Episode 20 Transcript

Recruiting in the Digital Age, How to Build Relationships From Home w/ Sean Kogan

    Banoo B: Welcome to the Professional Services Pursuit, a podcast featuring expert advice and insights on the professional services industry. I'm Banoo Behboodi, and my guest today is Sean Kogan, who is the co-founder of Recruiting in Motion. Sean has an incredible amount of experience in the recruiting industry, specifically in the professional services industry. And while we've touched on this recruiting topic on the show before, as it's top of mind for many of our listeners, I'm excited to dive in and get your unique perspective. Sean, welcome to the podcast.

    Sean K: Well thank you for having me, how are you doing?

    Banoo B: I'm doing great, thanks. So before we get totally immersed in this topic, why don't you tell us a little bit about Recruiting in Motion and your role and mission there?

    Sean K: Sure, one of my favorite topics. At Recruiting in Motion, we've been around for 12 years now. We're a recruiting agency, specializing in the placement of permanent and contract and temporary staff throughout Canada, and most recently in the US. Started in Canada, by 2015/16 we had eight offices throughout Canada. Once again, we focus on accounting and finance and marketing and IT specialized placements at all levels and across all industry sectors. Sort of unique in the world of recruiting because some of our offices are franchised, we started doing that early on because we had a unique concept. The whole foundation of the company is built on the idea that clients and candidates are probably better served with a bit of a technological advantage. And that's one of the reasons why we introduced a video component to the client presentation early on in the company's history. So what that meant was candidates or recruiters will take short video clips of candidates, and when we present them to our clients in consideration of any of the jobs that we're recruiting for, the clients can actually see and hear the candidates before ever meeting them, and that really sped up the process. So we've been doing that now for 12 years and moved into the US just before the pandemic. It was really at the end of 2019, it was perfect timing. Went into the US, and now we have operations in 17 states throughout the US as well as eight offices in Canada.

    Banoo B: Wow, that's really exciting. Amazing growth. So you talked about COVID, obviously you guys have been very active, but as I'm sure you are asked repeatedly, right. COVID has changed a lot of our behaviors and how we recruit, how we find jobs, et cetera. So can you tell us a little bit about the biggest hurdles companies are dealing with in the recruiting space right now? And have these challenges changed in the last two years in any way because of everything we've gone through.

    Sean K: So in the recruiting industry, this is an industry that has changed slightly over the last 50, 60 years up until prior to COVID. But for many aspects, it hadn't changed, almost all of our competitors as well, we're still working out of brick and mortar locations. Our recruiters were coming into the office, we're going on meeting clients, we're actually meeting candidates in person. This is still really a relationship-based industry. People like shaking hands and really getting to know one another. If a candidate is conducting a confidential job search, they wanna make sure they know who that recruiter is, so they build a close relationship. That's how things were up until a few years ago or a couple years ago before the pandemic started. That all changed when COVID hit, and all of a sudden the industry found itself in a position to move these workers into a home-based business and not be able to meet clients and shake hands and see them eye to eye, except over potentially Zoom calls or video chats .

    Candidates as well, now at the beginning of the pandemic candidates were flocking onto the market because of the pandemic. And so many companies laid people off and they couldn't meet recruiters, so at the end of the day, the industry had to pivot. If companies in our industry, if recruiting agencies were not gonna pivot and be able to adapt to working in a home-based environment, they were gonna be left behind, and so that's what we had to do. So the industry shifted dramatically over the last couple of years, moving all of their workers home and or potentially, from either a remote situation into a hybrid. And what did that mean? The technology they were using in the office had to move home as well and had to figure out a new way to meet clients. We'd introduced a video component 12 years ago, so we're a bit ahead of the curve, but at the same time, most of our competitors had a little way to catch up, but the recruiters I know are really resilient. And then I think the industry did a good job. But basically shifting from a brick and mortar office-based industry to mostly remote to now hybrid. And I think most of the folks that I know they're still trying to figure it out. Should we stay hybrid? Should we potentially go fully remote or fully back in the office and we'll see how it all pans out?

    Banoo B: I was going to comment about the fact that in conjunction with this change in the workforce moving more remote and the flexibility that that provides and the selection that expands because of it. There is also technology that's added to the mix now, and there is so much more vetting that can be done both on the person who's looking for a job, as well as the recruiting company and things like AI. Like how do you use that? I know you guys started using technology and that's one of your differentiators many years ago, but now with everyone jumping on that wagon, what does that look like with the technology?

