Zalando's employer brand wasn't built in a day.
This post is part of a series of contributions from talent acquisition professionals titled "Talking Talent". This month's guest is Dr. Magdalena Masluk-Meller, Talent Sourcing Lead at Zalando.
Zalando is Europe’s leading online fashion platform. It is based in Berlin, Germany, and operates in 17 countries. It generated more than 5 billion euros in revenue last year and employs over 15,000 people.
Zalando is also a Beamery customer, and is constantly experimenting with ways to improve the practice of talent acquisition. We invited Dr. Magdalena Masluk-Meller to answer a few questions about her company and her team, and had an engaging conversation about employer branding, talent engagement, proactive sourcing, recruiting technology, and everything that goes into attracting and engaging the best talent for a growing fashion tech powerhouse.
Magdalena is the Talent Sourcing Lead at Zalando. She originally studied business administration and cultural sciences, and started her career in HR consulting before moving to in-house recruiting.
Magdalena, can you share with me how you ended up in TA, and leading sourcing for Zalando in Berlin?
I spent 8 years working as a generalist in HR, and for some of that time I was managing HR departments. Even then, it was one of my tasks to set up in-house sourcing teams in order to increase our pool of candidates and reduce the over-reliance on external recruitment agencies and the high costs associated with it. HR created value by enabling growth through recruitment. It was a business reality that drove my work, had an impact on my career, and made me switch gears to focus on talent acquisition.
What additionally spoke for talent acquisition was its very tangible nature. You can measure impact and outcomes in HR as well, but in talent acquisition, I found a more visible, less abstract sense of achievement.
When I applied at Zalando, the interviewers at the time shared with me Zalando’s mission of hiring 2000 engineers in 2 years. It sounded like a compelling opportunity to focus on talent acquisition, and I immediately felt like I wanted to be part of it. So I joined the company to help hire candidates for engineering leadership positions, and after a while, I was given an opportunity to lead the Sourcing team.
Your company has obviously grown since you joined; how have you grown Zalando’s employer brand in parallel? How do candidates perceive it?
Candidates originally came to Zalando thinking it was simply a fashion e-retailer, and then they would go through the recruiting process and realize how sophisticated the technology behind it is, and overall how much of a technical company we are. Obviously there has been a shift in the understanding of what a tech company is in the last few years, and most candidates now know that even companies who don’t directly sell technology or software rely heavily on complex technologies.
That makes a lot of sense. To be successful in the current market, every company needs to be a tech company, no matter the industry. Is that now a bigger part of your employer brand? What do candidates look for when applying to Zalando?
Zalando is definitely a fashion technology company that aims to attract highly technical talent among others. One of the big draws for the engineers we hire is exposure to solving problems at a large scale as well as growth and development opportunities. We have 27 million active customers right now visiting the website and making purchases, and very few companies can offer that kind of volume and scale.
We’re definitely seeing a change in candidates’ perception of the company as a result of our branding efforts off- and online. We have a solid employer branding strategy that has been executed well, and we’re seeing those efforts pay, for example in our engagement on social media, in the fact that candidates know the company better before applying, and definitely in the number of applications we see coming in.
I know Zalando’s vision for talent acquisition is fairly modern and forward-looking, and not just in employer branding. Can you tell me a bit more about Zalando’s current talent acquisition priorities?
There are a few strategic priorities for our talent acquisition function. One of them is strengthening our partnership with the business, and especially developing our advisory capabilities so we can better serve the long-term goals of the company.
The objective is for us to lead the conversation around the talent market and skill availability when we meet with hiring managers, bring them market intelligence to influence requirements, and shape the roles that are designed for the company. Some roles may take 6 months to fill, some roles might be better filled with candidates from a different industry… and we need a genuine discussion around this with the hiring managers. We think about it as a doctor-patient relationship, where the business comes to us with a need that we have to address. You don’t tell your doctor how to help you, it’s the other way around. And now we are slowly but surely accumulating the expertise to deliver this experience.
Managing this approach successfully takes understanding the hiring managers’ preferences. Many want to keep their recruiting involvement to a minimum, so a conversation where we take more ownership of the process is quite helpful to them. But there are also managers who want to be hands-on with everything, even talent attraction. One can only imagine what game-changing initiatives emerge, when hiring managers and recruiters truly partner.
One can only imagine what game-changing initiatives emerge, when hiring managers and recruiters truly partner.
Another of our priorities as a TA team is to drive technology adoption for improved efficiency and effectiveness in the recruiting process. This applies to technologies handling everything from CV screening to scheduling to personality and skill assessment. We try to leverage technology to make the process smooth and seamless. We want to take away the repetitive tasks from the recruiting process and let recruiters grow in their advisory roles, as we discussed earlier.
The last priority I wanted to mention is driving an exceptional candidate experience, and ensuring that candidates love the process with us, and they are keen to recommend us to colleagues and friends even if they don’t land a job with us. This helps us grow our candidate base, of course, but also strengthen Zalando's employer brand on the market.
Zalando's talent team must be working on a number of projects and initiatives related to these strategic priorities - can you tell more about one or two of them?
Yes, we are working on a number of exciting initiatives. One of them was a candidate app offering similar experience to any package tracking tool. The goal is that just as you always know where your package is before it is delivered, as a candidate you would know the progress of your application in the process.
Another exciting project is a chatbot on our career website that answers a range of questions around working at Zalando. You could even ask it questions like “Can I bring my dog to the office?” It’s not always obvious to visitors on the career website that they can ask questions and receive fairly accurate answers, so adoption is still moderate. We expect this will be different with the new wave of younger applicants who are far more used to this sort of tool.
What are the current priorities in your talent sourcing team, especially the ones you are directly driving?
My role entails enabling our team to engage and build up long-term relationships with top talents efficiently. So not only hunting but also farming.
Traditionally, sourcers would move from one requisition to another, and it is difficult to keep relationships alive with candidates who are not interested in a career move when we reach out to them. The hypergrowth of Zalando made our recruiters and sourcers contact and talk to hundreds of candidates on a daily basis. However, it was challenging for us to build proper relationships with talent at scale. There was always a risk of losing track of great professionals, and it was almost impossible to send them relevant job openings when they were ready for a new role.
Now, with the Beamery implementation, we re-shaped our whole strategy and developed a new mindset in how we approach candidates - our potential employees. We keep conversations going with talent from whom we get a warm impression, or who we meet at events and who attend our webinars. We leverage these first touches to reinforce our brand with great talents by sharing information about Zalando’s innovations and technology department, insights into the teams and stories of people that work at Zalando, planned attendance or sponsorship of conferences, etc.
So in that context, I’m focusing on developing three capabilities within the sourcing function:
- Active Sourcing, where we hire for open roles and drive active talent acquisition even if we don’t have any existing candidates and relationships.
- Proactive Sourcing, where we build up pipelines for roles in the future.
- Community Sourcing, where we leverage existing relationships and in so doing deliver quality candidates for open roles faster.
We want to finetune these capabilities and further professionalize them; that’s how we know we’re growing in the right direction. There are a lot of exciting things in store for us as a talent team in the future, with these initiatives and many more, and I’m looking forward to them.
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