EP 24: James Lafferty, VP of Global Talent Acquisition, Epicor
James Mackey 0:00
Hey, and welcome to Talent Acquisition Trends and Strategy. Today we're joined by James Lafferty. James, welcome to the show!
James Lafferty 0:12
Hey, thanks for having me.
James Mackey 0:20
I'm looking forward to talking with you today. And I'm excited about the topics we have to discuss. But before we jump into it all, would you mind just sharing with everybody a little bit about yourself?
James Lafferty 0:30
Cool. So I'm James. I'm originally from the UK, but I'm based in Austin, Texas. I've got a long journey, how I ended up here from the UK. But I started off in recruitment in the agency world. So back in a place called Reading just outside of London, and worked for a couple of different companies. But my most recent one was coming across in Fraser, where I was the VP of recruiting at a tech staffing agency and moved out to Austin in 2015. And worked there until 2021. And then now I'm at Epicor Software, a 4000-person software company, based in Austin.
James Mackey 1:12
Yep. And they are running out a 30-person talent acquisition department at this point in time.
James Lafferty 1:17
That's right. So, I'm the VP of Talent Acquisition. So in my role, I've got a team of 30, based in Malaysia, in Europe, US, Mexico, and all over, traveling to some weird and wonderful places.
James Mackey 1:33
Nice. That's amazing. So as you know, the first topic I want to dive into is revolving around candidate experience. Obviously, it's still a tight labor market, some crazy stuff is happening right now in the market. However, tech talent is still in high demand, regardless of the headlines, and we have to do everything we can to optimize the experience for candidates in our funnel to optimize conversion rates, and ensure that we can get the best fit individuals all the way through the funnel, and have a good offer acceptance rate of top talent.
So, I would love to learn a little bit about what you all are doing for candidate experience. And since you've come into the organization that you're currently at, just what are some of the steps and motions you're going through to ensure that it's a strong candidate experience from end to end?
James Lafferty 2:22
Okay, that's a good question. I think that before going into the specifics of what we're actually doing, I think, going back to, I guess, let's say pre-COVID or pre-remote working.
The way of people sort job searches was slightly different from it is now. And I'm thinking about when I was looking for work, I just dropped a pin on my house on the map. And then I'd say, any companies within 15 miles, whatever you're willing to drive each day, and those are the companies you can work for. Right. And so there was much less opportunity, and you just sort of to choose the best ones within the fair commute time.
Obviously, fast forward, like, to 2020, when the world all changed, and lots of companies decided that remote was the way forward, it removed that pin, or it removed the radius that you were willing to commute, and it opened it up to either nationally or internationally. It kind of meant that there was a lot more competition for the best candidates. Which I guess meant that some companies thrived, and some barely survived. And so we have to look at our candidate experience of how we're showing up in the marketplace, and I think you can talk the attraction piece to start with is the cities that you're located in, or whether you're looking remote, the job ads or the candidate experience really starts from when they first hear about your employer brand.
I think people now with so much choice will look into the companies before applying or before choosing to go to interviews. And that can be your online reviews. It could be looking at LinkedIn, who's doing the job who previously did the job. We've had some people who have reached out to ex-employees to go. What was it really like? I've read Glassdoor, I read the good, I've read the bad, what's it really like? And people are taking a lot more time to research it. And so I think for the candidate experience we've gone through looking at everything from our job ads, putting ourselves in the shoes of the candidate.
So if I'm applying for a job, how many clicks does it take for me to actually apply? When I'm putting in my details? It goes to upload your resume, okay? And now do I have to add the same information on another page? Things like that. It took us quite a few months to actually do the whole journey. And go, this is what it looks like. And then looking at the communications, for the emails that get triggered or sent for each one, it was originally the individual recruiters' responsibility to reach out to these candidates. But we've kind of automated a lot of it in the tone of voice and working with our lay our EVP and making sure that we're speaking the same language. And it's not too corporate or too stuffy. But appealing to the people who want these jobs.
