An interview with Matthew Swinden, Head of People at Starmind

An interview with Matthew Swinden, Head of People at Starmind

This is an edited transcript of an interview with Matthew Swinden, Head of People at Starmind

What are some of the biggest onboarding fails you see and how can companies overcome them?

One of the biggest things is ensuring that you have a match between what is presented to the candidate at the very first interaction they have with you, all the way through evaluation process and then of course through to onboarding. One of the biggest fails I see is when you work with a headhunter who presents the company in a very specific light to get a role, to get a candidate, to get a job landed, and then you end up meeting the harsh reality of an organisation. If you find you're not well connected with your recruitment partners, if you don't have that knowledge within the people going out to the market to recruit for you, you end up with this huge disparity in terms of expectation.

The biggest onboarding fail that then comes is increased churn and in extreme examples, you see people quit before they've even finished their onboarding because the reality of a situation is so different to what they expected.


Skills-based hiring is on the rise. How do you implement this at Starmind?

Skills-based hiring is one of the new focuses for recruitment. I won't say it's not been prevalent previously because any good recruiter worth their salt is always going to be looking at skills. You don't hire based purely on previous company experience or previous education, because these don't survive the litmus test of being in an actual organisation. You want somebody who knows the reality of what they're stepping into. When we talk about skills-based recruiting, what we're really looking for is that person that has the toolkit, the experience, and the knowledge of howto navigate that role within an organisation and make themselves successful to make that company successful.

At Starmind, we go through and create detailed scorecards to help our managers who are not so savvy around how to do these skills-based interviews and who may be swayed more by impressive qualifications or impressive previous tenures within organisations or even have biases towards organisations which they perceive as being negative. We break out certain skills and we give the tools to the manager to enable them to ask questions to establish the validity of those skills. It comes down to prep, to making sure that you understand the role and to ensuring that you're aligned with the manager on what the job will be and that the job description isn't just a fantasy.

You talk about the support that you give managers throughout that process. How have you seen the role of the hiring manager change and what is the difference between an average hiring manager and a great one?

I started in 2006 so I've seen recruitment evolve. To give you context, I went to a global company who were literally recruiting using a newspaper. My handover was a clippings book full of all the different adverts they’d created and then glued into that book was all of the names of the applicants which they received for each advert. That was my handover as the new European recruitment manager coming into a multinational, multi-billion-dollar organisation!

Candidates never used to meet the manager because the manager was too busy and would never spend any time in the company or learning about the culture. There would be very little that was talked about around the environment or the reality of a position.

If you look at the modern talent acquisition process now, there's so much more to it. It would seem strange now to never meet a recruiting manager before joining an organisation to apply for a role in a newspaper without knowing anything about a company other than what you could find online.

We have LinkedIn profiles. We talk about culture. We talk about company events. We publicise what used to be internal events and celebrating our employees. We now publicise this much more and talk about the work-life balance that we have, the engagement and the culture that we want to foster because businesses realise that the culture comes from the people and unless you actually have alignment at all levels of an organisation with your candidates, with your hiring process and with your talent management process, these things aren't reality. Good managers understand it's not just about the job- it's the whole life cycle of that employee journey that you have to now be talking about. A good manager understands the different processes, partners with the people organisation to ensure that that person is recruited well, onboarded effectively, has a development plan, and goes through performance management. That's now seen as the basic foundation. If you look back just 10 years ago, that was revolutionary.

How can you make sure that you're providing a good talent experience, even when someone doesn't get a role?

A talent pool used to be an inert object -a list of names and data. GDPR forced companies to engage with the talent pools, which a lot of people saw as very onerous or time-consuming without much benefit. What they didn't realise was that they're building a network of people who expressed interest in their company. If you look at candidates as customers, a candidate is potentially a customer of our organisation.We need to have that same level of care, attention, and curation when it comes to our talent pools. Reviews are everywhere. You can no longer afford to be a non-communicative, non-engaged employer of choice because you won't be an employer of choice for long! Most companies are now curating these very, very carefully. If you look at larger organisations, they divert a lot of resources into educating and communicating, not just with people who want to work for the organisation, but also alumni of the organisation as well.

What are some of the other talent acquisition trends that you're seeing?

Everyone's talked about hybrid work and fully remote work to death by now. I think one of the biggest trends is going to be the refinement of that idea. You'll find huddles of people rather than completely disparate teams who are only connected via video. There will be regional hubs for different function and perhaps even personality-matched and blended teams so you've got a diversity of approach. Working groups will be created which interact with each other on specific projects. I think we've been moving towards this hybridized project-based working front for quite some time and that will accelerate.

How did you yourself get into the world of tech and startup scale-ups?

I'm not a traditional HR person which I think is what every single HR person likes to say! I studied computer science and psychology at university starting way back in 1999. I've always been a bit of a tech nerd and was lucky that my parents got me a Commodore Amiga A500 computer. My parents thought it was very important for us to get onboard with technology, so I've had a computer in my house, not a games console,but an actual computer since 1985.  

My first work experience was building computers from scratch, and it rolled on from there. After studying it, I was then adamant that I didn't want to go into IT in any way shape or form. I pushed into the people sector. Once I became confident in my abilities in the space,I then started to branch out and do what I love which is enablement through technology for people because I'm all about people's experience, people's journey. I like to make sure that we have the right roles for the right people so that they can grow and develop but underlying all of that is a huge framework of IT services, equipment, and everything else which is needed. It's really helped me in my career to understand how those things work. So, it all started with that computer in 1985!

What are the biggest myths about working in tech?

That we all sit around on slides eating free food all day and we all have very colourful flexible lives. There's no pressure or stress, we just get to do whatever we want whenever we like.

I think that there has been a huge overcorrection in terms of the perception of tech recently. Tech has been shown to be just as fallible when it comes to over promising and underdelivering. The shiny perception has been tarnished by over hiring and huge amounts of job losses and changes. The large tech organisations now must deal with this tarnishing of their very shiny, very carefully curated reputation within the market and what it now looks like in terms of the reality.


Are there any books or podcasts that you'd recommend for people interested in working in tech?

David Green is co-author of a book called Excellence in People Analytics. It sounds incredibly dry, but it gives you the tools to be able to understand patterns that are within data. Worth following him on LinkedIn too.

Hung Lee runs a podcast called Recruiting Brain Food which I really enjoy and would recommend too.