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The AI Mirage in Hiring: Are Vendors Innovative Solutions or Industry Snake Oil?

March 6, 2024
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      5 min read
      Max Armbruster
      Max Armbruster
      CEO Talkpush

      Field of Dreams: Closing the Tech Gap in HR with Tim Meehan from Pontoon

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      Episode 66 full coverIn this episode of the Recruitment Hackers Podcast, VP And Global Head for Talent Acquisition Innovation Lab at Pontoon, Tim Meehan, discusses the complexities of recruiting tech stacks, best of breed solutions, and different approaches for TA teams to bridge the gap between IT and recruiting.


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      Don't feel like listening? You can read the entire transcript right here. 👇


      Max: Hello! Welcome back to the Recruitment Hackers Podcast. I'm your host, Max Armbruster. And today all the way from Plano, Texas, I'm delighted to welcome on the show. Tim Meehan who's VP and Global Head for Talent Acquisition Innovation Lab at Pontoon which is part of the Adecco Group. Tim, welcome to the podcast.


      Tim: Thanks for having me. I'm very excited to chat with you, Max. 


      Max: Thank you. Thanks, Tim. We met years ago in the real world and we were just saying how a business is now keeping us at home, which is lovely. And it's mostly lovely. How else is Pontoon Solutions affected? You know, changed its business over the last couple of years? Can you maybe start off by telling us how Pontoon Innovation had to adapt to the new normal, which is not new at all anymore?


      Tim:  What do I have? Two hours, right?


      Well, first on the Pontoon levels. Thanks for asking. I would say our business has been very strong even through the pandemic. We're fortunate to have a portfolio of customers in the technology area so that business remains strong for us. But you know, as we were talking a little bit earlier, Max, I think there's a couple of trends that increasingly occupy my time, my mind, my thought focus in terms of how to bring, not just Pontoon for it, but our entire industry.


      Because I think we're at an inflection point, an important point in time where the way talent is acquired in our industry is changing radically. And we all understand digitization and the automation that's occurring in homeport experiences, but there are some trends that I increasingly look at and say, you know, I think there, if we're all aware of them then perhaps each of us in our own individual spaces can be thinking about how we work within the


      Max: And the Talent Acquisition Lab at Pontoon is, correct me if I'm misdescribing it, is like a consultancy practice focused on helping companies crack the case of how to bring in new tech in their talent acquisition tech stack, and how to work within their existing IT architecture. So yeah. Does that sum it up?


      Tim: Yeah, it does. And it's important to explain it. So for us, at Pontoon Talent Acquisition encompasses all the workforce categories.


      So certainly RPO, or we call it RXO, the full-time talent acquisitions is a big part of what we do. MSP or contingent labor talent acquisition is another part of our portfolio offering that my team supports, but increasingly statement of work or service procurement. So people coming in on fixed deliverable basis, those are all different ways for companies to access a growing and very powerful talent pool.


      Then my team, which is a team of technologists, product marketers and, solution designers are responsible for figuring out how to simplify it to our customers because this stuff is really hard. Steve Jobs once said simplicity is the answer, make it easy. And so that's what my team is trying to do. Make a little less confusing for our customers to understand and decide what to do. 


      Max: Yeah, it's so complex for companies, especially when they have a broad variety of job types from blue-collar, white-collar, graduates and, and so on. And almost for every job category, you need a different partner on the sourcing side, on assessments, on the process and, and a strong case could be made for a company to buy 30 different technologies just for talent acquisition, right? 


      I mean, you must have these kinds of, I wouldn't call them horror stories, but customers that are heavily loaded right? Or overloaded?


      Tim:  Yeah. I think one of the trends I see is some of the tech companies in our space are trying to simplify it by bringing the entire tech stack to the customer.


      So I look at like Phenom people, our eight folder in iCIMS, and iCIMS is a little bit more ATS, but certainly the capabilities of Symphony Talent. So their pitch to our customers is I bring the stack to, you know, one buy and I can plug you into a whole architecture and ecosystem of capability. And we are seeing companies look at that.


      The key issue is a lot of times the applicant tracking system is owned by eight. IT, the career site may be run by the marketing department internally developed, and then you've got HR with the room budget as well. So you've got kind of a challenging cross-functional challenge to break those, take those pieces, and have them all into one buy.


