EP39: Oda - Navigating Talent Acquisition Trends (With Tim A. Ackermann, Ex-Director of Global Talent Acquisition and Rewards)

Navigating Talent Acquisition Trends

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’ve liked our content so far, please subscribe to our channels on YouTube and Spotify to stay tuned for our weekly episodes.

My name is Lydia and with us today is Tim Ackermann, senior HR leader, who was most recently the senior HR leader and former Director of Global Talent Acquisition and Rewards at Oda. Thank you for joining us today, Tim, all the way from Germany.

Tim: My pleasure and it's an honor to be virtually in Asia.

From Generalist to Specialist: Tim’s Unconventional Journey in Talent Acquisition

Lydia: So, tell us a little bit about your journey into the talent acquisition space, Tim. What's really the anchor for you?

Tim:  Well, I think, first of all, I need to mention what has now occurred. I’m very senior. So I started in the mid-90s in talent acquisition when, in most areas and regions, that term didn’t even exist. My journey is a little bit unusual, at least in my experience. I started as a generalist when recruitment and graduate recruitment were more like entry-level positions. People then developed into becoming real HR business partners or real people-people. But I did the opposite. I started as a generalist and saw that there was a lot of opportunity and fun in talent acquisition and moved into that field. I did that for 20 years with some sidesteps.

In my journey, I think I enhanced my view on talent acquisition over time. It’s something I’m pretty sure we’ll elaborate on today a little bit more. Not only see it as something where you do a little bit of employer branding, sourcing, and recruiting but also look into retention, employee value proposition, and these kinds of topics.

For me, the hook is not so much that I like to work with people - which I do - but it’s not my trigger, to be honest. My trigger is that in talent acquisition, you have the biggest impact on an organization and also on people’s lives. You can change people’s lives for the better, even if sometimes you give them a decline in their career journey and say ‘Sorry, you’re not the right talent for us.’ But if you do it the right way, it might actually lead them to other areas of development.

Yes, that’s a trigger for me. As you said, I’m the former Global Director of Talent Acquisition and Rewards at Oda. I’m currently thinking about stepping into the consultancy business. Not so much headhunting but more like building talent acquisition organizations and strategies, mentoring and coaching talent acquisition leaders, and having discussions with several partners about potential partnerships. But I’m also looking into corporate roles again.

What I really like about talent acquisition is that you can see so much - it’s marketing, psychology, and business. So that’s actually the main trigger for me to work in talent acquisition.

Winning the Talent Acquisition Game in Startups: Strategies for Success

Lydia: So Tim, your experience leading global talent acquisition functions across company types - from startups to global corporations - must have given you a good insight into the space. How would you say the talent acquisition function in startups differs from that of large corporations?

Tim: If I only focus on those two aspects - the companies - and let’s assume both are global, I would say there’s a similarity. You want to fill a role, that’s for sure. But in startups, talent acquisition usually starts out as a generalist role because you don’t have the resources to split up roles like sourcing and employer branding. In the very early stages of a startup, sometimes the people-people directly do the recruiting or it’s even done by the business. For example, I’m currently consulting a very small startup in a very early phase and the recruiting is done by the two founders and myself. But as the organization grows, you’ll get more into separating those kinds of roles.

So you get into specialization and again, talking about generalist versus specialist. The other part is the challenge for the talent acquisition function, specifically for the sources and recruiters. When you’re in a startup, it’s very difficult to reach the talent you’re looking for because you don’t have an employer brand. There’s a certain pocket of talent that’s very attracted to startups but if you’re looking for more experienced people in certain areas of talent - people who are a little bit more senior - it’s very difficult to make a sales pitch and convert them into active candidates or even get their attention. I think that’s the biggest challenge you would have as a recruiter or employer branding manager in startups. And that’s actually something that’s also difficult to work out on the business side. I usually don’t like to say ‘the business side’ but go ahead.

Lydia: So what might be a way to think around the value proposition for a small company? How would you present that to a candidate when you're reaching out to talent?

Tim: I think if you’re looking for passive candidates - candidates who don’t know you - it’s the same even if you’re in a multinational corporation but you’re looking for talent outside of your core business. For example, if you’re a market leader in air conditioning and you’re looking for someone for the finance department, they won’t know you. So it’s almost the same. I try to get the business involved to reach out to them and personalize the message. It’s our bread and butter business to make sure that the person understands that you’re reaching out to them specifically and not just spamming their inbox.

But that’s done not by myself but by the business leader who’s actually recruiting these kinds of people. And again, I think it’s one-on-one in terms of approaching people. Try to put it in the first few sentences because even when I get a request or message on LinkedIn, I just look at the first paragraph. If it’s not interesting and I don’t know the person, there are tons of other messages I can read. So I think those are a few ways to work around employer branding, which is really difficult and specific for startups. Here in the Berlin space, when I’m in search mode - like I was before I joined Oda - and I’m approached by corporations or small startups, they all tell the same story.

