Welcome to the Lead with Indeed podcast, a series of fireside chats with experts in employer branding, recruiting, HR and more.

Lead with Indeed logo, featuring Katrina Collier.

In this episode, Liz Lewis, anthropologist, writer and researcher at Indeed, speaks with Katrina Collier, founder of The Searchologist and author of The Robot-Proof Recruiter: A Survival Guide for Recruitment and Sourcing Professionals. Their discussion covers:

  • Why soft skills are so crucial to recruiting
  • The importance of the human element of recruiting in a technological world

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Liz Lewis: Welcome to Season 2 of the Lead with Indeed podcast, where we chat with the experts about the world of work. Here, authors, researchers and industry leaders share their expertise on the science of talent acquisition, management, the future of work and much, much more.

I'm Liz Lewis, anthropologist and content marketing manager at Indeed. On today's show, Katrina Collier, founder of The Searchologist and author of The Robot-Proof Recruiter: A Survival Guide for Recruitment and Sourcing Professionals

As a recruiting expert, Katrina is on a mission to help talent professionals harness the human side of hiring. I spoke with her to learn why soft skills like bravery and curiosity are so crucial to recruiting, and why, even in a time of ever changing technology, the human element is more important than ever. Let's get started.


Liz Lewis: I'm speaking with Katrina Collier. She is the author of the 2019 book The Robot-Proof Recruiter: A Survival Guide for Recruitment and Sourcing Professionals. She runs her own company called the Searchologist, and she is an author, facilitator, speaker and expert on all things recruiter. So, welcome Katrina. 

Katrina Collier: Well thanks for having me, Liz. I'm, oh, gosh, not all things are pretty, most of 'em. 

Liz: They really are. No, no, no. Because I read that book. I read your book. You cover a lot – 

Katrina: No – 

Liz: – of ground. 

Katrina: – I'm so proud of it. Yeah, I know, because I started writing it and then I realized, oh, this really needs to be bigger. Because it was realizing how big the recruiter's job is now. Because that's what the whole book is about. It's really about there's no way your recruiters are going to be replaced by robots. You're too important. But, can we use technology to improve the candidate experience to make engagement better, to make it easier for everybody? Such that, so, where should you slot it in? I just knew exactly what I wanted to write about, which is please, HR tech, recruitment tech companies, stop saying that recruiters can be replaced. Because what we do is too important, and with this need for recruiters to have like a really gritty, which is a really gritty book that you write on and stick Post-It Notes on. To really get back to basics and go, this is how you do it. This is how you put the human first.

Liz: How long did it take you to write the book? I'm curious. 

Katrina: I probably took a year, and I was lucky to be able to take, I think I took 4 months off, just – 

Liz: Oh. 

Katrina: – to write solidly – 

Liz: That's a long time. 

Katrina: – to hit the deadline, because I was, I'd opened the contract to seeing the publication date was, I have to hit the deadline, because it's my father's 90th birthday. I was I have to. Because he never thought any of his kids would write a book. 

Liz: How did you get started in recruiting? 

Katrina: It's – 

Liz: Can you just tell me broadly about your background. Because it's not clear – 

Katrina: – yes. 

Liz: – that people plan for and train for and then – 

Katrina: Yes. 

Liz: – enter into a sort of nice, succinct, clear trajectory. 

Katrina: I fell into recruitment. I mean, seriously. I moved over, so, I met, randomly, my now ex-husband, but I met Richard, we got married, and I came to England, I did not want to work in the motor trade any more. So I had had many years in the motor, actually, there weren't that many. I had a few, aging myself, in the motor trade, and failed in spite of that. And I was like I don't want to do that anymore. I need a change. And I – 

Liz: Okay. 

Katrina: – saw these little train, in a newspaper, on the tube – 

Liz: Yes. 

Katrina: – I saw an advertisement for a training recruitment consultant. I was taught to do recruitment properly at that company. So that was very people first. Sit in on interviews. Go and visit your clients. You know, really get to know them. Understand the team, that real human side of the recruitment. And I was there for 5 years doing IT contracts. And then, of course, that little 2008 strike 9 global recession hit so it was time. And, then, I was like, you know, I'm sitting here using social media and people are coming online because there's a recession. So I kind of just started teaching social recruiting, and that was the plan. 

