Recruiting within Procurement: Staying Connected in an Automated Future


As the recruitment process becomes increasingly automated, do we risk overlooking the best candidates?

For Sourcing Solved MD, Iain McKenna and Art of Procurement MD, Philip Ideson, recruiting within procurement begins and ends with a human connection.

Automation: The great leap forward

Technology plays a pivotal role in modern procurement, offering a broad, visual understanding of how systems are working. As a natural progression we are now seeing a growing interest in the recruitment process becoming more automated. But we can’t rely on automation alone when looking to recruit the best talent.

To quote Xerox CEO Steve Vamos, “Technology doesn’t innovate, people do”. When used and implemented correctly, technology will help organisations buy faster, smarter and in a more controlled way. However, the success of technologies continues to rely heavily on people. People build the processes; people program the bots; people turn insights into strategies, and people execute those strategies.

The challenge for the procurement professional is to focus on performing the jobs that the bots cannot. It’s important to articulate this value proposition at the executive level, before the Board hands sole responsibility to the bots. The exercise of procurement will not cease to exist, as companies will always need to buy products and services. Instead, an organisation may empower its business stakeholders with the help of a bot, rather than the help of a procurement professional.

How does this link to recruiting procurement talent?

While procurement professionals are reshaping their careers to take advantage of the opportunities that digitization presents, similar technology is being used by hiring departments to separate the winners from the losers. But how accurate is technology in separating the creative, customer-centric and commercially minded professionals from those who are reliant on technical skills alone?

A heavy use of technology to screen candidates can be effective if you simply need a ‘bums-on-seats’ approach to recruiting. In this scenario, the required skill sets would be largely commoditised and the cost of a bad hire, both financially and reputationally, would be low. However, when hiring procurement talent in today’s world, the skill sets needed to challenge the status quo and drive a changing value proposition are in short supply.

The ‘war for talent’ is a commonly used phrase right now, with valuable talent being in high demand; you therefore need an effective hiring strategy. Publishing a job description and waiting for the applications to flow in will not yield the quality of candidates you are seeking. You may also put yourself at risk financially; the effects of a wrong hire won’t usually be apparent until three to six months down the line, at which point the damage may have already been done.

Procurement candidates in our network who have experienced an automated recruitment process have reported on the process feeling ‘clinical’. In some cases, they have not even heard back from the company after their interview. This results in the candidate feeling undervalued and weakens the company’s opportunity to build a strong relationship with them in the future.

The ‘convenience factor’

In the modern world, convenience dictates many of our decisions. Consider online shopping; it’s quicker and easier, but shopping should also be about the experience. Without a physical interaction to judge a product’s worth you may have to take a chance on it living up to your expectations. If you take that tangible encounter away from recruitment, can companies be sure they’re making the right choices?

We must be careful not to allow technology to reduce our ability to understand a candidate’s own needs as well as their worth to the company. The average job specification is focused on a company’s requirements, reading less like an offer and more as a list of demands. Like any relationship, recruitment is built on a give and take basis. If a candidate sees that you are focused on your own gains without considering what you have to give, why would they wish to begin a relationship with you?

The procurement organisations that succeed in hiring the most suitable candidates will approach recruiting as a sales and marketing effort. This starts with the job specification. Candidates are attracted to opportunities that will allow them to connect with the culture of an organisation; to create meaningful impact whilst furthering their own personal development.

If you compare any two Procurement Director job descriptions, it’s likely that there will be little to distinguish between them. Any differences will not be enough to inspire a prospective candidate to invest their time in one over the other. Usually, in this scenario, the company with the better reputation will take precedent.

Empathy in recruitment

If we don’t use empathy as a recruitment tool, we risk missing out on some exceptional candidates. In taking an empathetic approach, we become more observant. By looking past KPIs and taking a more holistic approach, a procurement team can be empowered to get to the heart of what stakeholders really need.

Research shows that in today’s society, empathy is declining. The rise of technology has been a major contributing factor and this also applies to our approach to recruitment. When we remove personal contact, we start to make decisions purely based on CVs; a person cannot be understood on this basis alone. By working collaboratively with stakeholders it’s possible to create a more empathetic, relationship-led process. If you wanted to buy a new car, you wouldn’t make your decision just by reading the driver’s manual. You’d get in the car and drive it!

Connecting with candidates

Candidates recognise when you’re making that extra effort to create a connection. This will get them on board and ensure they remain engaged for the long-term. The strongest candidates will have the most choices; they can stay where they are, or if they decide to move on, they will have plenty of options.

Strong candidates should be treated as a procurement professional would expect to be treated by a prospective business partner. Otherwise, companies run the risk of sending out the signal that the relationship is simply transactional, rather than strategic.

Once a company has decided to hire a candidate, they should move quickly. The candidate’s enthusiasm will rapidly fade if they feel that the company is not being proactive in turning a successful interview into an appropriate job offer.

Sourcing Solved: An empathetic approach in practice

In terms of realising this philosophy, a simple first step would be an open day. Invite candidates to an open interview and give them a problem to solve. You’ll observe who is a natural leader, who is a creative thinker and who hangs back. This is no longer common practice but remains a straightforward way to determine if someone is, for example, creative or a good leader. These skills can’t always be proved through a standard interview.

At Sourcing Solved, empathy is at the core of the process. We always speak with candidates face to face, whether in person or on a video call. We strive to understand the whole person; their circumstances, preferences and goals. Asking challenging questions is just one part of the process, the main objective is to get to know them.

We also aim to understand our clients, looking beyond the job specifications to identify precisely what problem a company needs to solve. We consider organisational culture, management style and personality fit. It is only when we have established this relationship and understanding with the client that we can begin to identify the right candidates.

When a client has successfully made an offer to the right candidate, the journey does not end there; it is then important that they continue to invest in that person. As Richard Branson says, “Train people well enough, so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to”. You can’t build strong, long-term relationships with shortcuts and quick fixes.

Philip Ideson is Managing Director of Art of Procurement, helping procurement leaders build the infrastructure that enables customer-centric, creative, connected and commercially minded teams to elevate the impact of procurement.

Iain McKenna is Managing Director of executive search firm Sourcing Solved, supporting business leaders in hiring the best possible talent to support their procurement strategy.

Miranda Woodhouse