So they all say ‘Well, we have this great vision, this great technology, and this agile team - or we will have this agile team. And you have flexible work possibilities and can bring your dog to work. But you don’t pay much.’ It’s always the same message. Try to differentiate yourself from that because you’re convinced that you have this great culture but focus more on what else because everyone has this great culture, at least in terms of lip service. And that’s really difficult to find and also to get the founders or the cooperation to acknowledge that. They’re so convinced by their product that they don’t see that the other founders are thinking the same. So it’s a little bit of a tricky situation.

Align Talent Acquisition with Talent Development & Succession Planning

Lydia: So Tim, as a consultant, I understand you’ve had many conversations with CHROs about the state of talent acquisition today. What are some challenges around talent acquisition that you’ve heard and what are some ways to work around them?

Tim: Well, we could talk for an hour but referring to these conversations - because I might experience things differently - I think it’s not that much that has changed from my perspective over the last few years.

CHROs are always concerned about their talent acquisition organization not being aligned and not finding the right talent at the right time.

They’re not that concerned about money, I have to say. It’s usually about speed and quality within the process. And also virtuality - some CHROs, specifically in larger corporations, now understand that they need to push business leaders to offer or think about more virtual teams and work. Not only with the pandemic in terms of physical location but also in terms of the gig economy. Teams are becoming more liquid - people come from the outside, join a team for a specific point in time, move on, and come back while others move within the organization.

Another thing that’s getting more attention from CHROs - and which I’m also trying to push - is that talent acquisition is not only an externally focused function. Corporate talent acquisition needs to include the internal talent landscape and skills map. I think it will merge over time with talent development - not in terms of training but in terms of visibility of talent and succession planning. In a lot of corporations, that’s not included at all.

Lydia: And I suppose you might be referencing to talent, mobility, and where the talent goes within the company, right?

Tim: When I use the term mobility, I’m referring to talent mobility within a company. This includes internal functions, but I wouldn’t push people to be mobile. From a talent acquisition perspective, we usually receive a requisition to fill. Instead of finding someone externally, there’s usually a connection to the talent development department and the function within the corporation that handles succession planning and people development.

However, this connection is often non-existent. Sometimes there is a heat map or succession plan at the executive level, but hiring managers often want to see external candidates as a benchmark. That is what I was referring to. I’m not talking about physical mobility within countries; that is something else.

Lydia: Talent mobility and succession planning are closely related. It’s interesting to consider the bridge between talent development and succession planning. Do you think there should be a stronger connection between the two?

Tim: Yes, talent acquisition should be integrated with talent development and succession planning. However, my colleagues may have a different perspective. Retention is also important and should be considered as a key performance indicator in talent acquisition. Early attrition is usually measured during probation periods and fluctuation.

It’s important to align the employee value proposition with the candidate value proposition.

This is especially true for startups, which often overpromise on the employee value proposition. External impulses should be integrated into compensation and benefits.

With the great resignation and scarcity of talent, it’s important to consider the entire talent pool and ensure a good cultural fit. Investing in people can save costs in terms of integration and recruiting. Sometimes people leave because they don’t receive a good compensation package, and the new hire receives a higher package than the person who left. It would be more cost-effective to invest in current employees and retain them.

Evolving Role of Executive Search: AI, Social Networks, and Candidate Experience

Lydia: So Tim, let’s talk about the executive search space where you’re also involved. What are some trends that recruiters in this space should prepare for in the near future?

Tim: With the rise of AI and social networks, the role of executive search companies has changed. In the past, their main benefit was the network of the consultant or partner. However, with the ability to actively search and reach out to people on platforms like LinkedIn, the networking aspect is still important but has evolved.

In some talent pools, it’s still expected to be approached by an agency rather than a company. In many markets, it’s legally forbidden to reach out to a competitor directly, so an agency is necessary. A good agency understands the needs of both the company and the candidates and values candidates as valuable resource.

In terms of trends, it’s important for executive search companies to get closer to the business and improve the candidate experience.

Lydia: In the senior-level search space, what are some ways to capture and retain the attention of candidates? Addressing ghosting is definitely important

Tim: We often talk about candidate ghosting, but cooperation ghosting also happens, even at the CHRO level.

To capture and retain the attention of high-level talent, speed and personalization of the candidate experience are important. This is true for all candidates, but priorities change as you move up the hierarchy.

For entry-level or graduate hires, processes are more formalized and can take longer. These candidates may be more flexible in accepting longer wait times. However, this is not the case for executive hires. Speed is crucial for all hires, but it becomes increasingly important the higher up in the hierarchy you go.

