Elevating the Candidate Experience with Uncommon Purpose
September 20, 2022 | Jason McRobbie
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Given how often we hear about the tough competition for talent, particularly in the tech sector, how is it that so many businesses have yet to revisit their recruitment process? We sit down with Manu Varma, long-time people person and now external relations for Uncommon Purpose, to discuss the good, the bad and the lost opportunities of recruitment—and how playing that wisdom forward within their own client base is building better business scenarios from first contact onwards.
- Leaders need to take stock of what ‘culture’ encompasses - and expand it to include the recruitment process.
- The key ingredients missing from the recruitment process are empathy and an open mind.
- Respect, honesty and responsiveness are the touchstones of the ‘Uncommon’ candidate experience.
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The office is dead. Long live Site B.
When it comes to recruitment, building your own sustainable brewery with social workspace for clients and employees alike is a pretty stellar place to begin.
Having rented ‘office’ space at various local breweries in the GVRD and GTA during the pandemic lockdowns, one Vancouver-based entrepreneurial incubator has taken a decidedly uncommon approach moving forward. The passion and ethos poured into this latest project— creating the ideal scenarios in which individuals and companies can thrive—is something that permeates every aspect of Uncommon Purpose.
“We got rid of the office fairly early on and no one wanted to go back to the office. What came out of that was, why don’t we build our own brewery? So we’re in the process now of building Site B, our own brewery in Port Moody, BC with a brew master from California who is involved in brewing carbon net-neutral beer. That’s actually how we got him into the country, but that extends to how we are sourcing the products for the beer production as well,” said Manu Varma, external relations for Uncommon Purpose. “Those are all going to be sourced from Indigenous farms here in B.C. and we are also ensuring 50 per cent plus one of talent will be coming from underrepresented groups whether that is indigenous peoples, women or people of colour to be working in the brewing industry.”
For Manu and Uncommon Purpose it marks just the latest evolution of building businesses with strong backend, professional support—and an appreciation for talent that begins before the hire with the recruitment process itself. Working with a wide range of non-profits as they do, Site B will also become the place to be for clients and employees alike.
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“Picasso said it best. ‘The meaning of life is to find your gift, but the purpose is to give it away,’ and that’s always been built into our business model. We continue to look to that vision and our mission of creating 100 companies in 10 years. As to how we are doing that, it’s by taking cues from our people, our customers and where we see green space in the market,” said Manu. “What binds us is our name. What we are trying to do is embrace those 17 United Nations’ sustainable development goals and have those built into not only the product we are building, but how we are building those businesses in terms of reducing inequalities, creating mores sustainable living communities for our people—just really embracing the B-Corp movement.”
“Our hypothesis has always been that if we can centralize all those distractions you see startups failing with, they are more likely to succeed. Whether that be IT, hiring, finance, legal, we have that expertise in house and we will continue to support those companies until such time as they can afford it themselves,” said Manu, who joined Uncommon Purpose’s originating company Traction on Demand as the 12th player in a company that would swell to over 1,500.
Now with two saas based product companies in play, Traction Complete and Traction Rec, two more product companies with an active customer base, and two more trying to find product market fit, Uncommon Purpose is well on its way to living up to its name. While taking long term aim at helping build 100 companies in the next 10 years, Manu knows the short-term challenges will be overcome—particularly with the right approach to recruitment.
Unfortunately, Manu points out, most companies are not only wasting the potential, but stand to lose even more in an era where employees and customers are one and the same.
“Let’s start with responsiveness. Isn’t that just a basic, barebones expectation? It can be done through personalized automation at the very least,” said Manu. “‘I ask clients, ‘Are you not curious who your applicants are? Are they also your customers? Don’t you want a system that integrates into your business system that can show you who is applying and is also a customer?’ Everyone should because if it is a lousy candidate experience, do you think they are going to remain or come to you as a customer?”
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Despite knowing the importance of the candidate experience in an oversaturated, global market, Manu remains baffled by how poorly it is typically handled.
“I get really frustrated about it. For me the biggest problem I see is the lack of empathy for the candidate side. We teach so much in the business world about looking at the customer journey, but we don’t do anything for the candidate,” said Manu, who was 12th in the door at Uncommon Purpose’s originating company. “All I ever hear about is the length of the recruitment process, but I say, take a look at recruitment from the candidate’s perspective and work your way back.”
