#TalentQA | 6 min read

#TalentQA: Oana Iordachescu, Talent Acquisition Manager – AI Lab @ Criteo

Francesca Greane
Written by Francesca Greane

Third Republic’s Talent Leaders Q&A series sees those in the industry share their thoughts, opinions and experiences of working in the ever-evolving world of talent acquisition.

We recently spoke with Oana Iordachescu, Talent Acquisition Manager of the AI Lab at Criteo, to hear how she overcomes the unique challenges of hiring for one of the most cutting-edge technologies today…


Third Republic (TR): How have you seen talent acquisition change in your time in the industry? 

Oana Iordachescu (OI): When I started ten years ago in Romania, in agency recruitment, it was very different to working in internal global organisations that I work with now. Over that time, mobility has increased, and I’ve seen more local businesses going international when it comes to recruiting talent and being more inclusive. It used to be about going to a certain university or having a certain background, but now organisations have abandoned this archaic mindset and are more open to where the best talent is and are investing in the next generation to ensure business continuity and innovation.

The tooling part has also become much more accessible; back in the day only big organisations could afford ATSs and CRMS, but now you have a lot of free tools that small and medium-sized organisations can integrate. This way, instead of filling in 20000 lines spreadsheets, automation makes room for autonomy, flexibility and personalized candidate care.


TR: How have you seen candidate behaviour change? 

OI: Candidates have become much more educated in their options, and I love that! They are considering what opportunities they have, and the impact on their life, and in general are definitely more educated and having more long-term focused conversations with their potential future employers.


TR: Do you believe that technical candidates are harder to source and/or engage now, as a result of their increased education?  

OI: They are definitely harder to engage; the multiple option situation is creating an influx of offers and indecision amongst candidates, so it’s harder to get and keep their attention. When it comes to sourcing it’s still hard because the demands are so complex making the matching harder than before. The emergence of new technologies and new markets are for sure keeping recruiters on their toes.

There is also more awareness of privacy. Now, in the era of social media, recruiters realise the importance of building a personal brand as experts in their market, and being the go-to person for information. Scraping email addresses and mass mailing, are still common practices unfortunately, but definitely falling out of fashion.


TR: How do you currently overcome these sourcing and engagement difficulties at Criteo?

OI: For us, it’s important to create communities; we connect our online and offline worlds by planning a wide range of events. For instance, we hold small MeetUps, workshops, and bigger conferences with external speakers, and we have many partnerships with high schools and universities, as well as offering alternative education through courses and sharing session to ensure we invest in the grass roots with diversity in mind. For us, it’s all about being consistent in what we are offering and ensuring that we are catering for a wide-range of communities.


TR: Do you think the rise in digital and technology will continue to influence and alter the industry?

OI: For sure; we have already seen a couple of changes that have altered the mindset of the industry – for instance GDPR made talent acquisition functions be more mindful about data storage and data usage! That influences how you nurture your pipelines and creates urgency with how you create content or interaction for your talent pool.

Artificial intelligence and automation are becoming part of the day to day; we talk about automated scheduling, creating AI-based communication through chatbots, and assessing candidates without human interaction, prediction engines for candidate success, recommendation systems. This is just the beginning and this generation is the beta tester.


TR: What other emerging trends are you seeing in the talent acquisition industry? 

OI: Personalisation is very much pushing us into a new age of recruitment, and the intersectionality between recruitment marketing, talent acquisitions, public relations, technology and creative department are giving birth to wonderful campaigns and adding new skills to old job titles.

The global political environment has heightened employee sensitivity to diversity and inclusion. The business issue of diversity and inclusion now touches issues of employee engagement, fairness, human rights, and even social justice and organizations need to cater and adapt their practices and communication.


TR: You specialise in recruiting for the AI Lab at Criteo. What unique challenges do you experience hiring talent for such a niche and emerging technology? 

OI: I came here specifically for this challenge, because the market is so hyped at the moment. As a result, inbound applications are on the rise because people want to be involved in anything that mentions machine learning or artificial intelligence. There is a push and awareness from people in the market that if they want to be involved in the next-gen tech then they need to try and get in now, so you’re getting a lot of developers taking courses on deep learning because they realise it is coming. And that’s obviously good for us!

But the challenge is the depth of this topic. Artificial intelligence have been out there for more than 50 years, but not many had access to the environment to practise the craft as you need powerful machines and large datasets. With these more commoditized, the balance for us is between the learning agility and motivation and how deep candidates’ understanding of computer science and modelling is. We can provide the extensive environment, but you really need to have those elements nailed down, so we focus on looking for those types of individuals.


TR: So, for your industry, talent acquisition is really being held back by a lack of education?

OI: We realise our reality; you have experts in the theory of artificial intelligence, but you need that applied knowledge and engineers are just starting to work on this now. For instance, we are offering an internal bootcamp for machine learning every quarter, to provide R&D employees a hands-on, immersive training and education.

AI is the key differentiator and competitive advantage of the 21st century, so the Criteo AI Lab brings together researchers, machine learning engineers, software engineers and data scientists who aim to apply their experience and expertise to Criteo’s massive datasets and cutting-edge platform.

We also just launched for non-Criteo employees a new outreach programme, a 5 day workshop delivered by Aurélien Géron, author of Hands-On Machine Learning with Scikit-Learn and TensorFlow (O'Reilly Media).

This is a huge investment, but we know it will help the conversation, the depth of knowledge and talent in the community.


TR: Do you think it will get harder or easier to recruit this talent as AI and other emerging technologies become more mainstream?

It always becomes easier to identify candidates when more people do it, because you have more markets and individuals with the right skills and level, but the competition then also becomes tougher. There is also a lot of concern when it comes to ethics using artificial intelligence, which is adding challenges to meet the complex expectations in this industry.


TR: You have also recruited technical talent for huge companies such as Facebook and Booking.com. What challenges did you experience here, and what did you learn from them? 

Facebook is a world wide known brand and understandably very attractive for engineers for the technical challenge, environment and benefits. As a TA you had to make sure people do understand the level of complexity and autonomy that is required. For Booking.com I joined right in the middle of a hypergrowth, at a time when the speed and scale of talent acquisitions operations for the technology department was rarely seen in Europe. The motivated, skilled team I had the chance to work with made the experience a very special one.

The similarity between these three countries and companies I activated in – Criteo, Facebook, Booking.com is the dedication in incorporating global talent, creating an inclusive environment and strengthening the power of teams through diversity.