E231 | Bringing Transparency And Honesty Into The Recruitment Process with Ross Lauder
Hiring top talent –the right talent– is crucial to growing a business. Yet, so many companies get their recruitment process wrong. Clarity on what an A-Player looks like, and transparency with candidates in the process are just some of the missing elements that our guest this week noticed in many companies after falling into the world of recruitment.
This week on The Melting Pot, we learned from Ross Lauder, founder and CEO at Single Focus Talent. Before becoming the talented headhunter he is today, Ross was a tech sales manager, working for big firms like Dell and Hubspot. Today, he recruits salespeople across Europe and North America.
In this episode, we wanted to learn more from him about sales, and how the role of a salesperson has changed over time. Ross also shared his approach to recruitment and how he’s helping candidates in their careers. Also, what are people thinking about returning to the office, remote and hybrid work, and what’s happening in the labour market. Is the tech world awash with talented people after the big tech layoffs?
A great conversation.
Make sure to download and listen today!
On today’s podcast:
- How the sales process has changed over the years
- Moving from sales to recruitment
- A transparent and honest approach to recruitment
- What’s going on in the current labour market
- Remote or office? What candidates prefer
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Bringing Transparency And Honesty Into The Recruitment Process with Ross Lauder
Ross Lauder has worked for top organisations in the tech industry, like Dell, Three, and Hubspot. His experience in this space drove him to set up his own business and today, he’s the founder and CEO at Single Focus Talent, a boutique Executive Search & Career Specialist for the SaaS / Computer Software & Technology Driven Industries, with a focus on sales, operations and leadership roles across Europe and North America. Having a combined 40 years of experience across the team in software, financial services and technology companies, weirdly and uniquely they’ve actually worked in the roles they hire for, so they know what they’re talking about!
Ross comes from a background as a computer scientist by training and navigating into business. But, by coincidence, he ended up in sales, although he never thought of it as a career. After two decades in the tech sphere he “accidentally fell into recruitment”–as he puts it-, where he now finds unicorns, rockstars, multilingual people and everything in between for US-led Saas companies all over Europe and North America.
Sales as problem-solving
What comes to mind when you think about sales? For many, ‘sales’ has been a dirty word that gives an icky feeling when hearing it. We might visualise a salesman as somebody who’s grubby, and untrustworthy. Someone without a vocation for it. But, for Ross, a skilled salesperson is absolutely trustworthy and vocational. Selling is all about solving problems.
In the past, it was easy to be coin-operated in sales. In fact, the sales process has drastically changed over time. Years ago, when you went to Dixons, or Currys in the UK, to buy a washing machine, you would ask a salesperson for information on why this washing machine is good, and you would hope that they were telling you the truth. Then you would walk away, and it might break down in three months. Those days are gone, says Ross.
“Because a tribesman in Africa has access to more information on a phone than President Nixon did in his election campaign. That’s the reality of the new world we live in. It has completely and utterly democratised the purchasing process. So today your buyer is more informed than they’ve ever been before, and it actually furthers the sales process.”
At Hubspot, where Ross worked before they went to IPO, the philosophy is that 70% of the buying journey is now completed before the customer ever speaks to a salesperson. As a customer, if you already know what your problem is, you get all the way down for somebody to help you buy what you need to solve it.
What does a good salesperson look like
Ross is a firm believer that a good salesperson knows how to ask good questions and when to stop talking, and in that order. Although many people think that the role of marketing is to make a sale, it isn’t. The goal of marketing, says Ross, is to earn the right to have a conversation. But it also depends on what you’re selling.
“If you’re selling a subscription-based software solution that’s around 10K plus a year mark, you’re not taking an order for that product. A lot of the time you’re having a conversation that determines the need factor and the emotional reasons for that buy and then backing it up with justifiable logical reasons to confirm the sale.”
The conversion rates in SaaS from a pipeline to sale prospection bear that out. You’re looking at converting probably about 30% of your lead base into an active pipeline and then closing about 30% of that. Any good sales manager will have a 40% coverage ratio on their number to make sure they can hit it.
