Technology

Guy Bevington: How to hire and retain tech talent

Podcast
June 8, 2021

In this podcast we talk with Guy Bevington, Managing Director of True North Group, UK’s leading technology consultancy.

What you will learn from this podcast

Guy and Bhairav talk through:

  1. – Should companies use a recruiter to hire tech staff?
  2. – How is the tech market at the moment? Is it overpriced?
  3. – What process should companies follow to hire tech talent?
  4. – How can companies retain good talent?
  5. – How should companies be attracting young talent?
  6. – Is the tech talent pool diverse (I think we know the answer to that!)

Why you should listen to this podcast

Guy has over a decade’s worth of experience in the technology recruitment sector and has personally helped over 400 professionals move onto new fulfilling career opportunities.

Guy’s mission is to genuinely help people in an age of information overload to find their career compass and take steps towards truly bettering their lives through securing the right role alongside the right people.

Podcast Transcript: How to execute a digital marketing strategy

If you would prefer to read, rather than listen, here is the transcript.

Bhairav:

Welcome to the Atom ventures podcast. My name is Bhairav Patel and today I’m here with Guy Bevington from True North.

Guy:

Hey, how are you doing.

Bhairav:

So this is the podcast I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while actually, because it’s about recruitment. It’s that dreaded word ‘recruitment’. Over the years, I was one of those people very much against using recruiters to hire new techies and over the years I realized that that was a very silly kind of viewpoint to take. And so, I’ve now converted totally into the other world. But I find that a lot of the clients I work with are in the mindset that recruiters are the bad people. So what I’d like to do is, in a sense, demystify the world of recruitment and recruiting techies.

Before we get into that, can we start with a little bit about your background?

Guy:

Yeah, absolutely. So my background in a nutshell is essentially 13 years in the recruitment industry. Started off very green, no prior experience to recruitment. Didn’t really know what it was, truth be told, just one of my best mates said, ‘you should have a look at recruitment, it’s a very people orientated industry and you can make good money’. Which for a young man of 23-24 years of age, was kind of ticking all the right boxes.

To more or less a degree in the first few years of my career I really enjoyed it. I was very happy, I was prepared to do very long hours 12-13 hour days, I was enjoying the city life being a country bumpkin from the Midlands. So it really did tick a lot of the right boxes for me. But the point that you made by saying recruitment is seen as the bad guys is a very apt one. And unfortunately, I got to that place really after about 10 years in the industry, where I was in a very bad way with it, to be honest. I was very disenchanted with the industry and I felt that recruitment was fundamentally broken. I just wasn’t really enjoying it.

Hence, I was actually prepared to walk away from recruitment altogether. I took a bit of time out because I spent 10 years at one company and I hadn’t really had much of a break. Two weeks was the longest break I had in the whole 10-year period. I was just mentally and physically exhausted. I needed some time out. So after a bit of R and R and evaluating different career options, I sort of opened the lid back upon recruitment. Because, I was pretty good at it. And there were lots of really good things about the job that I enjoyed, especially in the job fulfillment point of view and the big impact on people’s lives. You always got the three big decisions in life: who you love, what you buy and what job you do. And we are genuinely helping people make one of these really big decisions.

Hence, there were certain parts of the job, well sort of outside the pressure environment, I actually enjoyed. And then I kind of came full circle and thought, why don’t I just do recruitment in the way I think it should be done? The way I enjoy doing it and the way I feel is sustainable and which would enable others to enjoy as well. So I decided to start True North, essentially the concept of the business sounds really cheesy, but it is genuine and very true and it’s what gets me out of bed every morning.

The concept is to create a business that helps people be happy at work, both internally and externally, because I think the world of work for a lot of people is a place full of fear, anxiety and misery. I don’t believe it has to be that way. So that’s the thing that really drives us. It’s about putting people into the right role, which is right for them and serving others rather than serving yourself, which unfortunately is where I think a lot of recruitment companies probably get this very bad rep, as they are very focused on billing, making money, having no element of customer service or actually caring about the person they are dealing with. And that’s kind of everything that I want to get away from. I feel we have obviously gone a long way to have successfully done that.

Bhairav:

I guess one of the main objections that people have to recruitment is the cost. If you’re hiring people that are high wage, especially in the tech industry, there’s a significant portion of that, which would go to a recruiter. And I think a lot of people then look at that and say, well, I could do it myself. So from your perspective, what value do you bring as True North or any kind of recruitment consultant? Why is that a poor argument the cost savings and things?

