#TalentQA | 6 min read

#TalentQ&A: Tom Pyle, Head of Talent @ Pusher

Francesca Greane
Written by Francesca Greane

The latest in our Talent Q&A Series, we spoke with Tom Pyle.

Drawing on his experience building technical teams at fast-growing start-up Pusher, as well as enterprise business Badoo, Tom discussed how, whilst the rise of technology is causing the talent acquisition industry to evolve, the human-centric nature of the industry can never be replaced, and today’s modern recruiters should therefore continue to focus their attention on refining the human element of their trade.



Third Republic (TR): How have you seen talent acquisition change in your time in the industry? What do you think has driven these changes?

Tom Pyle (TP): Firstly, the market has become incredibly competitive when it comes to acquiring talent, and I think coming out of the 90s companies in the tech space realised quite how important their talent was to their success, and that really drove talent acquisition changes as a whole. I think we’ve definitely seen the customer experience become increasingly critical in recent years, and to reflect this there’s been a trend of organisations implementing, and focusing on, their own internal talent functions, and not just relying on agencies. There’s also been the development of a wide range of technologies and software that have changed how we engage and communicate with candidates, and how we manage the entire process. 


TR: You mention recent technological advancements; do you think the rise in digital and technology will continue to influence and alter the industry?

TP: I think it will, but I hope it does so as a supplement and not a replacement to human interaction. Technology can be incredibly powerful in its ability to support the processes that surround talent engagement, but you have to couple it with well thought about human touches and interactions if you want it to be a real success. Take the world of automation, for example. Although it can ease the workload for recruiters, mass outreach is easily recognised and ineffective – especially when you are working with passive candidates - and so it is only by combining the human element with that technology that you will start being impactful and see your results increase. 


TR: What emerging talent acquisition trends do you think we will see as a result of this ever-changing landscape?

TP: One thing we’re seeing a lot of support for at the moment is blind tasking, artificial intelligence and machine learning. I think these technologies and trends will change talent acquisition for good, but it comes back to the point above which is that we cannot rely too much on the technologies. At some point in the process, your candidate is going to meet a human, and if it’s too late in the process that could be detrimental; for instance, what if you only met your candidate in person at the final stage. One of the reasons these are so popular is because there is a lot of stigma around biases because – yes – they are inherently a bad thing, but they are ingrained in our nature and so I don’t think we should try and fix them by just implementing a load of technology; we have to coach biases out and understand them, and for that you need the human element.


TR: How have you witnessed candidate behaviour changing in this digital age?

This is an interesting one, because every human behaves differently at different touchpoints. I don’t think their behaviours as a whole have changed, but the way they’re engaging in the first few steps of the recruitment process certainly has. For instance, there are now lots of platforms springing up where candidates can interact with companies, and there’s an emphasis on doing so in a much more personalised manner and ensuring the candidate can understand the business in more detail from the offset. So, the whole engagement piece has changed due to this rise of technology, but the behaviours in general remain diverse. 


TR: Are technical candidates harder to source as a result of these changes?

TP: I wouldn’t say they’re harder to find because talent still exists in the same place. There are definitely new trendy ways to find them, such as using GitHub for software engineers, but they’re still fundamentally where they have always been. Again, it’s back to that engagement piece being tough, and so it now needs to be considered at all levels. For instance, at Pusher, we were making some key senior engineering hires, and we know that project could last between six months and a year because those candidates are so difficult to engage. So, we focus on how we can do something different over that time period to stand out and really catch someone’s attention.


TR: Why is this engagement piece so much harder then? Can this be overcome?

TP: We operate on the principle that if a candidate is interviewing with us, then they’re interviewing at 5 different places. Every candidate is being inundated with requests from businesses, because their skill set is so in demand, and so it really becomes about ensuring that our behaviours are the best representation of our business possible. Reflecting honesty in your process will not only increase retention down the road, but I think this is what can drive the decision making on what job a candidate ultimately takes; in a market when they have so much choice, you simply have to stand out in this way. In this market, you also have to operate on the principle that, if a candidate chooses not to join your company it clearly wasn’t the right match in the first place.


TR: With this in mind, would you say that employer branding is now key to talent acquisition process?

TP: Yes; but employer branding comes down to everything you are putting out there about your company telling the right kind of story. You need to have an element of selling the dream, but you also have to tell candidates the truth. We hire people to solve business problems, so you have to set that expectation, and if someone finds those problems interesting then they will ultimately solve them better. Ultimately, if you don’t brand your company truthfully, and with this as the focus, then you’ll hire people who just don’t stay very long!


TR: You have been commended for your innovative ways of hiring; can you expand on how you look to source and engage technical talent?

TP: I’ve been an advocate of CV-less processes for a while; although I haven’t rolled it out in its entirety, I’m starting to prove the value of it through the data and will hopefully implement it across the entirety of Pusher. We need to remove the opportunity for biases, and train them out, and I think by removing the CV and focusing more on what potential candidates have actually done we can focus on what they’ve done and can do. So, instead, our application process focuses on asking real questions; there’s a question in the industry as to whether a lengthy application form puts candidates off, but I think it’s meant to because  

those people who are really interested in Pusher make tonnes of effort and this also helps us to optimise our funnel. By removing CVs from the process, we also level the playing field for candidates from companies we may not have heard of, rather than just going for those who have come from the big-name ones. So, I guess that’s my biggest innovation!


TR: What tools or techniques would you recommend to someone who is struggling to find or recruit the right talent?

TP: My biggest recommendation is to take pride in the company you work for; you can spend hours trawling the internet on different sites, writing Boolean strings, reading profiles etc, but then you could fail by writing a half-arsed reach out because you want to automate to save time. The sourcing bit isn’t hard, it’s just time consuming, but don’t waste all that time by automating reach outs – otherwise you’re just burning the market quicker than you’re filling jobs.

You’re going to get the best results by dedicating time and energy to the engagement piece. Even if you get negative responses it’s not a negative outcome, because you’re still engaging someone to some extent. Really, you should aim for a 1 in 3 response rates; with 1 in 5 being positive as a subset; i.e. those people who will actually start interviewing and enter your funnel.


TR: You have experience building teams at both start-ups, with your current role at Pusher, and larger enterprises like Badoo. How do the challenges of hiring technical talent differ between the two?

TP: I see hiring as incredibly environmental, and it can sometimes be too easy to go into a company and say “I’m going to build a team because I’ve done it before”. What you really have to do is evaluate the company, work out what the OKRs and business strategy are, and then tailor the solution to that specific need. Badoo, for instance, needed quality at volume so we had 7 or 8 recruiters working across subsections of the business, whilst at Pusher we have grown more organically and thoughtfully, hiring smaller amounts of smart people to solve difficult problems which has meant we have had to be more focused on the next stages and what is coming in the next few quarters. 

Overall, the principles of recruiting across the two businesses remained the same, but adaptability is always important in hiring. For me, when I go to an interview, I always ask what the business goal is and why I would be hired, so that I can formulate a solution to fix it.