Moving from sales to recruitment
When Ross moved from sales to recruitment, he saw it as an opportunity to get the process right and make it more transparent.
“One of the things I say to people is you’ll always get the truth from me. And most people say to me, ‘oh, I’ve never heard back from a recruiter, or they told me what I wanted to hear, but I never heard from them again after that’. And I just felt it was very broken.”
As a broker and headhunter, Ross’s role is that of a matchmaker with his existing network with some level of scale. He’s built a database of over three million people across Europe and North America, and he’s very specialised in the areas he focuses on.
“I felt that nobody was really adding value upfront. Nobody was engaging and saying they could solve a problem or saying to a client or a candidate that this is a fit or not, and advising. And I think saying no as well a lot to people, clients and candidates that what they’re trying to achieve is not appropriate, or not a fit.”
Instead, we see recruiters approaching clients claiming their expertise along with ten CVs that they say ‘represent the best people on the market’. The client then feels that they should hire the best from those ten, or the least bad. They might actually be just a fraction of the available talent in the market, but they’re the only ones that the recruiters got. Those recruiters are not on the client’s side, or the candidate’s. In most cases, their incentive is to fill it, not to fill it with the right person or leave it vacant.
Getting clarity on what a rockstar looks like in your business
“If you’re sending ten CVs to a client, you haven’t done your homework, and it’s a fire-and-forget, throw spaghetti at the wall, hope some foot sticks type of approach. You don’t know their culture, you don’t know their interview process. You don’t understand what a rockstar looks like in their company.”
Ross always asks his clients, ‘what does a rockstar look like in this role and why?’. Only about 20% of the time do they answer the question in a meaningful way. He coaches the other 80% to understand what that might look like. That’s the reason why the interview process is often broken. It’s not the recruiter’s fault. It’s because the client doesn’t really know what they’re looking for.
“Some random person turns up, and they go, ‘oh, I like them’, and they hire them. And then, six months later they let them go because it didn’t work out and they just didn’t get clear on what they were trying to hire.”
In that regard, Ross emphatically says it’s illegal to use different criteria and make subjective decisions when interviewing people (e.g. ‘I just got a good vibe from them’). This is not an easily defendable position. Further, you can’t legally hire on the basis of a subjective, random and disjointed interview process. Why? Because it’s not transparent, nor it’s scalable.
Getting the recruitment process right
Ross has worked with many tech companies as they were scaling. A lot of them have grown from ten to thousands of people, and one of the things he noticed they got right was their interview process. It was standardised, and it was the same for everybody that went through it.
It was a three-stage interview process. First, a screen with the recruiter, then with the hiring manager, and a presentation to a panel. Everyone did the same and was given a chance to get their homework checked with the presentation. Ross explains that he also showed people what a good presentation looks like and had catch-ups for an hour the day before their presentation.
“The goal of the recruitment process and the interview process is not to deliberately catch people out. It’s to actually show that people have the competent skills to do the job and they can actually be trained on everything else. So they have the personality, the presentation skills, the human being characteristics to be a culture fit.”
If you’re an employer and you’re trying to deliberately catch people out, you’re fighting a losing battle, says Ross.
How to get candidates excited about your company
In his podcast, Global Tech Leaders, Ross interviews interesting people who are very successful, both personally and professionally. The purpose is for them to tell their career journey and their company journey. They discuss their USP, their go-to-market strategy, and why their tech is exciting. They want job candidates to feel just as excited to be part of their company, so they join Ross to tell him why they are passionate about it.
“So we do that on the front end with our clients, and we say, hey, tell us your story. And then, in the interview process, we pitch that podcast back to our candidates. The candidates listen to it and get excited. I’m not here to sell a job to a candidate. I’m here to help them with their career. I want them to come back to me and say, I listened to that. It’s fantastic. Tell me more.”
Only when they have shown interest by asking questions, and self-qualify as a cultural fit for that particular company, will candidates get on Ross’ calendar for another interview.