    Sean K: Ironically, just shortly before the pandemic started, we had a meeting with the partners in my organization. And one of the things we were doing is moving our technology to the next level and integrating AI, and so maybe I'll back up a bit. So artificial intelligence for the recruiting industry is not that different from what you'd expect. We're dealing with a lot of data on a daily basis, and this data has to do with candidate information, being thrown as lots of individuals applying for jobs, lots of recruiters going on pinpoint recruiting. And at the end of the day, if your company's been around a while in recruiting, you build up a database and with all that data, that's really valuable information that you wanna mine. And to mine it effectively with humans, it takes a long time. You wanna have ideally an artificial intelligence type system that can go into your database and give you the information that you want when you need it. And then potentially communicate with candidates on mass. And some might say well, as soon as you do that, you lose the human touch. And that's one of the issues that we're grappling with, you never wanna lose that human touch. For us, it's all about the relationships, it's about building one-to-one relationships with your clients and with your candidates. And if all of a sudden a robot starts sending out emails or text messages to the masses of candidates that you have in your database that might have stayed dormant for a while, that may not come across as good. But AI has advanced so far in recent years, that we can do that without really the uncomfortableness of being reached out by a robot.

    So the initial approach could be automatic without the end-user knowing it, and then right after that, a human being jumps in. As soon as that candidate or client responds, then it's immediately human. Other companies I know are not doing that, what they're doing is they're taking that to maybe the second or third level. And they're having whole conversations through artificial intelligence with candidates, figuring out what the candidate wants, where they wanna work, how much money they're looking for in a new position, why they wanna leave. All of that can be done through AI. In my opinion, it hasn't been really perfected to the level of professionalism that we'd want, but I know other companies are doing it, and it's remarkable. It's amazing.

    Banoo B: Yeah, it's interesting. I personally had experience with this after 10, 12 years of not looking. I was out on the market looking and how drastically things had changed for someone who is searching for a job, meaning if you are not getting the hits, if you have it between your skill sets and what they're requesting. Whereas in the past, someone may look at your resume and as much as it may not have been an exact match, they may be interested to talk to you because you bring experience that's unique and it opens up their mind. Well, maybe I should have a conversation, maybe it would fit, but with this AI piece, you have no chance of that. It's basically a machine telling them you should look at these five from the hundred applicants, and that's what it is. So it was very interesting to see that angle and how things have evolved for sure.

    Sean K: And you mentioned it's good and bad. It can be very frustrating for a job seeker. When I started the industry, it was 1998 and sometimes I say 19…it was a while ago. And back, then nobody was applying through websites or job boards and very few recruiters even had email. And I know that sounds crazy, but I'm sure you remember Banoo, that's how it was. So at the end of the day, when candidates were applying, you had to respond. If you're receiving a resume via fax, you're responding to that, even if they're not the best fit. And then little by little over the years, we sort of grew accustomed as candidates, as job seekers, to not hearing back from clients. My partner, the co-founder of Recruiting in Motion, he has a daughter in university, she was looking for an internship. We don't do internships, so we couldn't help her. She applied to 220 positions, but only three of them got back to her, and these were all internship positions that she would've been well-suited for. It's remarkable the volume of data that's just flowing out there, and that's why I think AI is important. And it's almost becoming mandatory in our industry to use some form of AI for some aspects. Maybe not the personal relationship-building aspects, but some.

    Banoo B: Another interesting thought that I had is, you guys have been in business for several years, but now there are so many recruitment efforts that are going through LinkedIn and all these other online possibilities for both companies that are looking for resources and people who are applying. But your differentiator is that personal touch, that network element, what keeps the recruiting company's business still attractive and going.

