Tips for staying tech savvy to recruit and retain talent


Originally published in American City Business Journals

By Diana Thomas

Recently, I learned about Handshake, an app that connects students with employers. Two college kids started it informally by connecting their friends with people who they knew were hiring.

I was shocked to learn the extent of their influence: This app counts 14 million students and 300,000 employers among its users. In just a few years, it’s evolved to become a huge disruptor in the academic recruiting area.

In my industry, human resources, that’s a big marketplace, and not one to ignore.

Unfortunately, a lot of leaders simply aren’t aware of incredible advancements in their industry, especially in the area of technology. When I ask these leaders how they’re learning and growing, they often respond, “I hardly have time to keep up with my job, much less read, network or attend conferences.”

I sympathize. For instance, in HR, the job is arguably harder than ever. There’s unprecedented awareness about creating the best work environment, especially in terms of diversity and inclusion. We’re recruiting and attracting talent in the tightest job market in 30 years. We’re asked to produce results faster than ever, with tighter margins and fewer resources.

But if we don’t know about disruptions and we’re still trying to recruit, attract, and engage people the same way we did 10 years ago, then we’re not going to find the best talent.

It’s not about trying to find a way to squeeze in learning. All talent leaders need to make sure they’re creating space to learn, especially around what’s going on in technology. In many cases, it’s not our day-to-day job to learn and grow, so we have to prioritize it for ourselves.

Here’s where to start:

Listen to the chatter about your organization

Talent champions have so much more access to what people are saying and thinking about their company — if they know where to find it.

Internally, they should be leveraging their sophisticated HR systems to find out why people leave and how to prevent future issues. If you aren’t leveraging all of the tools out there, you aren’t setting yourself up for success.

Externally, you should know exactly what people are saying on review sites like Glassdoor. Even on hiring websites like Indeed, your people are being contacted to review your company. Look for patterns like “upper management doesn’t listen to us” or “I don’t feel included.”

Don’t have time for this sleuthing? You’ll have to create some, because if you don’t take care of small flares, they’ll become fires later on — and dealing with those will cost you much more time.

Build a network to keep you informed

I get together with other learning and HR leaders twice a year, without any agenda. We simply talk about what new solutions we’re using, issues we’re seeing and new information that’s making our lives easier (or harder).

For example, when we were moving content from classrooms to online, I learned from my network which technology was worthwhile or wasteful, if we really needed soundproof rooms, and the importance of best-in-class headsets.

There’s no excuse not to have a network these days. LinkedIn is currently the best place to connect with like-minded HR leaders, and it isn’t time-consuming. It takes a few minutes to set up a profile and connect with hundreds of people who can help you out in any specific area. Reach out to people, because they’re just as busy and just as eager for solutions.

And if you want more than an online interaction, then say, “Can I call you? Can we have a conversation? Here are some things I’m working on, and I’d love to learn what you’re working on. I think you have some of the same challenges. I’m willing to share what we’re doing.”

Stay curious

I was talking to someone at a conference last month who confessed she had no idea what was meant by “augmented reality.” She just fell silent when it was brought up in conversation. She said, “I don’t want to jump in and admit that I don’t know anything about it.”

You can’t expect to know everything, because the world’s changing so fast. But you also can’t settle for ignorance.

Stay curious and take action when you don’t know something. Get comfortable saying, “Wait a minute, can you back up? What did you just say? What kind of asset is that? Who’s doing what with that?”

Perhaps people don’t have as much time to sit down and read magazines as they did in the past, but everyone should be scanning articles online and saving them to read in the seams of the day. (Get the Pocket app if you want some help with that.) Personally, I keep a learning journal on my phone and note any new or unfamiliar topics I encounter; when I get home, I hit Google.

The stakes are much higher now for anyone trying to recruit and retain the best talent. Our job is bigger. And if we’re not taking time to learn, we’re not winning at the highest level.

Diana Thomas is the former U.S. vice president for learning and development at McDonald’s and the host of the “Talent Champions” podcast.