      But I am seeing that trend. I call it the field of dreams, where these big tech companies are going out and they're building it and hoping companies come and we are seeing some interest in that. And certainly, as an outsourcer, we work with those vendors when that's the case.


      Max: And maybe five, ten years ago, IT had a little, relatively to today, a little bit more power, and it's shifting a little bit to the marketing function.


      Tim: Well, the other one is my other joke is Love Actually, where Hugh Grant says to uh... where Billy Bob Thornton says to Hugh grant, “I'll give you anything you want as long as that's not something I don't want to give you.” 


      And in some ways, that's sort of the IT group. HR, go out there and look at everything you want. But only if it's within the framework of what I'm willing to let you do, which is to say data, privacy, data, security, data governance, the vendors have to pay a certain threshold. 


      So IT is increasingly empowered, ITN, data privacy, certainly with the data privacy regulations that are coming out, not without good reason. So you have to be able to operate increasingly. HR has to be able to operate both. Understanding the language and needs of an IT organization in their company, as well as the technology needs of the many vendors out there that can help them supercharge their recruiters.


      Max: Okay. I thought it was going in the other way, because I thought, well, it's so easy to buy software now that nobody needs to know IT or be an engineer to be able to buy it. And you know, the cloud story of everybody can be a buyer now. But you're seeing it, the counter-trend to that movement. 


      Tim: Absolutely, I am. I think about my career and my early career recruitment. My expertise we're building source two plans with which job boards, how many recruiters in which job boards in a couple of ratios. And today I'm doing data mapping, integration design, architectural reviews, and granted, this is all I do. But any program we want to do, that's what we have to do. And so, you know, I think we're going to have a… no, I think the language of HR in the future, certainly talent acquisition increasingly requires a digital mindset, a digital skillset.


      But you know, if it's something like, you know, I don't want to do that, that's not my area then I would probably say, make a decision, either build the competency so your TA person listening to me right now, and you're not familiar with Talkpush and all the Talkpush’s competitors in the HR tech landscape, and you don't want to be then I would suggest you're going to struggle. And what you should either do is say, I'm going to ramp up and build the competency early or myself, or call me. Honestly, or call one of my competitors. This is what we're doing. We're building out an entire ecosystem of capability to help you through that gap.


      Max: If you walked into HR on talent acquisition, because you wanted to get inside the psychology and the human and touchy part of recruitment and, and stay away from flow charts and Excel sheets. It's going to be tough, right? You know, you'll have to ask for help some way. 


      Tim: And you know, so my team, we’re involved in some of these very big buyer complex deals. Our HR sponsors will bring us into dialogue with their IT org, and these get extremely technical. But that's what we can bring to the table. Now we've got other clients that they have that competency within their organization. So you know, and if you don't outsource it, you don't have the competency, then you're going to struggle a little bit.


      Max: And that's when, I guess, that's when companies or TA teams, they call their IT team and say, “Please come and help me out”. And when IT comes in, they come in with a whole new set of requirements, which will change the scope and perhaps tilt the conversation towards having a one standalone system that can do it all. They'd be more likely to consolidate all under one architecture, perhaps. Yeah. And so now let's give some advice to the TA listeners who are dealing with maybe one system to rule them all. And they wanna create some flexibility for their local team, maybe for their local sourcing team. How do you navigate these necessary IT architectures and convince some of your customers to open up?


      Tim:  Well, I would say, first, self-assess. Where you're at and what your competency is. And if you're in a company where maybe you have an IT organization that's very helpful and wants to be supportive, that's different than maybe you have a discussion with IT, and you don't understand what they're saying.


      So I would suggest rely on your vendors. So certainly there are in Asia, you know, mature organizations, a big company well-respected, well thought-out. You've got the resources that can command and have the discussion with your HR contacts, technology people to help them get them through these gaps. And we can have that discussion and certainly, Pontoon can have that discussion. 


      So I'd say rely on your vendors. For certainly our HR tech trade shows, hopefully, it will be coming back on their virtual ones. I think just self-assess would be my biggest recommendation. How big is your, if you're having talent, acquisition pains, can you perceive or believe your technology may be a challenge. If you don't have the ability internally to do this, then I would start talking to either outsourcers or significant point solution providers that can help you.


