The Future of IT Recruitment in 8 questions
The article “O Futuro do Recrutamento é Tecnológico” (The Future of Recruitment is Technological) by Sara Calado is available in its entirety in the May / June 2020 print edition of Pessoas magazine and also online. The interviewees of the article include André Ribeiro Pires, from Multipessoal; Miguel Abreu, from Ray Human Capital; François-Pierre Puech, from Robert Walters; Carlos Maia, from Hays Portugal; and Pedro Oliveira, from Landing.jobs; and the cover theme is the importance of mental health in companies.
Let’s begin this Q&A format with Duarte Gorrão Fernandes, COO of KWAN:
1 - How long has KWAN been in the market and what differentiates KWAN from other companies?
Our activity dates back to 2007, the year in which the owner and founder of Grupo RUPEAL (group that owns KWAN), decided to launch himself as an entrepreneur because, as you can read on our website, “KWAN started because a developer believed there should be a more respectful way of recruiting: Treating people as they deserve.”
A The KWAN philosophy, inspired by the 1996 film, Jerry Maguire, involves serving the tech professional, the candidate, and our main focus is to find the best professional projects for the people we meet. Our focus is on getting to know the best professionals to present them with the best project, while the rest of the market is more focused on looking for talent to fill clients' openings. It may seem like a nuance, but when it comes to making difficult decisions, the difference is huge when having in mind the candidates’ benefit. Recruiting, maintaining and developing tech teams is in our DNA, since we develop our own projects and products, of which the most recognized in the market is InvoiceXpress InvoiceXpress (certified online invoicing software). For this reason, KWAN perfectly understands the challenges of each client, not only from the supplier's point of view, but because we have the same talent challenges in the group as the customers for whom we recruit. This point differentiates KWAN from the market in the sense that the vast majority of companies operating in the recruitment sector are focused on finding candidates, but do not directly know the challenges of managing and maintaining teams in their products. The technological projects we find for the professionals who work with us can be carried out from our offices, in Lisbon and Porto, or directly at the premises of our national and international clients.
2 - The IT sector remains an area where there is more demand than labor. What are the characteristics of recruitment in this sector?
Contrary to what happens in other sectors, Information Technologies enjoy full employability, since the scarce assets here are professionals specialized in technology and not so much the companies that hire them.
This fact means that recruitment approaches need to be different. In most cases, the tech professionals will not answer to a job advertisement because they don’t need to, so it is necessary to treat them as if they were clients. Based on their profile, we will actively search for a project according to their motivations, soft and hard-skills, whether with our current clients or new clients in Portugal and abroad.
Whenever we approach someone in the market, most of the time that person is not actively looking for a job and it is necessary to have the ability to add value to the approach, offering something in return, to then have the legitimacy to start a conversation, where it is necessary to be aware that it may not result in immediate recruitment, but that it may prove useful in the future. If the person is not actively looking, they will only change to something that adds real value to their career.
One of the strategies we use is to share the market wages with our Tech Salary Calculator, so that whoever uses this tool recognizes us as a reference of knowledge about the market to whom they can turn to when deciding it's time to change jobs. Meet-ups, e-books, blog posts, etc., are some more strategies that can be used in the same way.
We may start a conversation with an excellent candidate, but that truly serving them may mean advising the candidate to stay where they are, maintaining a conversation over time, so that when it really makes sense, the candidate can change to a truly challenging and enriching opportunity.
It’s also mandatory that companies develop strategies that take into account a long candidate lifecycle and that aren’t only focused on the immediate; during which several discussions can be initiated, while the outcome can take months and in some cases even years. We may start a conversation with an excellent candidate, but that truly serving them may mean advising the candidate to stay where they are, maintaining a conversation over time, so that when it really makes sense, the candidate can change to a truly challenging and enriching opportunity. Throughout my professional career, I became a client of several companies that operate in this market and the norm was to try to convince people instead of serving them, often resulting in a project placement that guarantees a billing for the company, but that is far from ideal for the candidate.
