Q&A with Glen Cathey: three skills today’s recruiters need to be successful

Glen Cathey is recruitment through and through.

A Boolean master, sourcing expert, diversity & inclusion advocate, AI technology innovator, recruitment leader, prominent speaker and thought leader. Glen is at the forefront of all things Talent Acquisition (TA) and oozes passion for the industry.

Here we speak to him to find out his thoughts on the state of TA today, the skills we need to succeed, how can we find Talent if LinkedIn/SEEK/Indeed (job boards) turned off the lights and didn’t exist anymore, and more!


Q: Talent Acquisition is all about people. So why, in your opinion, aren’t sourcers and recruiters more focused on understanding people, what motivates them, and how to best communicate with and influence them?

GLEN: I must admit that when I started blogging back in 2008, I focused solely on the “finding” element of sourcing because that’s what people were talking about back them…there wasn’t a focus on the human element.

After many years of blogging and speaking about the “finding” aspect of sourcing and recruiting, I didn’t want to keep saying the same things and wanted to evolve my content

So I started writing and talking about effective engagement (emails, InMails, phone calls, etc.) starting in 2014 at LinkedIn’s Talent Connect, then at SOSUEU in 2015 where I focused on empathy, coined the phrase “be human,” and explored neuromarketing research.

Since then, there has been an explosion of content around effective messaging and engagement, and more recently some folks are beginning to talk about the psychology of sourcing and recruiting.

But the amount of content being created and shared around this area is still shockingly sparse.

If I had to guess and the root cause of why more sourcers and recruiters don’t focus more on understanding people, what motivates them, and how to best communicate and influence them, I’d have to say it’s because it’s not in the training content of (m)any companies.

Unless someone is taught to think about the human element of sourcing and recruiting, they will likely default to everything else they are taught, which are often the mechanics of finding, screening, and advancing people through the funnel.

Oddly enough, even though my university degree is in psychology, I never really made the link myself until I started writing and speaking about effective engagement, and examining the techniques and strategies I used myself when recruiting.

That’s when I made the connection that what I had been doing all along when it comes to getting people to respond to my outreach, to be open to having a conversation about their career and what they’d like to do next, prepping and debriefing candidates for interviews, presenting and getting acceptance for offers is pretty much 100 percent psychology.

So unless at some point in your career as a sourcer or recruiter someone trains you on the human element, you either have to make the formal connection yourself and explore it further, or you need to be exposed to people who are sharing content on the topic online and at conferences.

Q: How do you think candidates’ expectations/attitudes have changed as a result of increased use of recruitment technology by recruiters?

GLEN: Although we’ve all been annoyed at some point by being forced to interact with automated systems rather than speak with a real person, we’ve come to realise that’s the new norm.

Similarly, I think candidates will realise that automated solutions in recruitment will be the new norm soon.

With the proliferation of recruiting chatbots, we’ve seen data to suggest that candidates enjoy the experience, and it’s certainly favoured over never hearing back from a recruiter about their application which is still the norm today.

As such, I can see candidates being disappointed with companies that don’t use recruitment technology like chatbots.

I also suspect there will be an increased interest in understanding how AI is being used in the evaluation of candidates – it’s one thing to ask a recruiter why they aren’t being moved forward in the recruitment process, but right now, most AI-powered solutions can’t provide understandable explanations.

As such, I believe candidates will have increased expectations around explainability with regard to recruitment technology.

For passive candidates, I see an attitude of, “If the company really wanted to recruit me, they would have used a person to reach out to me.”

With some of the solutions on the market today, it’s all too easy for automated recruitment tech to become spamming mechanisms, and multiple companies using the same solution could end up sending the exact same email to the same candidate.

I do think that in-demand Talent will “tune out” automated outreach as noise and expect a human touch as the signal of genuine interest.

Q: What is the role of sourcers in the recruiting world today, especially when more and more sourcing tools (claiming to be able to help us source 10X faster and easier) are becoming available? How can sourcers evolve to stay relevant?

GLEN: I’ve been involved in the development of some sourcing tools that really do make it a lot easier to find people.

Some solutions on the market today can even take a job, automatically create search strings, find people, send them emails with links to engage a prescreening chatbot, and essentially produce a shortlist of qualified, interested and available candidates.

That’s what a lot of sourcers are doing today, so we already have tools that can do what sourcers do. While these solutions seem to work best for lower level and less complex job requirements, I am sure with time they will improve and be effective with practically all types of positions.

So where does this leave human sourcers? I don’t think many sourcers will be replaced with these tools any time soon or if ever – instead, they will use them.

A couple of analogies might help here, so think about accounting software or data visualisation solutions…they have not replaced accountants or data analysts.

Instead, the ability to use accounting software and data visualisation tools have become required skills for accountants and data analysts.

When it comes to sourcing, human sourcers will configure and tweak these automated solutions, craft effective initial and follow-up messaging, and whenever the tools don’t produce enough of the right candidates, the human sourcers can use different tools and manual search & engage efforts to source the right Talent.

To me, automated sourcing tools and human sourcers are not either/or, but an AND.

