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‘Adapt or die’: A recruiter’s survival guide

May 12, 2023

We all know that in a time of Darwinian upheaval, the only thing that survives is the platypus. But faced with a sink or swim scenario, how can recruiters and HR teams survive and thrive? In this blog we share some pearls of wisdom from a top talent pro.

On our Scaling Stories podcast, we caught up with Robbie Simpson, Global Head of Country Operations (Talent Acquisition) at Wolt, the food and merch delivery platform.

Robbie previously led a globally distributed recruitment team at HelloFresh, and as someone who’s made the transition from a recruiting specialist to an impressive all-rounder, Robbie instinctively understands the changing landscape of the hiring market. And boy, how the times are a-changin’...

It’s a sad fact that in today’s challenging environment, recruiters have been some of the first to lose their jobs. Or as this Wall Street Journal article points out: “Tech companies that have cut jobs have, on average, slashed about 50% of their recruiting staff, compared with, for instance, 10% of software engineers and 12% of product and design staff.” In some cases, these layoffs have been unceremonious to say the least. Moreover, the recruiters who’ve kept their jobs may find themselves busier than ever.

In this context, Robbie has some words of advice for how hiring teams can revamp their processes and adapt. 

“When we think about recruitment as a product, we should think about pain and gain”, Robbie says. On the employer side, that means asking, “what’s the pain someone’s willing to go through to get the gain”.

The pain might involve filling in a hiring request sheet, or previously time-stretched candidates finding time to complete assignments; as the market has changed, some candidates are willing and able to take the time to complete these. 

From the candidate’s perspective, the ‘gain’ may have changed too. Previously, people were looking to move job for more responsibility or money, for example, but now “the gain might just be having a job which is stable, which means that the pain you’re willing to go through might be slightly higher”.

Therefore, as Robbie suggests, because the market environment has changed so dramatically, the recruitment product may need to adapt dramatically too. While your customers are the same people, their needs and desires are now different.

Making your team ‘data literate’

In a challenging hiring environment, it may be tempting to think of automation as a silver bullet. But according to Robbie, “data-driven recruitment” is only as effective as the work you put in behind the scenes, because it “has to link to your values”.

“When I think about why I’m data driven, it’s because I think about my personal values and what I want to do professionally – which is to provide a fair recruitment process that’s respectful, equal, [delivers] dignity and overall just feels good. I need data to justify that.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Robbie also talks about the importance of “making your team data literate”, especially when “many of us don’t come from traditional science or mathematical backgrounds. And we were just expected to be able to interpret and build a story around data without really understanding how to point out what’s wrong”.

“Measure what matters,” Robbie says. “What matters to your team, and what matters to your organisation? Pick one or two metrics that are related to your values and just focus on that for a time period.”

Robbie also discusses the differences between a performance-driven and results-driven culture, and how focusing too much on individual KPIs – rather than a “team driving towards a goal” – can create a “toxic environment where people start to gamify the system”.

“When I think about good culture, it’s more about performance-driven culture. The end result might be hiring, but they’re always interested in ‘how are we getting there? How are we improving? Is the time to hire going down? Is the candidate experience going up?’”

Be like bamboo

In these stormy economic times, one of the lessons of Robbie’s approach is that recruiters can no longer be solely specialists. For example, you can’t simply be a ‘recruiter for product managers’ – you may need to recruit for whatever the business needs, whether it’s a barrister or barista. Robbie is a big believer in making recruitment more aligned to the rest of the business, and the value in investing time in people so they can move laterally within organisations.

“I always refer to it as like the stick and bamboo models,” Robbie says. “When you’ve got a stick, if you have lateral pressure on it, it snaps and, and that’s what we’re seeing with some recruiters – when you ask them to source for a marketing role, they’re unable to source for marketing because they’re not invested in the core skills. But an excellent recruiter is like bamboo. They’re able to grow at a rapid rate… they’re able to bend and contort themselves around and move towards the environment so they’re always going upwards. Unlike a stick – yes, it might break, it might have a large crack… but it’s still able to function because you’ve put in that time to make sure that it’s completely solid and the people are adaptable.”

Robbie shares more useful insights than you can shake a bamboo stick at, so head over to our pod page and listen for yourself!

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