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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

      How far is too far when setting the bait to attract passive candidates?

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      Episode 82 full cover

      In this podcast episode, Max and Global Talent Sourcing Trainer, Vanessa Raath explore non-traditional techniques for finding and hiring the right tech and non-tech candidates. Listen as they discuss tips for attracting unsuspecting talents and activating passive candidates.


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



      Max: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the recruitment hackers podcast. I'm your host, Max Armbruster. And today, dialing in from Johannesburg, South Africa, I'd like to welcome now to the show Vanessa Raath, who is a global talent sourcing trainer and our paths almost crossed in London a couple of weeks ago. She's a world traveler. And we're going to talk about the difficult art of planting doubts in the minds of unsuspecting candidates and talents. And how do you turn a passive job seeker into an active one? How do you mess up their world?


      Vanessa: How do you play with their minds?

      Max: That's it. How do you play with their minds? So Vanessa, thanks for joining me for this, hopefully, entertaining discussion.

      Vanessa: Sure.


      Max: And before we get going, could you tell the audience a little bit about your background? How did you end up in this recruitment function? And as a global talent sourcing trainer? What was the journey to get you there?


      Vanessa: Awesome. Well, first of all, Max, thanks for having me. It's great to be here. Always nice to be a guest on a different podcast. So my journey was an interesting one. I've done quite a few things in my career. I'm actually a qualified teacher, which leads into me working now as a trainer and helps immensely. I've also worked as a scuba diving instructor in Thailand. So you pick it up and pretty much done it.


      I've taught unruly school kids in the UK, taught unruly holidaymakers how to scuba dive in Southeast Asia and in East Africa, came back to South Africa and kind of fell into recruitment like everyone does. Went for an interview at a recruitment agency, and they said, why don't you think about recruitment, and I was like, I'm not sure whether I've got the wardrobe, but I'll give it a bash and see how I go.


      Vanessa: And the rest is history. I did 13 years working in both the recruitment agency space as well as finishing off doing internal head of talent acquisition for a tech company, and that is where I pretty much taught myself how to source because I realized I couldn't find tech talent, just relying on job boards and LinkedIn anymore. And it was time to actually branch out, look for passive talents in different places where they were spending their time.


      And yeah, getting into the psyche of your reach out and persuading people to leave jobs that they were probably really happy in order to come and join your organization. So three and a half years ago, I launched my own business, and that's what I've been doing ever since. So yeah. Good times. I'm very happy.


      Max: It sounds like your background as a teacher would be perfect training--


      Vanessa: Absolutely.


      Max: -- to go into training. And then, of course, your natural curiosity. And what I heard is like you were driven by the needs of the business like we need to go--


      Vanessa: Absolutely.


      Max: --go beyond Indeed and LinkedIn, which is a lot of what your training is focused on, I gather. So if people want to find out how to source talent outside of the beaten track, they should come to you right


      Vanessa: Yes.


      Max: --for new ideas. Now, let's talk a little bit about those passive job seekers, people who are maybe never heard about you before, and didn't even know that they were looking for a job.


      Vanessa: Until I found them and told them that they were looking for a new job.


      Max: You are like, hey, I've got news for you buddy. So the transition from the awareness stage to the consideration stage, which is one that I guess, if it happens smoothly, in a perfect world, you would just send a job description, and they would fall in love with it. And then they'd be like, well, great. Yes, I love the package. I love the job description.

      Vanessa: Now you see that sounds like recruiting was 10 years ago, and it was super easy, and we all should have worked harder, and we all should have made more commission and retired sooner. Now the game has changed. The goalposts are different because sending a candidate a job description isn't good enough anymore, because you first got to persuade the candidates that they need to leave the job that they're in.


      So you're now selling to both candidates and clients. Because before, it was easy enough to go and find these people on job boards, they were on the market, they were putting themselves out there, but now the landscape of recruitment has changed, and now everyone's kind of passive talents, which has made our jobs so much more difficult.


