I caught up with talent acquisition pro Tom Wadlington the other day — Tom has some great experience including VMware, Liberty Mutual, Akamai and PriceWaterhouse. I asked him a few questions on talent acquisition strategy and recruitment marketing.
Here’s what he had to say:
Q: Hi Tom. You were part of the team that took VMware from 1,000 to 14,000 employees before you left in 2014. What were the top 3 learnings you had from that experience?
1) VMware, which had founders that had PhD’s from leading CS programs like Stanford and Berkeley was able to hire world class software engineering talent, from the very beginning, and they maintained a very high bar when it came to subsequent hires, even as the company scaled from hundreds of employees to thousands, in offices around the globe.
A company’s “anchor” hires in each office will set the bar for additional hires and will help attract other exceptionally talented people. Birds of a feather flock together.
2) Locations, locations, locations! Companies need to keep an open mind toward hiring talent in both the obvious and not so obvious places. While Cambridge, MA, Austin, TX and Seattle, WA are well known as tech hubs in the U.S. where VMware established some of it’s first R&D centers outside of Palo Alto, CA, places like Aarhus, Denmark, Lausanne, Switzerland, Sofia, Bulgaria and Yerevan, Armenia also turned out to have exceptionally capable software engineering talent.
VMware, like many other U.S. based technology companies, also had a significant presence in India and China, as it scaled it’s employee base to 14,000 and beyond, with revenue over $6B annually.
3) Creating a hiring process that is both thorough and expedient is challenging and VMware, over time, was able to have a standardized, highly replicable process that delivered a good candidate experience and, yet, also saved teams time by screening out candidates prior to the onsite interview stage, thereby saving interview cycles. Collecting both written and verbal feedback from every interviewer is an important part of what VMware did well.
Being highly transparent and responsive, when it came to communications between Recruiters and Candidates was another thing that VMware nailed. Paring down the number of onsite interviews to 1 day with a maximum of 6 interviewers enabled the Cloud Infrastructure Business Unit engineering teams to increase the average number of hires per month from 5 to 15, which was a major achievement.
Ultimately, companies that can achieve ratios of 3 onsite interviews, or less, to 1 offer and hire, are ahead of the game. Something’s awry in the process if you’re interviewing 6 candidates or more, onsite, before making a hire.
Q: You were an early user of recruiting videos — where was it effective for you?
Recruiting videos are the way forward from a recruitment marketing and employer brand perspective and VMware, along with Google, was an early adopter of this approach, putting a human face and voice to various teams in offices around the globe. It seems obvious, now, that companies need to use compelling videos to attract the attention of both active and passive candidates but in 2005 it was not commonly done.
VMware created professionally edited videos, initially, but an interesting moment came when individuals in offices around the world started to create their own unique videos that were then uploaded to a YouTube channel. It was fun and energizing for people to get involved and it created a sense of pride that comes with being an engaged employee or Employer Brand Ambassador.
Q: There are a bunch of tech companies aiming to be as big or successful as VMware — what’s your advice to those companies?
There are a host of tech companies, today, that are aiming to be hugely successful in the way that VMware has been but the statistics show that very few of them will ever reach $6B or more in revenue. In fact, besides the giants that are Microsoft, Google, SAP and Oracle, only Salesforce, VMware and Symantec are listed as software companies that had revenue at that level in 2015.
Companies like Dropbox, Slack and Stripe will continue to scale effectively by following some of the best recruiting practices from the big players:
- Create a culture where hiring is everyone’s top priority. Educate the employee population by offering behavioral and structured interview training and by getting people involved as Employer Brand Ambassadors via social media channels.
- Establish and maintain a high bar for talent – don’t lower the bar as you scale.
- Clearly articulate the company’s mission and values and incorporate them into your Employer Brand
- Have an engaging Employee Referral program so that the percentage of ER hires is nearer to 50%, instead of the commonly seen range of 10-20%.
- Have Recruiters establish ongoing dialogues with passive candidates who may be part of an opt-in Talent Community. Work on Talent Mapping so that you’re able to pinpoint who the top performers are within companies that are competitors in the talent landscape and then stay in touch with them.