James Mackey 5:38
Right, for sure. I mean, I think just the definition of candidate experience, looking holistically at removing friction and providing insight and just looking at it from their first interaction with the brand is crucial. Because I think a lot of people when they think about candidate experience they are just thinking about the interview process. And it's just so much more than that! Like just producing assets even right, like on the careers page, and in other places, too. But just outlining what it's like to work at the organization, discussing the culture, discussing the onboarding experience, and discussing how professional development and career road mapping work within the organization.
Providing those types of assets, candidates are gonna value because at least subconsciously think, "okay, the way that I'm interacting with them now is going to be reflected in how I interact with this company, as an employee. And so it's one of those things to make a judgment call based on how invested the organization seems to be in their people functions, right? Whether that's as a candidate or as an employee.
So I think you hit the nail on the head. And it starts out kind of with the big picture strategy and understanding of how important this is, but being able to get into the tactics and kind of do like an experienced workflow, almost like from a UX perspective and software, right? Kind of mirroring like, Okay, what is the user doing in this situation? It's kind of like what you were saying. It's like, alright, if I'm applying for a job, how many clicks like" How much of a headache? What's going on with the resume? Do I have to reenter the same information?
That is stuff that people generally when they're talking about candidate experience, do not get that specific. And they're not really thinking about it from a perspective of like, How can I remove friction and provide information that people need? Which is really what it's all about, right?
James Lafferty 7:31
Well, yeah, exactly. And, removing the friction is a really good term, because we want to make it really easy to apply. We don't want to open the gates, but not lowering the bar is what we're looking to do.
James Mackey 7:47
Love that. That makes a lot of sense.
James Lafferty 7:50
And so my background, I spent 15 years or so working for recruitment agents or tech recruitment agencies. So I worked with Fortune 500 companies with their hiring to start up with five people sitting in a garage. Yeah. So I saw some great lights and great examples of people doing candidate experience really well. And I saw ones where they did really poorly. And so I learned a lot from these hundreds of different companies to kind of fine-tune what we're doing at Epicor.
James Mackey 8:28
Yes, for sure. I mean, starting from the agency side I think, it served me very well. Even when building out in-house talent acquisition solutions, I think it actually gave me a competitive advantage over recruiters that started in-house. To be clear, there are a lot of great recruiters that start in-house. So I'm not saying there are a million different ways to arrive at success later in your career.
But I will say that, you know, starting on the career side really helped me understand and view talent acquisition as a funnel, and optimize it similar to a demand motion or a sales funnel. And start to think about it like that in terms of conversion rates, and optimizing for top loss reasons and time and stage. And those are things that I learned on the agency side that I'm not sure that as many recruiters learn when they start in-house.
James Lafferty 9:18
Yeah. Everyone, success comes in many walks of life, right? But I guess I could talk about my own experience. And you know, when your work is predominantly a commission-based job, right, so your motivations are to find the right people and to find them as quickly as possible. And so we'd call ourselves consultants because we would go into a business, understand what they're trying to look for. And then we come up with the solutions and then go, Well, if you're looking for this type of talent, this is the process you should follow. And here are the expectations of how long it will take.
And if I'm thinking about some of the startups that I've worked with, sometimes had the best candidate experience because they were sometimes more agile, they were able to change their process, they were able to give candidates more sort of levels of engagement throughout the process.
James Mackey 10:24
Yes, for sure. I saw that too. Except they're sometimes though. Like, I'll work with tech customers where they're like x Google, or X, big tech. They're used to everybody just knocking at their door, lining up. And they're this like, little series, A company. And they're like, Wait, why don't we have 100 inbound applications? Or wait, why is this search gonna take me 45 to 60 days? But you're right.
Typically speaking, like the startups are, they're a lot more flexible, as long as they're bought into doing talent acquisition the right way and don't see recruiting as this like a transactional light switch, that they can just kind of flip on and off, like, they have to be invested. And optimizing the experience, as you said, and optimizing a lot more. And as long as they're open to that.
