In this episode of Talk Talent To Me, we are joined by Paul Humphreys, J.P. Morgan’s Technology Recruitment Manager for all of EMEA. Paul has truly done it all, from studying politics to starting his own recruitment agency, to heading up jobs at Sky and Amazon, and finally settling on a prestigious position at J.P. Morgan.
[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me. A podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontlines of modern recruitment.
[0:00:12.8] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions. Where are they willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail.
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[0:00:53.0] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz, Talk Talent to Me.
[0:01:00.2] RS: Joining us today here on Talk Talent to Me is the head of tech recruitment for all of EMEA for J.P. Morgan, Paul Humphreys. Paul, welcome to the podcast, how are you?
[0:01:09.2] PH: Thanks Rob, I’m very well, good to be here.
[0:01:10.7] RS: Yeah, glad to have you. Folks who stay up to date on their Hired content will remember you from a webinar we did I think mid last month and the webinar went great and I just knew I had to hear more from you. Thanks for agreeing to follow up and excited to dive into a lot of this stuff here on the podcast. I have a million questions for you Paul, a million directions we could go, the world is kind of our oyster here today.
Before we do that, I would just love to get to know you a little bit. Would you mind, for the folks at home and for me too, candidly, sharing a little bit about your background and kind of how you wound up at J.P. Morgan?
[0:01:43.3] PH: Yeah, sure, happy to. Firstly, you know, thank you. I was really flattered when you invited me to take part, I’m a listener to your podcast so thank you so much for inviting me on. My background is that I started off with a politics degree and like many politics graduates, didn’t have a well-mapped career path in front of me so I fell into recruitment back in 2003. I worked for a large technology recruitment company called S3 and really caught my teeth there for four years or so. Always working in technology within software testing recruitment.
I then moved into more of a business analyst role within that agency and I helped them to design, they were building their own applicant tracking system in-house for that agency so I helped them to design that. I also set up a marketing function for that agency.
That was really interesting because I got to see not just working up the cold faces as a recruiter but also some of the operations stuff behind the scenes that goes on to make an agency successful. So then by the end of 2006, at the age of 26, I knew what I thought was a lot about recruitment and decided to take the plunge, and a friend and I went off and set up our own recruitment agency from scratch, a friend and myself.
The reason behind that was really, we were somewhat tired of working in a short-term way and always having to prospect for new clients and new customers, we saw a lot of value and trying to make placements with firms and to really build longer-term relationships rather than constantly looking for new clients. That was the ethos behind the agency and as I say, very successful, we set it up in 2006 and built it to 10 or 11 people so for about four years I worked on that.
The pitch was very simple then, we would phone clients up and say, “Look, we’re a new agency, we’re just starting out, we know what we’re doing, we don’t have a huge track record but if you give us your vacancy to work on, it will be my number one role that I will want to deliver on and as an owner of the company, I’ll be committed to delivering on that for you” and that worked very well, that kind of honest approach.
I did that for about four years. Again, a small number of clients but very much looking to develop long-term relationships with them and then around 2010, I decided to sell up at a bit of a career crossroads and wanted to have a bit of time to think about what I did next. So sold out of that agency and just took six months out to watch the World Cup and kind of consider my next option.
I watched a lot of football for a while and then at that point, I got a call from one of my old clients who was working at BSkyB who are a large broadcaster and he said, “Look, you know, I have an opportunity in my team, why don’t you come over to the other side and work in-house?” So, I took a contract at Sky and that was really interesting. Firstly, to move inhouse and understand how a recruitment, a talent acquisition function worked on the inside but also, Sky was a very interesting company so it was – it’s a consumer technology company and it spans hardware and software so you know, from the setup box, through to mobile and web applications.
I had a real break, broad range of technology and it also very high resiliency environment, if you think about a TV station, the quality of engineering that needs to go on to provide kind of five, nine level of operational resiliency is very high. Sky was also one of the companies that really embraced Agile software engineering methodology very early on, so that was really interesting to see how those concepts played out within engineering function. I learned a lot from my time there.
From Sky, I then moved to an online gaming company, a gambling company. That was really interesting. That was a build-out, a brand-new office. Myself and one other recruiter when we started there, had to wave our arms around every 30 minutes just to switch the lights back on. An empty office in the center of London and over the period of a year or so, we recruited some really great software engineers and related disciplines to fill that office that was very rewarding.
What was interesting about that company was the fact that many candidates don’t want to work in gambling and even those that are open to that, the branding of this particular company was deliberately provocative and quite racy, so although it was a very professionally run company, when a candidate would Google the company, that kind of marketing they were faced with wasn’t necessarily the most appealing from an employer brand point of view.