“Intake is intake. Why can’t we learn from procurement or marketing? We nurture leads really well in sales cycle, so why aren’t we doing the same damn thing in our recruitment cycle? These are the things we have been talking about for decades, but no one seems to embrace them,” said Manu. “That is one of the things that we built early—an HR system on a business platform on Salesforce so that I can see a lead in sales, a lead in marketing, a lead as a candidate all in the same 360-degree view.”
“To get that consumer experience into the recruitment cycle—that’s what people expect. Businesses have to get beyond their egos. There are a lot of great cultures out there, but no one is going to come to you for a great culture and culture alone “, said Manu. “That culture starts the second they apply to you. Working with a lot of customers over the year, I have had to ask them, ‘This is the experience you want to start with?’ It sucks.”
The negativity of that experience is only worsened for those just entering the workforce, filled with energy and aptitude, but too often negated at the gate by recruiters.
“This is also a brand building exercise I tell recruiters. I don’t want people screened out just because they don’t fit the briefing. I want to talk to them. We also have some weird questions that we like to give them that speak to who we are,” said Manu. “Whoever said that recruitment should be an entry point into HR is inherently flawed in their thinking because recruiters can’t see transferable skills in those candidates that have just come out of school. They’re looking at their job descriptions, don’t see the words that match and those candidates are out.”
This, Manu stresses, is as opposed to looking for transferable skills and lending a lens of understanding to the junior candidates. “For example, we have a lot of tech companies. Does that mean everyone is going to have or need a computer science degree. No—but those junior candidates don’t know that. They don’t have that savvy or the patience to work through that queue.”
Going that extra distance to not only identify what your company stands for, but to recognize the challenges faced by candidates has only become more important in the global talent market.
“I know we’re not supposed to talk about being proud Canadians, but I am, because we offer a lot. When you go look globally at other countries that are really suffering, you see the difference you can make,” said Manu. “I want to change worlds, by changing each individual’s world.”
Deeply invested in the recruitment experience for over 10 years, he has seen the global reach of that impact continue to grow. “Being able to reach out to other countries that are suffering, there is no better way than to show our humanity than to rescue one person or one family at a time to bring them to a relative place of safety where we can provide them with a better, more stable life.”
“That has always been my strategy because there is just not a lot of senior technology in Canada and if we keep pulling from each other and pillaging the ecosystem then no one is benefiting and we’re just pushing salaries up artificially,” said Manu. “So we either have to build that talent or bring it in internationally.”
As for those aspects which have firmly underpinned Uncommon Purpose’s recruitment efforts and success, Manu offers common wisdom fueled by proven performance.
“It’s not rocket science. It is really about treating each individual as an individual and respecting the history and job experience they bring to the table—even if it doesn’t match the role. I want them coming out thinking it was a great experience regardless,” said Manu. “Because maybe I don’t hire them today, but I might six months from now.”
Hand in hand with respect, honesty always works well for Manu. “The second key piece is honesty. I shoot from the hip. If it’s not a fit, right off the bat, instead of following at some later date with a canned, garbled email, I am going to have that conversation with them. I don’t want to waste their time or the hiring manager.”
The third piece of the elevated candidate experience brings us back to Manu’s greatest frustration. “The third piece is that level of responsiveness. I want a 24-hour turnaround. Is it hard to do? Sure. But once you get into that cadence, it’s what you do. In a world where we rate our Uber experiences right off the bat, we can just do so much better with our recruitment response time.”
As for those who still need time to think about it, Manu relates what he has passed on to his own business units: “What do you mean, think about it? No. The two things you need to focus on the most are keeping your talent and bringing it in.”
The essence of what Manu is a simple as the path is often complex—love what you do and help others do the same.
“We’re really trying to really embrace that Japanese concept of Ikigai—finding love at work. It’s all about asking, ‘What am i good at, what do I enjoy doing and what does the world need?’ So as much as possible we’re trying to craft jobs knowing that we have specific requirements, but with a real focus on giving people meaningful work so they don’t have to job hunt and we don’t have to fill that gap that’s left.”