Elizabeth Harris, Senior Talent Acquisition Manager EMEA @ The Economist

Third Republic were delighted to speak to Elizabeth Harris, Senior Talent Acquisition Manager EMEA at The Economist, to hear her views on the changing world of recruitment.

Elizabeth drew attention to how talent acquisition has been – and will always remain – a human-led industry. Despite the rise in technology and tools, Elizabeth highlighted that these people skills cannot be replaced, how diversity and inclusion is becoming ever more important, and how The Economist has focused on creating an equal workforce to reflect this.

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

Elizabeth Harris (EH): From my perspective, because I specialise in tech, I’ve seen a huge amount of change throughout my time, and I think it’s now very much a candidate led market. In tech, especially, every candidate now has at least two or three offers on the table, so I think now they’re a lot more educated about how they want to develop and what their environment should be. There are a lot more questions being asked, and it’s much more of a two-way street where you really have to show candidates your culture and include them in the entire process, simply because they have a lot more options and that gives them a lot more power.

TR: In light of this increase in power, how have you seen candidates changing their behaviours?

EH: I’ve seen two types of behaviours emergence; one is an over confidence of sorts because these individuals know their skills are going to be sought after, so they don’t go knocking on doors and being proactive. They’re happy to sit back and let it happen; some can be quite difficult when arranging interviews, because they have a lot more control in the process – I think this control is good however, and we as an industry do need to respect it and work with it. The other behaviour I’ve seen is candidates  put a lot more time into researching the company itself, and using platforms like Glassdoor, really making sure that a certain business is the right place for them to be. This, again, is born out of the fact that these candidates have so many choices and options, they do their due diligence on their research to ensure the culture and tools is what they desire

TR: Do you believe that this increase in options has made technical candidates harder to source and engage as a result?

EH: Definitely; they get so many cold calls, and emails, and approaches from agencies and businesses that candidates almost always ignore them. This means you have to have a different approach, be a bit more honest and transparent, and that can set you apart and make the difference when you’re sourcing. Before, people would respond rapidly, but now you have to network more and get the know more people, and generally increase your reputation if you want to make attracting people that bit easier.

TR: Are there any particular tools or technologies you use to overcome these challenges?

EH: I don’t believe that there is a tool out there yet that will help us find more candidates; for me it’s all about using different methods at different times, and it’s about networking and getting to know people. I think this signals the return to talent acquisition being more of a people-to-people industry; initially the rise of the likes of LinkedIn caused a surge on these digital platforms, and it was more about getting as much out there to as many people as possible. But now, because these platforms – and LinkedIn in particular – have been used too much, they’ve reached a point of exhaustion and recruiters are therefore having to go back to those original, people-based skills to stand out.

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

EH: Recruitment is all about human relationships, and it always has been; people want to get to know people, and they don’t want to be approached by tools, so I think it’s the relationship that determines success, not technology. I don’t think there will ever be a replacement for human interaction, and whilst there will be tools to make us more efficient and to make our jobs easier, it won’t replace them. For instance, automation is being claimed as the way forward because it can increase this efficiency and help us to make more informed decisions, but I don’t think it’s going to replace actually talking to people.

TR: One of the biggest trends at the moment is around the candidate experience, and diversity and inclusion in the hiring process. How have you tackled these at The Economist? 

EH: The Economist is all about integrity, independence, free speech, and everybody having a different opinion; it’s what our culture is built on. In line with that we have always been very diverse, but we know there is room for improvement and we’re always looking at how we can become more diverse. Within technology especially, it’s about encouraging women into the play field, not just to work for us, but just increasing the representation of women in the industry in general. We are working, partnering with a charity teaching woman how to code for free, we run talks about diversity and inclusion, and our female CIO is speaking at Women in Silicon Roundabout. We have also opened up the talent pool and entrance to the industry by running an apprenticeship with a university in Birmingham during which individuals can study computer science and get paid to work for us. It’s been about taking a lot of little steps that will hopefully increase the playing field across age, gender and all aspects of diversity and inclusion because it’s incredibly important to us.

A big initiative for us was to set up a tech hub in Birmingham; we realised that London was extremely competitive, and attrition was becoming a problem because of the level of competition here, but by opening up a hub in Birmingham we have been able to create an incredible culture and increase diversity. For instance, our Quality Assurance team has a 50/50 split of male to female employees, and it’s something that we’ve found has made the team flourish and they’re a lot further along where we thought they would be, so we’ve proven that although it might make the process slower to ensure even gender ratios, it does work. We don’t discriminate against universities or those who are self-taught, we are just focused on creating a talented and diverse workforce as possible by taking little steps.

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

EH: There is a lot around artificial intelligence, and a lot of companies using AI to increase their tools and capabilities and selling themselves around that. At the moment, I can’t see anything that is convincing me to invest, but I think there will be good stuff coming and I am interested on keeping an eye on that. The other trend is diversity as we mentioned; (although I don’t agree it should be called a trend, it should be a core value in any recruitment function). People didn’t use to take job descriptions into account when considering diversity. But now, there is a lot of focus on the psychology around it and looking at how language can attract men and women differently, and on making jobs appeal to a wider audience.

TR: What advice do you have to other recruiters navigates this changing industry? 

EH: My advice is to keep recruitment about the people; it’s important to get the right person into the right company, and whilst someone might have the best skills it’s all about the culture fit. I also believe that you can only find the best talent by networking, building up relationships and helping each other. For instance, with the likes of the DBR community I can have an open conversation and learn from my peers, rather than trying to compete with them.