Even if you’re fast, it’s important to communicate with candidates and let them know where they are in the process. Being personal and providing a good candidate experience is crucial.

Lydia: Identifying the qualities of a senior-level hire that would add value to an organization is important, especially in terms of culture and business. Apart from skill sets, what are the traits of a great senior-level hire given the economic and technological changes we see today?

Tim: The fast-paced, agile environment puts more focus on the competencies that senior hires need to have. Skills become less important as you move up the hierarchy. It’s more about engaging people, having a clear vision, and being able to communicate and execute that vision.

Having a clear picture in mind and being able to communicate it is important. For external hires, this can be difficult to identify. During the hiring process, skills are often the main focus because that’s what is visible.

Personality is important for senior hires. Are they authentic? Employees and team members are more demanding in terms of understanding their needs and being treated as a whole person. Leaders need to be able to adapt their skills to different people and situations.

While industry knowledge and market awareness can be important, it depends on the function and industry. Sometimes it can be beneficial to have a senior leader from a different industry. Overall, cultural and personality traits are becoming increasingly important.

Retaining Culture in Hyper-Growth Startups: Prioritizing Cultural Selection in Hiring

Lydia: So what might be some tips on how to identify and even initiate conversations with a passive candidate?

Tim: When reaching out to executive-level candidates, it’s important to make it personal. Take the time to follow the person and see what they’re interested in and what they’re connected to. Try to find a hook that will appeal to them.

For C-suite hires, it can be effective for the CEO or a senior HR representative to send the message rather than a recruiter. This appeals to the candidate’s vanity and shows that they will be working at a high level within the organization.

Lydia: And you also mentioned earlier to get it in the first few lines. I think that's pretty critical as well to immediately capture the attention.

Tim: With LinkedIn, it can be tricky because you need to check if the profile is active. When reaching out, make sure it’s not managed by a social media team or personal assistant, which is common in B2C companies. Sending a message to such profiles may not reach the intended recipient. So, be cautious.

Lydia: Let’s discuss culture in startups. How can it be retained during hyper-growth stages when new senior leaders join to drive the business forward?

Tim: Well, the problem there is not only with senior leaders but also with every hiring manager. In hyper-growth, you hire people and the people who make the hiring decisions may have only been there for three months or so. How should they already be organically living and breathing the corporate culture? There’s no one silver bullet, but I think that the best practice and the easiest to apply from a talent acquisition standpoint is to put cultural selection first.

Make sure that you have a well-designed selection step for culture. It’s something we did at our company as well with the cultural interview. In the second step, present these people to the business or to the hiring manager and check for skills.

Let’s assume you’re hiring for a sales director who brings along their own business with them - their network - so they would be able to immediately generate revenue. Now imagine you put this person in front of the hiring manager and they say ‘Oh, this person can already perform immediately; they bring this revenue.’ And then the HR talent acquisition person comes and says ‘Well, but culturally, that sucks.’ I can guarantee you 95% of these conversations, this person will be hired nonetheless because it’s still money that calls. So put culture first in the process and then look into all the other aspects.

Lydia: In your experience with cultural assessment, how did you structure the cultural interview process?

Tim: Well, first of all, in my specific example for Oda interviews, there are technical tools out there that can help operationalize the process. But simply put, in terms of structure, I assume you have company behaviors or values. Find ways to operationalize them through certain scenarios or questions and then conduct a personal behavior-based interview. Ask how the candidate would react in a given situation or what they did in the past in similar situations and what they would do differently. It needs to be based specifically on the hyper-growth environment. And I hope that even if you’re a young startup, you have some kind of leadership values or behaviors that you’d like to check for. That’s also something you need to double-check. It’s not just in the startup environment. What I usually do with very senior or C-level hires, even in very large corporations, at least when I’m physically at the headquarters, is go downstairs to the receptionist and ask how this person behaved while waiting.

Because if they treat the receptionist or someone they think is at a lower level poorly, that’s a red flag. One thing I did, and you can also try it in a startup if you already have a receptionist or if you work in a co-working space, is for our C-level hires, when I’m physically in the same location, I usually go down to the receptionist after the interviews and ask how this person behaved while waiting and when they introduced themselves. You can see there are people who are really good at pretending, even if you’re a trained psychologist or interviewer. People can still fool you. But it’s interesting to see how people behave when they don’t feel observed. And that helps. Or if you have someone like an elevator operator or personal assistant, ask them if they had a little conversation with the candidate and if they treated them with respect. And that’s something where if that’s part of your values as an organization.

