coming, even before or during the announcement is made. Most tech talents are already finding spaces to be employed, whether they are remote, contractual, or permanent positions. It is the support who are ending up without positions, and that is going to be a problem because there are industries that are doing well post-COVID as well as having done well during the pandemic period. This includes the health sciences and technological industries. But, there’s only a certain extent that these industries will be hiring support workers.

Generally, what we’re seeing is that there are people in sales who are probably not going to change very easily because if they’re working for a stable company, then they’re going to keep working for that certain company because the big names are still making a lot of money. They’re making three times more than their last year’s paying quarter. That’s not changing for them.

What is changing is these new start-ups that do not have access to seed funding or because the funding rounds are not happening right now as a result of the state of the economy and because of the Russian war find themselves in a situation where the system is failing.

The rest of the stable system aggregators, SIs, system integrators, and main technology platform providers are still stable, growing, and will continue to grow. The economy is not shutting down for them.

I can tell you that when we’re talking about technical recruitment, there’s no stalling the Great Resignation. There’s been no difference in the attitude of people to who we’re still pitching technical roles. There is, however, a difference in the attitude of people who are in support roles and working in different industries because these people are thinking twice.  We’ve seen that at the last moment, these support roles or senior-level roles don’t end up changing positions because they’re scared that if they change or hop onto a new bus, they might be the first to be laid off. That’s something you have to remember. The Great Resignation for the technology industry is irrelevant.

HR Leaders: how to strategize and move forward in a volatile economy

Lydia: Let’s discuss how talent development and HR, in this sense, can become strategic in the midst of the predicted economic turndown.

What might be some ways HR leaders can provide a strategic perspective? I think you’ve just provided one earlier. So what might be some ways they can become more influential in terms of supporting the business through volatility in the economy?

Maheen:  In respect of you working in a support department, no matter how many times you say it’s a strategic role or that it should be a strategic role, the reality is that at the end of the day, it does well for a company if HR is a strategic role. But the problem comes when HR decision makers end up working in support roles because they sometimes don’t understand the business.

The first thing for an HR professional to do is to create a mind-shift and really understand the business, the customers your business is tending to, and then the industry climate you’re in. Understand how your business has been for the past five years, how the competitors are doing business right now, and what the new workforce retention and engagement policies are. Look at the best policies and try to outshine them.

That’s the problem in the technological industry. You can’t be an average employer and retain people. You will experience people leaving the organization in no longer than some years. In every appraisal cycle, that person will leave if you have average employee engagement policies or employee management policies or even talent management policies.”

Tech Recruitment: overcoming challenges

Lydia: Employee engagement is really about people knowing their purpose in the company and knowing what their role actually is and how they can contribute to that role. In the past two years, we’ve seen many companies, by force, having to shift towards digitalization during the pandemic, and in essence, they have all, in one way, become digital businesses. 

So, everyone who has known their role in one way or another has moved on to using digital tools and having to be faster and understand efficiency differently, and these businesses are in need of tech talent.

So what would you say are the top three challenges facing tech recruitment today, and how might a recruiter tackle them?

Maheen: You have to become more aware of how to use social media. If you’re working in the European region and the UK area, unfortunately, you have to understand how GDPR works and come around to the solutions for it.

Social media has really impacted businesses. Recruitment and technology recruitment has severely impacted businesses to a certain extent during COVID because we were not getting the opportunities to build a network with people. In these regions, if you were not networking with people one-on-one or in any other ways, then there was no way for you to get in touch with people unless you were using LinkedIn, and your whole pipeline is also using the same channel, and you’re constantly in touch with them otherwise you won’t be able to approach people.

So, GDPR is an issue, and all technology headhunters or otherwise recruitment consultants, even those who are not in the tech industry, have to understand this and come up with ways of navigating this very difficult space.

Recruiters need to identify the communities because there are a lot of recruitment communities that are still doing networking events and online conferences, which you can be a part of and can give you access to the talent pool you need. Or, if you recognize what kind of technical talent pools you want to be a part of, then identify those conferences and enroll in them. You’ll end up having access to people to interact with, especially during those conferences.

I think networking is something that you have to become aware of because there are various ways of doing it. You have to understand GDPR laws, carry out networking, connect with people and overall become more aware of the right digital tools to use and learn to become comfortable with using them.”

