Home > Podcast > Recruiting Future with Matt Alder > Ep 574: Building A Successful TA Function

Ep 574: Building A Successful TA Function

December 6th, 2023

The rapidly increasing speed of change in talent acquisition means the skills, strategy and types of thinking needed to build, retain and develop a successful TA function are also evolving quickly.

So what does a high-performing TA function now look like, and what do TA leaders need to make sure they have in place?

My guest this week is Melissa Grabiner, an award-winning former Global Head of TA who now works as a consultant for One Digital. Melissa has built talent acquisition teams from the ground up. She is now using her considerable insights and experience to help start-ups and scale-ups in the biotech industry build strategies to acquire the talent they need.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Talent market challenges

• Global talent pool restrictions

• What makes a successful TA function?

• Building a culture of continuous learning

• Autonomy, accountability and adaptability

• Putting candidate experience at the forefront of TA strategy

• The role of technology

• Agility and flexibility

• Personalization

• Preparing for the future

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.


Matt Alder: Support for this podcast comes from Talent Collective, the dynamic nonprofit community dedicated to empowering, connecting and advancing women plus in the ever-evolving realm of talent acquisition. Talent Collective’s mission is to elevate the careers and networks of its members through carefully curated experiences, ensuring women plus in recruiting thrive, learn and connect. Whether you’re a global TA leader, head of talent corporate or agency recruiter, or an expert in recruiting or people operations, Talent Collective is tailored just for you. With over 200 women in recruiting globally, you could enjoy a multitude of benefits from quarterly fireside chats, monthly networking events, boardroom peer groups, mentorship programs, engaging workshops to a dedicated recruiter job board, and discounts from their recruiting service partners.

Talent collective is more than just a community. It’s a supportive ecosystem where careers flourish, explore unique experiences and opportunities to connect with like-minded professionals on their free community platform at talentcollective.community. That’s Talent Collective dot community. Follow them on LinkedIn and Instagram, and join women in recruiting whose careers are thriving and flourishing.

[Recruiting Future theme]

Matt Alder: Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 574 of the Recruiting Future podcast. The rapidly increasing speed of change in talent acquisition means the skills, strategy and types of thinking needed to build, retain and develop a successful TA function are also evolving quickly.

So, what does a high-performing TA function now look like, and what do TA leaders need to make sure they have in place?

My guest this week is Melissa Grabiner, an award-winning former Global Head of TA who now works as a consultant for One Digital. Melissa has built talent acquisition teams from the ground up. She is now using her considerable insights and experience to help start-ups and scale-ups in the biotech industry build strategies to acquire the talent they need.

Hi, Melissa, and welcome to the podcast.

Melissa Grabiner: Hi, Matt. Thank you so much for having me.

Matt Alder: An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please could you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Melisa Grabiner: So my name is Melisa Grabiner, and I am a talent acquisition professional. My entire career has been in human resources and talent acquisition. I worked at a company called Takeda Pharmaceuticals for 18 years, and I spent the first 10 or so years as an HR business partner. And the rest of the time, I was the talent acquisition global director for the company’s largest business globally. So I had a team of 11 direct reports. We hired approximately 48% of all hires globally, which was about 3,000 hires a year. So I ended up leaving the company after 18 really wonderful and great years.

I currently work at an organization called One Digital, and I do talent acquisition consulting predominantly for biotechnology and pharmaceutical start-ups. A lot of these companies are located in the Bay Area in San Francisco. I help them with anything related to talent acquisition, so whether it’s putting together a talent acquisition function from start, whether it’s helping to hire for a variety of different positions. All of my clients have different needs. Some of my clients are for a short-term assignment, some are for longer, such as a year. But it’s a really wonderful job in the sense that I work with very innovative start-ups, helping to really just build out their TA infrastructure. And I love talent acquisition and I’m very blessed.

Matt Alder: Fantastic stuff. So lots of things that I want to talk to you about. But before we do, just interested in terms of the talent markets in the biotech industry. What are the current challenges in that industry and how are they different maybe from other sectors?

