#TalentQA | 5 min read

#TalentQA: Laura Peakall, Talent Acquisition Manager @ OVO Energy

Francesca Greane
Written by Francesca Greane

The latest in our Talent Leaders Q&A series we spoke with Laura Peakall, Talent Acquisition Manger at OVO Energy.

Laura shared her views on the difficulties she faces acquiring talent in today’s increasing digital and technologically focused world, and how she is working to address the burgeoning skills gap that is threatening the advancement of technological innovation in businesses across the world.


Third Republic (TR): Can you give us an overview of your experience in the talent acquisition industry? 

Laura Peakall (LP): I initially started out working in a small recruitment agency where I covered recruitment for essentially the whole of technology across both permanent and contract markets. I stayed for three years, and this gave me a great understanding of the ins and outs of recruiting across the technology sector, however I knew that I wanted to move in-house and so eventually made the move to Sky, where I was brought on as an internal technology recruiter hiring across a number of business functions for them throughout Europe. I then worked at Adthena, where I led the talent strategy and recruitment for our 3 global offices, still recruiting technology but also across sales, marketing, product and more.  


TR: How do you think that talent acquisition has changed during your time in the industry?

LP: Working in-house has become a lot more aspirational that it was five years ago. When I was in agency, in-house teams didn’t source - their position was mostly about booking interviews. Nowadays, in-house teams have become much better at sourcing and investing into innovative new tools. To reflect this, the agency model has had to become smarter than it was 6 years ago; now success is contingent on specialising and operating in a niche market that you truly understand.


TR: What do you think the influence of technology and digital is on the talent acquisition industry? 

LP: When I started 5-6 years ago you could put out job ads and get applications, and you might use LinkedIn but only for an especially niche role. Now, recruiters use it for every single job; LinkedIn is used more, job boards being used less and less, and there are new technology tools, new chrome APIs, new gamification technology and new HR tech on a daily basis. Alongside this, it is becoming much easier to find candidate information online as a result of the increasing number of search tools that are out there. Because the information is so accessible online, the way that people have to engage with talent is fundamentally changing and talent acquisition teams are having to adapt to this.


TR: What is your biggest hiring challenge as a result of this age of digital technology and digital transformation?

LP: Everyone is now using the same tools and reaching out to the same people, so you have to be really smart about how you approach candidates and about your messaging. When people first begun using LinkedIn they had a very ‘spray and pray’ approach, but now they are being forced to really personalise their messaging and take a different approach when contacting potential candidates.


TR: And have you seen candidate behaviour change as a result of this digitalisation? 

LP: Yes, I think so, I think particularly in the technology market candidates rarely have to look for work and, as a result, it’s become a much more passive market because they know that the jobs will come to them. It used to be a more client-driven model but now the impetus is on the candidates and you have to serve them in the best way possible in order to get their attention.


TR: Have you altered your talent sourcing methods as a result of these changes in behaviour?

LP: We’ve learnt that you need to be smart with your behaviour, and to truly understand what makes you unique and your employer proposition so that you can articulate it effectively. You also can’t message everyone on the internet; you have to be niche and selective and truly understand the market if you want to get the attention of the right people.


TR: What advice would you give to other talent acquisition professionals in how to navigate this evolving landscape?

LP: Candidate experience has to be at the forefront of everything you do. You have to treat candidates well; things like giving feedback in a day or two has become expected and if you aren’t able to meet these expectations you’ll seriously damage your brand reputation. You also have to be able to move very quickly otherwise you’ll find yourself missing out on the good candidates. I’d also recommend that you really focus on building out relationships and building your network; rather than just spraying and praying and hoping for the best you need to take the time to understand the market you’re recruiting from.


TR: Do you believe there to be a digital skills gap in terms of businesses being able to carry out digital transformation?

LP: Yes, absolutely, and I think there are certain markets where I think that certain salaries have become inflated as a result. For instance, for certain programming languages or parts of data science the salaries have grown because employers are throwing money around in order to access that niche pool of talent, so candidates know they can take advantage of this perceived skills gap.

Probably the most common theme I see come up at recruitment events is this expectation vs. budget problem everyone is experiencing with technology roles; it’s becoming harder and harder to find the talent that matches the level you need, at the rate you can afford. As a result, Adthena have had to often look outside of the UK when hiring technology professionals because there is less of a disparity there.


TR: Do you think this salary inflation will level out?

I think there’s always going to be an upwards trajectory, because the roles that tend to inflate in the technology and data industry are roles that we could never foresee becoming so critical. It takes a long time for people to be upskilled at the level businesses need, so there will always be areas that have gaps. And, because of the rate at which technology moves, it’s difficult for businesses and educational institutes to predict where the demand will be in enough time to provide the necessary skills.


TR: Do you think that recruitment agencies can provide value in these skills-short markets?

LP: I think there will always be a place for recruitment agencies, because in-house teams will always be under pressure to fill their gaps. However, in order to be successful, these agencies need to specialise; they can’t get away with how I did things 6 years ago and be a generalist in the technology market. Recruiters need to be niche so that they truly understand what they are looking for and can work to build up their network. Casting the wide net doesn’t work when you’re recruiting in the technology space; you need to have a candidate pool and you need to really understand the industry. I think agencies that operate in this way can definitely provide value.

I also think those that are doing a lot in terms of their employer branding and getting out to events and emerging themselves into their markets are great because those are the sorts of things that internal teams are doing, so it shows a recruitment agency being forward-thinking if they are doing the same.


TP: So, what do agencies have to do in order to make themselves stand out from an inundated market and show they can bring this value to clients?

LP: If an in-house recruiter releases a role to an agency they really do expect a good quality of candidate; it’s definitely a quality over quantity case and agencies need to be able to deliver on this. Consultants need to really understand what they’re looking for and be able to identify quality in the talent pool if they want to make a good impression on a client!