This month, we discussed the rising momentum of the talent operations function with Daniel Morales, Recruiting Operations Manager at Better.com.
Recruiting Operations, or Talent Operations, has been a hot topic in talent teams over the last year, and an increasing number of recruiters are looking into operations roles in their organizations. We invited Daniel to share his experience in the extremely fast-paced hiring environment of Better.com as they’ve scaled from 500 to 3,500+ over the past year and change.
This article is part of our Talent Operations Manager of the Month series. You can find our first article here.
Let’s start with this one: Why Ops? What made you decide you wanted to work on operational aspects of Talent Acquisition?
It goes back to where I started my career, in the hotel and casino industry in Vegas. I was applying for a temp position in HR, and I remember I had to fill out one of those paper applications and do an initial screening all in person and then wait to hear back on an actual interview.
It was an antiquated hiring process, very reflective of the HR organization of that hotel at the time, until a new director came in and decided we needed to implement an applicant tracking system. I was assigned to drive that implementation, and that was when I first realized that I liked it, and that I had a knack for process, for improving these human resources tasks with technology, for thinking through how all those little bells and whistles would work.
That was, I think, a pivotal moment for me—so naturally, I expanded my interests to other areas of HR.
So you were in HR IT and owned the HRIS system a few times in your career, didn’t you? You were an admin in these systems.
Correct, I stayed very close to the technology side of things in this first role. At one point, for example, I took on a part of the HR system that was extremely out of date, and by digging into it a bit, discovered a sort of loophole in how we were using it. The system had an older legacy system with thousands of old employee records stored on it that we didn’t need to retain anymore, so I was able to realize some substantial cost-savings by removing them. No one had been able to see that before, so it was a big win.
That environment was more simplistic compared to the one I work in today, but it was a great foot in the door for what I wanted to do. I was in a cool underground HR office—people don’t realize it, but there are whole cities in the basements of those Vegas casino hotels! — with an open door policy for around 1,600 employees. It felt like a retail environment HR office, where people could walk in and ask for help on a variety of issues. I enjoyed those sorts of customer service interactions, where I was helping internal stakeholders.
While I was in that role, I also started a part-time job at Apple on the Las Vegas strip, meaning I was getting even more exposure to technology and helping customers with their issues.
As a talent operations specialist, your role is usually the most technical one in any recruiting organization. What is it like being the technical expert in the talent acquisition organization? What does that entail?
It can be both satisfying and frustrating. It’s definitely always interesting to bring that expertise to the table, but it also means that I am sometimes put in a position where I have to make the case for why something is an issue, or needs to be solved, to stakeholders who don’t necessarily have that same prioritization or grasp of the technical downstream impacts I have to solve a problem where I understand the constraints and upsides, but not everyone else does, so a large part of the job is translating and shepherding progress behind the scenes
Being in talent operations means I had to adopt a growth mindset to manage that sort of situation, where I am the one person in the group who is process-oriented, or cares about technical details that don’t directly impact our customers and stakeholders. Early in my career, I hit a few brick walls where I couldn't understand why other stakeholders didn’t see the points that I was making, but my approach to it has evolved a lot over time. I see now that I bring different strengths to the table, such as being detail-oriented and process-minded, but it’s part of the job to help others see the benefits of those things, and bring them along in your vision, understand where they come from and meet them in the middle.
That mindset is where I am transitioning my team now. We want to be able to take more of the operational burden off of the core recruiting team, so they can focus on what they do best, which is get in conversations with great candidates and sell the company, so we are always hiring the best people. For that to work, we have to accept that it might be less than efficient to make recruiters fit everything they do in the systems and adhere to a strict process. We have to find a balance between process, and enabling recruiters to focus on the activities in which they can add the most value.
That’s a point of tension for many talent teams. You want the recruiters to be able to focus on getting on the phone and talking to candidates, but you also want them to feel enabled to resolve some of their own small operational issues, instead of having to rely on the talent operations team entirely.
Definitely, and this has been something that our VP of Talent Arthur Matuszewski, has been in support of. Our vision is that it’s not about who does it, it’s about who will do it well, and do it right. So the point of deciding what the talent operations team will do, or will not do, is to align responsibilities and tasks to outcomes, and empower people to do their best work agnostic of org chart.
