How to build a career in tech recruitment

How to build career in Tech Recruitment?

Meet Liam Howlin, Senior Tech Recruiter at Indeed, former Naval officer and 57th Naval Cadet Class speaking about his career in tech recruitment and his perspective on tech recruitment.

1. Tell me a bit more about yourself.

I grew up in an unremarkable working-class family in Wexford Town, but I pushed myself to a physical limit at 16 as my interest inspired me in Military Special Forces. I attended college at 17 and graduated at 21 with a Bachelors in Business with a Major in HRM. I didn’t enjoy most of the course but made some great friends over those four years. I also managed the WIT Karate Club and enjoyed great success in Karate competitions. 

My dream job was to become a Military Officer and after my degree, in 2012, I applied for a highly competitive Officer Cadetship in the Defence forces. Out of 15,000 applications, only 18 persons were granted a spot in the program. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them (the funny thing is that I earned a commission as an officer in 2019! Why?? Because I won’t give up when I believe in a goal or person! ). I had to stick to my second choice and continue with HR career plan. It was the Global Financial Crisis recession and a tough time to be in recruitment. 

My career started as an Accounts Assistant in a Thermoplastic Manufacturing company called Irish Custom Extruders Ltd., and it also had a unique product called “The Comfort Slat Mat.”

After kicking off my career as an Accounts Assistant in a thermoplastic manufacturing company I managed to quickly move and take a more specialised role of IT Recruiter for a tiny agency with very few clients. At some point in my time there, our KPIs were increased so that we had to make 100 cold calls per day – that was my last day in that company. I did not have another job secured at that time, but it was the best decision I ever made. And it led to much better things. 

After some time, I joined the In-House Staffing Associate Function in Microsoft via CPL Solutions. I worked for 1.5 years on graduate Recruitment, Scheduling, HR administration, and organising Recruitment Events for EMEA. I met great people there, many of whom I am still in contact with today. 

At 24, I wanted to experience a different life, so I booked a 1-way flight to New Zealand with my partner. Working on a 12 month Working Holiday Visa, I joined Agency Giant Hays Recruitment in Wellington, NZ. I was the Software and BI/DW Desk Recruitment Consultant for Hays Wellington. I got a great experience, although it was a tough time! And New Zealand was an amazing place to live for 12 months. My old boss from Hays actually offered me a job to launch a Fintech Recruitment business in EMEA in November 2021, but I had already accepted a role with Indeed. Pictured below is a team night out in a cowboy bar, Queenstown and Christmas Party 2015 in Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia. 

2. Where is the passion for tech recruitment coming from?

Technology is the most specialised area of recruitment and I wanted the challenge of beating the competition. Personally, I stay close to technology and its developments in Clean Energy, Thorium, Software, Quantum Computing, and I find the problem-solving potential of technology stimulating. Talking with Tech candidates helps me stay focused on the future vs looking at the past. I played a few video games when I was younger and built my own PC. This would have had a massive influence without a doubt. No family members were tech Savvy so I was the teenager that people would call to fix their broadband network, computer or help with something of that nature. 

3. In house or Agency?

Both have their pros and cons. Talent Acquisition in-house is very competitive to start a career and there are often experienced agents in the applicant pool. Agencies tend to offer begging opportunities and training as the environment is Tier 1 competitive. In an agency, you can make great money but are often kept away from key processes while in an Internal TA Team you can influence processes and partners. 

PS: I started in Agency, and there is an attrition rate of 75% quitting under pressure or being managed out of the agency for not meeting targets.

4. What is your view on sourcing tech candidates?

I believe that in the tech recruitment world you have to learn how to source candidates yourself. EVERY tech recruiter should be strong in sourcing, within their own areas of expertise, and capable of delivering their own high-quality candidates. Sourcing is not easy, but once you are willing to learn, it gets easier from there. 

*Tech Talent is in demand by everybody globally; they will not apply for your job as they don’t even have to search themselves. The jobs are sent to Tech candidates by Recruiters, and they have a lot of options* 

There are some Talent Sourcing Masters out there, like Johnny Campbell from Social Talent. I would recommend that everyone follow his teachings and his Black Belt Sourcing became the Recruitment Industry benchmark of competence. I completed the course myself when I was working with Berkley Recruitment in 2017.