I had to work very hard to overcome that and attract candidates into that organization and then from there, I moved on to Amazon. So I was involved in building out their Amazon video London development center. Again, a buildout almost from scratch. I was only there for a year but I think what I took from that was, Amazon was the first environment I’d been in where I really saw a company with very clearly defined values and leadership principles.
I think they’ve been — those leadership principles have been talked about extensively in HR and recruitment circles but I really saw those principles in action and that was really interesting for me to see how that culture really permeated every level of Amazon and certainly something that I think I took with me into future roles. And then in 2013, I got the call from J.P. Morgan. I was never really looking to get into finance and I still to this day, don’t really consider myself a finance or financial services guy but I guess after eight and a half years of being at J.P. Morgan, I suppose I am now.
The reason I was interested in that opportunity is for me, as a recruiter, what’s always been the most interesting part of the career is trying to wrap my head around firstly, technology and then secondly, the business and to understand how technology is valuable to that business and the role that it plays. A company like J.P. Morgan, it’s a very large multinational financial services firm. It employs a quarter of a million people, so to try and wrap my nonfinancial and nontechnical brain around the tech landscape at J.P. Morgan was very appealing.
It was also a sightly counterintuitive move because we were still suffering from the effects of the credit crunch so again, attracting candidates into that market at that time was pretty challenging but nevertheless, I made the jump. You know, really pleased that I did so I kind of moved up within the company over that time, and currently as we sit here, my responsibility is for a team of about 40 recruiters that deliver about 2,000 mostly software engineering hires in a mere, every year.
[0:08:30.8] RS: You’ve kind of done it all. Not just having to head up multiple jobs at multiple companies but in terms of the type of output you, as a recruiter have, and like the scale of the company. You’ve done the agency thing, you’ve done the startup thing, you’ve done the founder thing. Now you’re at this company, global brand, tons or resources. I speak to a lot of startup recruiters on the show just because of kind of who my network is and it’s not uncommon for them to kind of beat up the role that you would have as a recruiter at a large company when they would talk about red tape and bureaucracy…
There’s clearly something appealing to it because you do the job. I’m curious, what do you think are the advantages of working for a global company that has a ton of resources for you and your career?
[0:09:16.7] PH: Yeah, that’s interesting. I mean, to the first point on the startups versus corporate. Look, I think everybody’s job looks easy until you do it, right? There’s always nuance, there’s always challenge that an external audience don’t necessarily understand.
There were elements of working in a small company that I really enjoyed and other things that were more challenging and you know, the grass is always greener but actually, it’s probably not, right? I’ve found that working in large companies, the challenges are different but not really any greater or lesser. I mean, working in a company with J.P. Morgan’s resources that there’s a lot of benefits to that.
I mean, the first thing I would say Rob is, we’re very fortunate that we’re a very stable and profitable company and that means that we have quite a long-term outlook. We don’t pivot frequently as perhaps is more common in smaller companies, we are able to make much longer-term plans and I think that leads to a lot of good decision making.
On a practical level, our scale does allow for specialization and that’s a big advantage. I have dedicated teams within human resources. For example, you have a dedicated compensation team, your recruiting operations, relocations, learning, and development. Real subject matter experts that we can then go and lean on for their input into complicated hires or whatever it is that we’re trying to do.
I think also, the fact that we’re quite profitable means that there’s budget there quite simply. That means that we can put plans into action that perhaps other companies might struggle and it also means that we can afford to hire really great talent. You know, the market is incredibly competitive as you know. I think we’ve all seen in tech in the last six months, that has really accelerated, probably more than I’ve ever seen in my 20 years in tech recruiting.
We’re very fortunate that that scale and profitability means that we can keep being competitive but it would be remiss of me not to state the counterargument and with scale and size does come an element of bureaucracy and I think speed is important in talent acquisition. The speed with which you can bring a candidate through a process, the speed with which you can respond to your client’s needs is super important.
We are not always as flexible and as agile as I would like us to be, that’s the price we pay for all of the other good stuff that I mentioned.
[0:11:49.5] RS: Yeah, it makes sense. What’s kind of top of mind for you? You have a much more high-level approach, right? You have 40 people reporting in to you, what’s keeping you up at night, what are kind of the big campaigns or the area of your focus right now?