    Sean K: That's a great point. So LinkedIn, Indeed; LinkedIn isn't a job board, it’s more of a social media or business media site. Indeed, one of the larger job boards, ZipRecruiter, they're all out there. And over the years, whenever these tools, these apps came onto the scene. Sometimes my colleagues would say, oh boy, what's that gonna do to the recruiting industry now, are they gonna take over it? Really, it's never done anything, but help us. Recruiters have embraced change and they will embrace new technology and new ways of meeting candidates. And we use LinkedIn a lot in the business, there's not a day where my team isn't on LinkedIn. They have to be, otherwise they shouldn't be in this industry because you want to continue networking. So we look at these as tools to help us and not to compete with us, but to more complement our services. Because at the end of the day, it's really all about an employer, regardless of how big they are. They could be a small company, a mid-size company, or a large company, if there's a need, and they're looking to fill that need, specialized recruiters should be able to help them.

    Maybe not in all roles, there could be a lot of roles like the blue collar or the light industrial type roles, we don't specialize in those, but if they just need warm bums and cold seats, so to speak, that's where the job boards could really help. And they don't need to use recruiting agencies. By all means, I know there's a very good place for recruiting agencies within most searches, but when it comes to the types of roles where you don't need any specialized skills, bingo, those job boards, they come in really handy, but otherwise we love the job boards because it helps us. And really our job is to narrow down the candidates and find the right fit. It's not about matching skills, it's about understanding our clients and understanding what they're looking for in a role as a whole person, and then finding that person. So in the world of recruiting, you're gonna have different types of agencies. We specialize and we get to know our clients well, and they look at us as sort of an outsourced HR partner. And so we may not work on all the roles with them, but the roles we work on, we work on closely and we get to know them and we get the job done quicker.

    Banoo B: Yeah, and I don't think this is part of your business positioning contractors, as well as full-time employees. If it is, have you seen a switch there as well? I mean, it's one of those things where it's up and down. There are points where people focus more on contractors and then there's other points in time when you see a trend where it's full-time employees. Where do you see things at right now, and where do you see them going?

    Sean K: That’s a great question. So the gig economy is booming, there are so many people that have left the full-time workforce to be contractors. And they might be working harder than ever before, but they might be independent contractors, they might be working on their own. In the US, those are 1099s, and in Canada, they're independent contractors. And yes, we place those, and it's a great question because although the gig economy has grown, a lot of those individuals are sort of taking it upon themselves to find their own gigs, to find their own contracts. What we do is we help place temps and contractors in roles like any of the medium or large companies in projects. But to get back to your original question with regards to where we see the industry shift, as soon as the pandemic started, if you would've asked me in advance, what would happen if a pandemic would ever start? I would say temp would go up, but it was the reverse, temps fell off. Why? In our opinion, based on the research we've done, it's because the clients, the employers wanted to keep their full-time employees close.

    So they knew they had to lay off some people, some companies laid off a lot of people and where are they gonna start? They're gonna start with the people who weren't that close to them, who weren't that vested in them, and so it was the temps. So they would start laying off the temps and then maybe they had to go into their full-time staff. And then when they're starting to hire again, we've now seen a big pickup in our temp business because now they're big gun shy. It's like let's try before we buy, let's get somebody on for a six month contract to see what happens, there's still some uncertainty. And hopefully if this person works out and they're good, we could then bring them on full time. So the beginning of the pandemic, temp and contractors drop off, perm got slowed down, but it was still slow and steady. Now that the pandemic is near the end, hopefully we're seeing the tail end of it, it's really come back with gusto. So it's really been an interesting analysis.

    Banoo B: Yeah, and I guess with the great resignation, part of why you go with full-time employees is because you're hoping for that continuity, you know, career development in people you're hiring, et cetera. But with the great resignation, on average, you find employees are staying a year and a half, two years, if that's the case, then contractor is definitely an option as well, so that's interesting. And so going back to the whole remote work and the implications that the pandemic had, what are some of the doors that this has opened up in terms of selection for companies that are looking to hire? I mean in professional services, that’s it, that's your bread and butter, it’s the people that are providing services. Your revenue relies on it, your client’s success relies on it, there are so many aspects. So you're always looking for top notch talent, and it's always good to know what are the things to consider to be able to land what you're looking for, the right match culturally for the company, but also people that can grow with you. And how was that impacted by the whole movement to be remote?

