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Hiring at Isentia: how to grow a specialist, global team

“It’s almost polar opposite where you either know about us and what we do, or you’ve never heard about us.”

That’s how much of a niche business Isentia has. Working on media intelligence, Isentia helps clients track and analyze both print and online content, including social media and broadcast. In other words: everything. What’s more, Isentia is the Asia-Pacific region’s leading media intelligence company with:

  • Over 5,000 clients;
  • 24/7/365 analysis;
  • More than 1,100 employees across 15 countries;
  • and information from over 5,500 print, radio and television media outlets and over 250 million online conversations per month.

How did Isentia make sure that every new hire would move this mighty empire further – even when potential candidates “had never heard” about them? In the following talk, Belinda Armstrong, the HR Director for Australia and New Zealand at Isentia, shares with us the ways to make your next hire count, even when your number of employees crosses the thousandth threshold. Some key points:

  • Centralize all hiring tasks and communication in one platform;
  • Recruit for attitude instead of skill;
  • Hiring doesn’t stop at the new employee’s first day;
  • Make all the small efforts to create a big impact;
  • Know who you are, and help others know who you are.

Useful links from the talk

This interview with Belinda Armstrong, the HR Director for Australian and New Zealand at Isentia, was conducted and condensed by Hagi Trinh from Recruitee.

Centralize all hiring tasks and communication in one platform.

Hagi Trinh: Hi Belinda, could you tell me about your hiring team and the hiring process at Isentia?

Belinda Armstrong: I have a central HR team, but the responsibility of recruitment lays on our line managers. Being able to have a platform which everyone has access and can utilize has been really useful.

The HR team facilitates the recruitment process. We work with the line managers on where we’re going to advertise depending on the type of role that we have. The HR team is responsible for posting the job – making sure that the job is on our careers page, as well as any other online job boards.

Then we support the line managers in accessing Recruitee. We talk them through the process of how to use it, how to write to candidates, how to communicate with candidates using the platform – rather than chopping and changing between, perhaps, Outlook or email and then Recruitee.

Then the majority of the line managers will take the lead in assessing [talent] and determining if they’re suitable or not, contacting those candidates that are suitable, and beginning that process of recruitment.

Hagi Trinh: In general, how many stages of interviews do you have?

Belinda Armstrong: Two is probably more common, but sometimes three. We would often have a phone interview to start the process followed by a first face-to-face interview. Sometimes it’s followed by a second face-to-face. It does change a little bit depending on the line manager’s need.

Hagi Trinh: What do you find most useful with the hiring platform of Recruitee?

Belinda Armstrong: Probably one of the best things that I’ve found in the platform is the Team Notes section. Because we have such a remote workforce and teams who work 24/7 – we have a night team also – being able to communicate with either line managers or us when we’re talking about candidates and the recruitment process has been really useful. For example, a line manager tagged me in a comment to say: “Belinda, I noticed that this candidate has applied for the night shift role as well as the day time role,” and it was a question about the suitability of that candidate and the process they should follow. It’s easier than emailing back and forth. It was something that was immediate and linked to the candidates. So it means that anyone, if I – hopefully I don’t – but if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, that information is still on the platform rather than in my inbox.

Recruit for attitude instead of skill.

Hagi Trinh: What are your hiring criteria?

Belinda Armstrong: We work with the very simple model here that skills can be taught, and we try to recruit for attitude. We aim to bring the right people who are passionate about Isentia into this business. We have a number of steps along the way where we try to ensure that we do that. The application form is really important for us. We try to keep it short because we want people to be able to quickly apply. But we also want it to indicate their desire to work here and their desire for the role that they’re applying for, and to show us a little bit of their personality.

Then, either the phone screen or the face-to-face interviews, which are very valuable. Through that process, we obviously ask about their skills, and their previous work experience, but we also ask about their previous behaviors and the way in which they do their work. Because, to me, the way in which you do your work is almost more important than what you do.

So following that process, if we’re still keen on someone, we do reference checks. We ideally speak to that person’s previous leader to just confirm their work experience, what they say they have done, what they’ve actually done, and get a little bit of an insight into how we can get the best out of them. So it’s not just about “What did they do? How did they do it? Ok, thanks very much.” It’s actually: “What worked with that person? What motivated them to do a really good job? How can we do that?”