Melisa Grabiner: Yeah. So what I notice as some of the main challenges are a lot of these organizations are losing their patents. Some of them have– Actually, probably the majority of them have very high R&D costs. The FDA approval process typically takes pretty long time, and the FDA also is famous for its ever-changing requirements and regulations. I recently read a statistic that said that 5 out of every 5,000 compounds that are discovered in preclinical trials ever make it to the first phase of the process. And of those five, only one is granted FDA approval status. The average time it takes to patent a drug is about 14 years, and then the patents for the drugs usually last only about 20 years. So it’s an ever-changing, very dynamic environment.

Another challenge that I have seen is the cost to develop a drug. I recently read that the average cost to develop a new drug is about $2.5 billion, which is obviously a very hefty sum. And so what I have noticed in working with different start-ups is that, a lot of these organizations, if they have a clinical trial that perhaps doesn’t pass, then these companies have to shut its doors. So it’s a very challenging, dynamic sort of industry to work in. It’s an exciting industry.

What I really like about supporting these pharmaceutical biotech companies is that we are really making a difference in the lives of the patients that we serve. And I think it’s a really important function and really important industry, because again, these companies are making life changing medicines for the patients that need it. So it’s a very wonderful kind of industry to be a part of, but it’s definitely challenging as well.

Matt Alder: How does that affect the market for talent in that industry?

Melisa Grabiner: Yeah. So the biotech industry has a very specialized skill set for a lot of the roles. So it really requires individuals to be experts in different areas, such as like molecular biology, or bioinformatics, or genetics, or other niche disciplines. So finding professionals with the right combination of the skills and experience can be a challenge. Also, it’s the competition for top talent. So as the biotech industry continues to grow, what I have seen as an increased competition for that top talent, and it’s establishing these companies and these start-ups, they’re all vying for those top skills and those top professionals. So it leads to a much higher competitive hiring landscape.

The biotech industry also is subject to very strict regulatory standards. And so the companies need professionals who are very well versed in these ever-changing regulatory compliances to navigate the complex landscape of the different approvals that are needed to ensure that products meet any sort of legal and safety requirements.

The other thing that I’ve noticed too is that, biotech companies can face challenges in accessing a global talent pool, especially if there’s restrictions on any movement of skilled workers, or if there’s any limitations on hiring talent that is nonlocal. And then, of course, also what I have seen, which I think is a really good thing, is in many industries, including biotech, the biotech sector is really working toward improving diversity and inclusion. And so attracting that sort of workforce can be a challenge for companies aiming to have more diversity within their staff.

But I think also what’s important to note is that these challenges can really vary based on the size of the company and the focus. There are some biotech’s that are more focused on diagnostics, there are some that are more focused on therapeutics. So it really just depends on, again, the size of the company and what the focus is of the organization, and then, of course, if the organization is regional or more global in nature.

Matt Alder: So completely underlines the vital importance of effective talent acquisition in that industry, indeed in other industries as well. What makes a successful talent acquisition function in your experience?

Melisa Grabiner: Yeah. And I actually can speak from experience here in the sense that when I was at Takeda, I was tasked by the business leaders to start the talent acquisition function for the business I supported from scratch. The business basically said, “Here’s an open-ended budget. Map out the headcount you need, map out the processes, procedures and the technology you need. And whatever you need, we’re going to support you.” So I was very lucky in that regard.

But looking back, I think what really helped me build a successful function within the business that I supported was the first thing was having a clear purpose and goals. So what I needed to do is define a very compelling purpose for the function and why building out a talent acquisition group was needed. I also embarked on establishing specific and measurable and achievable goals that aligned with the business’s overall objectives.

Talented leadership was really important to me. I needed to hire a team of, not only leaders that reported under me but even individuals that reported under them. Having the right talent in the right roles was imperative toward a successful function. So it was really important that I hired strategic thinkers, people that had decision making skills, and really the ability to provide a great candidate experience for the thousands of candidates that we spoke to every year. So having the right team with the right skill set and fostering a culture of continuous learning was very, very important.