Liz: So, you are really passionate about the importance of, quote, unquote, what you call being human, right. And, you believe that recruiters should take a more human first, or candidate centric approach to their work. Can you break it down for me, what this means? What does it mean for a recruiter to be human first, or candidate centric? 

Katrina: Firstly, it is hilarious, we need to be reminded, but, yes, we are human. And interestingly, because of the pandemic, I think a lot of recruiters can actually get what I'm talking about now, which is you need to go and put yourself in the job seeker or the candidate's shoes. You need to remember what it feels like to apply for a job, and maybe not hear anything. To have bills to pay, and desperately not be able to get work. You know, just what it feels like to be in that position. Fundamentally, recruitment is, me and you, Liz and I, having a conversation about a job and potentially hiring or not hiring you. That technology kind of got in the way, and it's part of these roadblocks that stop people from being able to reach you. So, I'll give you an example. 

Liz: Yes, do. 

Katrina: My sister, with 20 years of event management experience, decides she's had enough of running her own business, she'd like to go and work for a company. Every company, on their application, says, do you have a degree? No, she doesn't have a degree. She has 20 years of hands on experience, and she – 

Liz: Absolutely. 

Katrina: – can do it in her sleep, but she doesn't have a degree. So, of course, she wouldn't tick the box, and she'd get rejected. So that's not being human. That's not treating another human being how you'd like to be treated. And it also comes back to, and the big one, the really big one, is so often, if somebody is interviewed, the hiring manager doesn't give the recruiter feedback. And rather than tell her, so I'm thinking you're still trying to get it, or at least give them something, the recruiter ghosts. They just disappear. And this poor human has spent time stressing, preparing, commuting to and attending the interview. Going through all of that. And it's so stressful, to then not hear anything. 

Liz: Yeah. 

Katrina: And it's just, humans need closure. They need to know, okay, that's finished, I'll move on. And it's just there's a fear of doing that. And, I think, again, that goes back to fearlessness, or empathy and compassion, or having the trust of your hiring managers so you can get that feedback. And, having the ability to just say no, we're not going to treat people like that. And providing the clarity and certainty. That's all a really human field that needs to be developed.

Are robots the new recruiters?

Liz: There's a lot of anxiety, I would say, in the talent faith about will recruiters eventually be replaced by robots? Will they be replaced by AI? Is this inevitable or are we just spiraling towards this? You're saying no to this. You're saying absolutely not, tell me why. 

Katrina: Okay. No other recruiters, they go out and they head hunt. They find great people under rocks in a corner somewhere of the forest. And they bring them into the recruiting places, and they woo them. And they stay in touch with them. And they do this amazing job of bringing those through the recruitment process. They're the ones that partner properly with hiring managers to really get under the skin, and discover what the business needs. They're the ones that can forward plan, because they know there's a project happening next year. So they might need someone whose, not right now, but they know, well, there's this coming next year. So they'll keep in touch with them until next year. Now those kind of really proactive intra curious, the curious recruiters. I'm glad I was before the technology got in the way. Before 4.79 billion people went onto the internet and created so much noise and so much interruption, and we're fighting to be heard over it.

And these newer recruiters don't know the art of the recruitment. The human bit. The bit I've got to find Liz. I've got to woo Liz into the process and keep Liz all the way through the process until she actually starts a job. And that's the, I still call it an art form. I will argue that until the cows come home, that it's not about the tech side, that's about the human side. But we only teach the technology side, or the marketing side. 

Liz: That's a great point. Yeah. So, what are some of the skills that recruiters and sourcers can work on now, that can cultivate now, to make themselves robot-proof? In the book you talk about curiosity, listening, empathy.

Katrina: Right. 

Liz: Why are these so important? 

Katrina: Child curiosity. Yeah, adaptability. Agility. It's like a willingness to be able to adapt and change, I think is really important as well. Definitely fearlessness. There are so many – 

Liz: Bravery was one that I really like. 

