EP42: The Talent Hunter - Training and Mentorship for Recruiters (With Vanessa Raath)

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 weekly episodes.

I’m your host, Lydia, and with us today is Vanessa Raath, Freelance Sourcer & Global Talent Sourcing Trainer at a company the Talent Hunter.

Thank you, Vanessa, for joining us all the way from South Africa.

Vanessa: Pleasure to be here. Thanks for inviting me to be a guest, Lydia, I went to your previous podcasts and also a lot of names that are recognized. And it's always like to give back and share my knowledge with others.

Vanessa’s Journey: Teaching, Recruiting, and Training

Lydia: So, tell us a little bit about your journey towards becoming a recruiter, Vanessa. What's kept you passionate about this field?

Vanessa: I never chose recruiting space. Recruiting chose me because no one when they were small, or when they were five years old, goes to their moms and dads and says, “I want to be a recruiter.” or “I want to help people find jobs.” Everyone wants to be a nurse or a teacher or a policeman or something. So, I think recruiting is something that we all fall into.

My personal journey is that I actually started off as a teacher. I’m a qualified teacher. I’ve taught in the UK for seven years, and I loved it. But when I returned to South Africa, after 12 years of living abroad, I actually wanted to get into adult education. And to get into adult education, I interviewed at a recruitment company. And they said, “You need to be a recruiter.” And I said, “No, thank you very much. I don’t want to be a recruiter.” I hadn’t had great experiences with recruiters when I was in London.

And to cut a long story short, it was the only job that was available. I waited a month, I didn’t have a lot of money. I was in my 30s and living with my parents. They weren’t too happy with me. And I decided to try this recruitment thing. And I made a placement in my first week. And the rest is history.

So, I’ve done agency recruitment for two years, and then 10 years in-house for an IT consulting company. I grew that company from 35 people to about 250 when it was sold. And when they sold to a corporate I thought, well, this is my signal. I need to try my own thing. I’ve always wanted to go back into some form of teaching or training. And I did. I just combined my love for recruitment and training together and developed my own company called the Talent Hunter and do online training.

And now it’s my fifth year, and I love every day that I work.

Lydia: I understand that you just said you grew a company from 35 employees to 200 employees. Was it as an internal recruiter?

Vanessa: Yes, over 200. It was a lot of hard work, to be honest. I had many late nights and not a lot of sleep. But what I pretty much did was during that time, I realized that when you go and you look for talent, you cannot restrict yourself. A lot of people do and a lot of companies do. They restrict themselves to only looking at job boards. And they only use a platform like LinkedIn, being the most popular one.

So, during that time, what I had to do is to teach myself how to go and find these technical candidates because that’s what I was recruiting: technical professionals. And I had to go and learn how to find them in different places. So, I taught myself how to source on platforms like GitHub and Stack Overflow, and Dev and Kaggle. And those kinds of places. And it really was a fantastic revelation for me.

Being able to do that, I had access to a lot more candidates than my competitors did. With that, I actually started doing a lot of public speaking and speaking at a lot of tech events, such as Microsoft-based events, SharePoint Saturdays, SQL Saturdays, or Data Breakouts. Which really helped me to get to be more trusted and more well-known in the tech industry. And that helped to get a lot of people on board with the company, too.

Lydia: So, being on that stage, and projecting yourself is all part of your personal branding. How did you start building that brand?

Vanessa: I started working in the recruitment agency a long time ago, and I’m really grateful for that. I remember when they banned us from using Facebook because they thought we would just mess around in the office and not recruit. But building a brand on any of these platforms is a really good idea. It makes our industry so much easier when talent comes to us and says, “Hey, Vanessa, I believe you’re a really good recruiter. I like your brand and what you have to say. I’ve looked at you online. Would you partner with me and represent me?”

That has made my life so much easier. And that’s how I could grow the company from 35 to over 250 people in 10 years, not including attrition. I must have hired over 1000 people in that time. A lot of people approached me because I had used my brand to position myself as the go-to recruiter in the Microsoft consulting space. And it still works to this day. Five years later, the same people in the Microsoft space contact me and say, “I’m thinking of putting myself on the market. Can you represent me?” So, it really is about how you position yourself and put yourself in a position of strength.