      Max: Yeah. The fact that they were maybe less actively looking, is that observation based on data? Because it seems like everybody's on, in my world, everybody's on LinkedIn all the time. But I guess it depends on the kind of talent pools you're going after. Because I'm dealing with HR professionals. So of course, they're on LinkedIn.


      Vanessa: Beautiful. So you and I are both so lucky because our target database is HR and recruiters and those people are on LinkedIn all day, every day, right? So when I'm trying to sell my training to recruiters, that's where I'm posting. But if you've got someone who's a Java developer, why would they go to LinkedIn? The only thing that's going to happen is that they're going to be harassed by recruiters trying to recruit them.


      That’s not going to enhance their career. If a Java developer was to spend some time on GitHub, and they could look at other people's code, they could learn from other developers, that would be much more beneficial to them and their careers. So that's what we've got to think about, who's on which platforms more than others.



      Max: So, maybe walk us through the journey of engaging with somebody on GitHub. For example, somebody who's not looking for a job, because it sounds extremely creepy to me that I'm an engineer trying to inspire my work. And randomly someone is contacting me a little bit out of the blue. So how do you make it less out of the blue?

      Vanessa: This happens all day on LinkedIn too remember, it's not a platform thing. So my training is all kind of like, try and find someone's email address, because I prefer to send someone an email than in-mail. So on GitHub, for example, you can't actually even connect with developers, they've taken away that functionality, you cannot message someone through the platform. So you have to find an email address.

      So for me, when I reach out to a candidate, I'm never going to say, I just saw you on GitHub. I'd maybe say, I saw you on GitHub, I had looked at your Twitter feed, well done on something you'd achieved, and also watched your training video on YouTube around how to build a new repository using Java, something along those lines. So it's more of a holistic view of, I've really done my homework about you, I've looked at you on all of these platforms, let's start chatting. And that kind of gets a lot of attention and a lot of response from candidates because I've gone the extra mile.


      Max: Personal.


      Vanessa: Yeah, and I've personalized my outreach message. So first of all, we've got to work on getting a better response rate from passive talent, which is something that most of the teams that I'm training at the moment are struggling with. So for me, it doesn't matter which platform you find people on, always have a look at them across multiple platforms, because that will help you to personalize that outreach for them.


      Max: Are there tools that you use for that, or you're just basically researching them on these platforms to see if their names come up?



      Vanessa: So what I generally do is I use an X-ray technique, where I go to Google or one of the search engines. And I will write a Boolean search string and our X-ray into one of these platforms, in order to find people who potentially have the right tech stack that I'm looking for, for one of my clients. I predominantly source in the tech space. But you can do this on several platforms using the X-ray technique. And then what I normally do is activate some chrome extensions in order to be able to find people's contact details, like email addresses. Because emails, let's face it have a far higher response rate than in-mail.


      Max: In-mail?

      Vanessa: So I'd rather choose that route, yeah.

      Max: Okay. And what if you were able to get their phone number, does that happen?

      Vanessa: You know what? When people sign up for these platforms, they're generally signing up with an email address, not a phone number. So it's actually easier to find an email address, and you can find people's phone numbers, it's possible. It's not impossible, but it's just not as easy as finding an email address. And let's face it, you're going to find an email address with more regularity than you will a phone number.

      Max: Right. So it's more scalable and I also suspect that sending a cold email will be more, well, it's a bit intrusive to make a cold call these days, because most of them are telemarketers--

      Vanessa: Or financial advisors.


      Max: Right. So but I suppose you could also do that. And then the reason I asked about phone numbers is because the phone numbers also open some new windows such as WhatsApp, so you could also use WhatsApp for engagement.

      Vanessa: Absolutely.

       Max: Yes, you use that.