Katrina: – right. Right. 

Liz: I really liked your discussion of bravery. 

Katrina: It's that, you're dealing with a hiring manager. And the hiring manager is being unrealistic, so you have to say, no. And no is a full sentence. Obvious. And then you back it up with data. So, there's that side. But it's also, this is the candidate side. Most candidates and job seekers understand that there's one job, and there are at least 5 applicants, if not hundreds. 

But they understand that. They're not stupid. They've all been through the job hunt. So, it's just a case of saying, so, I'm sorry that you weren't right. But giving them something valuable, because that one thing that you say to them can send them on the trajectory to get the next job. And they'll always remember you if you're that one recruiter that gave that great feedback. Plus, then they'll refer people. So, just fearlessness in those two examples. You need to be able to say no. 

Liz: How can recruiters be intentional about creating and nurturing good relationships with hiring managers? And, what are some of your secrets to making this happen? 

Katrina: Know your marketplace. Know your data. Gain the trust of your hiring manager by really actually asking him things like what have your previous experiences been like? And it's all about knowing your stuff. And the more time you can spend with your hiring managers. It doesn't have to be face to face. But really understanding what they're about. Understanding their team. Understanding the industry. You competitors. How you compare? All of that. The more research you do. The more curiosity you have. The more questions you ask. The closer the bond is going to be. Because so often these poor hiring managers are promoted into the job and not given any support. So they don't understand their impact on the candidates. For instance, they don't know how to interview. So, it's sort of a switch so that can work really well as well if you've got a real block with your hiring managers. You know, it's not shyness, it's a critical thing coaching with the hiring managers as well. 

Liz: That makes perfect sense. 

Katrina: Yeah.

Why candidate experience is so important

Liz: So you mentioned candidate experience briefly in there which is obviously a huge topic. Super important. Why is candidate experience so important, and how can recruiters make it better? Because it's not just somebody wants a job. They get an offer, and then they take it. Right? Like, what happens during the hiring process is much more complex than that and candidate experience is a huge part of it. Even during times like this, I would say, where – 

Katrina: – more so. 

Liz: – the economy is shifting, and jobs are a little more precarious then they were a year ago. But, nonetheless, candidate experience still matters. 

Katrina: I would say more so. 

Liz: Yeah. 

Katrina: Yeah. Like, more so. Because how you're treating your employees is a huge part of candidate experience as well. How you're treating them and your candidates right now is going to impact your hiring forever. So, what's happened? So, the reason it became a thing, is because 4.79 billion people went online. So, again, you get in touch with me. I just start perusing. And I start looking. Whoa, look at those interview reviews. Oh, my goodness. Have you seen what people are saying about working there or what it's like to go through the interview process? The internet is in the hands reach. 

Liz: Right. Absolutely. 

Katrina: It's always within hands reach. Most of us panic if we don't know where our phones are. Not all, obviously, but a vast majority of us will go, oh, we've gotta find. Okay. Internet. 

Liz: So, talking about candidate experience. One of my favorite topics, and something that I've researched with Indeed is ghosting. And specifically candidate ghosting, right. When a candidate just disappears. And you cover this in your book. I was so excited. Right, when a candidate just disappears. At some point during the hiring process — says nothing. Just, they're gone and recruiters typically get very upset, etcetera, etcetera.

Katrina: Yeah. 

Liz: Sometimes, it happens early. Sometimes they just don't show up for their first day. So, a year ago, we heard a lot about candidate ghosting. 

Katrina: Yes. 

Liz: And I'm curious. I have two questions here. Why do you think this was happening? Was it a new phenomenon? What was going on there? And, then, B, what I'm curious about now is whether or not things have shifted and it's back to, what I remember from 15 or 20 years ago, when it was the employers ghosting candidates. Have we circled back to that type of ghosting again? What are you seeing? 

Katrina: I mean, recruiters have been ghosting candidates for a really long time. And every time I see a recruiter complaining about it, a little part of me goes through hoops. Because I'm a harsh, harsh person. And I – 

Liz: But you're fair. 

