#TalentQA | 7 min read

#TalentQA: Hung Lee, Curator of Recruiting Brainfood and co-founder @ Workshape

Francesca Greane
Written by Francesca Greane

We recently sat down with Hung Lee, curator of successful recruiting newsletter Recruiting Brainfood, and co-founder of tech talent matching service Workshape.io.

Hung shared some advice on how recruiters and HR professionals can keep up-to-date in an industry that is constantly evolving, and how recruiting and sourcing will continue to be impacted by the rise in digital and technology.


Third Republic (TR): Let’s start by talking about Recruiting Brainfood. How did you come up with the idea for the newsletter?

Hung Lee (HL): Like a lot of things I do, it wasn’t about a strategy or having a grand plan or vision of what this could or should be. It really emerged from me recognising that there was so much great recruiting content out there, but I never personally had time to read it all, so I started bookmarking everything.

I realised I had this massive archive of content I was enjoying and wondered what would happen if I could make it more public. So really, Recruiting Brainfood started off like a bookmarking service that I decided to make public and, before I knew it, it became a newsletter that people were enjoying.


TR: Did you anticipate it would become as popular as it has?

HL: No! When I first launched it, my view was to use it as a way to collate content and then, if people liked it then great, but if they didn’t that was ok too. I never had this ambition of having thousands of people reading it every week and I think that helped because I wasn’t setting myself these huge ambitions which could lead to disappointment if they weren’t met.

There was never an end goal in that respect, so it was easy for me to keep doing it even when there wasn’t any traction. But then people begun advocating for it, and I saw a spike in engagement, and I guess it reached a place where everyone heard about it and had FOMO if they weren’t subscribed!  


TR: Why do you think it has become such a phenomenon?

HL: The internet is too big, and it’s only getting bigger. One of the benefits of the social web is user generated content, but we don’t realise that it is taking an increasing amount of time to go through it all; after all, every year there is ten times more data out there than previously.

I think Recruiting Brainfood is an example of trying to make the internet smaller by curating content and increasing access. It doesn’t cover access, but you know that if you sign up to it you won’t be far off the mark with staying up to date.


TR: We have seen a surge in recruitment events lately; what are some of your must-attend for recruiters and sourcers today?

HL: There’s a few coming up in the next few months, and from September it starts going crazy; there’s a lot of great things in Amsterdam and Berlin around this time. For instance, Sourcing Summit Europe purely focuses on the activity of sourcing and provides a great learning opportunity.

There’s also Hiring Success in Berlin, held by Smart Recruiters, and I’m impressed by their attempt to do something different with this because they’re much more focused on non-sourcing topics like inclusion and how we navigate and build recruitment processes.


TR: We live in an increasingly digital world; how can recruiters keep up to date with the ever-evolving technology and techniques in the industry? 

HL: Getting on things like Recruiting Brainfood help, and generally getting into online communities is something you have to do. 10 years ago, when I was working as a recruitment agent, there was no concept of any community between recruiters aside from maybe hanging around with work colleagues.

This has changed significantly in the last 5 years or do, and there are a lot of brand agnostic communities that have sprung up as a means to share knowledge, stay connected, and keep up-to-date.


TR: Do you think that social, or social recruiting, is becoming more important for sourcing?

HL: If you speak to someone who is new to recruiting or works in the more classical sense then their answer would always be yes. But those people who are working in a more modern way are moving away from describing it as social recruiting, because they know that almost everyone has a social footprint and it doesn’t make anyone particularly different to have this online presence.

Social recruiting and recruiting have become ubiquitous and it would be unusual to recruit someone without doing any sort of ‘social recruiting’.


TR: If social isn’t the modern way of recruiting, what is going to happen?

HL: Recruiting is about the where the direction of information is; it has always been about recruiters going out there and finding information and bringing it back and it is fundamentally information retrieval. I think this type of behaviour is going to be challenged by a complete reversal of how information is going to flow. I don’t think recruiters are going to be retrieving and it will be more about information attraction i.e. how do recruiters create a digital place for themselves that candidates want to come into?