And then one of the things that I did as well when I was managing a team is I really empowered them by giving them the autonomy to make decisions within their particular area of responsibility within the team. I also fostered a sense of accountability, so people could really take ownership of the work and the outcomes. What was very important to me was encouraging a culture of adaptability and innovation. So because things were changing so quickly and the business was growing so rapidly, my team had to be able to shift their focus and adapt to those ever-changing needs. And I also wanted employees to be innovative and think outside the box and always look at ways that we can improve our processes. So I think a lot of it is having the right talent in the right roles at the right time.

And really, as a people manager, what was super important to me was making sure that I supported my team, empowered my team, made sure that they were a part of any major decisions. I would always gather the input from my employees, and I always looked at it as like, if you looked on an organizational chart, yes, my name might have been on top, but to me, everyone on my team, we were all equal partners in making sure that we were a successful unit and a successful function.

The other thing I feel very strongly about is I believe that talent acquisition is one of the most important functions in any organization. Because if a company doesn’t have the right employees and the right talent, the company will not survive. So it’s having the right people in the right roles to me for any function is what needs to happen to make it successful.

Matt Alder: And what role does technology play in all of this?

Melisa Grabiner: Yeah. So interestingly enough, I think with talent acquisition specifically, it’s so interesting. I remember when I started building out my team, the big decision was, do we go with monster.com or do we go with hot jobs, or do we go with CareerBuilder? And every year, the pendulum changed from one vendor to another. And over time, the evolution of talent acquisition has really evolved into a function that uses technology and the technology partners. So I believe that technology has played a significant role in transforming talent acquisition. So the use of applicant tracking systems, the use of artificial intelligence, even machine learning and data analytics has really streamlined the hiring processes for a lot of organizations. What’s good about that is it has allowed for more efficient sourcing, screening, and the matching of candidates.

I also feel that social media recruiting is very important. So back in the day when I started this function, Facebook wasn’t a thing, we didn’t have Twitter. Now, we have Instagram, we have Facebook, we have LinkedIn. So a lot of the talent I think that these companies are finding are from different social media platforms like the LinkedIn, like the Instagram’s, like the Twitter’s, and even Facebook to source and engage with potential candidates.

I also think employer branding and recruiting marketing efforts are heavily influenced by social media. So I think the talent acquisition departments that are cutting edge are those that use technology to its advantage, that use different social media avenues to find their talent. I also think what’s super important and something that’s very important to me and I speak about this often on LinkedIn is the candidate experience. So there has been a growing emphasis on this throughout the last couple of years. I think that companies that recognize the importance of treating candidates with the respect that they deserve, providing clear communication and offering a positive experience throughout the process, those are the companies at the end of the day that are going to win the war for talent.

Matt Alder: Candidate experience just seems to be a challenge for so many companies, and particularly at the moment where there’s– In certain sectors, there are lots of people looking for work. What do you think employers are getting wrong at the moment and how could they do better when it comes to candidate experience?

Melisa Grabiner: Sure. The few that come to mind right away is poor communication. It’s a lack or a delayed communication with their candidates. Candidates deserve and they appreciate timely updates regarding the status of their application. I think when candidates are left in the dark, it can often lead to frustration and a negative impression on the company.

I also believe that a complex and very convoluted application process is a big, big issue with a lot of companies. Lengthy and overly complex application processes can absolutely deter qualified candidates from either applying or finishing their application. So, if I was building out a talent acquisition function today, one of the most important things I would look at is working with a talent acquisition, ATS vendor, that really supported the needs of our business. So, a streamlined and user-friendly application process is essential to make a positive first impression, and really encourage the candidates to complete the application.

I’ve also seen companies that have lack of personalization. So, a generic or impersonal communication can oftentimes, I think, make candidates feel undervalued. And personalizing that communication, such as addressing candidates by name, providing specific feedback contributes to a more positive experience.