Katrina: – just think if you mistreat people it's going to come back and it's going to bite you. And as the industry, okay, across the board, it might be you as an individual recruiter, but across the board, recruiters are known to disappear out of the process, to not give that feedback, to not be fearless enough to give the feedback.

Liz: Right. 

Katrina: Do I think it's stopped right now? No, I don't. So candidates are still ghosting us in that regular way. Candidates are still ghosting out of the process. If they have skills that are in demand. 

Liz: Okay. 

Katrina: If they don't, they've possibly taken whatever they can get, and they're going to leave in a couple years. And, when the recession passes, and COVID passes, and the market bounces back. Chow, chow. Okay. And, Liz, we've seen it before. We saw it in 2008/9. So it is, yeah. I would be concerned if I was hiring right now, are people going to say this is like minimal business as usual. We're only hiring developers, or whatever. But I would be concerned about someone staying if I didn't have a good reputation for candidate experience or for treating my employees well.

Liz: Yeah, absolutely. So, it's almost like recruiters, yes, you need to fill the role, but you also need to be playing the long game in a sense. Right? Because you can fill it now, but if that person leaves in 6 months when they get a better offer, or an offer from a company with a better reputation for how it treats its employees or what have you. 

Katrina: Especially if you think you're picking up somebody you wouldn't have picked up pre pandemic. And if you kind of think, wow, Liz is really, really good. And, she wouldn't have even looked at us before. That's when I think you do need to be concerned. If you're honest enough. But, again, that type of objectivity, that takes a bit of honesty about a step out of your bubble, and look at the company objectively. And look at your opportunities objectively. Comes back to those human fields again.

Liz: It does, and I'm thinking about your discussion of bravery and the buck, and recruiters needing to get in touch with their courage and their sense of bravery and have difficult conversations with job seekers. And be able to say, “Hey, you didn't get the job, would you like some feedback why?” Because, I mean what many job seekers have experienced is just recruiters disappearing, either because they don't have time, or they don't want to have the conversation. And I understand not wanting to have that conversation. But you just have to kind of push yourself and do it. What would you say about that? 

Katrina: It's a courtesy. Recruiters need to remember that, actually, we're responsible for people's lives. And we need to remember that. And that goes back to that empathy and compassion. When you start feeling like, actually, I am responsible for that human being. What I do is so important. Then you will start wanting to help them by giving them feedback. 

Liz: And it really highlights how important recruiters are. Right? They're not just bringing people in, filling roles. Like, they really do hold a lot of power in people's individual lives. Which is amazing. I mean, that's kind of a huge gift. 

Katrina: Cliché or not cliché, recruiters make or break a company. You hire the wrong people, you'll make or break the company. Employers, the jump got bigger, like I said at the beginning – 

Liz: It's changed – 

Katrina: – it's – 

Liz: – a lot. 

Katrina: – yeah, I mean, it was, when I started in 2003, it was, whew, there's Liz's phone number. Let's call Liz. Liz would actually answer her phone to stop it ringing, because it was annoying. We'd have a conversation and I'd recruit you. It was that simple. Now, I might send a message on WhatsApp, an SMS, 16 different ways to get in touch with you. You'll probably ignore 15. Eventually, you're, like, oh, okay, then you look at me and go, eh, I don't want to talk to her. She's got short purple hair. What's that all, you know. Whatever fickle thing it is. So it's become much more about like how you're presenting yourself online. Are you sharing something that's worthy? Do you look like I want to talk to you? And, then, the companies, their reputations are online, and all of those reviews and all of their updates. And, it's just so noisy. It's not just I call you, talk to you, and you come in and interview. 

This is how you put the human first. This is how you remember. It's not just about sending an email. It's about actually wooing someone. You know, getting their attention and keeping their attention. Because it's getting the right person for the role. It's the questions that you ask. It's so in depth. So, it was just please stop saying that tech can replace what we do. But, let's use it, because it's there, and we all love using it, but let's use it better. And I always talk about, please do not purchase technology that wasn't created by a recruiter or with the input of a recruiter. Because I think there's a lot of tech out there that sounds amazing, but actually doesn't save time, save effort, create ease for the hiring manager, and the candidate, as well as the recruiter. 

