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Webinar Follow-Up: The Future of Recruiting, with Steve Cadigan

Steve Cadigan, Talent Hacker and ex-LinkedIn VP of Talent, recently joined Gem to discuss the future of recruiting. Here's the Q&A.

Last week, Steve Cadigan, Talent Hacker and ex-LinkedIn VP of Talent, joined Gem for a webinar on the future of recruiting. Steve discussed some important ways work is changing—from tenure and turnover, to what “career security” now means, to where talent’s loyalties now lie, to the value of learning velocity in the face of rapidly-changing technology. His argument? That our model of work needs to adapt to these changes—and recruiters can get ahead of them if they’re willing to observe and understand the shifts in the landscape Steve pointed to. If you missed it, you can find the full recording of Steve’s webinar here. And if you’re curious about the questions Steve couldn’t get to in the Q&A, we’ve got them for you here:

What’s the best way to bring this mindset to hiring managers and folks in HR that don't buy into the reality that talent is going to leave sooner than later, and not stay at the company forever?

In some ways this is an easy answer, because the data about retention is quite literally out there. I gave some of it to you in the presentation: the average length of tenure at Google, Apple, Oracle, Amazon and Twitter right now is less than two years. There’s no mystery there; these are objective numbers. You can get the data for the biggest companies in your own industry; I imagine they won’t be much different than this. Bring those numbers to HR. Bring them to your hiring managers. Supplement them with the numbers I gave you here. Your stakeholders can either choose to believe them, or not. And if they don’t, that means they’ll learn the hard way, in their own turnover numbers. Either way, they’ll learn. The question is: do they want to learn sooner through the data, or later as a matter of their own experience?

How do you test for the Adaptability Quotient (AQ) to discover whether someone learns quickly? How do you assess a candidate's Learning Velocity? Are there specific questions you like to ask candidates?

Like I said, my guess is that in the next 10 years, we’ll be recruiting more on what someone can learn—and how quickly they can learn it—than on what that person knows. I haven’t cracked the code for assessing this one yet; but I have a lot of ideas. Recruiters and interviewers have been asking some form of the question “What did you do?” for years; now it’s a matter of unpacking that question. How much of what you did was new? What did you have to learn in order to accomplish that thing you’d never done before? How did you go about learning? Whom, or what, did you turn to?

We’ll be looking for cues about learning velocity on their LinkedIn profiles. We’ll be asking about it in reference checks. Did the candidate take on new assignments, new responsibilities, stretch roles at their previous companies? Were they curious and proactive? Think about behavioral interview questions. Dig deeper than “Give me examples of new projects or new things you developed.” Instead you’ll need to ask: “What did you need to teach yourself to get there?” If they have deep intellectual curiosity, you’ll see it in the interview. Are they asking you questions? Do their questions go beyond the role and the team that they’re interviewing for? Are they curious about your entire organization, and what they could learn in, and from, it? All of these things will give you insight into their learning velocity.

What recommended tools do you have to convey to leadership that recruiting is the #1 muscle of an organization?

I strongly believe the best recruiting results form a great partnership between hiring managers and recruiters. The more hiring managers and leaders engage in recruiting and share the ownership, the better the results… always. The biggest tool you have for showing the value of the talent acquisition function is data. That includes data like quality of hire, which is probably the most valuable metric when it comes to demonstrating the value of recruiting as a strategic business function. Very few companies actually measure the quality of a hire over time—and that is a big missed opportunity. Recruiting teams need to find ways of demonstrating their strategic impact well beyond filling jobs—or time to fill or cost per hire.  For example, you want to model how creative you were in your sourcing and/or branding strategies. You want to show how you found quality talent that a job description or hiring manager did not see—how you can find talent the naked eye or AI recruiting systems can’t unlock. Real strategic impact and outsized results speak volumes to show how valuable the recruiting muscle is.

One strategy I have always used when I have executives who are vanilla on recruiting: I find out what companies they value and then show them how those companies really lead with recruiting (provided this is the case).

I talked at length about turnover in this webinar, and I’d add that attrition data is critical insofar as it makes the recruiting function all the more important. Maybe you don’t want all your new hires leaving in 6 months; but we have to get over the idea that a two-year tenure is a bad thing. We can’t turn to recruitment and blame them for hiring talent who didn’t want to stick around for longer than that. Instead, we need to thank them for bringing in the talent who added value when they did (this is what the above data will show), and then recognize how desperately we need them—and the talent pipelines they’re building in the meantime—in our new era of shorter tenures. Recruitment is precisely the function that’s going to backfill those roles that are emptying more quickly than they ever have in the past.

I think we also have a great opportunity in recruiting to always find ways to upgrade and improve our systems and processes and benchmark against other companies to show our value.