      Vanessa: Yeah, yeah. I do. I mean, WhatsApp, it's really popular through Africa and Europe, but I actually found Facebook Messenger a lot more effective in the US. So it's just understanding which platform works better for people. A lot of my friends in the US also prefer signal or telegram to WhatsApp, because they're not supporters of Mark Zuckerberg and Meta who owns WhatsApp. So yeah, it's just understanding the psyche of where you're going to find people.

      Max: Yeah, I'm on all of them just in case.

      Vanessa: Me too. That's what we do as recruiters.

      Max: No secrets for Mr. Zuckerberg--

      Vanessa: Yeah, he's welcome to listen in on my conversations really.

      Max: You too?


      Vanessa: Yeah, I don't really give a shit.


      Max: Great. Well, so that initial email, where you show that you've done your research, you personalize the outreach, then when do you get off email into a phone call? How far can you use the written form in bringing them into consideration for a job? Like how long are these correspondences? How long would you be recommending that a recruiter goes into these correspondences considering that well, we all have limited time and, I guess it's like, in sales, you have to know when you've lost the deal. So you can move on to the next one.


      Vanessa: Yeah, exactly.


      Max: The same thing. So of course, you can always advocate for more engagement, more personalization, more emails, more everything. But we've got a finite amount of time and resources. So how do you know when to stop? What's the right amount of correspondence? And how do you know when to stop?


      Vanessa: So basically, my best should I say tip around this is to automate this process because we all don't have enough time for this. So what I do is I advocate putting candidates into a five or six email reach out a campaign, where a lot of recruiters, I've been training on this, this morning, and we'll send a very long email upfront, and then a second or third email saying, hey, did you read my email with that kind of passive recruitment that's going on.


      Where if you break up the information that you would put in that very long first email across five emails, or six emails, of breaking it up into bite-sized pieces, thinking like a marketer, you actually get a better response rate. So I normally use my tool for automating emails is something called SourceWhale. I use that really all the time whenever I'm trying to get hold and source new talent. And I usually run it over 10 days.


      So I send people five emails over 10 days, at varying times of the day, varying days in between each message. So it's something that I don't really need to think about. Because as soon as I get the new role, I've set up the campaign, I don't know the personalization that needs to be added in. And then the campaign runs in the background. So I literally can be delivering like four hours’ worth of training and finish the training and I come back to a whole lot of responses. And there are people who've answered the automatic email that's gone out from my outlook with my signature looks like me to them. It's brilliant.

      Max: You can go scuba diving, in the meantime, come back--

      Vanessa: Absolutely.

      Max: -- inbox full of candidates.

      Vanessa: Yeah, there we go job done. So for me, the trick is to automate because you're never going to remember who you've messaged, and who you need to message again. Those kinds of things.

      Max: And these, you talked about personalization, and then automation. And sometimes these are in conflict. If you're automating everything, then there's no personalization. 

      Vanessa: It depends which tool you use  

      Max: But there is some customization you can do on those email templates where you have certain fields that you can fill with tokens.



      Vanessa: Yeah, absolutely.

      Max: So that is automated. I mean, it feels personalized, even if it’s somewhat automated. So to illustrate that, it sounds like that's what you're doing, right?

      Vanessa: Absolutely, yeah.

      Max: So what are some of those fields you might be using?

      Vanessa: So for me, like one of the fields would be that maybe where the person's currently working? What is their current job title? What is the qualification? Their certification? Maybe something I could find out about what hobbies they do? I could relate it to maybe it's something similar that I do, they could go and verify that by looking at my social presence online, and definitely the person's name, I think we tend to forget about that one.

      That's also a good custom field that you can fill in, and maybe a link to like a GitHub repository, if it's someone who's in the tech space, YouTube channel, whatever I can find on the person, I'm going to tell them that, hey, I took the time, I did my research, I really want you. So one thing I'm definitely not going to do in my reach-out message is say, if you know anyone else that you can send my way, please let me know because--

      Max: Oh, really? I do that all the time. It's not a good idea?