- Make sure that the hiring process is thorough but also strive to move fast and decisively, thereby making it time efficient for both candidates and interview teams. Every candidate, including those who are rejected, should feel great about their candidate experience.
Q: Some people would say that these companies like Slack, Dropbox and Stripe are “hot” companies — do they really need help attracting candidates?
Companies like Dropbox, Slack and Stripe are, indeed, “hot” companies, at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that don’t need any help in attracting the right candidates. In fact, their Recruiters and Hiring Managers need to overcome obstacles just like their peers every other company. One obstacle, in the case of companies that have a huge number of incoming applications is simply having the bandwidth and capability to review every resume and to get well qualified candidates to the onsite interview stage.
Often times, a relatively inexperienced and overworked Recruiter is the front line screener and many resumes are not even being passed along to the Hiring Manager. Other times, companies have scaled so quickly that they’re perceived to be too big for those who are looking to make a big impact.
Q: What’s the right mix of recruiters (internal and contractor-wise) for those types of companies?
Tech companies that are scaling rapidly will want to have the right mix of full time and contract Recruiters to be effectively staffed for the inevitable periods when things slow down a bit. Over time, as revenue becomes more predictable, you can convert more and more of the best Recruiters to be full time employees but, early on, companies might want to have a mix that is closer to 50/50.
Q: I know you’ve built talent acquisition teams with zero agency fees — what types of employers should try to go that route?
Many tech companies rely on outside recruiting agencies prior to building their own in-house recruiting teams and some continue pay a significant amount in agency fees even after having an in-house team, particularly when there are Hiring Managers who believe that agency sourced candidates are of a higher quality. VMware, early on, decided to build a very capable in-house recruiting team and the company was subsequently able to save millions of dollars that otherwise would have paid to outside agencies.
Q: At what point should a tech company get a head of talent acquisition?
Many companies are unsure about when they need to hire a Head of Talent Acquisition who can put the pieces in place to effectively scale recruiting. In my opinion, earlier is better as it often shows how much the company prioritizes and values hiring, although some companies like Dropbox, Stripe and Slack scaled to hundreds of employees without having a TA leader in place.
With Dropbox and Stripe both benefiting greatly from a strong employee referral network. In fact, Dropbox was able to get to 400 employees or more without hiring a single person who was not an employee referral, which is very uncommon. Scality, a software storage company that has several hundred employees also continues to grow without a TA leader. Tanium would be an example of a “hot” company in the Security software market segment that has recently hired a VP of Global Talent Acquisition, when they had 300 or so employees. Illumio, another Security software company, would be an example of a company that hired a TA leader when they were less than 100 employees.
Q: You had mentioned that some tech companies you know have almost no talent-related software in place except for an ATS — what are the next recruitment marketing tools a company should acquire after an ATS?
Tech start up companies are often founded by extremely smart, passionate, hard working engineers and business people but that doesn’t mean that they know where to look, in terms of recruiting tools and technologies. Many companies get to a few hundred employees using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) that is very basic, although more start ups, these days, are looking at robust ATS’s from Jobvite, Greenhouse and Lever as being critical in their efforts to track and manage the candidate flow and for metrics and reporting purposes. For larger companies, Taleo and Kenexa/Brassring continue to be the leading ATSs.
Employer Brand is more important now than ever and companies that create content and tell their story in a compelling way on websites like Glassdoor, The Muse, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter will be winners in the war for talent.
The majority of candidates, today, will research companies that they may consider interviewing at and they want to read employee reviews to get a feel for what it’s like to work at the company. Glassdoor is where they go to also understand more about the interview process, current job openings, compensation based on job category and level and for Benefits related information.
Recruitment marketing platforms that include things like video and photo enhanced job descriptions that are mobile optimized, along with a CRM and tracking software to understand the source of hire. the hiring funnel and conversion rates are the new wave and I recommend that companies evaluate Ongig, Smashfly and Jibe, among others to allocate your recruiting dollars and efforts most effectively.
Again, Employee Referral programs are a key spoke in the wheel of hiring tools and Simppler provides and engaging platform for managing a key source of hires that is sometimes under-emphasized or under-utilized at various companies.