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How to digitize your recruiting agency, an interview with Benjamin Lalanne

BY -

Chris Hatler

May 24, 2021

Recruiting expert Benjamin Lalanne comes from an executive headhunting background. In his experience, much of that industry relies on old school recruiting methods. Yet, he sees the potential for automation to make processes more efficient. In fact, 44% of people who responded to a Zapier survey said they save time by using automation software. 

As a result, Benjamin founded 6LS Executive Consulting in 2019, a firm helping recruiting agencies with digital transformation. We sat down with Benjamin to learn more about how to optimize recruiting workflows, what tech is most important to recruiting agencies, his favorite automation tools, and more. 

Check out the full interview here and read a transcript of the conversation below. 


How important is digitalization in recruiting? (0:49)

It's really an important topic nowadays. When you are running a recruiting agency, you might be in the vast majority of people whose businesses are not really digital. You might have a CRM, you may have an ATS, but that's where the digitalization stops. 

However, it's safe to say that everybody's on LinkedIn. Your clients will be on LinkedIn Recruiter for sure. So [recruiting firms] post ads over there. They source candidates over there. But the whole question of the value that you bring to your clients is one thing, and the whole question of the value that you bring to the candidates is another. 

So you’re probably in a situation where you need to ask yourself the right questions. If you're not digitized at all today, trying to have the ambition to be a fully data-centric company in the next few months is not a realistic target. If you want to do that, good luck. But I think there are some middle steps that you can follow. 

There are some things that should be implemented that are not necessarily all that technical. We're not talking about huge budgets compared to a CRM, for example, or an ATS. We're not talking about huge money. We're talking about how you make sure that this additional investment will have a strong, positive ROI.

Your customers are not only your client's organization, but also the candidates. Without them, there's no deal. 

What’s your professional background? What led to your expertise in recruiting agency digitalization? (3:34)

I worked for three years in different companies [that had] nothing to do with HR or recruitment whatsoever. Then one day I just said, okay, there is something to be done in the recruitment industry. In my first experiences on the company side, I followed the recruiting process. Basically, agencies working for my company at the time didn’t know anything about our business. They were just pushing CVs. So long story short, I co-founded a [recruiting] company in 2008. 

For 12 years, until the end of 2019, I managed this company… a head hunting agency in Paris, Dubai, and Singapore. So a lot of international clients, SMEs, large accounts, and working on specific profiles.

In the last 12 months I've been working on two things. First of all, supporting the digitalization of agencies, the topic we’re talking about today. And the second one is, how can we help them through technology to predict whether somebody is going to perform in the future in a given job; whether that's external candidates or internal mobility?

Professional working on a computer


What’s your framework for deciding on the technology that a recruiting firm would need? (6:12)

I suggest that an agency start writing down [their current workflow]. So on the candidate side, for example, what is the workflow from the moment I signed the deal with my clients to the moment a candidate is hired [and onboarded]?

First of all, take each step and think, how can I improve that step? Metrics are key. 

When you first identify the candidates, whether [they’re] already in your network or your ATS, you make an approach first. Then you have a lot of back and forth because the person doesn't answer the phone. You have to call back to leave a message. And the person calls back, leaves a message. You can quickly have two, three days, sometimes up to a week wasted on that. 

Then you have X number of interviews, maybe some assessments, maybe a serious game involved. And then you submit a shortlist to your clients. 

Once you've done that, your work is not done. Then you have multiple points of contact over the next few weeks, sometimes months, where you have to keep in close contact with your candidates, in order to bring him or her information on the client’s process. Assure the candidate that he or she is not forgotten by the client. 

Call your candidate, even if there's nothing to say apart from, well, I don't have the client's feedback yet. There may be some explanation, they may be busy with the budget or stressed by the situation, which is fine. But say something to the candidate, even if it's a two minute call per week.

How do we optimize the discreet parts of the workflow, such as candidates already in your ATS? (9:38)

That's one of the key challenges. I call the ATS “the candidate's graveyard.” Cause once your candidate’s resume ends up in the ATS, well, that's the end of it.

Why? Because a recruiter isn’t going to their ATS to search for ideas. THey search on LinkedIn or whatever job board out there. Why doesn't a recruiter want to go use his own tools, but go elsewhere? If you want to change that as the agency owner or manager, you need to do something about it. 

I would say that [there are] two options. A hard one, which is [cutting] access to LinkedIn. And it's likely to have a strong managerial impact in a team. I don't know if that's a positive impact or not, up to you to decide. 

The second option is to try to make it much, much easier to use your ATS. This is probably a deeper topic. Why? Well, I would bet that its user experience, user design, and user interface aren’t good. So you have a tool here that nobody on your team wants to use properly. 

What do you do about that? Make the “ATS graveyard” into a “candidates’ nightclub.” They want to enter, even if there's a fee to pay. You want to use it, and you want to use it before going out there on LinkedIn. 

How would you do that? You have to make the data from your ATS easier to see. [There are] a bunch of companies that promise that if you give them what you need, they’ll restructure your data. 

I've seen that in reality once or twice. I'm not really convinced by the results, because if you sit on years and years of updating your resumes and ATS with no structure, no tags, no way to identify key skills, that's going to be almost impossible. I don't have a perfect solution for that. What you should do, is probably start classifying and tagging the resumes today. 