The Tech Shift in Recruitment: Challenges and Opportunities

Lydia: So, what might be the difference between being a recruiter, let's say a decade ago, versus now, especially for IT?

Vanessa: The recruitment industry has become more techie in two ways.

The technical aspect of the jobs we recruit for has changed. I have recruited for tech jobs and I have seen how the candidates have become scarcer and scarcer. You would think that we would have educated and trained more people in the tech space, but it seems to be getting more and more difficult.

And this is not just me. I train people all over the world with my academy and I hear the same thing from all of my clients: we just can’t find the tech talent anymore.

Another thing is the actual recruiting process has become more techie as well. Ten years ago, we had tools like LinkedIn and job boards, which are still here. But we didn’t have tools like fancy CRM systems and ATS systems, which make our lives so much easier.

We didn’t have as many social media platforms that people were using. It was a different space before the pandemic. And the pandemic has accelerated a lot more online activity, which has encouraged us to become far more techie in our approach to recruiting.

And I’m not against that. I like tools like ChatGPT and I’m launching training on it soon. But I also believe that it’s never going to take away our jobs. We need to use technology to make us more effective recruiters, not to replace us. So let’s get back to the human touch. Let’s remember the human element. Let’s have more conversations with people. And let’s use the tech to do all that boring admin stuff that no one likes to do.

Lydia: So Vanessa, you mentioned earlier that when you started building your brand, there were people who had seen you and they had come to you. And that contributed to the growth you saw as an internal recruiter.

But today, you say that talent is scarce, especially for IT. Why do you think that is? Especially when we’re looking at a more fragmented or distributed workforce today.

Vanessa: Because I don’t think that all companies are actually embracing that distributed, fully remote, 100% remote workforce. And I think what has also happened is that you must have heard the saying that every company is an IT company. So, the demand has gone through the roof for technical talent.

Even though there have been people who’ve been upskilling, it’s a very popular career choice these days, the demand is too great. Because every company is a tech company, every company has got a tech element. And as more and more companies grow, start and develop, they need the people. And the people, we don’t have enough of them in the world to match all of the roles that people are trying to fill at the moment.

And that’s a really difficult place to be at. And apparently, the way things are going, we’re never going to catch up. So, there has to be some kind of radical change in upskilling people in the technical space to keep up with the demand of the roles.

Lydia: So, the industry is changing exponentially, and that means the role of a recruiter also evolves and requires a lot of upskilling, as you said.

What skills or traits do you look for in someone who wants to be a recruiter?

Vanessa: What I look for in successful recruiters is I look for someone who is a people person because I don't believe you can work in this industry and not enjoy working with people.

If you don't enjoy talking with people, you're going to learn to hate them very quickly in the recruitment industry. And I also think you want to look for people who have, as I say, their tenacity, they don't want to give up. They're not going to be irritating and relentless salespeople, but they are going to keep looking until they find the right candidates. You don't want someone who's going to give up.

Also, let's go back to branding, someone who realizes the value of having a brand keeping their nose clean, and treating all people equally, is a very important trait when it comes to recruiters and probably the biggest one. And one of the most important ones is I would look for someone who has a natural curiosity.

Somebody who is going to be the person that you mentioned something at dinner, and they're the ones who whip out their phone. Google a term they don't know or something that they want to learn about, or they send themselves an email quickly because they want to research it the next day.

It's someone who's not afraid to use the internet. Someone who can go finds out anything about anything or anyone, and take that information that they have and use it in a positive, appropriate manner.

Lydia: Build that knowledge base for themselves and eventually apply that into their workspace.

Vanessa: Yes, it's like you got to do your research before the role. For example, you say, “Vanessa, at Manatal, we hiring a prompt engineer to work with our new ChatGPT APR login for Manatal.” If I don't know anything about ChatGPT, or an APR, or anything like that, I need to go and research what all those things are because how you're going to have a decent conversation with someone who works as a prompt engineer, if you don't know what a prompt engineer does.

