For the second year in a row, I made the trek to Seattle to attend the #Talent42 event, one that stands out among the busy recruiting calendar as one can’t miss talent acquisition conference.
Given the fact that I was no longer a #Talent42 newbie, the butterflies building in my stomach this time were not from being nervous at what to expect from this event, but rather, from excitement knowing exactly what was in store.
A year ago, I wrote about my first experience at #Talent42, and if you couldn’t tell then, I was floored by the amazing speakers, learning opportunities, and the unique chance afforded by this conference to network with new colleagues, connect with other tech recruiters and build lasting relationships with some people who, a year later, I’m lucky enough to call friends – friendships that all started in Seattle.
I thought, one year in, it might make sense for me to do a double take, as it were, and provide another recap for those of you who might not have been able to make it to the conference, or a roundup for those attendees too busy drinking from the firehose of actionable information and insights to stop, step back and look at the bigger tech recruiting picture.
Put simply: #Talent42 delivered again, living up to my already lofty expectations – ones that weren’t dampened by the fact that, in full disclosure, were a little less focused on ROI than last year, considering I had scored a free ticket to this year’s event by virtue of winning last year’s Recruiting Slamfest competition.
This golden ticket provided a golden opportunity to see what, exactly, was going on in the world of tech recruiting, what had changed over the past year and what the next year might have in store for myself and the hundreds of other tech recruiters from around the world who gathered to talk shop, swap war stories and exchange ideas at the 2015 edition of #Talent42.
#Talent42, Part Deux: Sleepless in Seattle.
This year, unlike last, I wasn’t a passive attendee, but rather, was flattered to be asked to lead one of the sourcing roundtables offered during the breakout sessions, which quickly turned into the kind of tool time hack-a-thon that geeks like myself (and anyone else whose idea of fun involves sourcing and slating candidates).
This kind of collaborative learning is rare at many conferences, but #Talent42 is one event where information sharing and insight gathering aren’t limited to the manifold Powerpoint presentations and keynoters on the agenda.
The attendees largely drive this show, which is a big part of why this conference lived up to the promise made by conference organizers John Vlastelica, Carmen Hudson and their partners in crime over at Recruiting Toolbox that #Talent42, to quote their hashtag, #willnotsuck.
Vlastelica, who served as the emcee for this two day event, not only did an outstanding job bringing his passion, knowledge and, uh, dry sense of humor to the proceedings, preventing even the most familiar or cliche of topics from being dry, boring or coming across as repetitive. Hudson, similarly, provided a shining example of how to keep great content coming while still making sure that the needs – and expectations – of attendees were constantly met and that the #willnotsuck promise was not only being met, but exceeded. Mission accomplished.
Here’s what went down in Seattle, and some of the biggest takeaways and lessons learned from this edition of #Talent42 every recruiter, tech or otherwise, needs to know.
#Talent42: Location, Location, Location.
Conferences, like real estate, are all about location, and #Talent42 is one conference that doesn’t switch venues, but rather, perpetually draws tech recruiting’s best and brightest to Seattle.
This tech hub is too often overlooked by the Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley or Silicon Prairie technorati but one that is home to some of the original powerhouses in the industry (think: Microsoft, Amazon, Redfin) and one that’s continuing to attract a wealth of startups, VC cash and top tech talent.
I hadn’t been to Seattle before last year’s event, and since then, I have been back to the shores of the Puget Sound many times, drawn by both the natural beauty and one of the most vibrant, close-knit tech communities blossoming outside the Bay Area. Granted, the stereotypes about Seattle – the perpetual gloom and dreary weather, the seasonal depressive disorder wrought by constant rain – are pretty much true, which is one reason that few can survive the doldrums there without being constantly caffeinated (there’s a reason this is the home of Starbucks).
But the gloom almost always lifts in June, right in time for #Talent42, and this year’s brilliant sunshine and perfect weather cast Seattle in its best light – literally. The breathtaking view from the conference center, held directly off of the harbor, was like something off of a postcard, with pristine, azure waters lapping up against the dramatic skyline of downtown and, just a bit further, the snow capped peak of Mount Rainier, rising like a sentinel in the distance. It was perfect, one of the most scenic backdrops of any conference conceivable.
Add to that the comfortable, computer friendly set-up inside (think: multiple powerstrips, mostly reliable and free WiFi and plenty of places to set up and catch up on those inevitable e-mails piling up from the office), and you’ve got the ideal context for recruiting content.
Throughout the event, you could hear the clicking of dozens of keyboards, frantically taking notes or frenetically filling up the #Talent42 Twitter feed, but unlike, say, SHRM, where attendees are told to turn off their cell phones before the event, this interactive, immersive event experience was heavily encouraged by both the organizers and the technophile attendees as an essential element of the #Talent42 experience.
Before the event even began, Vlastelica threw down the gauntlet, offering a “prize that the winner will love,” (ambiguous, right?) to the person with the most #Talent42 tweets over the next two days. The game was afoot, and from the looks of it, the challenge to “tweet your asses off” was readily accepted, and the contest was fierce. Interestingly, however, when all was said and done, it was a newcomer (and up and comer, in my opinion), Erica Larson, Recruiting Manager for Amazon, who pulled an epic upset in unseating the champion of the world, Matt Charney, who finished a close second.