HR Tech Trends: AI as an Enabler, ATS Integration, and Fragmented Landscape

Lydia: In terms of technology, we’re seeing many new use cases today for ChatGPT and other generative AI technologies that are emerging rapidly. So, what would you say are the top three HR tech trends for the near future?

Tim: One trend is the obvious one that was mentioned: the rise of AI. Last year, when I was speaking at conferences, I always said there was no such thing as AI out there because it was usually just an algorithm and not true intelligence. But I have to say, I’m impressed. There are still some flaws, but it’s a development. And I have to admit, I was lazy myself. I provided some rough bullet points and asked the AI to generate a job description for a CTO. And I got it. I didn’t use it 100%, but it’s nice. It saves time and gives a little bit of creative input to work with. Will it tell me where to find the best CTO? Not yet, maybe in 10 years. And that might be one of the long-term trends. But predictions about the future are always uncertain. So, I definitely see AI as an enabler, not as a threat.

Technologically speaking, I think there will be more integration between ATS and HR systems, keeping in mind what I said about talent management and acquisition. The huge corporate ATS and HR providers, if they remain stubborn and not very customer-oriented, will become more redundant. The landscape is becoming more fragmented with more agile, smaller companies. I still remember some years ago when Greenhouse was very new. We tried it out and worked with it. And now it’s one of the standards in some areas. So I think there will be new players like yourself, for example.

And I think what’s also important is that there’s not much marketing going on because you have proven business cases and happy customers, which speaks for itself. We’re talking more and more with others in these communities and also with LinkedIn and other business-oriented networks. We’re sharing more. So that’s why the landscape is becoming more fragmented because new providers have an easier time getting into the market.

And that’s something where corporate customers also need to become more agile from your perspective. I’ve had so many discussions about ATS relaunches with corporate IT departments and they have a totally different view on it than we do. When we think about candidate experience or easy KPIs and usage for hiring managers and recruiters, IT departments usually only think about integration into their existing fixed landscape. So, more trends. When I’m still thinking about this picture of AI in the future, where my bot will be talking to your bot, I don’t see that happening yet.

But again, predictions about the future are difficult. With the rise of technology, we’ll have some kind of job profile. You can see that nowadays already with very detailed user interfaces and selection processes becoming more and more one-click. With LinkedIn, you can just push a button and your profile is shared and integrated with other ATSs. But then you still have to go through a half-hour process with 20 pages where you have to fix everything that the ATS couldn’t read from your profile. And you usually lose candidates like crazy with that. So, coming back to speed, I think that’s another trend. I can’t think of a short one right now, but maybe I’ll come up with one later.

Lydia: So you mentioned that ATS integration into larger systems is a trend to look out for. What impact have recruitment tools like Manatal had on the industry in terms of time, cost, and quality of hire?

Tim: When I say integration, I don’t mean API. Nowadays, every ATS can be somewhat linked to it, but it’s more like getting other functions. What I see as good at SSH, and I would say is specifically the transparency of the process. So a good ATS gives me the opportunity to see and identify bottlenecks in the funnel and performance issues in certain areas, be it recruiters or certain roles that are difficult to fill. This data helps improve conversations with recruiters and hiring managers and allows us to proactively and sometimes even productively identify issues. It also makes it easier to process large volumes of candidates while personalizing messages to them through connections to LinkedIn and social media networks.

Insights for Success in Talent Acquisition: Wisdom from a Senior HR Leader

Lydia: Tim, you’ve seen the evolution of HR, talent acquisition, and recruiting over the past 20-odd years. What advice would you give to someone starting out in talent acquisition today?

Tim: My students at the business school where I lecture often ask me the same question. I would advise starting somewhere else, not because I started as a generalist, but because the best people in talent acquisition have a good understanding of the business or of statistics, mathematics, psychology, etc. There are degrees out there for recruiting and employer branding, but I think it’s more like life advice to always go somewhere else first and learn that. You can always take some of that knowledge into the role. To be very honest, we are very professional, but a lot of what we do is based on logical understanding and common sense. Even common sense can be difficult, so it’s better to have broad experience.”

Lydia: Thank you very much, Tim, for your time and great insights today. I’m sure the audience or whoever is listening would like to know where to find you. Where can they look you up?

Tim: Well, I was on every social media network that existed until TikTok. So you won’t find me on TikTok anymore. You can find me anywhere else, but mainly on LinkedIn.

Lydia: Thank you so much, Tim. It was a real pleasure to talk to you today. We have been in conversation with Tim Ackerman, who is a senior HR leader and was recently with Oder as the Director of Global Talent Acquisition and Rewards. If you’ve liked our content so far, please subscribe to our channels and stay tuned for weekly episodes of All in Recruitment.

Similar posts

Try Manatal for free during 14-day with no commitment.

No credit card required
No commitment
Try it Now