Guy:

I don’t think it is necessarily a poor argument. If you can find people directly in your network, do it, because it’s going to save you money and you don’t have to pay a recruiter X amount of thousands of pounds. But we exist as a service when that’s not always possible. There’s a big difference between cost and value. You can look at it and go, this is going to cost us X amount of thousands of pounds to go and hire this person. But what is the value of your time? Because fundamentally that’s our service. What we do is, we save time. Yes, we supply CVs and build relationships with candidates to deliver them to companies, but ultimately our service to clients really is to save them that precious time. If a role has been open for six months and the company has been looking directly in the market trying to find this person for six months, because they’re trying to avoid paying a recruitment fee, then what’s the opportunity cost on that six months they’ve lost?

So it’s always that cost-value balance for companies.

Bhairav:

I’ve got two questions rolled into one now, first part of that question is, who do you see that you’re bringing the most value to – is it the candidates or the customers or both. The second part, how are you building that value? I mean, what goes on in a day in the life of the recruitment consultant?

Guy:

Yeah, sure. In terms of who you are serving, it’s a dual service role. You have your two customer bases, you’ve got the candidates and the clients. We are the kind of conduit or magnet that sits in the middle of the two. Obviously our service to a candidate doesn’t cost anything, our service is free. So in the day, more or less to a degree, the income stream always comes from the clients.

But of course we have to make sure our clients are happy with us because quite frankly, from a business point of view, if we’re not even making placements, obviously then we’re not going to make any money. Hence in that point of view, clients will always have to be looked after. But ironically to keep clients happy, you need to have the strong relationships with candidates to be able to deliver those candidates to those clients. So we really don’t favor one above the other, I guess we look at it pretty much as a 50-50 weighting in terms of how we value the two relationships for those reasons.

But in terms of how we bring value to the table, you’ve got two types of recruitment. I guess you’ve got generalist recruiters and then you’ve got specialist niche recruiters. Then you’ve got all these sort of sexy talkers, head hunters and executive search etc., which is the same thing. I mean, people that call themselves exec search just means they recruit people that’s at a higher level salary.

So yeah, I guess we are very much aligned with the vertical markets specialism, a sort of super niche model, because we believe that in life you should do one thing and do it very well. There’s a reason why Apple don’t make Hoovers. They kind of know what they’re good at. And I think businesses that generally succeed are those that know what they’re good at.

We are pretty much primarily tech, every single consultant in the business focuses on very own defined vertical market. So we’d have somebody doing Full stack, JavaScript, engineers, machine learning engineers, so on and so forth.

As a recruiting consultant, you are truly building a community in one particular area, because if you were to distill recruitment down into one word it’s – relationships. If you don’t have those relationships, you are not going to be successful, it’s as simple as that. And the thing that separates generalist recruiter from a specialist recruiter is that, for a generalist recruiter every single time they got a job they’re starting that search from scratch. There’s no momentum, there’s no value in that business really, other than their ability to go to market and try and find a few candidates on completely off chance.

People often think in recruitment, it’s all about the number of people, I don’t agree with that. You don’t need to know everybody in your market at all. I think you need to know the good people very well. It’s about the strength of your relationship with a select number of very good candidates rather than knowing every single candidate in the market. And then obviously, there’s a lot of work it takes to get to that position, kissing your frogs and meeting various people to really define the sort of cream of the crop in your marketplace.

Ultimately, that’s what clients are looking for when they’re coming to us to pay us a fee, they’re paying for our opinion, our due diligence and the hard work that we’ve been doing behind the scenes to actually ratify who is the better candidate in the market and somebody actually worth paying that fee for, because you just wouldn’t have access to them through any of the channels or by putting an advert out on LinkedIn. That’s the value we provide I guess.

Bhairav:

How is the UK market at the moment? Obviously you specialize in tech and at Atom CTO we deal with tech all the time. We’ve seen that the market is holding up again in the UK, what’s your opinion on the market at the moment.

Guy:

Yeah, I totally agree with that. When the proverbial hit the fan in 2019 or beginning of 2020 and during lockdown it was a terrible market. I mean, I cut my teeth in recruitment in 2009, so I know what it’s like to actually come in a bad market. This was nowhere near like that. Obviously the wheels didn’t come off, but it definitely slowed down substantially.

Thankfully due to the vaccination program and the announcements of opening back up, it feels like there is a lot of optimism in the market now.

I’m very optimistic about sort of where we sit now going into the remainder of 2021.

Bhairav:

You mentioned before that you deal with different types of developers. So you’ve got the full stack, Javascript, data scientists and data engineers. Is there one particular area that is harder to find sources than others or are they all pretty bad?

Guy:

I wouldn’t say that one is more difficult than the other. It literally just goes to peaks and troughs according to demand. The biggest area of struggle would be when there’s just continued demand from clients and it’s a very saturated marketplace from a recruitment perspective. So for instance, permanent software engineers is an area where that demand never really ceases, it’s kind of a consistent, which is why so many people recruit in that space. But you have to work then doubly hard to distance yourself from the noise because if you are a good permanent software engineer, you would literally receive 50 messages a day from recruiters, emails, LinkedIn approaches, voicemails, WhatsApp et cetera.

