We recently spoke with Ellie Brown, Head of People Ops at Oodle Finance as part of our #TalentQA series, where we interview leaders in talent management and recruitment from a range of businesses from tech startups to well-known fashion brands.
Ellie talks about the benefits and challenges of working in talent acquisition for a startup business. She also discusses candidate expectations when it comes to interview processes and what it takes to be a successful recruiter in today’s increasingly digital age.
Third Republic (TR): Could you start off by telling us a bit about your career and how you got to where you are today as Head of People Ops at Oodle Finance?
Ellie Brown (EB): I started my career in HR just over 6 and a half years ago now, after applying for an HR apprentice role at the University of Oxford. Recruitment was a big part of the role. I really enjoyed the fact that I was encouraged to be innovative and creative in the ways that we sourced candidates. Then I took a role in the private sector, which was also my move into the world of tech. I joined the SaaS company, Adestra as their HR Advisor and eventually became HR Manager. This was a great role that helped me to build a fantastic network in tech recruitment and ultimately sparked my love of tech.
After completing my masters Adestra announced they had been sold and it was time for something new. I was really proactive in my job search and made a list of all the tech companies I wanted to work for. I contacted the companies on the list, even the ones without active HR openings. At the time Oodle didn’t have an open position, but they ended up offering me a job. It’s all about being proactive in your job search, go after what you want!
TR: Could you describe some of the benefits and challenges of working in recruitment for a startup business?
EB: Generally, it’s a candidate led experience because in a startup business you don’t have set processes or set ways of doing things. It’s all about learning as you go. It’s exciting starting processes from scratch and being part of building a successful business. The lack of structure can sometimes be a challenge though, as it leaves a lot of room for managers to do their own thing, meaning processes aren’t so coherent. In a startup communication is key, it’s vital to bring managers and teams in on the process. There’s a lot of relationship building, not only with candidates but with the various teams in the business.
TR: In your opinion, how important is employer branding when it comes to sourcing and engaging technical talent?
EB: For us, it’s essential because we’re building brand awareness from scratch. Employer brand is something that should be a focus for all small businesses looking to hire. It’s an opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition. I’d say for larger brands it’s more about brand reputation than awareness.
With tech talent, what I’ve found is, the more that you get your name out there in a way that’s authentic to your culture, rather than looking like your spamming the market with jobs, you start to build the employer brand and culture in their mind. This will help you to start engaging people in conversations much earlier.
TR: What sort of strategies do you adopt in terms of attracting new talent and maintaining the engagement of current employees at Oodle?
EB: As well as using some of the typical recruitment methods, we’re always thinking of new ways to attract talent. Events and meetup groups are definitely part of our strategy. With events, you really have the opportunity to demonstrate your culture. When it comes to maintaining the engagement of current employees, our Head of Talent Experience, Claire, is fantastic. She thinks of everything and not just the flashy things. It’s all the little things that help to enhance our culture. For example, on ‘National Cookie Day’ Claire ordered cookies to the office and we all donated to our chosen company charity.
TR: Throughout your time in the industry, have you recognised a change in candidate behaviours?
EB: With the rise of websites such as Glassdoor, tech candidates are much more aware of the power they have (and rightly so). They could go to any company they choose. Armed with that information, there’s definitely been a change in attitude and the way people job hunt. Expectations are much higher in terms of not only the package on offer but the overall process and experience.
I see this as a good thing, it’s great to be challenged and will ensure that processes are as efficient as possible. Candidates are quick to express if they’re not having a positive experience. You’ve got to keep candidates happy and stay relevant. If your competitors are doing something that you’re not, candidates will be some of the first to tell you, which is, of course, positive. It allows a unique insight into the market.
TR: In your opinion, how can businesses best react to the changes in candidate behaviours?
EB: I think it’s about being open and honest as to what candidates can expect from you and what’s on offer. Be transparent about all aspects of the role, including the potential challenges. This way you’ll avoid a mismatch of expectations later down the line.
I also think getting feedback throughout the entire process from your candidates is key. This way you know where there’s room for improvement and can work on refining your processes. Being aware of the market is definitely really important, your competition will always be doing something different to you. Staying on top of what your competitors are doing will ensure that you don’t fall behind. There’s a network that I’m part of on Slack, which has over 3,000 internal recruiters. It’s groups like this that really help me to keep my finger on the pulse as to what’s going on in the industry.
TR: Would you say that being a recruiter in today’s day and age requires more advanced relationship and people management skills?
EB: There’s definitely a real shift in process and I think the tech industry is leading this. Due to the fast-moving, competitive nature of tech roles, tech companies are doing things differently. They’re creating an exceptional candidate experience and it’s very clear to see that the companies that aren’t placing an emphasis on this, are getting left behind.
The relationship and engagement side of things will continue to be the thing that differentiates businesses and employers. There’s so much tech around now that can automate a lot of the process, therefore placing an emphasis on candidate experience is key not to lose the personal aspect.
TR: Finally, do you think that recruitment agencies can provide value in these competitive, fast-moving markets?
Yeah, I think it would be a lie to say that agencies don’t have a place in today’s market. We’ve grown from 130 to over 350 employees this year. If we didn’t have help with filling some of these vacancies, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve the resource that we have. However, it’s all about what value they’re bringing to your company?
There are, of course, lots of agencies out there that don’t add value. But if you truly partner with the agencies you work with, there’s a lot that they could offer. It’s all about finding the agencies who will take the time to understand your business and culture. At the end of the day, it’s not just about acquiring the skills, it’s about hiring the right people too – the people that fit your company culture.
If you’d like to take part in our #TalentQA series or you’re looking to source technical talent, get in touch today!