Then, based on a number of touch-points, we make our decision – be it through the platform, over the phone, via emails, face-to-face meetings, and just overall engagement with people. It’s not just about “Can they do the job?”. It’s actually about “Do they want to be here?”, and “Can they make a difference to our business?”.

Hiring doesn’t stop at the new employee’s first day.

Hagi Trinh: How do you onboard new hires?

Belinda Armstrong: We’re all about new hires, and we have a few touch-points with our new team members. One of the actions we take is to have a ‘3-month Check In’. Typically, this is done in a group format, and we ask them questions about their experience coming on board with Isentia. So we ask them about the recruitment process and what they’ve experienced in their first 3 months with Isentia.

Onboarding is so important, and we still have a lot of work to do to ensure the initial experience at Isentia is an exciting one. It’s a key project that me and my team will be working on for the next financial year here in Australia and New Zealand. I want to make sure Isentia is putting its best foot forward in ensuring that our onboarding process is smooth. It promotes us as a great company, and we want to be that type of company that makes great decisions for recruitment and doesn’t let its people down. The job isn’t done on day one; The onboarding process has to keep happening as they work their way through the business.

Make all the small efforts to create the big impact.

Hagi Trinh: When do you know if someone is a good hire?

Belinda Armstrong: When you’re dealing with people, it’s still a bit of a gamble. And at Isentia, we want the best of the best. We want to make sure that we’re making the right decision. Part of my role is ensuring that it’s not just about a person in a chair, it’s actually about making sure we get that right person, and if we don’t get that right person, then we don’t just make the call for the sake of making it. So how do we know that we make the right call? I would love to say we know on day one, but I just don’t think it’s possible. I think it’s a minimum of three months in.

Hagi Trinh: What do you find as the most challenging thing in hiring?

Belinda Armstrong: It’s a tough market. We work in a niche field, so our industry is quite specialized, which means that it’s almost polar opposite where you either know about us or you’ve never heard about us. And we’re competing with the likes of Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, all of those big names who are doing some really great things. And I know here at Isentia we’re doing some really great things. But because we’re not a huge brand like that, candidates don’t always know about us and who we are.

Hagi Trinh: So do you have some sort of strategy to pull people in?

Belinda Armstrong: There is no big bang approach. To me, it’s piece by piece, where we’re working on our employer brand, where we’re working on our benefits, where we’re working on our onboarding process. We’ve got an IT team and a product team here that are working on some really, really great things. We’re working with top-of-the-line software and databases, and that is really exciting. It’s just that we’re not very good at telling our story. We’re trying to get better at that and promoting ourselves in that light.

Know who you are, and help others know who you are.

Hagi Trinh: It’s true that hiring is a sum of lots of efforts here and there. Now looking back, is there one thing that you have done that significantly contributes to most of your successful hires so far?

Belinda Armstrong: I think it’s changing the attitude: changing the mindset of our leaders to recruit for attitude and train the skills. It’s making sure that we hold out for the good candidates and that our people make the difference here at Isentia – so we need to make sure we’re bringing the right people in. The platform of Recruitee contributes to our brand and the ease of candidates being able to apply online. Previously, we had a quite dated and clunky ATS. It wasn’t very user-friendly – for us in the HR team or our Leaders. To know now that we’ve got a platform that we can use, that we’re very proud of, that matches our personality, and matches who we are as a company, is great.

Hagi Trinh: And the last question: Which advice would you give to teams who want to grow internationally?

Belinda Armstrong: First thing first, you have to know your market. So you have to know where the candidates are and where they are looking for roles. If they are not looking for roles, how do you find them? It’s probably the key point to it.

The second thing is to be sure of who you are as a business. Because ultimately, you don’t want to just find someone because you think they’re great. You want to find the right candidate that you think is great, but also thinks that your company is great. To me, that’s really key here at Isentia: that people think what we’re doing is interesting and fascinating. It’s perhaps something they’ve never been exposed to before, but they’re interested in what’s going on here. I think in order to expand in any market, there has to be that mutual attraction. The companies get to know the market that they want to expand into and help that market understand who they are as a company.

Hagi Trinh: Thank you, Belinda, for sharing your story with us!

Final thoughts

We would like to thank Belinda Armstrong for joining us! Her hiring shows that whether it is the tenth or the thousandth employee, you need to establish a structured and centralized hiring process. Communication should be instant, and candidates should get a better experience. In return, the more candidates will share their positive experiences with your employer brand, and the more candidates you can reach, even in a niche market. We can’t wait to see how much Isentia will grow in the future!

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