We're lucky, because in our model as an RPO, typically, the customers that sign up with us are really committed to doing things the right way. I remember that being a little bit more challenging on the contingent side, where we got kind of a mixed bag where we did work with a lot of customers that really didn't want to commit to strategic changes. But yeah, it definitely makes a huge difference. Like, what's the culture of the organization? Do they truly understand that people are the primary driver of value? And as a result, do they invest in people ops? Do they invest in talent acquisition? Right?
James Lafferty 11:50
That's exactly it. So different size companies have different successes, depending on their openness to it. Continuous improvement is probably the better way to put it. So we looked at three things: the attraction, then the engagement through the process, and then the conversion. And within those, there's so much to unpack, we kind of talked a bit about the attraction piece. But then once someone is Yeah, has applied, they have shown interest, then you move on to like okay, what's their experience, like with the recruiter? Does the recruiter understand why would this candidate join this business?
Or why are they looking to move, what they're drivers? Is the company aligned with their values? And there I say, work-life balance as well? Because that's kind of become huge. Engagement through the process. How many hoops? Is everyone having to jump through to join? And then that comes on to the conversion? And then we met really measuring that as well.
James Mackey 13:06
For sure. Just talking about engagement and getting to the why, I feel like you'll learn a lot about that on the agency side, too, right? Back when I was an IC, individual contributor during recruiting, I mean, I got really good at that, right? And even starting my own company, that was something where I was very good at getting to the bottom of what matters to people. And then I never pitched my client the same way twice. Like there was a kind of a script, if you will, of like, points I wanted to hit typically. But it was always very nuanced to speak to what matters to the person on the other end of the phone. Right?
If somebody was really focused on professional development, then when I'm pitching the company, I'm going to talk about professional development, right? I'm going to talk about that. If they got five kids, they really need to understand the benefits, right? Like, okay, that's what I'm going to talk about, right? And that's a big part of being a senior recruiter is how well can you uncover what matters. And sometimes it's, like, simple and it's in your face. And sometimes it's a little bit more nuanced, right? Where they don't really come out and say it and that's where it's like, developing a relationship with the candidate.
So, as you get closer to close, for the lack of a better term, you can help guide them through the process and help them make the right decision. And, the point is, if you're recruiting long enough to get to the point where you're really, really good at this. So you got to be careful too because you don't want to like oversell or over persuade, in the sense where, like somebody's going to, you know, you want to make sure it's the right fit obviously for them and that's going to impact the quality of hire and longevity and tenure and these types of things.
But a good recruiter knows how to tell that story, hitting on the points that matter to the candidate, keeping it relevant on a candidate basis, right? And that's why, I'm always talking about not going high volume, as an approach to talent acquisition. Like capping wreck loads, obviously, it's situational based on the environment, but ensuring that we're putting relationships first and experience first, and you can't usually do that in tech, if you're working like 50 wrecks at once, usually, right?
James Lafferty 15:25
Yeah. Something that we've done approaches to, rather than just filling jobs, is because when you've got that, some people have got a really high wreck load is just basically like every day trying to get that wreck load down. And it's like a never-ending task. And what we've looked at is, you know, each recruiter having a prioritization of the reps they're working. But also, the approach to candidates applying to jobs. You're not just applying for a job, you're applying to the company. And it's our job as talent acquisition to find the right opportunities for these candidates.
And so we've had it several times or a number of times this year, where candidates have applied to a job. And they've ended up getting a different jobs within the company. And that we call it our talent communities. So you can go on our website, and this is something we've developed since I've been there. And you can join our talent community. So if you go on to our jobs page, there are always lots of jobs, right? Lots of opportunities. We're a growing business. However, if you don't find that perfect job, you can set up your own profile, you can say, I'm interested in these kinds of jobs. And we'll be basically the first to know about new jobs coming up.
James Mackey 16:52
Wait, so what portal is that? Where's that done?
