Putting time into your talent – the price of poor recruitment. Lessons from Sarah Purches

Sarah is a multi-talented people manager working at RMIT Online, in addition to leading her own business as a GINius for Death Gin. Our interview gives insight into how to manage talent, the impact of mismanaging the recruitment process and how to support virtual onboarding. The cost to your business of a poor onboarding and recruitment process is high and as Sarah advises, getting it right isn’t magic, but about putting the effort in.

Sara: What motivated you to work in recruitment – how is it different from sales?

Sarah: I started as an EA and went overseas – when I came back it was amid the GFC. Everywhere I went to interview suggested I should consider recruitment, so I thought I’d give it a go. I’d done a bit of recruitment before as I’d helped build a start-up recruitment agency but more in an admin role.

To fast forward, I started my consultancy to support SMEs, offering a service to organisations that can’t afford agency fees. I’d come into companies that didn’t have a HR function or in-house recruiter to help them build a framework to manage their own recruitment process. A couple of clients wanted to build their in-house function and it grew from here. My consultancy was less about sales and more about solving problems.

My current role is different from some in-house roles and is not only about talent acquisition, but also driving employment brand, looking at the future state for RMIT Online and what talent we’ll need as we scale. My goal is to support talent and help them nurture and grow.

Sara: What does human-centred design look like in a people and talent function?

Sarah: It depends on the problem you’re trying to solve; it’s a more creative way to solve problems. I built our onboarding process from scratch and used design thinking to create a process that is a seamless journey throughout recruitment and onboarding.

Traditional problem-solving lacks creativity and essentially lacks depth. Human-centred design develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. My view of what a good onboarding process looks like is quite different from a new recruit or a hiring manager. You can uncover blind spots and create a more purposeful project. When you focus on the people going through the process and tap into how it makes them feel, you get a much better result.

Sara: What happens when you don’t get recruitment and onboarding right?

Sarah: You risk everything falling down around you! Poor recruitment and onboarding can impact the perception of your company brand. If someone experiences a poor recruitment or onboarding experience, they’re going to tell people about that experience. A seamless journey engages the hiring manager, team leader, HR manager and talent manager – it takes a village. If a candidate’s experience is negative in the first part of their journey, it sets the perception of what their future experience is going to be. That means that if other companies are calling them, they’ll be open to that conversation and potentially a new role.

The cost of hiring end-to-end can be as much as $15 – 30K before they even walk through the door. You’re throwing funds away if you’re not nurturing the person, which is also damaging to your employer brand as well as the professional brand of those involved in the process. It sets a negative perception for potential customers who may hear about this experience too. Once you put a dollar value on each step and the flow on effect, you see how expensive recruitment can be if done poorly. You want to ensure unsuccessful candidates have a positive journey, too. If you don’t have a good process in place, you may as well hire an agency to manage this for you.

Sara: You’ve also started your own business as a certified GINius – how do you balance a challenging role with your own company?

Sarah: When we first kicked off, my manager was very supportive and knew I’d put the time into my job. When you start a business, you need to be very transparent with your business in terms of what you’re doing to ensure no one assumes you’re not putting the hours in. Being transparent helps your employer to support you and I feel this is why my business has been successful.

To stay on top of things, I also document everything so you know what work to come back to – I don’t have set hours for my side hustle. Also – if you’re not good at doing something, hire an expert to do the task for you; they’ll do it faster and without errors, which will probably save you time, money and a giant headache.

Sara: What defines an innovative talent solution?

Sarah: Our onboarding process was innovative and unique; I haven’t seen anything like it except with oOh Media who have won awards for their process. From an innovation perspective, it’s important to lean on technology and let it become your friend. Keep up to date with trends and once you’re savvy you can start thinking like a tech person, which makes it easier to get projects over the line when you need to influence your tech stakeholders.

We used Slack and a robot called Manifestly to manage the back end of the onboarding process for the candidate. Once we have a start date, this kicks off an automated flow for the candidate, hiring manager and HR team; it’s a 12-month process flow – onboarding doesn’t stop after 2 weeks on the job, it starts from the first interview. One week out from when they’re about to start, for example, it reminds the Hiring Manager to assign a buddy. The system partners people up with different things they need to do along the way and reminds people to follow the process. It gives me data and analytics also, it’s all really transparent. This has been a massive win and reduced my workload in that space by about 75%. Embrace automation so you can work smarter, not harder.

Sara: How has your role been impacted by the shift to completely virtual working?

Sarah: We’re a digital business so working from home is normal for us (although 5 days per week is a new norm); we are set up to be a remote community. Our biggest shift has been in mindset. We are a tight-knit team that would get together socially on a regular basis and are quite collaborative. It was really important for us to get together virtually.

We did the Zoom thing, but now we’re starting to get Zoom fatigue. We also have a CultureClub that runs fun initiatives to drive a sense of fun and belonging. We also run ‘Lunch and Learn’. sessions via ZOOM; most recently we had one on how to make traditional dumplings from one of our colleagues, and “how to manage your time like Beyonce” from one of our Execs. We like to balance business learnings and fun learnings equally. 

We have virtual coffee roulette, which matches you randomly with someone in the company to have a conversation and get to know each other. Each fortnight you get a new match to reach out to and schedule a 30 min catch up.

We’re doing our best to support working in the digital space in the digital era – if we can’t nail this, then what are we as a digital business?

Sara: How do you support a great employee experience when employees aren’t all working together?

Sarah: Virtual onboarding is all about communication – it hasn’t really changed, it’s more a mindset, communicating a little more, ensuring you see the face of the person and spending a little more time with them to settle them in. We do this via Slack and Zoom currently.

Our hiring managers set up virtual meetings in advance with various people across the business. This may be a key stakeholder, or someone important to them. Everything is mapped out in their induction. The first two weeks are critical. We have several all-company meetings monthly which gives the new person an idea of what’s happening across the company and the hiring manager will say a little bit about the new person to introduce them to the business and allow us to cheer and celebrate their beginning with us.

We’re making our virtual onboarding fun and the feedback has been fantastic. There’s a lot of love and care that goes in along the way. It’s also about checking in and asking if they’re okay and need more support, with lots of contact points that are not their direct manager. Sometimes it’s less intimidating to talk to a peer rather than a manager. It’s not magic; it’s about kindness, care and thinking about how you would like to go through the process. If it doesn’t spark joy, it shouldn’t be there *(unless it’s compliance-related)

Sara: What advice do you have for other talent ninjas working in a very challenging climate?

Sarah: Don’t be afraid to try new stuff and don’t be afraid to fail. Be brave, give it a go, iterate, seek feedback. Talk to people and lean on your community. We’re all in this together. You meet great people out at industry events – now is the time to talk and help each other.

Interested in people, culture and change? Register your interest in our Virtual Coffee Groups here.

Have you got a great story to share, or insights that would help the people leaders community? Reach out to Sara Ellis-Jack on LinkedIn for more info.

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Hi there! I'm a millennial, Masters' student and multi-faceted (that last m was a stretch). I love to write and am all about sharing what I know to help my followers grow and learn. I'm passionate about people, culture, painting, baking, reading and of course, writing!

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