What do you think about the importance of diversity in recruiting ?

Calling diversity “essential” may be an understatement at this point. Every organization should be thinking about it from the top down—from your founders and C-levels, to upper management, to HR and recruitment, to your individual contributors. We know all about the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) by now; we know it affects everything from creativity and innovation, to employee productivity and performance, to market share and profits. And after the events of this year—especially the renewed visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement—it’s something no business can afford to ignore anymore.

I’m hearing from recruiters all the time that prospective candidates are asking about company values earlier and earlier in the process these days—often as early as phone screens. Talent is looking for values-alignment like they never have before when they’re thinking about their next career move. Diversity, inclusion, belonging—these are enormously important to people. And there are tools out there now that actually help you diversify your pipeline and track how you’re trending when it comes to hiring underrepresented talent. So talent acquisition teams should have diversity entirely on the front burner.  

Let’s be clear also on one key point. Diversity is not a problem for recruiting to solve. Diversity is a leadership challenge; and until leadership in a company LEADS with the diversity agenda, you will not see long-term results. This clearly will take time and we have a long way to go, but the companies that figure this out faster than their competitors in a real, meaningful way stand to have a huge advantage today.

Given what you’re saying about turnover rates and talent’s changing needs, do we need to start thinking differently about attrition metrics?

I’d say yes, we need to start thinking about attrition differently—otherwise it will be impossible not to think of ourselves as failures. The median tenure of employees between the ages of 25 and 35 is 2.8 years right now; this means that half of the folks in that demographic are staying at their respective companies for even less time than that. We’re talking about a turnover culture that isn’t about your company; it’s about a desire for development, for growth, for new experiences and new challenges. It’s about talent’s desire to feel safe in their careers because they’ve cultivated an ability to adapt within themselves. So how do you explain attrition to your boss now?

I’d say it’s a matter of looking at the causes. We have over-focused in my view on paying too much attention to employee engagement and happiness surveys. Julia Hartz, CEO of Eventbrite, has a great story about how they wanted to be a fun place to work; but when they met that goal, the company was not performing. She found that over time, success and results led to greater pride and performance and engagement in her team. We need new measures in organizations to understand what really drives people. As I said in the Webinar, the ultimate compensation people want today is to be relevant for tomorrow and this is all about learning and development. You MUST provide this or people will leave.  

How would you recommend companies/leaders be careful not to write-off their high turnover rate to people being developed and feeling equipped to take on new roles, rather than admitting the company's own gaps in not providing an environment that employees feel supported in their development?

I’d go back to turnover causes for this one (see the above answer). What’s being said in employees’ exit interviews? Are they choosing to leave the company rather than take on internal mobility options that would also advance their careers? If the opportunities are there for them to grow and they’re not taking advantage of them, that’s a signal that something else is going on that’s pushing them out the door. I would also look internally and ask if we are helping our talent see other places they can grow and move into inside the company.

How do you make sense of these findings in relation to recruiting for professions that are more long-term career focused (ie teachers, nurses, doctors, etc.)?

My focus was on the tech sector here, and you should certainly be paying attention to tenure and attrition benchmarks in your own industry. But I’d argue that, regardless, a company’s focus should be on employee L&D, and the onus should be on the organization to develop their own employees—no matter how long they expect them to stay. COVID is a perfect example of the adaptability quotient and the importance of learning velocity for employees. Think about how many teachers today are no longer in the classroom—teachers who had to speedily rethink their roles, their coursework, and how best to educate their students in a radically new learning environment. Think about how quickly nurses and doctors had to adapt to the influx of patients, the onslaught of daily information they’re having to pay attention to. I can’t think of a profession that’s immune from the adaptability-requirement. So regardless of what turnover looks like in your industry, employee development is still crucial.

How can we best harness growth programs like Lean In Circles, etc., to offer growth opportunities?

It’s never a bad idea to get that answer directly from your employees. What do they want to learn, and how do they want to learn it? Ideally, your managers are regularly in conversation with their teams around career trajectories and growth opportunities and can pass that intelligence on to you; but surveys (anonymous or not) are great, too. People will be honest with you about where they want to grow. They’re hungry for it.

This question is for agency recruiters: how do we get companies to engage with us when those companies are seeing an increase in inbound candidates?

For me, this is related to the question of why sourcing passive talent is so important to building a great team. Gem has written about it here; the TL;DR is that sourcing improves quality of hire, reduces time to hire (and therefore cost of hire), and improves workplace diversity—among other things. Companies sell themselves short when they limit themselves to active talent—even if there is more active talent out there right now than there was last year. The bigger your talent pool, the more top talent will be in that pool to connect with. So if you can find a way to make that argument for yourself, and for your agency, do so.

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