One of the things I read about often on LinkedIn are candidates that have these interview processes that takes weeks if not months to complete. So, when a company has a candidate go through a lengthy, disorganized, or even an unstructured interview process, this can lead to frustration. I think it’s incredibly important that companies all should strive to have a well-planned and efficient process, that not only respects the candidates time but provides a very, very positive experience.

I think of the feedback piece toward the end, so failing to provide feedback, especially after candidates take the time to interview, can absolutely leave candidates feeling uncertain and dissatisfied. People myself I know that have reached out to me on LinkedIn that have said– I mean, I get messages all day, hundreds of messages a day from people on LinkedIn, and a common theme that I see are candidates that take the time to interview with a company and many times, this is months long process only to be ghosted by the company. They never receive any feedback. I’ve heard of candidates that receive feedback six months after an interview saying that they weren’t chosen. So, to me, companies really have to put the candidate experience at the forefront. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it also can tarnish a company’s employer brand when they don’t treat candidates with white glove service.

Matt Alder: So, we’ve talked about how talent acquisition has evolved, how it’s got more complex and more sophisticated, but then there’s this kind of conundrum that the candidate experience in many cases is not any of those things and not good enough. We also talked about the evolution of technology. Where do you think this is all taking us? What’s next? What do you think talent acquisition looks like in the future, and how should we be preparing ourselves for 2024, 2025?

Melisa Grabiner: Yeah. I think one of the main points of any future trends with talent acquisition is the further integration of artificial intelligence and automation. So I believe that AI and automation in talent acquisition is very likely to continue and expand. And this could involve even more sophisticated AI driven candidate matching portals, automated interview scheduling, and really the use of chatbots for initial candidate interactions, which is something that I know a lot of companies are doing now, but I think will further expand in the future.

Companies are also using, what’s called, predictive analytics. So predictive analytics could play a larger role in TA, helping organizations forecast their future talent needs, as well as identifying high potential candidates. And then, of course, what’s super important is optimizing recruiting strategies. Continued emphasis on the candidate experience, I do believe that the companies that get it right are the companies that will continue to focus on providing a positive candidate experience. And again, this involves clear communication, transparency, and even personalized interactions throughout the entire recruiting journey.

And then the last one is agile and flexible recruiting strategies. So I think as business landscapes continue to evolve, talent acquisition, they may need to become more agile and flexible, which would allow organizations to quickly adapt their strategies to changing market conditions and workforce needs. So there are a lot of companies out there that provide like a third arm. I call it to a company’s talent acquisition function, whether it’s hiring contract workers, consultants. But companies that have the ability to flex and shift their needs in order to support the business will be truly important as the future unfolds.

One thing I also want to mention too on that last note is I do believe the future of talent acquisition will also be influenced by external factors. We’ve had a lot of in the last couple of years global events. We’ve had economic conditions. We’ve had a lot of technology advancements. So I think the companies and the TA leaders that stay informed about these industry trends and also being adaptable to change will be crucial for the companies and the TA professionals. So any leader that is in talent acquisition, to me, it’s very important that they stay up to date on trends and make sure that their organizations have the headcount and the budget and the technology and the infrastructure to support, at the end of the day, providing the best candidate experience they can.

Matt Alder: Melisa, thank you very much for talking to me.

Melisa Grabiner Thank you, Matt. It was my pleasure. Really appreciate it.

Matt Alder: My thanks to Melisa. If you’re a fan of the Recruiting Future podcast, then you will absolutely love our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast. Not only does it give you the inside track on what’s coming up on the show, you can also find everything from book recommendations to insightful episodes from the archives and get first access to new content that will help you understand where our industry is heading. For a limited time, subscribe to the Recruiting Future Feast Newsletter and get instant access to the video recording of the recent remixed webinar on AI and talent acquisition, featuring some of the smartest thinkers in the industry. Just go to mattalder.me/webinar to sign up. That’s Matt Alder dotme slash webinar.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. You can find and search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com, and don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

The post Ep 574: Building A Successful TA Function appeared first on The Recruiting Future Podcast.

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