    Sean K: Totally. And there are pros and cons to that whole concept. There are some industries that have really embraced it because they could, and they've moved their workforce to become remote. And those workers enjoy the freedom and flexibility. On the other hand, the companies themselves have to really keep in mind that by doing that, they might be losing a bit of the culture that really comes from everybody being together in one place on a daily basis. The companies that are going hybrid are trying to recapture the culture. That's hard to say ‘recapture the culture.’ And by doing that, by bringing employees back at least maybe one or two days a week, what we've found anyways with the employers that we're working with, that really gets the culture going again. And has new employees truly understand the company that they're part of.

    At Recruiting in Motion, we have five core values and we really believe in them, but now that we're mostly remote, we're finding a bit of a challenge to instill those core values in all of our new employees. And we do it by getting together once in a while, but because we're offering a fully remote service now, sometimes there's a challenge there. It's not all rosy. On the other hand, there are some industries that couldn't offer that, the retail industry for example, or hospitality, you need people there. If somebody's gonna walk into a retail store, there has to be employees in the store. And that means they cannot work remotely. If you go to a hotel, somebody's gotta be behind the front desk, if you're in a restaurant, somebody's gotta be there to serve you and make the food and that type of thing. The great resignation really impacted those industries hard. Number one, there are a lot of layoffs in those industries, but number two, now that they're trying to come back, a lot of individuals have left the industry altogether because they see their peers who aren't in that industry enjoying the flexibility and the pros that come with the remote type of work environment that they get in other industries.

    So there is a lot of relearning going on with individuals. They're going back to school, they're learning new careers and they're moving away from the traditional industry. So what I think is gonna happen, in my opinion, it's probably gonna be a supply and demand scenario. You're gonna have a lower supply of individuals that'll work in these traditional industries that we’re unique to, and it's going to proportionally increase the demand. And you're probably gonna see higher wages to attract more people. And it'll all come out in the wash, but at the end of the day, it's gonna be a challenging time for those industries that cannot really embrace this whole remote employee lifestyle. So a lot of things are going on, and a lot of companies have to do some major pivots. I think we're living in interesting times. It'll be interesting to see how it all comes out in the wash.

    Banoo B: Yeah, it's interesting because at Mavenlink, the same thing, we went to a hybrid, but our CEO has basically announced that the location of an employee is not going to be what's going to drive their hire, their skillset is. So it's interesting that you bring that up, that has a lot of advantages because it opens up a lot of doors in terms of the skill sets you're pulling from; it's immense, it's basically globally now. You can find the right skillset to pull in and have contributed to your organization. But your point about the cultural element was right on point as well, is you've gotta have a very strong approach to getting everyone rallied around the values so that as new people come in, you're actually bringing them along. And they're just getting immersed in the value because they're not necessarily gonna be in a physical office to get that exposure. And I feel Mavenlink is doing a good job of that, but that's gonna be the continuous challenge that we all have.

    Sean K: And that's a great point, some of our offices have not only continued a remote workforce with our recruiters, but we've hired folks who can't even come to the office. I know just recently we brought on somebody who was in Toronto, and we brought on somebody from Winnipeg. Now that individual is never gonna be coming, maybe once a year, something like that, but typically will not be coming. There's no commuting involved there, but because of that, other companies can look worldwide. They may not be stuck to even their, forget about city or country, they could look worldwide. If they're looking for that unique skillset, that in the past they couldn't find, if they've convinced themselves that these positions can now be remote, wow, the world is their oyster. And if there are only 10 people in the world that have a unique skill set, it makes it a little easier for recruiters, if we could sort of look beyond those borders. Yeah, that's a great point.

    Banoo B: Yeah, if you had one piece of advice for our listeners who are currently looking, and I can tell you in professional services that probably everyone is always looking for new talent, what would that be? Where would you point them to?

    Sean K: Wow, that is a great question. So from the employer side, right now my best piece of advice, and obviously if you have a need and you're going to market, whether it be through an agency, on your own, through referrals or whatever, before doing that, make sure you're really organized. You have an organized interview and hiring process, and when you find the right candidate, be ready to pull the trigger quickly. I cannot tell you how many times we're working with employers, and we bring that ideal candidate right to the final stage, and they're not ready to make an offer. These days offers are lost within hours because the market is getting so competitive and candidates are getting multiple offers on a daily basis. We're dealing with the cream of the crop and most companies want the cream of the crop. So when that cream of the crop individual gets on the market and they're ready to look, and we present them to a client, if that client isn't ready to pull the trigger by the time their hiring process is finished so you can have a quick hiring process, get ready to pull the trigger, they're gonna lose them. So my best piece of advice is make sure you understand your hiring process and be ready to pull that trigger quickly. And times have changed, they should not be waiting to see four or five candidates and compare. If they see the right candidate, nobody should bully an employer into hiring anybody, but if they see the right candidate, the right skillset, the right fit within their organization, be ready to pull the trigger, even if it's the first one they see.