So yeah, those are the markets that are most difficult to recruit people.

Bhairav:

Do you think there’s value in the market at the moment? Do you think people are paid and priced correctly?

Guy:

The last 12 months has been hard, but I think it has really changed the dynamic and really created a lot of opportunities and options because we have all mentally moved to this remote model that is feasible. It’s productive and it’s working for most companies, not all obviously, but for a lot of companies. And once we’re there, which I think a lot of the companies are now mentally, it’s not too much of a distant jump to move to the next level, which is, more cost-effective talent potentially in another country. As you know, what is the value of paying twice as much for an engineer in London, just because they’re, unfortunately in a situation where their mortgage is twice as much as somebody who’s an absolutely fantastic developer who lives in Serbia.

So, I’ll often hold my hands up and say probably best not to hire this person in London and actually go and find a partner who specializes in this area because it’s just going to save you a lot of money.

Bhairav:

We have mostly startups and small business owners listening to the podcast, startups are a little bit different because their budgets are much lower, but then they do tend to find their own way.

If you’re looking to recruit top talent, what does a good recruitment process look like, how do you stand out? Because you mentioned this previously you can’t offer just money nowadays, I guess you have to offer more than that.

Guy:

When you say process, it has many different facets, for a recruitment process there’s the dynamic between the agency and the candidate, between the agency and the client and between the client and the candidate. And so there’s obviously lots of different parts at play here. Every role is different, every company is different, everyone’s got different culture. There is no perfect process that can be mapped out for every requirement. But the common denominator that really runs throughout all or the best processes in my opinion, is just strong communication.

That might sound like a fluffy answer, but if both parties are not on the same page, it doesn’t work. So first and foremost, you’ve just got to get a really tight partnership in place where there’s a real level of trust between the agency and the client. I guess that’s difficult to achieve but if you can get that, then that’s one big massive tick in the right direction.

Getting a recruiter that you genuinely trust, that you get on very well, you’ve got a great rapport with makes that person essentially part the same team with the same objective at that point, which is really the key.

In terms of how I would advise companies to structure their interview processes, I think at the moment, candidates aren’t necessarily going to the most revered companies. It’s not like they’re all holding out to not go to work at Facebook, Google or Spotify or anything. They’re going to companies that have the best processes and the ones that actually have a huge amount of emphasis and importance on candidate experience.

I always say to a client, to be as thorough as you need to be to make sure you’re getting the right candidate, don’t cut any corners or feel like you’ve got a rush throughout this process and not be as thorough as you want. But, in the same breath, you really need to try and keep the process as concise as possible in terms of the amount of time you leave between stages.

Because, essentially the longer you leave the candidate waiting between a stage, the higher the probability of you missing out on that candidate.

You don’t want to rush through things, but you need to make it comprehensive enough that the candidate feels logically that they’ve had to earn the role, rather than given the role out of desperation to find somebody.

So it’s that kind of balancing out you need to follow and I’d conducting an initial video interview or face to face rather than via telephone makes the world of difference. Ideally just try to bring as many of the team onto the call as possible because you get consistent feedback. The candidates would be able to enjoy interview processes where they’re not just meeting the manager, they’re meeting their peers, getting a feel of the dynamic within the organization, how they communicate and interact with each other.

That’s a big time investment, but anywhere where you can show a candidate and a bit more of the culture of the business it’ll certainly help.

Talking about the technical qualification process, there’s a question of how do you keep that as effective and efficient as possible. I did a poll recently on LinkedIn and I was shocked by the results I asked candidates. ‘What do you feel is the way you like to be technically assessed when you’re going forward for a job?’ The options given were: Do you want to be tested from home? Do you want to have a live programming exercise? Do you want to have verbal qualification where people just ask you questions don’t necessarily ask you to code?

Overwhelmingly, when the results came out, over 50% of people opted for take home assignment.

Bhairav:

It’s interesting because every time we speak to a candidate and you tell them it’s a take home assignment, people have said, ‘I don’t have time for this’ or ‘they have to be paid, to do the work’. What we’ve ended up doing is saying, okay you time box it for one hour or two hours, do whatever you can and then give a presentation.

Guy:

Yeah, that’s right. I guess it’s difficult because if you’ve got four or five different processes ongoing, and to do a three, four-hour assignment for each, it mounts up, doesn’t it?

Bhairav:

Yeah! Obviously. Since we’re talking about recruitment, but what about retention? I’m assuming that someone will have higher churn rate than others. What are you seeing in the market? How do you keep the developers happy?