How do you also deal with the hiring manager who's looking for the skill? So, it's taking that extra step to educate yourself. That's why I always recommend recruiters to find your niche, and you can have a much better quality of conversation with your clients and your candidates, as well as hiring managers.

Then use that knowledge to really find the right people. That's the key here. You don't want to go and find 100 people that you're going to go and spam with messages, but find the five best people and reach out to them.

Lydia: So, going back to your experience as a teacher in the education space and your plans to go into adult education or even executive education.

What's your thought process around designing an effective training program for recruiters? And what are some of the key topics that should be covered in such a session?

Vanessa: I use myself as an example. So, being 10 years as the internal and the only recruiter and working internally for a company, I had no one else to learn from. However, it was a good thing. Because I had to actually go and be creative, innovative, and think outside of the box.

That's when I taught myself this wonderful thing called talent sourcing. I then happened to go, I think, in my eighth year to a South African recruiting conference, and I couldn't believe the recruiters were still talking about LinkedIn and job boards. I was like, “But what about looking where these people are spending their time?”

I realized that it’s looking in different places, approaching people differently, and the impact that it had on my recruiting, when it came to the material I put it together because I knew people didn't have what I knew.

So, to explain it in a nutshell, we don't know what we don't know. So, if people don't often come to come and say, “Look, we've heard good things about you, we know you train certain teams, what did you train them on? Because you've made a massive impact on them. We want to do the same thing, but what is it all about?” I think it's just that piece of this is what you could be doing compared to what you are doing and showing people the way.

So the way that I view training is, when it comes to the content, making people's lives better by giving them tangible tips and tricks that they can use to become better recruiters. And that's the goal at the end of the day.

Finding Your Mentor: How to Learn from the Best in Sourcing

Lydia: Let's talk about mentorship. I know we covered this a little bit earlier, and we're looking for the right kind of guidance in recruitment. So, recruitment itself is demanding of time and energy, and as you said, seeking out time for mentorship can sometimes be challenging.

So, what role does mentorship have in the training process? And what should recruiters look out for in a mentor?

Vanessa: You can learn a lot from mentors. For example, when I was learning about talent sourcing, there was no one in Africa who was talking about it or doing it. So, I would follow hashtags of international events and conferences, like SourceCon and Sourcing Summit, and see what was happening there. I slowly started connecting with people who were experts in this field on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. I would ask them questions if I got stuck with Boolean search or anything else. They became my unofficial mentors and friends, which is a great outcome of the whole process.

My advice is: yes, you do need a mentor. But we have many options nowadays. There is so much information out there. You have to find the best way for you to learn. Whether it’s a podcast, a webinar, or a YouTube video. You have to make time to upskill yourself.

The mentor you are looking for doesn’t have to be a person. It could be a YouTube channel or a podcast that you listen to. It’s all about choosing the best format for you to consume and retain information and then seeing what is available in that space.

Lydia: What are your preferred channels for learning and absorbing new information around recruiting?

Vanessa: Interesting enough, I'm a visual learner like a lot of people are. So, I love YouTube channels and I've just launched my own channel. I'm playing around with it, putting some content, and advert, and looking to grow it. That would be the way I would consume information a lot.

But I also don't discount podcasts whenever I put on my running shoes to go out for a run. Yesterday, I went out for a walk. If I'm by myself, I will always try and listen to a podcast and use that time to the best of my ability to learn. I find podcasts really interesting. So, it depends on what I'm doing when I need to do the learning.

If I can watch it, then I'll I will watch it. Otherwise, listening during a long car drive is also a good example.

Lydia: Recruiters go through training. Do you check in with them? The ones who went to training with you. Do you find out if they have applied what they learned?

Vanessa: Actually, yes, I have already checked in with someone this morning. He had just finished one of the two courses in my academy. He is based in Belgium and we had a chat about his takeaways, what he learned, what I could have done better, what was not clear, and what videos I need to record. The positive feedback was way better than ever. It was nice to chat with him about it. He gave me very little advice or tips, but I always like to make sure that learning has happened.

