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Five Questions with…Áine Hall, Hawk Search

We are excited to share our first 2021 interview for our 5 questions series. Áine Hall,  a specialist recruiter in the FinTech and RegTech sectors offers some excellent insights into what’s ahead, as well as great advice for both recruiters and candidates at the start of a new working year.

Áine has been a financial markets recruiter for nearly 18 years and founded Hawk Search Limited in 2009, a recruitment firm which partners with FinTech and RegTech firms in Europe, the Americas and Asia to help them hire senior sales, marketing and product executives.

She started her career in 1990 in media sales and pivoted into financial markets as a sales rep for a market data pricing terminal in the mid-1990s, after which she spent more than five years as Head of Client Services for two business divisions of Standard & Poor’s.

As well as running her recruitment business she currently serves on the advisory board of RegTech Women, a professional women’s network that promotes and enhances the vital role women play in driving success within the RegTech Industry.

Áine is also involved with a variety of charities including an annual cycling sportive called Little Lumpy and as a volunteer at her local food bank.

How has the recruitment business changed as a result of COVID-19?

There have been quite a few changes in the recruitment sector as a result of Covid-19.  The most immediate impact of the pandemic that we noticed here in the UK, was a huge drop in hiring from the second quarter of 2020. During the first lockdown at the end of March, the key priority for HR departments became shifting their teams to remote working, which then meant putting hiring decisions on hold. This theme continued throughout the year, making 2020 a lean recruitment year.  However, we are confident that there is now pent-up demand for good talent and that 2021 will be busier.

Another significant yet positive development in the sector is that remote working has meant hiring managers now deploy new technologies for vetting candidates and are more willing to conduct interviews online. Whilst nothing replaces meeting in person, at Hawk Search, we have always used video interviewing for our international work and found it excellent for the initial vetting process. In the current climate, video interviews have certainly helped the sector and it has meant that hiring has not completely stopped, so I think they are here to stay and we’ll continue to see a combination of in-person and video interviews going forward.

And as always, change brings opportunity.  Because of the rapid transformation to home working induced by the pandemic, for FinTech and RegTech companies that are looking to expand, if they continue to offer the option of remote working, they will no longer have to restrict their search for candidates to a certain geography.  This will really open up the talent pool available to them without any significant additional expenses.

Is it an employers’ or employees’ market in FinTech/RegTech at the moment?

Right now, it is very much an employers’ market as there are more people available to work than vacancies, and the vacancies themselves have reduced in number. In some cases, we are hearing of 100+ applications for one position, and candidates who have been out of work are finding they are having to increase their number of job applications. In the UK we saw a large number of redundancies when the first furlough scheme ended in October and there has been a very visible increase in LinkedIn’s #OpenToWork green banners on my timeline. However, I believe this will be short-lived, as once the vaccine is universally rolled out and there is more certainty around the UK’s trading relationship with the EU, we’ll see a re-balancing.

What makes a good candidate stand out in the sector?

Here are the top 5 traits and skills that I think make a candidate stand out:

  • Being proactive and making the most of their personal contacts to network their way directly into job opportunities.
  • Having an error-free CV that succinctly describes how past achievements are relevant to a specific job application and/or their next career move.
  • Using social media well and having a visible online presence through regular, thoughtful and insightful updates on social channels.
  • Finding the balance between staying in touch with prospective employers without being overly persistent.
  • Being a good communicator and clearly articulating at interview how they have delivered in past roles and well as being clear about future aspirations. It might sound obvious, but a good candidate also prepares well for interviews.

What do you think are the most common recruitment mistakes made by FinTech/RegTech companies?

With regards to the recruiting process, some big FinTech recruitment teams are too focused on automating the entire procedure and as a result often overlook the customer service and marketing elements of recruiting, which are so valuable in 1) helping to promote their organisation and 2) engaging meaningfully with candidates. An example of this would be not giving feedback or acknowledging CVs when candidates have invested the time to learn about their business.

When choosing candidates some young FinTech and RegTech firms hire sales executives before their product is ready to go to market or in the case of more-established companies, they often hire, simply because a candidate is on the market. This has been particularly prevalent during the pandemic. I think both scenarios are a mistake because if the role is not challenging enough or the money not right, the candidate is likely to leave as soon as the market picks up. The same outcome is also likely if a hire is not a good cultural fit.

Finally, should a company decide to work with a recruiter, I think that it’s crucial they treat the recruitment company as a valued partner to their business and not just a service provider. As an employer, recruiters indirectly represent your business so it’s important to remember that and to think about the best ways to motivate them.

What recruitment advice would you give a start-up?

The first piece of advice I would give a start-up is to be clear on your business goals, and craft your job descriptions in line with what you need to meet those goals. That has to be the starting point for any good hire.

Next I would say that it’s important to understand your candidate’s motivation to wanting to join your company.  This will allow you to correctly assess if s/he is just looking for any old job or if they are genuinely committed to being part of all the ups and downs of the start-up journey. It’s also imperative to be open to a two-way interview process and to be aware that a prospective employee is not the only person pitching during the interview.

Communicating compensation very early on and setting salary expectations at the start of the hiring process is also key. This includes being clear on the total package, including equity participation and not moving the goalposts after the person joins or you’ll possibly soon be recruiting again.

Finally, I would recommend utilising your website and social media channels to portray the work culture in your organisation, and ensure they are updated regularly.  Even if you are not currently hiring, you may be on the watch list for a potential future candidate!

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