Tech talent acquisition: An interview with Spendesk's Szymon Kubicki
Joanna Kocik

Published on October 5, 2021


This article was originally shared on the Human Panel blog. We liked it so much, we've republished it in full.

Szymon Kubicki is Global Head of Talent Acquisition at Spendesk, a French startup that helps others calm the chaos of corporate spending with its all-in-one spend management platform.

Spendesk operates in Europe and the U.S., and employs a multinational team of over 300 people. The company has recently closed a €100m Series C funding round and is rapidly expanding in its key markets: France, Germany, the UK, and the US.

Human Panel invited Szymon to talk about the challenges of today’s tech talent market and people analytics, and the use of data in recruiting top talent.

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Human Panel: “We are in the next war of talent,” say HR leaders, pointing out that we are experiencing an acute talent shortage and the rise of an employee market. As the Global Head of Talent Acquisition at Spendesk, what does the talent market look like today from your perspective?

Szymon Kubicki: We are seeing a post-pandemic change in the market. Some trends were already visible before Covid-19. Now they are accelerating, as social and economic factors no longer block them.

If we talk about tech talent and the SaaS market segment, the market is more competitive than ever. We are observing a complete globalization of the market – everyone is competing with everyone else. This means that Spendesk can compete with tech giants for talent, which of course has its pros and cons.

I recognize two big trends shaping the market. They are more than just the successors to the pandemic – which means they started long before. The first is workplace flexibility and remote working. Even before the pandemic, 10-15% of us worked remotely. Today, that number is 60%, and I predict it will stay around 40% globally. In tech companies, we already know that remote work is efficient and people can work from anywhere, which means you can recruit talent globally.

The second trend is talent mobility – digital nomads move around the globe and live anywhere they want to.

Is it harder to recruit talent in such a diffuse environment?

It depends on the cultural context of the hire, which varies from country to country. For Spendesk's talent acquisition process, we use a company-wide candidate assessment methodology, but we have different hiring strategies for different departments, teams, and markets. We work closely with each management team to understand their needs and challenges.

We also recalibrate our hiring strategy as we grow. Today, Spendesk is present in four major markets and employs a team of over 300 people, but we started as a much smaller company.

Let us dive deeper into your hiring strategies. How does data help you attract talent?

When we talk about strategy and how we help leaders make decisions, there are certain things we can project with data. To do that, first we need to understand what kind of data can support business leaders in their plans.

For example, in the Spendesk Talent Acquisition team, we want to assess our hiring velocity accurately to know how to support our product growth. We hold weekly meetings with the team to understand the factors we need to take into consideration. This way, we can explain how our hiring engine works and see whether all aspects of hiring are meeting our time and quality expectations. It’s similar to the engineering approach, where you estimate what you can produce in a given time based on historical data.

Can you elaborate on how you use this historical data in talent acquisition?

We look at the history of our recruiting pipeline: How many people we have approached in a given time period, how many have applied for the job, and how many we have interviewed. This allows us to monitor what our conversion rates are in the recruiting funnel. In other words, we get to know how good we are in terms of moving candidates forward.

We also look at the bigger picture, that is, the status of the talent market. Based on that, we can predict how many people we can hire for given roles and positions. Consequently, we can predict the growth of the business and how the talent we hire will impact revenue. Of course, we also look at our needs – the product we want to build and the number of employees we need to achieve that goal.

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You mentioned that you use a company-wide assessment methodology in the hiring process. What does that look like?

It means that we always stay very analytical and focus on facts that we gather throughout the hiring process. Each candidate for a position is evaluated by a committee of people involved in the hiring process. The final decision rests with the hiring manager. He or she is able to make an informed decision thanks to all the data collected during the process.

Let us say you have two candidates for a job. The first seems to have a perfect education and background for the position, while the other has no formal education but has some great skills. Which of the two would be more valuable to you?

That’s an interesting question. At Spendesk, we actually do not pay that much attention to the candidate’s educational background. Even the company the candidate last worked for is not very relevant, because it’s been proven through studies that recent jobs are not predictive of future performance. Neither is education.

At Spendesk, we believe in the power of science and data and base our hiring on four pillars: cognitive ability, personality traits, quality of technical/business skills, and cultural traits. For each pillar, we have different forms of tests: Interviews, case studies, technical tasks, assessment centers.

What else do you track during the candidate journey along your recruitment process?

We monitor the recruitment channels closely – whether they are delivering us the right number, volume, and quality of candidates.

What’s important to us is also the quality of hire. It is a metric based on our proprietary model. It shows us the value a new hire brings to the organization. It’s very beneficial to the entire company because it shows whether we are investing money in hiring the right people at the right time.

How do you measure that?

It’s similar to the NPS metric. We get a score from a hiring manager and, after a certain amount of time, we get a score from the new hire’s manager. Our goal is to determine if the recruiting process has really tested this person’s skills. We ask: How is this person performing? How is the performance of the entire team? Is this person a true fit? Does he or she have the potential to thrive? What is the hiring quality of the entire team?

If the result is below our expectations, we dig deep to understand why. Maybe there is something wrong with the interview process? Are we giving this person the right resources to grow? Or maybe something happened in that particular process? We look for mistakes to learn from.

Do you also investigate the reasons why the candidate declined your offer?

Yes, just as we track the reasons for early turnover. We try to understand what we missed in the hiring process and track the reasons for rejection. Collecting this data helps our Talent Acquisition team identify the areas where we need to improve. Sometimes, the reasons for rejection are very personal, but sometimes you can see some regularities. For example, candidates expect more engagement from the company, and they want more insight into the organization.

People often join a company not only because of employer branding, but because they have heard from someone that it’s a great place to work. They want to work there because they want to work with certain people and certain teams.

With such a wealth of data, how do you know where to look?

We have access to a lot of data, and, consequently, data literacy is a must for anyone working in talent acquisition. We see so many benefits to a data-driven approach! Firstly, it’s been proven that we do not make the best logical decisions as humans. We tend to take mental shortcuts, and we have a lot of cognitive biases – thus, we need data to facilitate decision making.

Without data, you are blind. With data, you can understand complex systems better and see what works and what doesn’t.

Crucially, you need to be able to tell your business partner what the data means. What it means to have a certain number of applicants, why it can affect salary ranges, why it matters for the business strategy and hiring policy.

Do you think the role of HR will change once it is driven by data?

Today, talent acquisition teams are expected to be strategic business partners to the organization. This means we need to provide accurate data and proposals that are supported by that data. For a long time, we have been making data-driven decisions in sales and finance – now it’s time for us to do the same in HR.

Do you want to structure your talent acquisition process like Spendesk? Learn how you can improve your recruitment, planning, and retention with solutions offered by Human Panel.

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