Guy:

Yeah. Great question. I think this is a real myth in the market. The majority of managers that I speak to in the first instance, when they’re losing people very often they will blame salary.

A theme that we see when we’re qualifying candidates is that you’ve got the ‘what people want’ and ‘why they want it’. A lot of people just fundamentally miss out to know that people when they’re thinking of moving on from a company it’s very rarely money. Of course money is important, people want to be funded, but it’s very rarely we’ll get a candidate pick up the phone and go saying I’m not being paid enough. It’s usually lot more deep-seated than that.

We have figured the couple of areas that explain why people are unhappy at their current company. The first is just the feeling of not progressing. No progression can be career progression, but it can also be just genuinely developing as a person, it can be: skills, progression, learning new things or just getting a different environment.

If the person seems like he or she is seen as a machine where you just do a particular set of tasks and you’re never given any further exposure to anything else that challenges you or you are literally there making money as this entity was expected to do it, then eventually the person breaks.

It’s probably not necessarily the same for a lot of software engineers and developers, but I think when they become a stale fill, not challenged or not being given sort of a different perspective it would mount up to become a big reason for them to move. Moreover, it would be around the culture of the company as well, because it’s really important thing for a lot of candidates that they’re in a culture where they feel like they’re making a difference, creating a genuine good service to the market.

So yeah those are the key areas. If you ever have a feeling that somebody’s on the fence and looking to leave, before you sort of throw another five grand trying to get them to stay, often it can be solved by taking that person for a coffee. Put your arm around them and really understand what they want out of their career and how you can help them get it.

If they feel like you understand them, then they’ll probably stick around.

Bhairav:

I just want to touch on with you regarding this, I know you’re quite involved with diversity in the tech scene. So firstly, how have you seen diversity, have you seen it improve and what is the future? Are you seeing more women minorities in the talent pool?

Guy:

Yes, we are seeing more coming through, which is great, but it’s still slow. Because the inherent culture is so entrenched in so many businesses that it’s not something that’s going to change overnight. It’s going to be a long time before we get to this point where I think there’s true diversity and inclusion and kind of a fair level playing field for all.

Be the change that you want to see in the world. And that’s what we do. I’ll be really honest with you, the reason that we decided to focus on diversity and helping women in tech is that I am a father to two daughters. And it kind of really hit home to me, thinking what kind of world do I want my daughters be brought up in – given the same opportunities as others as well. It’s just something that kind of really stuck with me. You just got to do your bit, help wherever you can and hopefully set a good example for others to do the same.

Bhairav:

What are you seeing as a difference in the generations? I am in my fourties, if you want to recruit me, it’d be a very different situation than trying to recruit someone in their twenties. What’s the difference nowadays? What should they be doing to try and attract that, that younger talent?

Guy:

That’s a great question. There’s always talk about millennials and often we hear that millennials don’t want to work hard and all, but at the end of the day say what you want but it’s the next generation of the workforce. So we got to work out how to engage them.

The world of work that we live in now, the internet since it’s been around for 40 years, has absolutely changed it to an unrecognizable place. And it’s only getting exponentially further that way.

These kind of millennials or whatever you want to call them, are brought up in a world where there is more convenience and they’ve got more choice. And quite frankly, they’re like, ‘well if I don’t like this, I can go and do that’. That’s not a bad thing. I don’t think people finding the right vein and their right niche in life is a bad thing. It is way more important than somebody actually doing something for a long period of time that they don’t enjoy.

If you’re serving other people and you’re solving other people’s problems, then there’s value in that. That’s kind of the way that a lot millennials think and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. To answer your question in a roundabout way, what can people do? Just, you know, don’t judge people, the kind of book and cover type scenario. If it isn’t the right role for somebody and they’re not in the right place, just go and find somebody that is more suitable for the role.

Bhairav:

Let’s talk about True North. How do people get in contact with you? What’s the process? How do you deal with new customers and new candidates?

Guy:

Always happy to hear from new customers and new candidates. In terms of getting in touch, my contacts are on LinkedIn, so always happy to receive an email or a connection request on LinkedIn.

You can check us out through the website. You can pop a message over there and let’s have a chat and go for a coffee.

Bhairav:

You have your own podcast as well, right?

Guy:

Absolutely. Yeah. I guess, getting back to the point I was making earlier about building communities and leading the value you know, we place a huge amount of importance on standing apart from the crowd in terms of actually building brands within the business, but also encouraging every consultant, the business to build their own personal brands as well.

If you fancy checking out any of our episodes, then they’re all hosted on Spotify. And if you search for Guy Bevington it’ll come up and so, listen away.

Bhairav:

Excellent. Well, thanks for that Guy. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

Guy:

Thanks for your time. Take care.

Learn more about True North Group here.