[0:12:04.0] PH: The biggest thing I guess on my to-do list at the moment is to try and provide much greater consistency across the region in how we recruit software engineers. We develop all of our own software pretty much at J.P. Morgan, that’s seven and half thousand applications or so. We have an insatiable desire to hire software engineers.
I might have four or 500 software engineer roles open at any one time. Historically, what that’s meant is that we’ve had 500 hiring managers following 500 different processes with 500 different definitions of what a good software engineer looks like. Clearly, that’s not particularly efficient, it’s not consistent and it doesn’t really lend itself to a great candidate experience.
If you’re a Java engineer in London, we might have 50 open opportunities that could be relevant to you. It makes no sense for you to apply to job number one, go through the process there and then if you’re not successful then apply to job number two, et cetera, et cetera.
What we’re trying to do is we’re calling it cohort hiring, we’re trying to move to a place where we hire for the firm rather than individual hiring managers and individual teams. That’s not revolutionary, there’s lots of companies out there that have a similar approach but for us, it’s a real shift in our attitude and operationally in how we recruit.
That cohort hiring at the moment is number one on my agenda and I think we’re halfway through that at the moment. I think it will have real advantages for how candidates experience J.P. Morgan.
There’s two elements to that really, Rob. Firstly, to have a clearly defined standardized behavioral assessment. We’ve already done that work and we’ve been doing that over the last kind of 18 months. We now have a firm-wide global view of what kind of behaviors a software engineer should exhibit, if they’re likely to be a top performer at J.P. Morgan.
We did a lot of work with an external consultancy to look at our top performers and identify those traits, those behaviors and then we reverse engineered that into our recruitment process, and then we’ve trained globally, many, many thousands of hiring managers on that consistent behavioral framework and we have a scoring system and a common language that everyone is now using, so that’s received really good feedback.
Again, not completely revolutionary in terms of talent acquisition but for us to implement it at the scale at which we operate, that was a big project of work that I was deeply involved in for the last kind of 18 months.
The next step for us now is to find the same consistency with our technical assessment and we’re not finished now, there’s a lot of work still to be done to kind of get 53,000 technologists to agree where the bar is for a software engineer. We’re working hard on defining that at the moment. Once that’s done, we’ll be rolling that out again globally across the firm.
[0:15:10.9] RS: Something worth pointing out I think before we dig a little deeper into that is that if you are a candidate applying for a role at a company like J.P. Morgan, in terms of the size, just because you don’t get an offer for one role, doesn’t mean you can’t work there, right?
If you really want to work for a company particularly, you know, the left hand may not know what the right hand is doing. Don’t assume that this process is so mature that they can – that one hiring manager can see that you’ve gone through the interview process and can pluck you out and put them, put you in their role. You may have to do that process you prescribed at the beginning, which is apply to 50 different roles.
Just to point out to folks, don’t give up if you really want to work at a company but in your case, you are trying to make that the case so they wouldn’t have to. Is part of that identifying which parts of the interview are the same for any role and then also having hiring managers be really prescriptive about what are the questions that only you can ask that only qualify someone for your role in particular, do you need to be that granular with folks?
[0:16:14.5] PH: Yeah, that’s a really good point and you know, there is no such thing as a bad candidate. You know, it’s about matching candidates with your requirements and also on the reverse, whether your opportunity matches with what a candidate is looking for so simply put yes, I think you’re right. It is about trying to firstly educate hiring managers to screen candidacy in rather than screening out.
I think the natural inclination of many hiring managers within technology is firstly to think, “Well, we’re very niche. You know, we use this technology, we use it in this way, we work within these asset classes or this business area, therefore I must recruit somebody with similar experience” and a lot of the time, my team spent talking with hiring managers is explaining that actually if Bob Smith resigns and Bob had all of these experience then actually we shouldn’t go to market and find another Bob.
Bob got bored, Bob was ready to move for the next opportunity. What we actually need to do is work out what are the really core constituent parts of that role, what’s the difference between experience and behavior and that’s crucial and trying to find, you know, I would suggest a candidate that has 70% of the skills and then, you know, training that gap tends to be a better solution than trying to find somebody with a 100% fit.
Because by taking the 70% fit, you’re probably bringing somebody in from a different industry or a different company or a different background and finding somebody who is going to bring more interesting ways of thinking to your group. A lot of the work my team do is talking to hiring managers and saying, you think you want this. Actually, perhaps we should distill that down a little bit and look at the core skills and behaviors that you need and broaden that spec a little bit and therefore, give you more options in terms of the interview.
Yeah, you know a lot of work we do is challenging that kind of shopping list idea of requirements that technology managers are prone to give you.