This was no easy feat, despite Charney’s claim that his loss was due to the fact he was tweeting from multiple accounts, but Larson’s win should show that you don’t have to be an “influencer” or “thought leader” (although she’s both, she does so primarily offline) to add value and starpower to the social conversation, and while I love Matt, it was great watching him lose to someone who actually still recruits.
Editor’s Note: While the editor feels like his loss was in error, he tips his hat to Ms. Larson, whose account, @Tea_Addict13, is one he’s a big fan of, and took a little bite off the shame at losing his social crown. This publication highly recommends connecting with Erica and getting to know her, as she kicks ass.
#Talent42: Listening Into the Puget Sound.
Let’s face it, if there’s one reason most people go to conferences, it’s because of the speakers on the agenda – even if the actual content is only part of the draw of said conference, particularly if there are some other recruiting degenerates there – and while I had plenty of partners in crime at #Talent42, the speakers were once again spectacular enough to command my attention – and everyone else lucky enough to be in the room.
The event kicked off with Elwin Loomis, Director of Engineering for Target, who discussed the many challenges of recruiting top tech talent to a mainstream consumer brand trying to establish itself as a destination for the best programmers and coders in the business as it repositions itself to become, in his words, “a technology company with some store fronts.”
He was followed by such outstanding speakers as Danielle Monaghan, who faces similar challenges as head of consumer talent acquisition for Amazon; data guru Andrew Gadomski of Aspen Advisors, who took a deep dive into the analytics informing Candidate Experience; GoDaddy Chief Architect Arnold Blinn, who spoke of the company’s tech-centric rebranding and repositioning; Transform Talent Acquisition founder Mark Tortorici, who spilled his world-class tech sourcing secrets; and last, but not least, the Boolean Black Belt himself, Glen Cathey, who spoke about candidate engagement and communication best practices, to mention just a few of the many amazing speakers cramming the agenda.
Now, in case you weren’t able to tell from the brief run down above, what makes Talent42 so unique from other recruiting related conferences out there is that these aren’t the same old speakers you see and hear at pretty much every event on the HR calendar. There were few “thought leaders” or “influencers” or “gurus” or “ninjas” or any of that shit on the agenda – instead, this was folks who spend their days slogging away in the talent trenches actually sharing their tech recruiting experiences, personal anecdotes and lessons learned.
This ensured that the topics were not only fresh and unique, but actionable and relevant, too. Which, as a recruiter giving up valuable time at my desk in order to actually learn something, is greatly appreciated. I know I am not alone in sharing this sentiment.
Talent42: A Break Out Event for Tech Recruiting.
Like last year, the main stage wasn’t the only place where attendees could learn; instead, there were also dedicated breakout sessions, two tracks dedicated to talent acquisition leadership and management, and another for the in the trenches type sourcing and challenging recruiting work that are the unglamorous, but essential, elements of being a day-to-day tech recruiter.
I LOVE these breakouts; last year, the only pet peeve I mentioned was that there was only a single breakout session offered, forcing me to choose between the two.
I was relieved that this slight complaint was rectified, and the breakouts were repeated so that I could interact with both tracks and learn both the strategic and tactical takeaways from each distinct breakout session.
What I personally like most about this approach is that as opposed to many conferences that force you to simply sit quietly and listen, with maybe a chance to participate in limited Q&A, this offers all attendees the chance to contribute to the conversation, addressing real questions and real issues in real time. There was no getting home, reviewing notes and asking how, the hell, you were supposed to apply any of this to anything you actually do at the office. Instead, it was all about education, empowerment and learning the whys and hows of tech recruiting instead of simply the “what” that’s the exclusive purview of far too many events.
The breakout topics ranged from new recruiting tools, how to build a better Boolean string, and candidate engagement best practices, all relevant and pertinent topics led by some of the best minds in recruiting and sorucing today.
The “Master Sourcers,” as myself and other breakout leaders were labeled, were an all-star lineup, featuring such luminaries as Sara Fleishman (Sr. Technical Recruiter at HP), Amybeth Quinn (Global Strategic Sourcing Manager at HP), Dean Dacosta (Strategic Sourcing & Research Technologist for Lockheed Martin), Recruiting Toolbox consultants Matt Grove and Carmen Hudson, Stacy Zapar (Global Employer Branding Strategist at TripAdvisor), growth hacker Hakon Verespej and yours truly.
This is a rare lineup to see at any conference, even those dedicated exclusively to sourcing, and it was frankly refreshing to listen to the level of knowledge being dropped by people who actually know what they’re talking about, and don’t mind sharing, teaching and enabling other recruiters, even if, as is the case in tech, they’re also sometimes the competition, too. I love to see this sort of collaboration, even if, as a participant, I was also a little biased, too – and honored to be a part of the sourcing lab action. Added bonus: we all got white lab coats to wear, which was a nice touch and an even nicer souvenir from Seattle.