James Lafferty 16:55
So that's on our jobs page. So you can create a log in. If I'm a candidate, I want a job in finance. I can go on and say, Hey, there's no finance jobs for me right now. I created a profile. And then you basically get alerts for all the relevant jobs.
James Mackey 17:11
So that jobs page is custom-coded? That's something that y'all built? Does that tie like attach to your ATS? Or is it like a different CRM?
James Lafferty 17:20
Yes. So it's attached to our ATS and CRM. So each and all of our recruiters will focus on specific verticals. So they will focus Yeah, say just finance recruiting as we'd go down that path. And they can say, Oh, well, all of these people have signed up to say they're interested in this specific finance job. We didn't have anything for them at the time. However, I'll connect with them because they've engaged with us.
James Mackey 17:47
Yes. That's pretty slick. What ATS do y'all use?
James Lafferty 17:51
We use Avature.
James Mackey 17:53
Okay, do you like it?
James Lafferty 17:54
Yes, sometimes. So when I joined in September last year, we were with Oracle and Avature was going live like two months later. So I kind of joined mids, build implementation. So my onboarding was just like having to learn an old database. So we were going to get rid of a new database, which we were building, and, you know, looking back, actually was quite good, because I could help build something and add things on like this talent community, which I knew would be beneficial. In the long run.
James Mackey 18:40
The talent community is cool, and what you're talking about in terms of people applying and then ultimately taking on a different role than the one they applied for? I've always seen that as a positive indicator that it's a little bit more of a sophisticated mature talent acquisition function that's been built out. So I mean, that's the way it should be.
And then to take it a step further, it's like, the same thing with employees, like, you know, before you go out and hire, just thinking about is there a way to reallocate internal employees to give them the professional development or growth they want and help them move within the organization to. A lot of companies like Hyper Growth tech, for instance, right? Maybe clients that we both have worked with throughout the years on the agency side. A lot of them struggle with that like they're not necessarily as mature when it comes to figuring out how to reallocate resources internally and building out these talent communities.
James Lafferty 19:33
The vision of it is to, when people sign up to these talent communities, they say that you know, someone's a Python engineer, Python developer, and that's what they do. And that's what they know and love. I would love for one of our lead architects to be writing their blog or talking about what they're producing Epicor. Like to say This is how I'm using Python in my everyday work, and this is the impact it is having on the business.
Create that, and then send that out to the people in those communities, because you're speaking their language. Creating that level of engagement, you're not just saying, Hey, here's a list of jobs, but it's actually like, here's what you're interested in, here's how we use it. So, that's what I like to get to, but talking about the internal mobility and internal movement, you know, that same talent community is available to our employees as well.
Someone could be a developer or wants to get into product management, and they can sign up for those kinds of jobs, as well, and learn about, what it's going to take, we match them uptake, well, in order to do this some courses, we use a learning management system, that we can send them out these courses, so they can actually upskill themselves and decide if that's what I want to do.
I spoke to someone a few months ago in the company, and he was a software engineer who really wanted to get into cybersecurity, so got provided with all these cybersecurity courses. And then when, hey, I don't want to do this. But I feel that's great. Because that person could have easily gone elsewhere external, taken a cybersecurity job, hated it, and then be like, we've lost someone, they overcome back or they go and find another job. But we've actually helped them discover what they do when they don't want to. But it's all part of the experience.
James Mackey 21:42
Yeah, for sure. I couldn't agree more. We got about seven minutes, maybe a little bit more today, and I wanted to talk to you a little bit about just career pathing. For recruiters that want to move up into talent leadership. I think we could just kind of start at the individual contributor level, and then work our way up to managers, directors, and ultimately moving into like a VP level of function or point of impact.
What is your advice to your very ambitious recruiters on your team that want to move into Team Lead, wants to move into their first management role? What have you learned throughout the years? And what are the key takeaways? And how do you help people grow professionally that want to move on?
