Barcelona Start-up News: Interview with Tamsen Wassell
Tamsen Wassell is something of a hiring activist: she believes that the HR practices we use today are completely obsolete and need to be disrupted immediately. Travelling back and forth between the United States and Barcelona, where she lives as an expat, Tamsen works with companies to help them make their hiring processes smarter and simpler, get top performing employees and keep them engaged. How do we get rid of tedious application processes and useless resumes, and what do we replace them with, if anything? How are her innovative ideas to revolutionize recruitment received in Spain? In our interview, Tamsen speaks her mind about all of it.
The Science of Hiring
As we sit down to chat, Tamsen tells me that she just got back from an agile conference in Cologne, Germany, where she gave a talk on the science of hiring.
“I’m an advocate of disrupting Human Resources. There’s scientific proof that resumes and cover letters tell you absolutely nothing about whether a person is able to do a job. They’re just a waste of time and resources, bureaucratic barriers that have no added value to the hiring process. And what do we do? We keep on using them!”
Her frustration with the field of HR stems from the simple observation that in the 45 years that she has been employed since her very first job, things haven’t changed a bit.
“EX’s job would be to create an experience, a path for employees.”
“No one is fundamentally questioning a system that has been outdated for decades, and has never been disrupted. All that people have done is put some tech on it, like applicant tracking systems and things like that, but they keep on using the old methods. I call that paving the cow path. It’s still the meandering path that the cow trod on, it’s just paved now to make it look prettier.”
Get Rid of HR! It’s Time for Employee Experience
What she proposes is change on a very fundamental level.
“One of the things that I’m advocating is that we get rid of the term Human Resources, which is a term that is really offensive to most people, and call it EX, or Employee Experience. Just turn it around, and approach recruitment from the employee’s perspective, focus on their experience, instead of making it sound like you’re trying to take advantage of them. I also think that the things that candidates hear about a company, so whatever falls under the category of employer branding (which is normally the marketing department’s job), should also be a part of EX. And EX’s job would be to create an experience, a path for employees.”
One of the biggest perks to this new approach would be reducing turnover.
“One of the reasons why you have so much churn in the technology world is that people get bored. Millenials say that the job that they find most satisfying is one that gives them growth opportunities. They don’t want to get stuck doing the same thing for years. Right now, the average ‘life cycle’ of a tech worker is around 18 months. Basically what happens is that when a young tech person gets a job, it takes them about 3-4 months to not only learn, but become proficient in the new technology or tool that they’re using. Then they play around with it for about a year, and then they start looking for the next challenge, the next cool thing that they get can do – in the form of a new job. The hiring system that we have now actually encourages this cycle, this churn. So what it all comes down to is: how do we keep people engaged throughout the whole process to reduce the churn?”
“No applications, no cover letters, no resumes, no panel interviews where they ask candidates what animal they would be if they were animals, none of that!”
So how do we do that? What is there that we can do to change the status quo?
“We have to blow up the entire hiring process. No applications, no cover letters, no resumes, no panel interviews where they ask candidates what animal they would be if they were animals, none of that! Since we’re talking about tech people, you still have to do some testing for skills. But the entire process has to be different: companies need to have open houses when people can come in informally, spend some time there, check out what you do, and have them go up to you if they’re interested. And then, you can say: now that we’re talking, why don’t you take a couple of tests we have? I think that’s the future. Making hiring much more informal and much more personal at the same time.”
Yay for Data, Nay for Intuition
One of the problems that Tamsen still often sees is that people are still uncomfortable with trusting data when it comes to hiring. They believe that their intuition is better.
“There’s one huge problem with intuition, and it’s called implicit bias. What that means in general is that when two things aren’t exactly aligned, when they don’t fit into the little boxes that we have in our heads, it takes a while for our brains to process them. This is a neurological reaction that happens a lot in the brains of interviewers during an interview process: if the candidate is saying something different from what they imagined, if they’re not hearing what they want to hear, their brains don’t just slow down, they go into full cognitive dissidence. They have already decided what the right answer is, and if that’s not what they get, they have an immediate emotional reaction. A lot of strong candidates are rejected with an excuse like “not a good cultural fit”, because of this neuro-meltdown that the interviewers are having. This whole thing can be overcome, but you have to be really conscious about it, and people have to be educated to be able to work around these biases.”
“Here in Barcelona, people look at me like I have absolutely lost my mind.”
There’s quite a difference between how Tamsen’s ideas are received in her native United States, and how people react to them here in Spain.
“People are generally skeptical. They can’t imagine how we could start hiring differently. But, I think that in the United States, this is the golden age for changing HR practices. Lately it’s been a lot easier to at least get people to look at some things significantly differently, mostly because they are really frustrated with the old system, and they’re willing to try something new. Here in Barcelona, when I have these conversations about blowing up the structures that we have in place, people look at me like I have absolutely lost my mind.”
So what is it about companies here that makes them hold on to the old-fashioned ways?
“Hierarchical structures are still very strong in Spain. People are used to being told what to do, and that’s not in line with the things that I advocate, like hiring for potential, which means that we should be hiring people even when there is a skill mismatch. The question we should be asking is whether a person has the ability, not the skills, to do a job. Another thing that’s going to be a challenge for Spanish companies is managing multicultural teams. The amount of foreign workforce that the tech scene in Barcelona is drawing in is just unprecedented.”