You have to learn to become comfortable with sitting in front of a computer and speaking to people and make them feel engaged in the conversation. You might feel like you’re alone in the room, but actually, for example, I changed my mindset and attitude to be one. When I am speaking to someone, I will bounce off their energy. I understand that this doesn’t really work well when you’re just sitting with a computer, but with time, you’ll start engaging with people and have a lot more conversations. You’ll end up striking up conversations with people that, at first, you didn’t think to do business with.

These are three things that I would definitely recommend; understanding GDPR laws and how to go around them, becoming familiar with digital and social media tools/ platforms, and lastly, finding networking opportunities despite facing difficulties when one-on-one networking was impossible.

Automated tools: the solution for recruitment?

Lydia: These are all ways to build up your industrial knowledge of the space that you’re working in and we’ve spoken about those challenges, but there are on day-to-day life that there are plenty of tasks that need to be done. There are a lot of automation tools out there in the market, such as our solution at Manatal.

So, what kind of impact do you think these solutions or these technologies will have on recruitment on a day-to-day basis?

Maheen: I think the impact will be huge. The biggest problem people have with recruiters is that we ghost people. We don’t give people feedback, and I think with automated tools, that’s very much possible to give them feedback. When you receive a profile, an automated email can be sent out. You can review a profile, and if you find that they don’t fit the specifications, then with a click of a button, you can let that person become aware of where he/she stands.

I think automation is a huge positive step toward making recruitment a better-regulated industry. It’s going to happen sooner or later.

It’s a very good time right now because you can customize these tools, and you can even work with companies like Manatal to understand how these tools fit into your processes. You can customize your processes to fit such tools so that, at the end of the day, your results are more exponential. I think you can reach out to more people this way.

It’s just about getting used to technology, understanding it, and not being scared of it. You have to stay relevant, whether it be in the technology industry or in HR. You have to adopt and adapt.

Lydia: Absolutely. All these experiences you’ve had in the past 15 years have informed how you think about how and why you think technology is important for recruiters, having seen perhaps what it’s like to manually do things and moving into making sure that you’re getting the right talent at the right time and keeping them in the role and keeping them thriving in those roles.

So, your experience in recruitment and the talent space has been vast. As I said earlier, a good story of growth.

Starting out in recruitment: the nitty-gritty

Lydia: What advice would you give to someone who is starting out in recruitment today?

You need to learn to make conversations, and you have to be a good listener. You also need to take the time to make connections. I think in recruitment, you have to make connections and stay relevant. We can’t connect with a great candidate and put them in one place or not even place them, then forget about them. This will not take you a long way in the industry.  

You have to learn to build and maintain your relationships and be open to communication, and engagement. You also have to remember to interact with people. So, make your communications and relationships known. Now, relationships are everything in recruitment – a lot like what it is in sales. You can have access to the best data banks in the world. However, the best data bank you can have is a good relationship with candidates that are in the industry you recruit for as well as their recommendations. Usually, when I get a recommendation from my network, it is the easiest placement I make or the quickest because it’s tried and tested and has one hundred percent accurate information. As an HR person, I can’t code, but I can ask a person who is an excellent architect for recommendations of people he’s worked with who are great coders and programmers. I know that when he’s giving me that preference, they’re going to be worth it, and generally, they are.

Communication, relationships, remembering people and not ghosting them are all things that I tell people because it does help at the end of the day.

Lydia: At the end of the day, this is a people business. So, thank you very much for your time today, Maheen, and for speaking to us all the way from London. It’s been a great pleasure having you on the show. I’m sure the audience wants to know how to look for you and to know more about you and your company. Where can they find you?

Maheen: We’re very active on LinkedIn. You can definitely find me and Mushawar on LinkedIn, whether you’re in South Asia, the Middle East, or UK/Europe. So, Mushwar Europe works with European markets, not North American markets. But Mushawar Pakistan works with the Middle East and South Asian markets, and they can definitely get in touch with you.

We also have our website www.mushawar.co.uk or mushawar.org, so you can get in touch there and leave your profiles as we work with consultant contractors as well. If you’re someone who is looking for a contract placement, just drop in your day rates and availability, and we’ll get in touch because we’re constantly working with tech companies who are also looking for consultant contractors. We’re more than happy to get in touch with anyone who does want to get in touch.

Lydia: Thank you very much, Maheen. We have been speaking with Maheen Noor Soomo who is the Director of Talent Acquisition, HR, and Employment Solutions at Mushawar UK. Do look out for future podcasts from All-In Recruitment, and stay tuned for our next videos.

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