Although automated sourcing solutions for roles where the Talent supply is high could be used to fully automate the sourcing process, I believe there will always be a need for humans using a combination of automated tools and manual methods for roles where there is high demand for but a low supply of Talent, where finding and getting responses from passive Talent is much more challenging.

Sourcers can stay relevant by learning how to effectively use automated sourcing solutions as well as focusing on the human element – the psychology of sourcing.

Q: Where would recruiters find Talent if LinkedIn/SEEK/Indeed (job boards) turned off the lights and didn’t exist anymore?

GLEN: Ha! I see this question posted quite a bit about LinkedIn on Twitter, as if using a big source like LinkedIn, Seek, Indeed, etc., isn’t “real” sourcing – which is preposterous.

However, if those sources disappeared tomorrow, recruiters would (hopefully!) turn to their ATS/CRM first, and second to the Internet where there is more information available to be found for more people on a daily basis.

While you can do Internet sourcing manually (e.g., Google search), there are so many tools out there now that make it quite easy to find people online.

And let’s not forget good old-fashioned referrals. 😊

Q: What do you think are the three skills that today’s recruiters need to be successful? And why are they crucial to success?

GLEN: #1 Empathy, and I believe this will always be #1, because recruiters work with people, and it is absolutely critical that they focus on understanding the people they work with, and that while changing jobs can be exciting, it is often a frustrating, uncertain, a stressful experience.

If recruiters don’t take the time to care about and understand what the candidates they’re working with are feeling and thinking, they won’t ever be good recruiters.

It’s no different than a nurse or a doctor – they can go about their work mechanically and do all of the right things medically necessary, but they’re working with people – and the best experiences you have with nurses or doctors don’t just come from a positive medical outcome, it’s also how they took the time to be present with you as an individual, to understand and address your questions, concerns and fears, and to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible throughout the entire process, and to take the time to follow up with you afterwards and ensure that you’re okay.

Doing these things comes from empathy – taking the time to understand and share the feelings of another person, and they are the same things great recruiters should be doing with candidates.

#2 Learning – Always being curious and open to finding and exploring new and better ways of sourcing and recruiting.

I am not sure where I heard this quote, but it’s stuck with me, “Only dead fish swim with the stream” (I just looked it up, apparently Malcolm Muggeridge said it).

To me, it means it takes conscious thought and energy to go anywhere but with the flow.

#3 Critical thinking – At the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Michael Scriven & Richard Paul defined critical thinking as “The intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesising, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”

Using sourcing/recruiting technology doesn’t make you a good or effective sourcer or recruiter – as Grady Booch said, “A fool with a tool is still a fool.”

I’ll also quote Amybeth Quinn, aka @researchgoddess: “Tools will come and go, but critical thinking skills are what give you a solid professional foundation and will allow you to exceed no matter what you do or where you go.”

If you don’t have critical thinking skills, you could be at risk of being replaced by technology – after all, what are you bringing to the table that the technology can’t?

Critical thinking skills are what make humans so effective at solving problems, creating solutions, and adapting to changing conditions.

If you have solid critical thinking skills, you always have the ability to add value to your company, your team, and your role as a sourcer or recruiter.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

GLEN: It’s incredibly difficult to pick a single best, so I will just pick one of many things shared with me over the course of my career that had a significant impact on me.

It wasn’t really advice – it was a question, “Is this the best candidate you can find?”

That was asked of me perhaps in my 3rd or 4th month of recruiting, and it was such a simple but profoundly interesting question.

I had found and submitted what I thought was a strong candidate, and while they weren’t disagreeing with my assessment, my manager simply asked if it was the best candidate I could find.

After a pause, I responded, “Probably not. If I performed some more searches and reached out to some more people, I could likely find someone even better.”

After that, I created a process by which I would always find and engage a minimum number of people so that I could actually end up with many strong candidates, and then choose the best slate to present to my manager.

I think every sourcer and recruiter needs to ask themselves that same question, as I believe a great many sourcers and recruiters simply move forward with the first candidates that meet the minimum qualifications that respond.

That isn’t a strategy for hiring the best Talent.

Q: What do you think the future of recruitment is going to look like?

GLEN: Exciting! More automation and AI-enabled technology is inevitable, and it should be seen as a good thing. What’s not to like about tools that help you be more productive and effective, and that can improve candidate experience?

However, with advancements in AI, people and companies will need ensure they have and adhere to guidelines for the ethical and responsible use of AI.

For example, people need to be are aware of and consent to the use of AI in their consideration for candidacy and employment, and they should be able to get an explanation and to appeal if an automated solution rejected them.

AI-powered solutions must be fair and inclusive and be measured for algorithmic bias to ensure they are not systematically disfavouring people of specific genders, races/ethnicities, ages, etc.

Also, I do hope the future of recruiting involves more people in Talent Acquisition focusing on the human element – the psychology of recruiting.


Glen will be sharing more at the upcoming Australasian Talent Conference 2020. Super early bird tickets are available now, get them before they sell out, see you then!

ATC2020 Banner Ad

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Sign up to our newsletter

Get a weekly digest on the latest in Talent Acquisition.

Deliver this goodness to my inbox!