[0:18:16.3] RS: It’s such a great point that, assuming Bob was regrettable churned, right? That you don’t want to find a Bob because as you said, Bob didn’t want the job anymore, right? Bob was a bad fit ultimately. What you need to do is find someone who is like Bob when Bob was hired, right? Or at least has a similar skillset ability, whatever other intangibles made Bob so good over the years, right?
That is more important than who they were right before they left because you don’t want someone who is right about to leave, so I just wanted to call that out. That’s really interesting. Is this similar approach in terms of being able to consider candidates for lots of different roles? It seems like you could point this same strategy at internal mobility as well.
[0:18:56.1] PH: Yeah, I think you can and that’s an interesting point. I think we actually have a really strong story to tell around internal mobility. 30 to 35% of all of our vacancies globally in technology are filled internally and so that’s seven, 8,000 hires a year within technology within J.P. Morgan, which is a very significant number and that’s culturally, we’ve always looked always at the internal and external market.
We have various rules and control points in place to make sure that managers are considering both internal and external candidates and it’s a major attraction for many people coming into the firm. It was for me actually. You know, I have seen lots of examples of recruiters moving into compensation or HR or learning and development or into the business and vice-versa. I interviewed somebody today from the tech business who is interested in becoming a recruiter.
You know, there is the opportunity within J.P. Morgan to have a career of multiple different roles without having to go externally and start all over again and build new relationships and that is a really important part of the firm but to your point Rob, you know, do we always or do hiring managers always hold candidates to the same bar? I’m not sure that they necessarily do. We would like them to but you know, within our business, internal candidates are often available more quickly.
They don’t have onerous notice periods that external candidates might. We’ve already had a close-up look at them. We know what their performance metrics are. They have some equity within the firm, they have relationships that they’ve already built and that ephemeral idea of culture fit, you know, we already know that they operate well within our culture so they are very attractive often to our hiring managers.
It is interesting again to the previous point I think you know, it’s an interesting question to ask of a hiring manager, “Are you assessing a candidate’s ability to adapt in the same way with internal and external candidates?” Again, my team’s role is to make sure that we’ve explored the market and in some of the markets — in some of the locations we operate, London, New York, Hong Kong, et cetera, you know, there is a lot of external competition.
But in some of the places that we operate, we are the dominant tech employer in that space. In the UK for example, we have a huge technology hub in Bournemouth, in Dorset. We are the biggest tech employer in that region by some way. If we’re going to market to recruit for a role, it makes perfect sense that we consider our own talent in that space, you know, to not do so would be to ignore the majority of the market.
As I say, our role there as recruiters I think is just to try and ask challenging questions to the clients and make sure that they’re really assessing internal and external candidates in a similar way.
[0:21:59.7] RS: What is that process by which you consider existing in J.P. Morgan employees for other roles? Is this dependent on them to raise their hand and ask for it? Is it up to the manager to understand who would be better served somewhere else in the organization? How does that work?
[0:22:16.1] PH: Yeah, great question. In theory, let me give you the theory then the reality, in theory –
[0:22:21.3] RS: Give me your wild fantasy of how this takes place.
[0:22:24.2] PH: Yeah, so I mean look, you know, we have many great managers in our organization. The theory is that managers should proactively push their top performers to develop themselves and their careers and go out and explore other opportunities. In reality, those managers have –
[0:22:38.8] RS: Meanwhile.
[0:22:40.3] PH: Yeah, I mean, you know they have projects.
[0:22:41.5] RS: Back on planet earth.
[0:22:42.4] PH: Yeah, exactly. They have deadlines, they have projects and they tend to want to keep hold of their top performers so a lot falls on the individual. We do facilitate that. We, as a TA function, we run workshops, socialize open opportunities, open vacancies, there are various things we do to encourage that mobility but ultimately, it falls to the individual to take responsibility for their own career and explore those opportunities and apply and go through the process. You know, we’re there to facilitate but it does really come down to the individual.
[0:23:14.5] RS: Right and not saying that this is the case but it seems that — would a manager necessarily be incentivized to pass on one of their top performers, right? You want to keep them there on your team, right?
[0:23:26.6] PH: We haven’t solved for that yet. I mean, I think at a very senior level, the more you go up the organization actually we get better and better at that I think because there is a greater maturity of the management team so at a very senior level, actually there is a lot of very proactive kind of direction given to people so when opportunities come up that the manager is more likely to recommend them and to push them into that.