      And then the only other thing I'll say specific to Asia is, you know, what do you have for the world? Two thirds of the world. It's Asia, right? How many languages? How many countries are there?


      So even in Asia, the trends for Asia are different. So you'll have the ability to do maybe some work. You can be a little more creative in parts of Asia than you can in some of the Western continents.


      Max: You were saying in Brazil, for example. A whole different... You typically end up with a completely different architecture than you would for global brands, right? They make exceptions market by market. Those exceptions are would you say they dictated by language barriers or behavior? Yeah. What’s your take on those differences? Is it well...


      Tim: If the case in Brazil specifically. If you're trying to do it… If it's a Brazilian company that is looking for TA innovation, you cannot lay her in a San Francisco technology solution. The cost structure is hysterical. So, you know, you have to find a Brazilian technology companies that can support you in Brazil because their cost structure is lower. In fact, we're talking to them and bring them outside Brazil and come to the rest of the world because they've been developed in a low cost country and they're successful.


      But certainly the same with India. I mean, you just cannot lay her in an extremely expensive tech stack. If it's only in India or only in Brazil. Now the big multinationals, they're going to spread that cost across their entire organization. And so the cost impact to say Brazil or in India isn't significant.


      Max: But we are going to make some adjustments for internal accounting and they'll say, “Well, yeah”. They use more seats in India and Brazil, but we'll adjust the cost, the cost per seat.


      Tim: Yeah, you can. Or you know, the allocation model could be not even specific to that tech, right? So the corporate IT may allocate its cost over all of the businesses in a different way. So I just say certainly when you're talking about multinational and certainly Western countries, IT technology, IT barriers become a big issue.


      If you're talking to emerging economies, there, I think, there's still a lot of opportunity for point standalone solutions, country-specific technology solutions. 


      Max: Yeah. We've noticed very different candidate behaviors from one place to the next, which communication channels they use. Obviously, the language is a barrier but also almost every country has a different leading job board.


      With, of course, Indeed being maybe at the top of the mountain and, you know, number two, a number three in a lot of other markets, but companies... Job boards that otherwise nobody would have heard of outside of the US. And they have different levels of openness. So when you have a global customer come to Pontoon and do you... First, put a map of the world? You try to figure out, yeah, where they could... Do you work mostly on global contracts and then you have to map out the whole world and figure out so, you know, how to help them at every pit stop? 


      Tim: No, I would say... boy, I don't know the statistic off the top of my head, but certainly a chunk of them are multicountry. But I wouldn't call them multi-region. Multi-region which to me, it starts to talk global. Those are harder to do. That's a big change management, but to get an Americas deal or a MIA deal, part, you know, parts of Asia, maybe three or four countries in Asia, that's pretty typical whole all or one, not quite as common.


      Though I will say, we’re, maybe part of my self promotion here, part of our answer to what we've talked about today is within my team, we have built out a product portfolio that's very scalable, and it starts with a top of funnel sourcing, highly automated sourcing capability. And then we can layer in various texts using our backbone technology and the cost model is extremely attractive. So it's, it's going to work for us in Brazil. It'll work for us in India. But you know, for me, for us, we need a lot of bullets in our holster. And so the client is you know, they're wanting to just start with a couple of steps. We've got an offering and then as they evolve, we can expand that offering.


      Max: Okay. So it sounds like you're saying it's more cost-effective even though it's more work and that's where you guys come in, but it's more cost-effective to find point solutions that are, you know, best in class for each stage of the recruitment funnel and then assemble them. And then that will outperform, cost-wise, having a, you know, a single platform that offers to do everything.


      Tim: Well, I wouldn't quite go that far, but I wouldn't disagree that, you know, it's a messy world. And so if you're a… If you're going to be a regional or a global talent acquisition company, and you want a single experience for your customers, then you're going to have to layer in a pretty complex technology solution, not point. But if you're a single country, standalone, then it gives you more flexibility to pick tools that are specific to that country or your use case.


      And then you got to layer in. Maybe I only want to outsource blue-collar. Or I've got a new ability I’m building. And I only want to... I only want these roles in this location, but this amount of time. So there's besides the technology, there's, you know, customer use case scenarios that you're going to be able to solve for too.