One other thing that he advocates for is handing them a pack with some information they should do some research on, and making sure it’s validated by a third party (e.g. CrunchBase or LinkedIn). What you’re trying is to create an inbound way for people to become interested in your organisation.
“People think they’re great, but they either don’t tell the world, or they haven’t quantified it in any great sense.”
Is the market upside down?
With so many news about large tech firms laying people off, it’s easy to think that the current market is turned upside down. But, is the market now filled with great salespeople looking for work across Europe? Ross says ‘absolutely not!’.
He tells the story of what happened last year at Stripe, when its two founders sent a very candid email to their employees admitting that they had made mistakes around their product, their go-to-market, etc, and informing them that they had to make some cuts. They owned it. It was on them. What happened after that is that in November of 2022, their hiring numbers were back to what they were in February of the same year.
“Certain tech firms were growing at 60% year on year. Now the stock market expectation goes up to the right, and some of their businesses were accelerated or catalysed by COVID. And the stock market assumes that that will be the continuation post-COVID. However, what COVID did was force digital transformation in certain organisations, and the tech market picked that up so that their employees could stay working and stay productive.”
On the other hand, now is a great time for recruitment as the people being let go are those who are not performing or the ones that joined more recently. And, although there are great salespeople out in the market at the moment, there aren’t that many. A recruiter’s job today is filtering through the noise. Further, a good recruiter will filter those good candidates effectively to bring them opportunities.
“Your completion rate is actually better because you’re looking for somebody who’s more likely to take a job in a downturn. Someone who is qualified. And I think from a client perspective, they win because they get the best people that they need and they get to filter through. 95% of people apply for a job for which they’re not qualified for an opportunity. That’s why I exist.”
The challenges of hiring globally
Developers are in high demand at the moment. And, there’s a huge shortage of them. With COVID, we learned that we can work anywhere. In the past, Eastern Europe, India and some parts of Southeast Asia had considerably lower salaries than in the West. But, that’s no longer the case, affirms Ross. Now, you can comfortably earn a Western salary in any part of the world if you have talent and experience as a developer. However, being able to hire and work from anywhere in the world comes with its challenges.
In Ireland –where Ross is based– the corporate tax rate is very low (12.5%), which can be lowered if you create IP and ship products from there. In general, there are loads of different tax schemes, all very similar. However, part of the deal is that you employ people that will have a significant presence. And that in itself creates challenges. For instance, Ross gives the example of having some of your people go to their home country because they wanted to be with their family during the winter.
“And if you stay more than 180 days in another jurisdiction, you create a tax problem because you’re paying tax in one jurisdiction, but you’re getting all your services in another jurisdiction. Now, in the UK and Ireland that’s allowed because we have a common travel area, and we have an agreement between us because of our history.”
You can’t live in Ireland and pay taxes in Germany, France or any other country, and vice versa, for that matter, EU notwithstanding. And this applies to other jurisdictions outside the EU as well. There are tax obligations in those jurisdictions that you have to meet.
Workplace trends in Europe
When it comes to preferences between working from the office, remotely or hybrid, it depends on the profile of the person, the company, the role and its function. And developers are in a category of their own, adds Ross.
“Developer talent to relocate is a challenge. Most developers, regardless, want to be remote and that’s just considered the norm. I’ve spoken to very, very senior VPs of Developer, VPs of Product, etc, who run development teams, and have said, I will do in person, or I will do remote, but I will not do hybrid.”
However, it’s different from a salesperson’s perspective. Junior candidates for this role want to be in an office, which makes sense especially if they’re relocating. For instance, 20 to 35-year-old candidates that move from Central Europe to the West probably want to solidify their English, or make friends. Going to an office becomes a key part of their social structure and a large part of the experience they have.
“During COVID, there were a lot of cases of candidates I spoke to who had just moved within a matter of weeks, had got an apartment down in the docks in the financial district, or the Silicon Docks, as they call it here, and they hadn’t met another human being in weeks, and they’d just moved to a new country. That’s not fun. Nobody wants that. As you get more and more commitment to the company that you’re in, maybe you decide to settle down.”