So that's also an essential part of it. But, then if you've got that, then how is it going to create a better human experience? That's what it should be about all the time. Because what we do is a human job. We're connecting you with humans. Big companies have this problem where the HR department or the IT department will say just follow the company TA technology. Nah. It's not TA technology. He's not going to create a better candidate experience, allow you to keep in touch with your silver and bronze medalists. Whatever they're called. You create a better hiring experience, save time and improve all of that efficiency. 

The answer is now. You build your business papers to the technology you need, and why. The technology must be built by a recruiter or with input of the recruiter always, otherwise please don't get it. You can get referrals on the tech, but you go and build your business case and say “My job is to bring in the right people to the company, so the company succeeds.” Because we need this technology, this is why, right. And then you build your case.

Liz: I love it – 

Katrina: And that's – 

Liz: – yeah. 

Katrina: – yeah, another bit of fearlessness. That there are too many recruiters suffering because they're just given rubbish tech to work with.

Recruiting beyond the job offer

Liz: Yeah, yeah. So, let's talk very briefly about, say you're a recruiter. You found the perfect candidate. They ace their interviews. They've accepted the offer. But your job is not done. You are still – 

Katrina: Oh, God, no. 

Liz: – your job is not done, and not only because you don't want them to ghost before their first day, right, which is always an option, but what is the role of the recruiter at this stage, and why is it so important? 

Katrina: Because candidates ghost in preboarding. 

Liz: Yes. 

Katrina: The preboarding is the time from the offer to start if not beyond. In that time, those people are still online, still visible, still being contacted. They're still being wooed away to other opportunities and, no, they're not going to tell you that because they're not going to tell you. So, you, as the recruiter, need to make sure there's not only a flick it over to HR, your job is to keep wooing them so that they'll start. Make them feel like they're already part of the company. Now, doing that remotely, as we're all doing now, you get them their kit. In those 2 weeks, you're out getting then their kit, it's organized. There's no excuses from any other department to stop that person from not being able to start ready. 

So they start being part of the work fact group. They start being part of the tech channel. They're already reading what it's like to work there. You're keeping in touch with them. You've sent them a book or something. My books great to send. And, whatever it might be, so they feel like they're part of the company. So when it’s day one, of course they're going to turn up, because they think they're already there. So, again, the more you can keep in touch and put them in there. I'm just thinking about you. How's it going? Are you ready? Is there anything I can get for you? Can I introduce you to a buddy? Buddy systems will absolutely bring it. 

Liz: What are the biggest lessons for recruiters, and I'll say more generally from employers moving forward from 2020? And it can be anything from candidate experience. From the shift to virtual work, interviews. When we're all at home. Any of these sort of facets. It's been a huge year. What can we take into 2021? 

Katrina: I mean, certainly something that just comes off the top of my head is how you have treated your employees and your candidates through this period. And just don't think for 1 minute that it's reversed back to a buyer's market. It is not a company's market. It might be for a period of time. But if you've got that kind of arrogance, and you think you can treat people poorly, they're just going to turn around and leave. And that's expensive.

Liz: It's fantastic, a science. Excellent. I'm speaking with Katrina Collier, aka The Searchologist and author of The Robot-Proof Recruiter: A Survival Guide for Recruitment and Sourcing Professionals. It has been such a pleasure. Thank you for sharing your expertise with me.

Katrina: Oh, thanks for having me, Liz.


Liz: I'm Liz Lewis. My thanks to our guest, Katrina Collier, for sharing her insights on the human side of recruiting, and how talent professionals and employers can combine soft skills with technology to take hiring to the next level. Thank you for listening. 

In our next episode, we'll meet Dr. Stephanie Johnson, a leadership expert and associate professor of management at the University of Colorado. She'll discuss her recent book, Inclusify, and share why inclusive workplaces bring big benefits for employers, workers and job seekers alike. I hope you'll join me. 

Find more content, videos and articles about the world of recruiting at indeed.com/lead.