A lot of people will go through the academy or they will be told by their manager to do it, and then they don’t learn. So for me, it’s really important to touch base with people. During the course, while people are in the online academy, they also get emails from me asking where they are, if they are fine (with the course), or if they have any questions.

I also send a weekly progress report to the managers and the team leads saying how much of the course each person has done, how many days of access they have left, and those kinds of things. I think those are important because you don’t want people to just buy licenses and seats in the academy and then learning doesn’t take place. You have to follow up.

How to Source Talent Beyond LinkedIn and Job Boards

Lydia: What are some common mistakes that new recruiters make? And how do you help them avoid these pitfalls in the training process?

Vanessa: My training is not about how to recruit, but more about how to source talent. So, from a talent sourcing perspective, one of the pitfalls is that a lot of people just look on job boards and platforms like LinkedIn for candidates. They don’t think out of the box and look for other places where they can find these people.

For example, if you’re looking for a data scientist in Bangkok, where would you look? Well, first of all, you would look for events in that space. Who is running or attending events related to data and analytics, data management, and data science? Who is speaking, who is using the hashtag, who is tweeting, who is posting on Instagram? Your first port of call doesn’t have to be LinkedIn or a job board. It’s about finding people based on their personal interests. It’s about approaching things from a different angle. I’m not saying you should never go to LinkedIn, because once you find their names, you can look at their profiles across all their social platforms and find out more about them. But it’s all about the starting point. If you start at a different point from where your competitors are looking, you will find different candidates.

I’ll give you another example. I was looking for that role and I found some candidates who were speaking at a conference. When I looked at their LinkedIn profile, they hadn’t updated it since two jobs ago. So, I wouldn’t have found them on LinkedIn, because they had a different title and they were working in a different space. And they had obviously abandoned their LinkedIn profile.

So, by looking somewhere else, I found their profile on GitHub and saw their comments and answers on Stack Overflow. And I knew I had found the right candidates. These candidates didn’t exist on any job boards, because they didn’t need to be on one. And their LinkedIn was out of date. So, I found these candidates that no one else would find. And that was important for me. It’s about mixing up your starting points.

Lydia: How do you analyze the sources, the ways, or the channels that you use to source these candidates?

Vanessa: I use all of them. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, technical platforms, and Google search. I try to find out if they have any blogs or events that they have attended. It’s not about just using one source of information that the person has put out on one of their platforms. It’s about finding out as much as possible about that person. Then you can personalize your reach out, which will also help you get a higher response rate from candidates. And that’s important these days too.

Lydia: And there are channels that will probably bring you more success than others, right? So, do you find that for tech, some channels bring you more results than others?

Vanessa: Absolutely. So, if I'm looking for tech candidates, I'm never going to start on LinkedIn. I'm always going to start on GitHub, Stack Overflow, HackerRank, Kaggle, Dev Meetup, or whatever it is because that's where I know the tech people like to spend their time.

When a techie goes on to LinkedIn, what happens is they just get harassed by recruiters. So, why would they want to spend their time there? They go to other platforms because they can talk to other people that they know they can mix with like their colleagues and peers.

Also, they can enter competitions and they can put up their code on the platform. It's a no-brainer. So, I understand why they would be there.

The Benefits and Challenges of Diversity Sourcing in Recruitment

Lydia: Let's talk about DE&I. How do you ensure that a program or training program promotes DE&I within the recruitment industry?

Vanessa: That’s really interesting. I had a similar experience when the pandemic started. I was booked to speak at a conference in Lisbon with a friend of mine who is a Bulgarian sourcing trainer. We were both looking forward to catching up, but the conference was put on hold.

We decided to use the opportunity to collaborate on some joint training in the diversity sourcing space. We both run our own academies and training, but we hadn’t tackled the diversity sourcing piece yet. So, we created this training during COVID and delivered diversity sourcing workshops all over the world.

Diversity sourcing is really important and it needs to be done for the right reasons. It’s something that a lot of companies are asking us for. It’s a hugely in-demand workshop that we run and I’m glad to see that. I’m a big fan of it, coming from South Africa, where we have a lot of experience with diversity issues due to our political history.