      Vanessa: Not a good idea because the feeling coming back from candidates is, why do recruiters always ask me to do their jobs for them? So if you know the candidates, and you've placed them and you've got a good relationship, by all means, pick up the phone, phone them, who do they know? But if it's in your first reach out to them, or in your reach out campaign, I normally will end with that in my last email. So if I haven't elicited a response, at least, it doesn't harm in asking, but I wouldn't ask for anyone else, because I want that person to feel special, I want them to think I want them.


      Max: And sending these hundreds or maybe 1000s of emails every month, you must be getting a lot of responses?

      Vanessa: So first of all, I'm not sending 100 or 1000s of emails a month, because I recruit in a very specialized tech industry, and they aren't that number of people that are around. I don't agree with that kind of just bulk spamming people with templates. So yes, I'm getting loads of responses, but it's manageable.

      Max: Okay. Yeah, it's not in the 1000s. And I was going to ask you, how do you capture that on the way back because I think that we're actually at the infancy of what the technology will be able to do where you'll be able to read the email, read the response, organize the data semantically.

      Vanessa: Well, basically SourceWhale does that. So SourceWhale reads the email, and it tells me whether it's a positive response or a negative response. And then I can respond directly from my email accordingly. So I could say, yeah, yeah, absolutely. I could say, well, let's meet, here's my Calendly link, let's make an appointment. So I think these things are far more intuitive than we give them credit for. And they keep on pushing out improvements out there. So it's one of those things that always amazes me, it's very intuitive, it's using a lot of AI, and makes me think that maybe one day robots will roam the Earth, I'm not sure.


      Max: No doubt.

      Vanessa: -- maybe not in my lifetime, but--

      Max: I'm working on that with my colleagues.



      Vanessa: Yes, please keep me posted.


      Max: We've talked about the technology, the automation, which is so important. But now let's get into a little bit of psychology. So an answer you should be getting for most of your candidates is thank you very much. I'm not looking, I'm happy where I am. And that's human nature, we get comfortable with the familiar and we want to stay where we are. So where do we go from there?

      Vanessa: So for me that response is good because any response is good. Let's face it. Someone's going to respond, you've elicited that response by what you've said and that's amazing. So if they say they're quite happy a lot of the time, it's because in the tech space, people are working on a project, and they've still got a couple of months left on their project. 

      So what I would go back to with them and say, how much longer do you have on this project? Is this a long-term thing? Please shout as soon as you hit into the support and maintenance phase, which everyone in the tech space hates, because they know that their skills are stagnating, and they not learning anything new. So you kind of play to the doesn't get stuck kind of people. But if it was--

      Max: The innovation pace, how fast are you innovating right now? What are your big milestones? Are things moving fast?

      Vanessa: Exactly, exactly. For someone who wasn't in the tech space, just to give you an example would be, when is your next round of bonuses or grades, let me know when you can chat, and then I’ll tell them something that they couldn't refuse. So I'd know something from the hiring manager, that would be a potential hook.


      So something that would be unique to that company. If you ever want to learn this new skill, or you ever want to work internationally, or you want to get asked to sponsor you for this international qualification or certification and like, global techs, whatever, whatever, then you just let me know. So as long as you've got the response first, you can go back with any of those kinds of hooks that would entice people to want to come and work with you.


      Max: Yeah. Sometimes we'll engage engineers who are working in a service environment where they're doing project-based work and say, wouldn't you be interested in moving to the product side where you're working on a product for a long time? So actually, it's kind of like the opposite of what you were describing. It's like saying, don't you want to do service and maintenance on the same product for a long time, because it's not necessarily boring for everybody. It could be fun.


      Vanessa: Exactly, exactly.


      Max: Great. Great, great, great. What about some dirty tactics? Like would you plant a seed in someone's mind on the quality of the company they're working in?