What types of people does it make sense to have in this job or solving this problem? For example, we’ve been iterating on an initiative we call Blitz, or blitzscale hiring. Basically, we need to hire a large volume of people for Sales and Operations roles, and we’re at a point where we need to interview more than 300 people a week. For context, Better.com has hired over 1,500 people since the pandemic started, with plans to hire 1,200 more by the end of year. Obviously, there are a lot of logistics that go into that, but just ensuring we have enough interviewers to do all the interviews is a challenge. How do you get enough sales employees to interview full-time when you need to hire at such a high volume? We might own scheduling or coordination as a talent operations team, but there is more that we can do in partnering with the business to enable and build a dedicated cohort of interviewers and make those interviewers’ experiences as seamless and effective as possible.
You’re also stepping in for another kind of project, one that every other company is going through right now, one way or the other: Digital Recruiting, and the complexities it brings to hiring. What does that transition look like for the talent operations team? How do you make sure there is no bias creeping in, for example, when interviewers see a candidate in a less professional working-from-home setting, or when they have low-speed internet or a low-quality camera?
That is a great question, and there are a couple of issues at play there. There is of course the DE&I considerations, and then there are other factors, like the fact that candidates are going through strange times with the pandemic, and working from home.
From a DE&I perspective, we’re taking a number of steps. For example, we’re revamping our verbiage, our external communications, and our career site to ensure it reflects the inclusivity of our organization. We’re also working to find automated ways to enable diversity in our interviewing panels, simply by using the right tools from a scheduling perspective. We have a number of ERGs, Employee Resource Groups, in place, and we are working to bring them into the recruiting process as partners in these decisions, instead of deciding how to work this out in a vacuum. Diversity is not a project, but a way of working across our organization.
From a digital experience perspective, especially in these hard times, we want to make sure to empathize with candidates. One thing that helps them a lot in this climate is timely and useful feedback, especially after virtual interviews. Looking for a job in the current market is extremely hard, and simply being ignored or rejected for non-specific reasons can make it even harder. We don’t get this right 100% of the time, but we want to know when we don’t and continue to loop and learn how to do it better.
Obviously it’s a fine line to walk, because recruiters also want to protect their company from risk, but we also think we can do better than what is considered standard today. So we are exploring ways to give feedback to candidates that will actually help them on their next application, with something like a candidate concierge, or a hotline that they can reach out to with their questions about the role, the interview, the feedback, or the job description.
That sort of program is an excellent application of the competencies of a talent operations team, a great example of the kind of impact you can have. So stepping back now to wrap up our interview, can I ask this: you’re obviously building great things right now with Arthur and Better.com, but in a theoretical future, what would you look for in your next job?
That’s a really good question, and probably not something I spend a lot of time thinking about these days; Arthur and I knew each other before Better.com, so it was an easy decision to join him. But yes, what would I look for in the next team or the next talent leader I want to work with? That is definitely relevant to anyone interested in pursuing a career in talent operations.
Part of it is your personal values and your interests, and the type of company you want to work for. I’ve been at places that try to do things in the best possible way every time, and larger corporations that are more standard in the way they operate, fewer surprises but also less innovation, and some who are just interested in improving their efficiency. It’s all over the spectrum, so you have to decide, for example, if you are more interested in the top line growth or if you want to focus on efficiency and optimization, or even all of the above.
In my role, for example, I’m fully on-board with our vision which is “Let’s create a world class candidate experience, something that doesn’t even exist yet out there. Let’s create a Talent organization that makes sense for our objectives, regardless of what other Talent organizations today look like.” And that’s a vision that gives me the opportunity to build whatever I want, whatever I think will be the best solution to achieve our talent team’s goals.
So the question for someone looking to decide who they should work with next is not just the job itself. I think the question would be whether you want to work with someone who thinks outside the box and experiments, or someone who’s done this before and wants to scale it up and replicate best practices. It also depends on where you are in your talent acquisition career, of course, and what you would like to target next.
The good thing is, people can afford to be selective right now in this particular role, in my opinion, because it’s the current trend in talent acquisition. HR leaders and TA leaders are realizing that it can activate so many initiatives in the talent team, so talent operations has the potential to be the backbone of that growth.
Do you feel like your role has momentum? Do you feel good about your career path?
Absolutely. When I look at the past year, for example, it started with me and two coordinators, and now I’m building a team that is shaping what I feel recruiting operations can be. The momentum is definitely there, to say the least.
I’m sure in other places, people look at new talent operations functions and think: “Oh, that’s a coordinator role, right?” but it’s not what it is anymore. I feel challenged every day, and I’m constantly chasing where I want to be in this space. I am proud of the impact my team has made and the amount of success we’ve achieved in the past year, but I still feel like there is more to be done, and I have a lot more to accomplish.