So, when you ask about DE&I and sourcing and recruiting, yes, it’s a buzzword at the moment, but it has to be embraced sincerely. That’s what we cover in this training. We also look at how to find diverse candidates and where to look for them. It’s actually a fascinating study.

Lydia: What might be the right reasons for including DE&I in the recruitment process?

Vanessa: If you look at companies that produce the financials listed companies and those with the most diverse workforces actually rank higher when it comes to their profits at the end of each financial year. So, it shows that a diverse workforce actually results in much better capital gains for the business. That's why you're in business, right? That you want to be successful.

It's something that's been imposed to get the best people in for the role and focus on getting the right diversity. And also remember, diversity goes a lot further than males and females, or a racial group. You've also got diversity when it comes to disabilities, mental illnesses, different religious beliefs, and different sexual preferences. So, there's a lot that goes into diversity that people don't take into account.

Lydia: You mentioned earlier that HR recruitment today is techie in two ways: it’s already techie in and of itself, and it’s also moving into the technology space where you need to learn more about the roles you’re hiring for.

So, HR technology is definitely a must, as you said. What kind of impact do you think these technologies will have, especially with ChatGPT? You’ve already tested that. What can you say about the impact these kinds of technologies will have on recruitment in the near future?

Vanessa: Well, I think that there are a lot of recruiters out there who are really nervous that they’re going to lose their jobs and that it’s going to have a greater impact and they’re going to be out of work. But to be honest, I don’t believe that at all. I think that it’s definitely something that we can use to make us better recruiters.

The way I view it is, let’s use these technologies that are great and save us time. Let’s use them to take away those really long, laborious admin-oriented tasks and make our lives easier. Then we’ll actually have more time to work on our strengths as human beings versus robots, which is making a human-to-human connection.

So, let’s spend more time talking to individuals and finding out more about them. Even connecting with people before we have a role for them because if I’m recruiting for the data team for this company, I need to connect with skilled data individuals. So, let me start having those conversations while the tech does the hard work in the background.

How to Find the Best Candidates in a Competitive Market

Lydia: We can also use that to collectively make more informed decisions using data and analytics that come from these technologies. So, Vanessa, you’ve had a great experience looking at alternative channels and trying to diversify the way you source talent. And it’s great.

Thank you so much for being so generous and sharing that with us. What other advice would you have for new recruiters who are just starting out?

Vanessa: I wouldn't say this is just for new recruiters just starting up. I think that I would encourage recruiters to make sure that they are finding the best talent. So, when I started in the industry there was a saying: “he or she who has a candidate is king.”

So, that is basically if you've got the best candidate, you're going to make the placement and you're going to be successful. And I think that's what's happening at the moment. What I see, is that everyone is fishing in the same fishing ponds.

You've really got to focus on fishing in a bigger pond, like the whole internet; finding the best candidates, which maybe no one else is finding, and putting those in front of your hiring managers or your clients. Because that saying rings true as the person who's got the best candidates is always going to make the placements, and that's what you've got to focus on.

Thus, for me, the beginning piece of the recruitment process at talent sourcing is vital. Because if you don't get that right you're going to have every good process and system in place after that. But if you don't have the right candidates, it's pointless.

Lydia: Thank you very much for your time today, Vanessa. It's been wonderful to have you on the show. Where can the audience connect with you?

Vanessa: Exactly, so I’m not difficult to find. You can find me on LinkedIn. My website is academy.vanessaraath.com. You can also find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. My handle is @Van_Raath.

Lydia: And you have a new YouTube channel too, right?

Vanessa: Yes, and a new YouTube channel. And if you actually go to that website, what you're going to find is, I've got two free courses on my website as an introduction to my academy. So, you're welcome to go there and sign up for some free learning. They are short courses of half an hour each, and they really will help you to just think a little bit differently about talent sourcing and how you position yourself.

Lydia: Thank you so much, Vanessa.

And we have been in conversation with Vanessa Raath, freelance sourcer and global talent sourcing trainer at the Talent Hunter. Thank you for joining us this week. Remember to subscribe to our channels to stay tuned for more insights from All In Recruitment.

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