Since I led a discussion both days, I didn’t get a chance to attend the other track, which involved leadership panel discussions, but my friend and fellow snarketeer Amy Ala did, and had nothing but good things to say about the content focused on what it took to move up or manage a global recruiting function.
The featured panelists, representing companies such as AirBNB, TripAdvisor, Workday and Target, further demonstrate the kind of blue chip brands that make this such a special conference.
The Real Tech Recruiting Tools.
I get it. Sponsors are kind of a necessary evil at conferences, since they’re the ones who more or less underwrite these gatherings and make professional development opportunities possible through their largesse. Of course, for those who chose to invest in #Talent42, it seems like a pretty good source of spend, considering they got the chance to showcase their products in front of 250 technical recruiters and talent leaders over two days, which is kind of a coup for most vendors.
In my opinion, though, the promotional content and shameless selling that so many vendors so at these events is often their primary drawback and potential downfall – there always seem to be too many, and everyone wants to sell you something, which is something that myself and many recruiters truly hate. I mean, we get enough unsolicited sales calls and e-mails at work where you don’t have to also ruin our time out of the office, too. But Talent42, wisely, eschewed quantity of vendors for quality, and the result was that the carefully curated sponsors showcasing their tools were all good matches for the challenges and needs of attendees.
The only repeat vendors I noticed from last year were Dice and Recruiting Toolbox; the former, who has become pretty much a ubiquitous feature of any recruiting conference, announced this year that their Open Web Tool was being launched as a standalone product and not just as an integrated part of their posting or resume database solutions. I have to say, I’m a big fan of this, and it will be interesting to see how this stacks up against Stack Overflow, another vendor whose appearance in Seattle showed their commitment to entering the recruiting market and careers space formerly dominated by Dice.
Other sponsors included Jobvite, Hired.com, Piazza Careers and Greenhouse, all of whom touted pretty impressive products and killer tools that I personally thought were worth checking out – and did a good enough job selling themselves where I never really felt like I was being sold to. Which is an approach I wish more vendors would buy into, frankly.
Top Tech Recruiting Takeaways from Talent42.
One big difference that makes Talent42 distinct from many other conferences, as mentioned, is its encouragement of audience interaction and participation. There’s no sitting and listening to speakers pontificate for hours on end; instead, the agenda was broken up into bite size chunks alternating between the standard keynote fare, interesting breakouts and innovative, unique programming.
One such agenda addition this year was the Tools of Fortune competition, a game show like approach to tech recruiting tools and technologies led by Carmen Hudson and Matt Charney.
In this session, three random contestants from the audience were pulled onstage and asked to identify what the most cutting edge sourcing tools and hottest recruiting technologies on the market were all about. These random audience members were assisted by one of the senior sourcers who “mentored” them onstage.
The ensuing discussions and insights on recruiting tools were awesome, and extremely useful to attendees, providing badly needed exposure to the litany of free tools out there that every recruiter needs to know – and use to increase their efficacy and efficiency.
The many tools discussed covered the gamut from sourcing to scheduling and recruiter productivity, to name a few, but all were impressive enough to share with the audience, and the competition approach to this “Cool Tools” run down made sure that this session was lively, fun and informative.
Last but not least, what really made Talent42 for me wasn’t the stuff that went on during the conference itself, but rather, the amazing networking opportunities presented by the event and its eclectic, world class mix of attendees, who represented a great cross section of the tech recruiting landscape and industry today. I have found that social media makes it easy enough to friend or follow someone, but it takes an event like Talent42 to really get to know them in real life.
I was reminded again and again in Seattle that recruiting has always been social, and it takes face time to really build the kinds of meaningful relationships and lasting connections that make networking actually work. It was great seeing so many old friends, making so many new ones, and, of course, finding a bunch of fellow geeks who get just as excited about tech recruiting as I do to talk shop and swap stories with. I’m not going to name everyone, but let me just say, any conference where I can find someone who’s not afraid to publicly engage in a fierce lightsaber duel is my kind of conference.
It’s too rare I get the chance to let my geek flag fly, and can’t wait until next year – but know I have plenty of new tools, tactics and relationships (not to mention a ton of awesome memories) to keep me busy in the interim. One thing’s clear, though: this is one conference that, truly, #DoesNotSuck. And that, my friends, is a #TrueStory.
I hope to see you next year in Seattle!
About the Author: Derek Zeller draws from over 16 years in the recruiting industry. The last 11 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared Intel space under OFCCP compliance. Currently, he is a Senior Sourcing Recruiter at Microsoft via Search Wizards.
He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines and technologies. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, military and college recruiting strategies.
You can read his thoughts on RecruitingDaily.com or Recruitingblogs.com or his own site Derdiver.com. Derek currently lives in the DC area.
By Derek Zeller
Derek Zeller draws from over 20 years in the recruiting industry, and he currently is the Director of Recruiting Solutions and Channels with Engage Talent. The last 16 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared IT space under OFCCP compliancy. He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, and military and college recruiting strategies. Derek currently lives in the Portland, Oregon area. Follow Derek on Twitter @Derdiver or connect with him on LinkedIn.
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