      Max: Yeah. It's for the RXL business that you cover. You come into our company saying, which part of the talent acquisition defines your brand and you want to own a hundred percent of it, versus something which is something you have to do, but it doesn't necessarily define you. And then it's a little bit easier to outsource, right? 


      Tim: Yeah. Yeah. 


      Max: Great. Well, one question that I love to ask my guests is to share with our practitioner listeners a mistake that you've made--a hiring mistake that you've made and to kind of try to dig it out forgotten raised a memory of yours. Somebody you hired and it just didn’t go right. And, you know, we know in a long career such as the one you have, it must've been more than one instance. I mean, you can't hire without making a few mistakes. So is there one that comes to mind without giving names that you can draw an experience from on a lesson for our audience?


      Tim: Well, I will just say for me personally, hiring somebody is a sacred responsibility and I personally have been hired into a role that I wasn't successful at. I, at the time,  did not know I couldn't do the job. I thought I could. And I believe the person who put me in that role made a bad hiring decision and it had a pretty bad impact on me personally.


      So that was a learning for me. And yes, I have hired people that didn't work out. And I view that as my failure. I absolutely hold myself accountable. I'm with the team I manage, I view their success as a reflection of my leadership and management competency. So…


      Max: I applaud your humility  in answering the question. I've asked this question to 50 plus people, and nobody's said that they were the wrong hire. So you've given everybody something to think about there. And I think I might have been the wrong hire once or twice to myself. 


      Tim: Oh, how do you know? I mean, the enthusiasm, you know, so I'm pretty good now about thinking through a couple of things to help me make sure that the person is making a good decision as I think I am.


      Max: Yeah. And to go back to that time when you were the wrong hire, what was the mistake that the manager did or that your employer did then? Was it they were trying to paint too rosy a picture, or they had written the wrong description?


      Tim: Well, it was when I moved into the temporary staffing industry many, many, many years ago. I had a career before this industry. I was in printing.


      Max: Good thing you got out there.


      Tim: It's gone. It's, in fact, every company I've ever worked for is bankrupt. So it wasn't my fault, but the industry collapsed. And so when I moved into this industry, they put me in a very important role and the staffing company, and I had to learn the industry. I had to learn the people and I was remote and it was just alot. And the environment itself was challenging. So I think anybody who would have struggled and I didn't kind of walk through it though.


      I was asking like really stupid questions. You know, I got an order from a hundred people and I didn't ask what the pay rate was like and you're the leader. So you know, it was a humbling experience, but fortunately, here I am. I'm not going to tell you, but it's decades.


      Max: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And of course, today remote hiring is a lot easier than it was back then. It was a lot more people are better at it. So maybe if the same scenario played over today, you know, it would have worked better, but certainly industry experience and, you know, never underestimate, I think, the importance of training. Your talent acquisition team and your recruiters on the industry, on the lingo. So they don't sound stupid. I mean, that's pretty essential again.


      Tim:  I would say don't put your need to fill the job ahead of that person, that human you're trying to hire. Always think about that first.


      And that comes back to pays dividends. I have amazing people. I'm very proud of the many senior leaders in this industry that I hired and developed and I played a role in their career. And so I, again, it's hiring somebody as a sacred responsibility and if you hire people that don't work out, you gotta own it.


      It's like Colin Powell says,  “You break it, you bought it”. So don't think about your mistake. Take it as a personal reflection of your leadership and hiring competency. 


      Max: Strong words. I think we'll wrap it up on that. Thanks so much, Tim, for sharing. Where can people get ahold of you? I guess LinkedIn?


      Tim:  LinkedIn, I’m on LinkedIn. 


      Max: Tim Meehan. M-E-E-H-A-N from Pontoon Solutions. And thanks. Thanks very much, Tim. It was a pleasure.


      Tim: Thank you very much for having me on your show.


      Max: That was Tim Meehan from Pontoon Solutions, reminding us that if you got into Talent Acquisition and recruitment, to stay away from doing too much technical work and, you know, building technology stack if it’s not your cup of tea. There is help out there. There are providers such as Pontoon Solutions and others that can be your partner and help you put together a best-of-breed solution. 


      Hope you enjoyed it. And that you'll be back for more and remember to subscribe and to share with friends.


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