Regarding the particularities of this sector, it is extremely important to mention that these professionals are approached via LinkedIn dozens, and in some cases up to hundreds of times a month, so it needs to be done with due care and with particular focus on the needs of the person, not the needs of the company. Agencies (also called consultants) that pressure their recruiters to recruit candidates via LinkedIn in an uncontrolled way, to close quick deals with their clients, are focusing on their results and not on serving the candidate. Now, in a market of shortage of professionals, this is a recipe for catastrophe.
3 - In a company like KWAN, what constraints have arisen with the contingency measures of the pandemic?
We are living in different times and, indeed, contingency measures are a “remedy” with too many side effects on the economy, and, yet, they are still the best we have for now.
Our first concern, as soon as we realized that the pandemic was going to arrive in Portugal, even a week before the first contingency measures were announced, was having all of our people working remotely from their homes, since the nature of our work allows us to do so.
There were some challenges with some of the people we have working with clients whose projects’ criticality and characteristics did not allow to start Teleworking as quickly as we would like, but it was still possible to do it in just a few days. In order to protect our employees, we even considered taking extreme measures and losing business if our customers were unable to have the projects prepared for remote work. Fortunately, the clients we work with went to great lengths to make this situation easier and our employees were sensitive to the challenge of our clients, which helped everything go smoothly. However, many of our partners no longer have the need to subcontract as many resources, due to the loss of projects at national and international level, and some of the teams, which are subcontracted to these partners, were dismissed. Our team of Ambassadors of KWAN (client and talent managers) formed a specific task force focused on reallocating these people to internal Group projects, as well as in other clients' projects, in areas where we saw the need of highly qualified manpower skyrocket (eg. digital commerce).
The media have kept us informed about the lay-offs and redundancies that are taking place and at KWAN we are doing everything we can to avoid having to dismiss anyone, and in some cases we have extended the deadlines in which we are willing to keep a collaborator even without having a project to allocate them to. We hope to be able to keep everyone, and even enter new clients with this talent that is now immediately available, as well as recruit more professionals for our teams, but we are aware that we live in a climate of enormous uncertainty and the context may change in a glimpse, forcing us to have to consider different solutions.
4 - What has changed in KWAN's activity?
Regarding the day-to-day work everything changed! Transferring the entire operation of the company to remote work required some adjustments. We stopped meeting in the break room or in the lounge to start bonding on Zoom or Skype, in the virtual cafe at 2pm, or on a Monday Breakfast at 9am, for example.
The meetings all started to be by video call, as well as the Onboardings of new collaborators or the celebrations of birthdays.
Small successes continue to be celebrated, but instead of having a cake in the break room, it is through a few words of praise on our internal communication platform, on which we even share what is our lunch that day.
Maintaining formal and informal communication channels has been key for the culture to suffer as little as possible from this forced distancing. This is a very important role for leaders.
In terms of new orders, we feel a slight slowdown, not so much in the number of orders, but in the time that the decisions end up taking, as a result of the adaptation of our clients to the new context that we now live in. We need to understand that a banking client with 5,000 employees cannot have the same transaction agility and adaptation to a totally new situation as a start-up with 10 people.
Another thing that has changed, and that is especially gratifying, is the fact that some of the companies with which we have a relationship, who are having to reduce headcount due to the circumstances, want to take an active role in the re-integration of people and for this we have made ourselves available to help pro-bono in the outplacement of its professionals, seeking to integrate them in our own or our partners’ projects, helping in the preparation of CV for interviews, salary negotiation, reorientation of the technological profile, or simply to serve as advisors in their issues related to the tech job market.
5 - Many recruiting companies are creating technological solutions. What will be technology’s role in the future of recruitment?
My particular belief is that as much as technology is a facilitator and enhancer of human activity, in many areas human contact will continue to be paramount, and recruitment is one of them.
