Trust or tricks? [Interview about recruiting with Hung Lee]

Recruting interview | Hung Lee
Dawid Bartkowiak
Dawid Bartkowiak
Not many people in recruiting can say: "I have no idea who Hung Lee is". He is one of the most recognizable faces of the industry, the CEO and Founder of Workshape.io.

He is also the curator of Recruiting Brainfood newsletter – the authoritative source of sourcing and recruiting knowledge. Our Dawid Bartkowiak sat down with Hung for a wide-ranging interview this summer.

Hung Lee | IT Recruitment InterviewHung has been the mainstay on all the big stages of recruiting conferences and panels around the world. His newsletter reaches almost 20k subscribers every week around the globe, and he recently published a report “How to Hire in Poland“. Happy to note that Bee Talents came first in Best Recruitment Agency for Tech category!

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[Dawid Bartkowiak] Some personal stuff first – you were kind of a free spirit in your early twenties, and you even described yourself as a little bit of a hippie! How come now your job is finding cogs for that evil capitalist machine?

[Hung Lee] Yes indeed 😉 I was that stereotypical teenager who wanted to simultaneously change the world but also want nothing to do with it. One of the main reasons why I chose to study anthropology was close off a path that would lead me to the very capitalist machine that you described. Then I saw the Internet. This was web 1.0, before the time I think of many the readers here. And it was a new world – capitalist yes – but one filled with opportunity for a new way to connect and transact. I realized that for me to ‘check out & drop out’ at the age I was, would be a grossly irresponsible thing to do, especially as I had the chance to see and maybe contribute to the new world that was opening up. So, I moved to the big city and got a job 😉

How has your background shaped you as a recruiter?

As you get older you begin the recognize how important your journey has been in shaping who you are. I can draw a straight line from being that immigrant kid in a post-industrial, working-class town in England to student anthropologist fascinated by culture and community and belonging, to the guy I am now, a person who is on a mission to connect people with opportunity and with each other.

Why I’m asking this – You are on the record saying that there is no “right type” or “right person” to be a recruiter. But are there key traits that you think made it easier specifically for you to master this job?

I think this is certainly true. Mainly because it’s a job where relationships make the difference. And you know what? Different people will respond to different people in different ways. This means that so long as we have a diversity of mindset and personalities, we are likely to find recruiters of all types who can become a success in the industry. For me, I guess my core strengths are: I’m naturally curious, I want to hear what the other person has to say and I know my own mind, so I don’t need to always impress it upon others. I find that these behaviors make it easier for me to connect with a wide variety of people, and success can sometimes can just from that.

In the tech industry, there is a saying that now it is a “candidate-driven market”, and that the employers do not have the advantaged position they used to. What is your sense about this now and where this relation my go in the future?

I think this is true, in part. What we are seeing with workforce automation is a division between the folks who have the skills in demand and the folks who don’t, and are or will be disintermediated by the efficiencies provided by technology. So we need to clarify which part of the labor market we are talking about when we say that it is ‘candidate driven’.

That said, if we want to focus on what I call the ‘highly skilled in-demand’ – software engineers, data scientists, UX designers and so on – we can see that these folks are no longer looking jobs as economic security. They know the demand is high and consistent enough for them to always more than ok. Employers need a very different mental and procedural approach to connect with this demographic

Technology evolution is changing the way we recruit. It touches aspects like data collection, communication and more. What new, upcoming tech promises the most?

This is a tough question to answer because sometimes the tech that promises the most often times delivers the least ;-). Having said that, we would be foolish to ignore the efficiencies provided by the application of AI in candidate discovery (sourcing), or in candidate assessment. If we accept the rule that finding candidates and reviewing CV’s are ‘low cognitive skills’ – and yet currently take up a huge amount of a recruiters time – then we can easily locate the space where tech might both promise and deliver the most.

Some companies see automated tools, hyped as “AI”, as the next big thing in sourcing. In 2017 you said that the promise of automated tools has not yet been delivered upon. Two years later, is this still true?

It’s getting there. The improvements are not only obvious but inexorable. The only barriers I see to AI-related technology automating the bulk of sourcing activity are ethical (ie.should we do doing this?), legal (its against the law the do this) and of course, commercial (can we afford it?. I believe all of the factors will fall to in face of efficiency gains and delivery to the bottom line, which are the drivers as to how businesses make decisions.