ATS system showing on laptop


What’s the ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ when it comes to  tech for a staffing company? (14:19)

Everything is not as dark as the ATS discussion. The first layer of the Maslow pyramid would be around metrics. You need to follow key metrics for your agency. 

Coming back to the workflow thing that we're discussing; look at how much time you need to reach a short list that is presentable to your clients. How many phone calls you need to reach candidates. How many candidates you need to have at the phone [stage] in order to say, now I'm going to have a physical meeting or video meeting with enough candidates to have a short list. We are basically talking about a funnel. 

Usually, those metrics are linked to the time you need to reach your targets. Then over the different steps in your workflow, which ones are really low volume? Those are tasks you should definitely automate. 

Now there are some tools on the market that are like $50 per month. It's not a huge budget and those tools allow you to have some kind of automation to keep and save your people [from spending] time on useless tasks, [such as] sending messages and calling candidates… If you multiply that by 50 candidates a week, or more depending on the size of your team, you know the scalability of wasting money. 

So you’re saying scheduling and email automation tools are most valuable? What other tools and ideas are valuable? (17:21)

Absolutely, [like] Calendly, Mixmax. I'm still amazed to see that some agencies or even some organizations that don't use video interviewing. When you bring in [asynchronous] video interviewing, anybody applying to your job receives an automatic email and invitation for a two or three minute video interview that has questions. You can save the qualification by phone, which is usually 15 minutes per phone by somebody from your team.

The point is not to replace people in your team with robots. The point is to save your team's time. Once you've done that, you're probably more profitable than before. Second of all, you'll also spend more time understanding your candidates and your clients. 

Understanding is a goldmine for business development and the way you interact with your candidates and clients. That's also a source of knowledge and content to boost your talent marketing. Today, most agencies are really bad at sharing knowledge and expertise for free. 

And why is that? By automating some stuff, you’ll get a bit more time. Don't be scared of sharing some kind of free content. But not just low value content. Try to share something that is meaningful and valuable. Candidates and companies will contact you and say, ‘hey I saw your whitepaper. I saw your webinar. I saw whatever content support that you shared.‘

It's not something that you have to spend a [ton of] time on. Share some free content on all the do's and don'ts of writing attractive job advertisements that stand out. 


View of a prepared agency office


You [can also] train your client’s HR and talent acquisition teams. You spend two hours with them for free, and then you share how you write punchy messages to get candidate feedback.

My clients [might] say, if I train that, I share my core activity, my core audit value, so my client won't need me again. Well, don't worry about that. They will need you again. 

On the other side, talk to the candidate the same way. Coach them with the interviews they will have with your clients, but also coach them when they don't have an interview plan with your clients. Stay in contact with them. Don't just call them when there is a need. 

Try to say, ‘each and every week, people on my team will do that with one candidate’. At the end of the day, those people will get jobs, whether that's through you or not. Some of them will probably have responsibility and need to hire. And on that day, they will remember who was there with them when they needed it as a candidate. 

What are some concrete examples of this kind of work in action? (22:17)

Technology is a word that's sometimes scary. An ATS costs money, and this guy we don't know is saying that basically it's the graveyard. So what's the point of listening to him? 

You can use no-code tools or low-code tools. You don't need to be a developer to bring value to your business. Automation is in large part based on that. 

It’s not a sexy task to do business development or cold call to book appointments. So if you can relieve a bit of pain on the shoulders of your team, automating that to bring content to potential clients, you'll be amazed by the results. 

The key issue here is how do you measure that? It's really hard to talk about ROI when you start implementing those actions, because you know how much it costs. [But] it's hard to track precisely what it brings back.

When you communicate on LinkedIn, for example, and you share some content, you will have a certain number of metrics that you're going to see. How many likes, how many comments. And then maybe you'll try to see the change in how many people visited your LinkedIn company page. But how do you translate that into visits on the website or demand for meetings?

One of the reasons why agencies struggle with these issues is because we know how much it costs. We have no idea what it brings back. 

And I think the second thing is that a lot of small size agencies are based on a one-man or one-woman-show. So the founder is really somebody who owns the clients, and there are a bunch of recruiters or junior recruiters doing delivery. 

This is a profitable business up to a certain level. If you are profitable, just question whether or not you want to be more profitable and then think about your workflow, involve your team in writing it down, and try to identify what you could do better for each step. Try to define some kind of goal and objective. 

Any favorite tools of yours? (28:05)

Zapier is definitely the tool when talking about workflows. Zapier and many other automation tools have 14 day free trials. Just try it. And you don't have to be a developer, look into no-code tools. I hear a lot about Airtable. Airtable is a great way to organize your information. 

Coming back to content, when you build content, you need tools to share information inside the team before sharing it with your clients, [such as] Trello for product management.

Then we have email automation, with a high level of personalization. I use Lemlist. 

Again, try it, test it. If it fails, fine. It doesn't cost you a dollar. If it works, it's going to be probably 10, 20, 50 times the ROI. 


Benjamin Lalanne, founder of 6LS Executive Consulting

Benjamin Lalanne is the founder of 6LS Executive Consulting, a management consulting firm focusing on executive search, talent acquisition, and salary benchmarking. He has over 10 years of experience headhunting executives and using technology to streamline recruiting processes. Connect with Benjamin on LinkedIn and check out 6LS.

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