      Vanessa: Like, I think that's a bit of a low blow, to be honest. I don't know whether I'd be brave enough to go there. But what I would probably do is play on the fact that surveys at the moment are showing that people want to work for companies that are making a difference. So they don't want to just sit in a bank where they're going to make the bank loads of money.


      I'd rather say, this is a startup, we focused on solving global world famine, and we would love you to be a part of that because that really is going to be a role where there's going to be a good purpose behind it. And I think I would maybe use the reverse psychology to say, not just to say, actually, you just making a bank more money, but come and work somewhere where you're going to add value and actually have an impact on the world.


      Max: Yeah, because everybody's got a moment of doubt, where even if they're comfortable in their job, and the money and the people, they'd be like, oh, what should I do with my life?


      Vanessa: That's a big picture exactly. And you want to like kind of tap into that.


      Max: Okay. Well, all great stuff, gold, I hope the listeners are paying attention and taking notes. I end my interviews, usually with the same question for everyone, which is one of the mistakes that we have made in the past on the hiring front. And ideally, in order to illustrate that with one specific case of someone you hired, which didn't work out, for whatever reason, and as painful as that was to walk back on the origin of that mistake, and then what we can learn from it?


      Vanessa: Sure, okay interesting. So I mean, it does happen. I'd actually rather have someone not start, then someone starts, and then be appalling. So there was a situation when I was working for an agency, and I was tasked to go and find someone who was going to be a housekeeper. And I interviewed this lady, and she seemed great and she was battling. She hadn't had the most, should I say, stable medical history. She'd been in and out of the hospital but assured me that everything was fine.


      She was in remission, she had actually suffered from cancer. And she'd got the all-clear. And my gut kind of was like, I don't know about this lady. I don't know whether I'm giving my client a forward pass here. And she actually started with the company. And within two months, the cancer was back and she was back in the hospital. So I probably shouldn't have put her forward for the role, but she was desperate for work, she had medical bills to pay off.

      But there was always that niggle that something else was going on wrong. And what actually transpired was that she didn't actually have cancer, she had a drug dependency issue on prescription medication. So for me, the niggle that I didn't follow through on was my gut feeling of there's more to the story than what I'm seeing. So it was early on in my career when I was still working in an agency. One thing that I kind of carried through for the rest of my career was, if there is a niggle, if there's a gut feeling, go and dig deeper, maybe do that extra reference check on the candidates.


      And, maybe don't be so generous and give candidates the benefit of the doubt. And if you do something that I have done, and what I learned from it is that one's guts are actually never really wrong. And that's probably why we work in the industry that we do because we have a good gut feeling of our people and we know who we're going to connect with and who's going to do a good job. And we sometimes kind of push that to the side because we've got deadlines, and we need to put a bomb in the seats and things like that.

      Max: Oh, the innocence of people who have never worked in recruitment, we we'll never have that again.

      Vanessa: No, of course not that I'm sure everyone's got a similar story. They were all duped by someone, given a story, but this is something to remember, I think.

      Max: I mean, and that does happen very often. Candidates, they're not stupid. Often some are smarter than the recruiters, and they know what not to say and what truth to hide. And got to pay very close attention to those details.

      Vanessa: Yeah.



      Max: Thanks, Vanessa.

      Vanessa: My pleasure. Thank you.

      Max: Well, where can people get a hold of you?

      Vanessa: Sure. Guys I'm not difficult to find on the Internet. So I'm on any other social platforms. My website is

      Max: Double-A.

      Vanessa: -- And yeah hit me up. If you want to talk about talent sourcing training. I would love to work with you and your teams.

      Max: Thank you very much.




      Max: That was Vanessa Raath, who was reminding us of some of the beautiful technology that is available at our fingertips to create email sequences and treat the passive candidates like something that should activate you rather than you being passive in front of it as well. I hope you got something out of this interview. I certainly did. And that you'll be back for more to listen to some of the hackers of the recruitment industry.




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