The advent of new recruiting tech suggests to you, that companies need to change how they think of the role of a recruiter. Why?

Absolutely. If we put a Venn diagram on where the tech is making most impact + where recruiters currently spend the most time, it would be near enough a single circle. Recruiters can’t wait for their employers to re-imagine their roles – the first thing employers will do is look at capital optimization and cut payroll. It is up to the recruiters to recognize what’s coming and position accordingly – this means more work ahead of the pipeline and more work after the hire (so a horizontal expansion of scope) and taking ownership of the automating technology that is going to take your job – selection, implementation, utilization. Recruiters will become architects of their employers hiring capability, or they will be out of the job themselves.

What are the most underrated tools that recruiters seem to ignore for no good reason?

Productivity tools. Autotext expander for chrome will save you tons of time and make you better

Which tools are you using for sourcing (besides LinkedIn)?

I don’t really source anymore – and haven’t really done so since I left my last Head of Talent gig some 6 years ago. That said, curating Recruiting Brainfood exposes me to a ton of new channels and tools which recruiters are using to find talent. Check the cool tools in the Brainfood Larder – they’ll be a collection of them there.

The word you use a lot is ‘community’. How people create bonds, how they fit together, how they interact in a professional setting. But in a podcast with Garry Turner, you note that community starts from EXCLUSION – a delineation between us and the rest. How do companies strike the right balance between inclusivity and exclusivity?

I don’t think they do. We’re not quite ready to handle this idea I suspect. The anthropology is pretty clear that communities need boundaries – and exclusion is a necessary component of inclusion. You really can’t do one without the other. We intuitively know this at the company level – for instance, there are behaviors, values, people which we do routinely exclude, but it’s often unspoken and unwritten. At some point, this will come to a head. The reaction of conservative employees in places like Google is evidence that the debate is beginning to surface.

You said that your company tries to collect aspirational data from developers. What do you mean by that? What types of data are we looking at here?

When we first started thinking about the problems in recruiting developers, we had a series of revelations. One of these was that almost all data recruiters had on candidates was historical – evidence or at least documentation of what a person has done in the past, but not what this person wants to do in the future. And of course, job discovery can only be about the future. And it is this missing component which recruiters need to establish by outreach.

Now, this is ok if you are a candidate on the job search. But if you’re highly skilled, in-demand, the chances of you spending a lot of time as an active job seeker are low. Moreover, the demand for your skills so far outstrips supply that you end up fielding multiple calls and emails a day. Each more or less saying the same thing – are you interested in Job A or Job X.

You can see that this becomes tiresome very quickly. And it’s no surprise that engagement rates have dropped through the floor because tech candidates are so overwhelmed by recruitment messaging that they are just white noising everything and ignoring this outreach. Now, what would happen if we were able to tell recruiters what a developer wanted before you make the call? This is the mission of WorkShape.io. Collect the missing component – what a developer wants – visualize it and then match it to an employer that has a compatible opportunity.

Candidate engagement is something many recruiters struggle with. Why the candidates just won’t respond, and what can be done about it in 2019?

Well, I guess I might have answered in the above response! Another way to look at it is as sourcing tech/techniques have improved, so more people have been easier to find, and so more messages are going out to those people. The ‘recruitment noise’ has exponentially increased, and so it makes sense that candidates responses are going down. The solution to the discovery problem (can I find this candidate), directly exacerbates the engagement problem (can I get this candidate to talk to me?)

There are no solutions really, but I can offer you two paradigms. I call them ‘tricks’ or trust’. For tricks you can utilize any number of tools and techniques from augmented messaging, enriched messaging, sentiment analysis etc etc. Or you can try the trust angle, which essentially means establishing a viable and valuable connection with your audience before you need something from them.

And this is personal for me – Why are most chatbots still horrible?

A matter of misplaced expectation I suspect 😉

Chatbots are just a layman’s phrase for what builders call a ‘conversational interface’. In many cases, it will provide to be superior to what it is trying to replace, text-based documentation on a website. It’s not meant to replace a human. And I think this is likely the source of most people’s disappointment with the experience.

Interviewed by Dawid Bartkowiak

Dawid Bartkowiak

Dawid Bartkowiak

Dawid Bartkowiak

Dawid Bartkowiak

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