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#TalentTalk: An Interview with Toby Culshaw

24.06.21 | Talent Acquisition

Candidate.ID have conducted a series of interviews with leading recruitment and HR professionals to gain insight in to talent acquisition today. This week’s #TalentTalk is with Toby Culshaw, Talent Intelligence Leader at Amazon.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing talent acquisition leaders today?

I think there are a few challenges but the main one today is credibility. Broadly speaking talent acquisition is becoming more of a transactional activity. I think as an industry we are scared to let go of the more transactional element of recruitment, but it is essential that we do, and soon if we are to really add value to the recruitment process. I think we are at a slightly risky point in recruitment as more people are starting to really get under the bonnet of talent acquisition to provide more credible, strategic input and this only goes to highlight more those that aren’t doing this activity.

Candidates are commonly described as being in the driving seat of talent acquisition these days. Can you see this power balance continuing and what do companies need to do to adapt and gain competitive advantage?

I don’t think the power balance has really changed recently; high quality candidates have always had the power over employers! I think that there are companies that have better branding and a greater pull, providing them with a greater selection of candidates, but good, quality candidates have always been in high demand.

The competitive advantage is shifting as we now have a much more fluid workflow. People are no longer scared to shift jobs or move industries and locations. Therefore, to gain a competitive advantage in today’s recruitment market, organisations must tap into this mentality by implementing better systems and tools to understand candidate movement and manage overall work force. The main competitive advantage now lies in how effectively an organisation can manage their workforce and retain the high quality talent they already have.

The main problem today is not getting enough applicants, the problem is getting more, better qualified, quality candidates. What is your experience?

I have extensive experience in sourcing candidates and I would say that, without a doubt, we have a problem obtaining high quality talent today. In regards to job applications, you will receive a huge swath of candidates who are simply not fit for the role. I think that this is probably a by-product of recruitment being obsessed with making the job application process so much easier. There are very few barriers to entry and so you will get candidates applying to everything and anything. This is an issue today and there are some particular roles that are extremely difficult to find quality candidates for, however in saying this, I think many organisations today don’t know what ‘quality’ actually is. They are often judging people coming into the organisation with a harsher yardstick than those that are already in the business which I believe is contributing to the problem.

What do you think are the most powerful ways to reach out and get high quality passive talent aware, engaged and considering you?

I believe that the direct approach is still the best despite being one of the more expensive ways. Based on ROI, it’s not a cheap cost per hire by any measure but it is the most effective in engaging candidates.

It will be different for each and every candidate and I think that it is more of an accumulative effect of many different aspects that is most powerful. It is almost impossible to say what ‘the’ most powerful technique for getting through to candidates is. Candidates may become interested and engaged because the functional leader has an amazing personality or perhaps because the company has great overall talent branding. It may even be that they have heard about the fantastic rewards and benefits of working there…you just really don’t know what will be most effective in attracting and engaging candidates today.  Generalisations are dangerous, each candidate is an individual with their own specific triggers. Getting to know them as individuals and their personal triggers is key, that is where the high touch direct sourcing comes into its own.

What are the main challenges talent acquisition leaders face when adopting an integrated approach to generating, nurturing and identifying the best candidates?

I think the process of generating candidates is difficult. You can have a warm talent pool of candidates but keeping high-quality talent warm and engaged is extremely difficult.

It is easy to identify individuals within the pipeline but the challenge is identifying the right individual for the job. The assessment of individuals is also difficult and I don’t think that many companies are as far ahead as they should be with this. Companies are assessing external candidates much more harshly than internal candidates. Even if organisations know what best practice is and they have a clear idea of what a ‘high-quality candidate’ looks like, many organisations still don’t really know what their internal population looks like. What skills they possess, what they have developed, how individuals have evolved. HCM platforms are evolving to help integrate this information but more work is still needed.

What is current best practice for prioritising the list of candidates to contact first, and how do you think it could be improved?

I think it is still fairly basic. More often than not, it is based on the candidate’s profile on paper. It’s basically all about assessing whether candidate ‘x’ on paper fits the criteria of the job brief. If they have the skills and experience on paper, then they are worth contacting. I think as an industry, we are not yet very advanced at this skill and progress is required here.

What do you think are the most important metrics that talent acquisition leaders need to focus on today to demonstrate ROI and greater accountability to the business?

It is really all about value vs cost. Within the industry, everyone is obsessed with time-to-hire and cost-per-hire. I would say that these are very basic metrics, but often the easiest option to track and focus on and they can be automated. If we want to continue using these metrics, we need to flip it and make it a more commercial conversation within the business. For example, if you save £1 million off the bottom line, you need to flip it and reflect what sales / good / services we (as an organization) would need to generate that on the bottom line, that is the true impact you are having. Overall I think KPI wise we are still very, very basic. We must get much more involved in measuring what the business actually wants from recruitment. We need to start understanding exactly who is coming into the business, who is high performing and what value they are delivering. Recruitment can’t become simply a cost avoidance function.

It is becoming increasingly important to measure the amount of candidate pipeline that each recruitment initiative contributes? How do companies currently do this?

For most companies, it is simply number based. They simply focus on the candidates identified, the number of warm leads and the number of candidates that have fallen off the pipeline. There are often very basic processes used to measure this.

In a business of any size – candidate interactions can number in the hundreds or thousands. What are the right tools talent acquisition teams need to manage the complexity?

I really don’t think there are any out there at the moment. An organisation will end up having a number of different systems and tools working together in some manner in an attempt to effectively manage candidate interactions. For example, you will have CRM’s that won’t fully work as an ATS or ATS that will pretend to do the job of CRM’s but it won’t have any candidate management capabilities really. I think that there are very few tools that actually manage the distribution of content whilst incorporating aspects of the employer branding too. I think there are a whole raft of platforms and tools that claim to do one or the other but sadly, if we take a step back and analyse what is available, there is not one simple solution that is able to incorporate all the necessary candidate data. There is need for a solution that provides one integrated dashboard that can display and manage customer interaction.


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