5. Your most successful hire?

In my recent role at Microsoft, I closed the offer with the candidate for one of their most Elite Teams. What was interesting about it, the candidate had declined an offer the previous year.  I respect that hire as he is a Genius at the top of his profession, and we developed mutual respect throughout our complex discussions. 

6. Future of tech recruitment? New trends? What are your thoughts?

The Future of Agency is Automated AI-driven CV parsing and shortlisting where an agent will speak to 5 candidates for each role vs 20. There will be no CV reviewing for hours, and hiring time will be reduced dramatically. I have a friend who is a Director of a leading company in this field dominating EMEA recruitment. In their first few months, they went from Start-up to Top Candidate Delivery Recruitment Partner for Pfizer, J&J, and other Blue Chip companies.

Cons: Less networking, less need for Recruiters and total removal of Emotional Intelligence from the Recruitment Process. I expect the candidates to adapt to hack the CV shortlist algorithm quickly. 

In-House: Recruiters will not rely on Tech’s compensation and employer brand. The Great Resignation and other trends mean people will rightfully only speak with Recruiters they trust and know their trade. Incompetent keyword recruiters will be muscled out of the market, and individual brands will emerge with a Rec to Market place relationship. I can speak to examples where candidates call me after a few years for career advice. 

Tech is highly competitive and the pool of candidates is small. In the interview processes, candidate management is essential, every candidate is treated like an MVP, or you risk losing them to a competitor. As mentioned above, integrity, sourcing, and learning about technology are essential. 

Commercial requirements tend to be less niche, and the volume is higher. Multilingual roles are highly competitive to recruit for, but the technical skills can be taught on the job in many cases. It takes six years to make a basic Engineer – 4 in college and 2 in industry. 

7. How do you assess for technical roles? What’s your approach?

Everyone should have their own relationship-building style, and it should be genuine. People can smell FAKE from 100 miles away.

Assessments will vary from role to role; thus, qualifying a position with a Hiring Manager (HM) is essential for ensuring ALL Recruitment projects are accurate. Disagree and set expectations when necessary; a Recruiter is not the supplicant of a Hiring Manager.  A good process will involve defining the essentials from the bonus skills. Try to be objective, strategic, and focus on target competencies as every conversation with a candidate can be referenced in a court of law. My personal approach is as follows: 

  1.  Learn about the new technology, watch Engineers on Youtube, Search for articles, and speak with Engineers in my network of similar skills. Use the teams there to your advantage via calls in a company. To succeed, you must understand!
  2. Screen candidates to agreed questions set by the HM, in line with the Job Requirements and legally compliant. 80% of the interviews I have been a candidate in myself have broken the law! Treat the candidate with respect and ensure they are given time to understand the questions, the job, the package and the chance to ask questions. There is a popular myth that you should batter a candidate with 30 minutes of questioning as quickly as possible. Do you think this is a good introduction to the company you represent?
  3. If you are asked something you do not have an answer to, then follow up within 24 hours with the candidate.
  4. Tell a candidate immediately if they are unsuitable to respect their time
  5. Shadow other Technical Interviews if you are new to learning the processes as an observer when unfamiliar or inexperienced.
  6. Understand your limitations as a non-technical Engineer, and don’t bullshit the candidate EVER!
  7. For assessments and other elements of a Technical Test, I provide the candidate with confidence coaching, competency-based interview tips, research links/advice, information on the people they will meet and a complete overview of the process. 
  8. It would help if you wanted the candidate to leave the process feeling like they got all the support possible from Recruitment and that any failures to secure the job were down to their own lack of technical skills. Sometimes people get nervous and deserve a second chance, and please give it to them when you can or in 6 months as it could literally change their life.

8. Advice for those thinking about the tech industry?

Ensure that you love the realm of technology, or you won’t last. Be willing to learn what the different technologies are, how they work, and explain what makes a .NET team in Fintech different from a .NET Team in Identity. Be prepared to learn about new things often and accept failure.  Be a good diplomat and debate using data to all parties. If you are unwilling to compete and build deep relationships, sell cars. I have had candidates tell me about their parents dying, families falling apart and that their future rests on the outcome of an interview. If you cannot empathise, give bad news or deal with the pressure of a Hiring Manager potentially losing their team budget due to candidates taking other offers, then stay in a different role.