I believe in using artificial intelligence to capture and evaluate talent. I believe in the use of technological tools to facilitate the organization of processes, searches of candidates in databases, communication between candidates, recruitment companies and final customers. And a lot has happened in this area, with the use of increasingly sophisticated Applicant Tracking Systems and with features that facilitate the recruiter's life in curriculum screening and management of recruitment processes, using tools such as AI, semantic research, real-time communication, etc. .
However, recruiting in a market of scarcity of candidates, is not doing 10,000 screenings, 1,000 interviews, psychotechnical tests, group dynamics, tech challenges, etc., to fill a position; even though there is already technology that does this relatively well with little human intervention. When there is a shortage of candidates, more than anything that has been described, the most important thing is to know the person's deep motivations and try to match them to the client's own motivations; Cultural Fit is just a dimension of the motivations at stake. And in the vast majority of cases these motivations are highly subjective, emotional and sometimes even unconscious.
In addition to this, it is often necessary to help the person to understand what is the best path for them (or not), something that a specialist in the market may know, while the candidate might have not yet realized all the dimensions of the situation. There are also many cases in which the candidate is not even the major decision maker in accepting a project, but rather his family, his wife / husband and his children. Even the most potent artificial intelligence using a quantum computer cannot deal with the amount of subjective and emotional variables that are behind the decision as a human does, and even if we get there it will still need to become commercially viable.
Although I believe that we will one day reach the moment of Singularity, in which we will have a Super General AI, capable of being superior to humans in all dimensions, I also believe that the defenders of the arrival of that moment in the coming years don’t take into account a set of new challenges that are emerging in the meantime. As an enthusiast of this theme, I believe that we are more than a hundred years from there.
Recruitment is inherently a people-centric activity whose biggest challenges are behavioral and subjective challenges that will not be solved for now only with the use of artificial intelligence. The future of this activity will therefore be facilitated by technology for all parties involved, especially in markets and positions of high contracting volume, but it will continue to be mostly developed by humans in a way more or less similar to what is done today: between people!
6 - Could these constraints bring opportunities?
Much has been said about the digital transformation being only really happening now, and in a forced way, because businesses have had to reinvent themselves quickly in order to survive the sudden change of context.
Going through this transformation requires talent specialized in technology and, in our case, this is what we are specialized in: finding, hiring and developing tech talent. So yes, we believe that the opportunities, in our case, will be far superior to the constraints that we are experiencing now.
7 - Will this period change the future of recruitment in the technology market?
I don't think it will change much. Our pace of interviews remains the same, as does the availability of candidates to do interviews.
This is a market where remote activities are relatively normal, so the only difference is that the use of technology as common as Video Call has increased.
The constraints that companies have to deal with can act as a catalyst for a massive adoption of the video call interview, at least at an early stage of the processes, and I believe that there may therefore be an opportunity to adopt these technologies faster in order to support the recruiter in the virtual interview, such as analyzing the candidate's micro-expressions, or even simply recording the interview for later review. However, these are “swampy waters” with a complex moral and ethical framework that is difficult to legislate.
8 - What potentials and weaknesses may exist in the increasingly technological recruitment processes of the future?
AThe biggest weakness that I identify is that the scarcity of resources is increasing due to two forces that point to opposite directions and that are creating a widening gap: - On one hand, population aging, which limits access to new professionals over time, across all sectors; - On the other, the increasing technological dependence, also across all sectors. Before, pure technology companies were the ones that hired tech talent, today, in the name of efficiency, all companies use technology and need to hire these professionals.
There are also some studies that indicate a decrease in the preference for training in information technology and computer science, which points in the same direction as the aging of the population, reducing the number of people available in this area.
On the other hand, if supply decreases and demand increases, there is an opportunity for companies that know how to use the best talent attraction strategies to further distance themselves from the competition. It is in this field that KWAN assumes itself as an asset for its clients, who can trust us to attract tech talent, in which we are specialized, so that they can focus on their core activities.