James Lafferty 22:25
Yeah, sure. Like a lot of people, I'm the same as a lot of people who just fell into the world of recruiting, I happen to be pretty good at it. So then you know, it's like, Oh, can you teach these other people how to do what you're doing? And then I just sort of naturally moved into that.
My advice? Looking back at my career, I mean, you know, I made some good decisions, some bad decisions, but it's always been learning. And I've always been true to my values. And I think that's something where my advice is, just you gotta be your own leader, right? Or be yourself. And I understand what you want, but you don't have to get there before doing it. So what I'm saying to individual contributors who want to be team leaders, I say, when we bring people on, ask to get the opportunity to say I want to help onboard this person, I want to show them specific areas of recruitment that I'm particularly passionate about. And we've always done like master classes, so our senior recruiters or more experienced recruiters will run the current master classes to larger groups of maybe more junior recruiters to give them the taste of what it's like to teach others.
I think that my advice is just to understand your values. Understand what you want, and what you want to do, and then ask the questions of your leaders. They got to share the same vision. This is what I want to do, and ask "how do I get there? What does it take for me to be given that opportunity? And then sometimes just take the opportunity, you know, take it upon yourself to help people set up for success? That's what I'd say.
James Mackey 24:20
Yeah, I agree with you. I mean, just putting yourself out there and saying, I want this. Right. And that's such a big part of it. And a lot of leaders appreciate that. A lot of leaders are ambitious, and they worked hard to get to where they are. And if somebody's like, in an IC role, like nothing, nothing fires me up more than like somebody who's applying for the company.
I actually just had an interview today, it's for an operations specialist position. And the person who reached out to me was like, I want to be a CEO one day, and I was just like, I love it. Alright, let's talk about that. Just be willing to put yourself out there, be a little bit vulnerable, even if it's outside of your comfort zone, and just be comfortable talking about your goals and what you want to accomplish, and don't be worried about, oh, is this gonna come across as like, Who am I to think that I'm going to be C level or that I can be a VP?
Even if it doesn't feel natural, be willing to go out of your comfort zone, because when you're going out of your comfort zone is when you're growing. I mean, you just gotta be willing to do it. And again, I understand that it's not always easy, but I think it's lifting, you got to push.
James Lafferty 25:35
I think I've been fortunate enough to work with some great leaders in the past that have not just taught me how to lead. But given me I'd say, like, the safe space.
I've made some leadership mistakes in the past, everyone makes mistakes. But I didn't really fear the ramifications of that. Because it was what I knew, I could honestly go back to my boss and say, Hey, this hasn't turned out how I wanted, this is what I did. This is probably what I will do next time. What can I do? Like, how can I improve for the future, and it's not like, you know, I'm not scared of being told off, but actually, like, the open approach and honesty, and being able to give and receive feedback, as well, those have been really crucial to me and my growth.
James Mackey 26:35
Right. You gotta be coachable. I mean, you got to be willing to make mistakes, to put yourself out there, to have all those kinds of little micro failures along the way, just make sure to learn from them.
James Lafferty 26:50
Every day, I learn something new. And I think that's why I love the world of talent acquisition in recruiting, even, whether it's agency side or the internal. I'm dealing with different countries, different types of positions, different candidates, situations, like whether you're an individual contributor, or you're a leader, I think you're always faced with different situations, which you've never experienced before. May have had similar situations, but you've got to be at a place of continuously learning, and asking questions to really truly understand.
James Mackey 27:33
For sure. I mean sometimes this can be hard to get on a leader's calendar. But even if you don't have a one-on-one call scheduled with a VP, because you are reporting to a manager. I mean, I guess some of this depends on the culture. But hopefully, if it's not too cagey, like, reach out to the VP, and just be like, Hey, can we set up a 20-minute call once a month? I've had a couple of people do that with me at SecureVision. If people are ambitious, and put themselves out there and go for it, I'm inclined to try to facilitate that conversation.