Engagement is one of the main problems in recruitment now, and if you can’t find candidates then you can’t engage them, but the old school way of hunting people down is coming to an end, and the way in which you need to interact with a person is to attract them to you. This is going to force a big shift in the behaviours we are used to; recruiters won’t be trawling through databases and doing outreach but instead will be creating assets which attract people towards you and provide the opportunity to have a different conversation.

It’s moving away from a sales mentality and more towards inbound marketing because you need to be able to attract people voluntarily, and in a way that provides value from the experience, and I think the ability to do so is going to be one of the main things that separate the average from the successful recruiters.


TR: Do you think artificial intelligence will improve candidate sourcing tools?

HL: Yes, and I don’t think anyone can say any differently. Manual sourcing is probably coming to the end of its phase, and that’s really why the future of recruitment will be more of an attraction thing, because sourcing all about human beings interrogating systems for information.

There is no reason why you couldn’t get a bot to do that more efficiently; if you’re looking in a database of 30 million people then it’s not difficult to see why getting a bot to do it makes more sense because they can execute that search perfectly.


TR: What are the other innovations you see with candidate sourcing?

HL: We look at searching and sourcing as one of the things that will be automated but we have to remember that it goes both ways. People probably only think about how the likes of AI affects how recruiters search for candidates, but I can see candidates also starting to use bots to do their searches because it’s highly repetitive, and there is a lot of noise at those first stages of engagement, so I think that candidate focused bots will start appearing as an evolutionary response to the market.

I’ve already seen instances of candidates building scripts that identify jobs and send the first application in, and I think that this will begin to catch on to the point that we will have bot-to-bot conversations as the first point of contact between recruiters and candidates.


TR: Workshape operates within the niche skill set of developers.  Do you think that recruiting in these niche areas has gotten harder for businesses? If so, why?

HL: I think it’s primarily because of demand; you can argue that there is not a single company out there who is not trying to become a software company and that’s creating a huge demand for the technical skills and digital literacy necessary to enable companies to do that.

So not only is the demand very high, but the barriers to entry for these types of roles are pretty high because there is a period of time and amount of experience necessary before you can say you’re a developer. As a result, there’s an absolute constraint on the number of developers compared to the number of jobs.

I think this problem is confounded by the fact that, a lot of the time, the people doing the recruiting don’t know exactly what they’re hiring for and are making decisions that aren’t based on a position of knowledge or market understanding or are using an assessment method that isn’t aligned to the job function.

There’s also a trend towards pedigree hiring, when candidates get the job because they have worked at a previous company with a big name. I think these things compound into a recruitment crisis and makes it even harder to recruit developers.


TR: Do you think that, in these niche markets, specialist recruiters and agencies will thrive and drive more value for clients?

HL: No question; when you’re working a specific market vertical you build up a strong network of talent and that’s where your value lies for the people you are hiring and hiring for.

Those agents will compete to be the key person in their industry and there will probably be a fight to be that top recruiter because they will have locked up the clients and candidates who will all want to work with them first because of their network.


TR: What do you think about the recruitment industry today? Has it changed over the last few years and if so, how?

HL: The industry gets a lot of stick and, in many respects, I understand why because everyone has had a bad candidate experience, but I think the perception is changing. I think the industry has gotten more diverse in terms of the types of recruiters who are out there, and they are now being seen more as the people who can educate businesses and candidates.

On the agency side specifically, I am seeing businesses committed to working ethically and, whilst this might not be the most profitable way to operate, they are making their candidate experience a priority and I think in the long-term people will want to work with these agencies as a result.

From an in-house perspective I think the role itself is being elevated and is moving away from an administrative role or a subset of HR, and more into a role in its own right where recruitment-type people are stepping into the position.

Both of these changes point towards a higher commitment for the quality of work from recruiters across the board and encourage me that the industry’s perception will continue to change. 


TR: What are some of the challenges you are worried about in the future?

HL: This is difficult, because there are a number of recruiters; you have agents operating as a third-party, in-house recruiters, and now an RPO model.

The changes in recruitment are going to affect these different parts of the industry differently, and so what is a challenge for one aspect might be a very positive thing for another.