    Banoo B: Yeah, that's really interesting what you say. Basically you have budgets approved, POs ready to go, whatever your internal process is, to be able to make an offer and go with it. So how does that play into, I guess, salary negotiations and what would be your recommendations on how to handle that? Because if it's a competitive environment and it's like a housing market right now, people are overbidding each other, and you're just worried that you're gonna lose that opportunity. And I don't wanna necessarily compare resources to houses, but my point is it's a competitive market, right? So what's your advice to manage the negotiations and respond to asks.

    Sean K: So if the employer is dealing with a recruiting agency, we take on a lot of that, however, let's move that outta the equation. My best advice to an employer in that regard is the first interview, the first communication between you and that candidate, you want to know what they're looking for. You know, many states now don't allow you to ask how much you were making in a previous role. That's cool, it doesn't really matter, it matters what the market will bear and what the market will bear in this case is how much that employee is looking for. If you don't ask them up front, you might be surprised at the end. So nobody wants to waste anyone's time, specifically not if you've got five internal, senior managers ready to interview a person. And then you find out in the fifth interview that the salary is outta whack. You wanna know all the compensation requirements right up front. And that goes for everything else, it's not just compensation, if it isn't in-office role, you gotta make sure the geography fits, it's counter offer situations. If they are currently working in another role, there's always potential for counter offers. You'd wanna know how serious an employee is. There's a lot of things you want to close off before even starting with that first interview, and you could get it all done within the first interview, but if it's an agency they're dealing with, we'll get it done before that.

    Banoo B: Yeah, that makes sense. You know what I think we can go on forever, but in the interest of your time and our listener's time, I'm gonna ask my favorite ending question, which is more on the personal level. Yeah, I love reading and I'm interested in knowing what everyone is reading and what their recommendations would be for my next book. So what are you currently reading or any recommendations on books?

    Sean K: That's a loaded question. So I like reading as well, and usually I'll have one, let's call it, fiction novel and then one business-related novel. So I’m gonna give you both of them because that's what I do, I kind of juggle. So I'm a big John Grissom fan, so right now I'm reading The Guardian, it's one of his more recent books. I think it's really fast-paced and enthralling and just gets my mind off of things. And it's sort of, let's call it, a legal thriller. And on the business side, there's a book called Never Split the Difference. Not sure if you've read that one yet, it's by a gentleman by the name of Chris Voss, and it's really good. It's goes through a lot of reasoning why, it's all about negotiating, so I'll just say that.

    Banoo B: And regardless of what role you are in, negotiation skills are critical, so I'll put that on my list for sure. You know what, the tool that I use is Blinks. I'll look it up in Blinks first, see if I can find it and get a summary, and then go from there.

    Sean K: Well when I'm finished reading it Banoo, I will send it to you, how's that?

    Banoo B: That's even better.

    Sean K: I'm a slow reader, and I'm usually busy during the day, but there's usually half an hour or an hour at the end of the day, so it could be a while, but you'll get it.

    Banoo B: Okay, well I'm currently in Toronto, but if I'm in California, then you’re gonna have to mail it all the way to California. So your motivation to read it as fast as possible.

    Sean K: Or I could come visit you in California.

    Banoo B: Sounds good too. Listen Sean, it's been amazing. If our listeners want to reach out to you or your company, how can they connect? What's the best way to find you and connect with you?

    Sean K: Well I'm pretty reachable. You could always reach me on LinkedIn as I mentioned, it's Sean Kogan, or just my first name, sean@recruitinginmotion.com, just email, I'm traditional like that. So email or LinkedIn or whatever, or you could just look me up on the web.

    Banoo B: That sounds excellent. Well thanks, we appreciate you making the time and hopefully we'll talk again, really happy to have had you on the podcast. Thanks Sean.

    Sean K: Well thank you for having me, this has been fun.

    Banoo B: Thanks.