James Lafferty 28:14
Yeah. My virtual door is always open to speaking to anyone to help them with their journey. But I also found that not just working or networking with people in your own team, but like, whether it's externally in different companies, or from different functions as well. I've learned a lot from people who have no idea about talent acquisition, spoken to on LinkedIn, or, you know, we've met at a happy hour, or I've taken them coffee because I want to learn how they lead their teams. Because you can sometimes get a bit myopic, wherever you're just working. They just understand recruitment, and they'll teach you about how they would do it. Whereas I want to know, from someone in project management, how they run their teams, and you can learn a whole bunch of stuff with a new approach, or different background.
James Mackey 29:14
I'm so happy you brought up this point because this is one of the biggest lessons learned that I've had in my career. If you are feeling stuck, do not fall into the trap of trying to figure it out yourself. Most of the time, if you're stuck, what it means is that you need to meet a new person that has been through it before and can tell you how to do it. Or you just need to have new experiences.
I was at a CEO off-site a few weeks ago. And one of the things that I'm trying to do in the next six months is set up a board of directors. And I was getting caught up in all the details of like, I don't really know how to do this like I'm trying to learn, I'm talking to these people. And then one of the CEOs was just like, why don't you just retain a law firm that specializes in this? And I'm like, Oh, I did it again, I fell in the trap, right? And we fall into that trap of trying to do stuff ourselves. And usually, the most direct path to success is just new experiences, new people talking and learning from each other.
And so I just always recommend that if anybody's ever feeling kind of stuck in their career, that's the first thing to do. Don't open like a textbook and try to figure it out. Get on the call with somebody and talk to some new people. And that's usually going to be the thing that gets you the result you're looking for.
James Lafferty 30:32
Yeah,I love that. Because if they can ask the right questions, you can sometimes figure it out yourself. Or they give you a different perspective that, like you just said about your board of directors, you haven't. You're like, it's so simple. Why didn't I think of that?You just get a bit cloudy and just need that little boost.
James Mackey 30:54
I know, man, I still do it. It's like, once a quarter I fall down this rabbit hole of trying to figure things out. And then, I'm like, Wait, why am I doing this? I shouldn't be the one doing this. There's somebody who's been doing this for 20,30 years that specializes in this. And I can get that 20 or 30 years of knowledge for an advisory fee on an hourly basis, or being part of a networking group where people are just openly sharing their experiences.
In another example, we were trying to optimize our sales. And I went down this rabbit hole of trying to just research or whatever. And that was like, Wait for a second, who's the best revenue advisor in tech? I don't care how much, even if it's like, what seems like a tonne of money on an hourly basis. Still so cheap when you consider the fact that you're leveraging that 30 years of experience, and you're learning it in an hour.
James Lafferty 31:49
Well, this basically takes me back to the agency days where I'm like, you can try and do it yourself and have a lot of pain and heartache. Or you could pay an expert to do it. And we'll get your guaranteed results. Right. And so, yeah, like with those law firms or the people who you're paying for that experience. It's like recruitment. People come to you for good candidates. You need to go to others when you need that help.
James Mackey 32:11
Absolutely. I think that's probably the best career advice we can give people. What you said, just being proactive, offering to pitch in, offer to help, don't have the limited psychology of like, I'm not going to do that if I'm not being paid for it.
Don't let people take advantage of you, but just understand that in order to grow, you're going to have to learn stuff and add more value. You're going to be compensated in relation to the value that you're adding to the organization. Maybe not overnight. It's not an immediate gratification type of thing. But if you are becoming more valuable and learning in the mid to long run, you're ultimately going to be compensated more and have more professional development opportunities.
James Lafferty 32:50
James Mackey 32:53
Well, it worked for us. I hope it's working for those that are tuning in and are looking to move up. James, this has been a tonne of fun. Thank you so much for coming to the show today.
James Lafferty 33:02
Thanks for having me.
James Mackey 33:04
Yeah, for sure. And for everybody else tuning in. Thank you for joining us and we will see you next time. Take care.