But I think that comes with a certain maturity that we probably don’t have at the more junior level of the organization, so maybe that would make a phenomenal project one day if I had the resource and the time to do it but I would love to see us be a little bit more proactive and go out and target our top performers. We don’t really do that in any meaningful way at the moment.
[0:24:19.8] RS: As I sort of reflect on it as you’re kind of speaking, I think you probably have to be a very selfish manager to not put someone’s name forward, you know? If you are a good boss and a good manager and you care about the people on your team, you want them to have a job that they like, right? That they are, whatever their goals are that you are helping them achieve them like that’s not your role as a manager.
To not put that forward would be, I think, worrisome. You know, that would be cause for alarm if you had managers doing that. I am not saying that’s the case at large but I could see why it would possibly happen.
[0:24:53.5] PH: Yeah, for sure. I think you’re very understanding there. We have to do what’s best for the firm and I think there’s improvement that we could make there for sure.
[0:25:01.0] RS: For you, is internal mobility mostly focused on people within their existing departments and skillsets, or do you think there is opportunity for someone to be like, “Hey, I’m an engineer but I want to be a marketer” or something like that?
[0:25:12.5] PH: Yeah, we see less of that in technology. I think a lot of that is down to there is a lot of specialization within technology and I think, more importantly, people tend to think in that way so we don’t see a huge amount of people coming in and out of technology from other groups. We do see people moving, I mean, J.P. Morgan effectively is five or six businesses brought together under one umbrella.
We do see a lot of movement from different lines of business and different kind of technology stacks and even from role to role. You know, people moving from product owner role if we go up into a dev lead role or something like that, so we do see a lot of that kind of movement but less so in and out of technology.
[0:26:01.7] RS: Well Paul, we are creeping up on optimal podcast length here but before I let you go, I just wanted to ask you a little more about some of your maybe medium, long-term vision for your role and the talent function at J.P. Morgan Chase, which is you mentioned earlier, you have more resources given that yours is a bigger brand, a bigger company, what are some of your – what’s one example, maybe, of a pie in the sky type of campaign.
Where if your boss’ boss came to you and said, “You know Paul, there is no limit, go nuts, take a third of your time and point it at this project” what would you really want to get done?
[0:26:34.8] PH: Yeah, I mean that’s a great question. That’s an interesting one, so you’re the genie in the lamp and you can grant me this wish. I mean, one thing that I think is wrong with our industry is that the vast majority of candidates, 99% of candidates, of applications are rejected and that is normally a binary one-off interaction, one-off process and that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
I think in particular, feedback could be so much better and I’m not the first person to say this but if you look at the investment that both sides make into a recruitment process at the end of it to just kind of have a generic “not this time, thank you” feedback, which seems to be the industry standard now I think is ridiculous. I honestly don’t understand why companies can’t give detailed and honest feedback.
I think it would drive better recruiting. If a hiring manager knew that ultimately their reasons for rejecting a candidate were going to be related directly to the candidate, I think actually that focuses the mind and that drives higher quality recruiting but the other thing I’d add to that role is you know, too many companies, too many managers, too many recruiters are only interested in is, is this candidate able to do this role right now starting Monday?
Can they hit the ground running? You know, of course you have to be pragmatic. You know there is a role there that needs to be done but very few companies look at whether they can train the gap, can they invest in new hires, could they take this person who is a 60% fit and put them on a two-week training course or a two-month training course and you know, they have seen the right behaviors from them, they just don’t necessarily have the right experience.
Very few companies feedback to candidates in that way. Very few companies say, “Hey Rob, thanks so much. Great to meet you, you have the right behaviors that we are looking for. You don’t have the right experience but hey, if you could go away and over the next 12 months get this kind of experience, we’d love to talk to you again but right now it just doesn’t work for us as an organization but here are the kind of things that you might do in the future that would actually make you really, really suitable for us again.”
I don’t hear of companies doing that, I’m sure a few do but I would love that to be standard industry practice and if you could create that virtuous cycle where even five or 10% of the candidates that you’re rejecting are then perhaps coming back into your TA pipeline in the future, I think that may well make good business sense as well. I’d love to – it’s a rambling answer Rob but to shift that focus away from those one-off interactions with candidates to a much more open and constructive dialogue, that for me would be a great achievement.
[0:29:34.3] RS: Five to 10% that adds up especially the larger your company and the more scale and the more hiring you’re doing, so that totally makes sense. Paul, this has been a really great conversation. Thank you so much for being here on the show and for sharing all of your expertise and wit and wisdom with us today. I really appreciated it.
[0:29:49.6] PH: I’ve really enjoyed it and thank you so much for inviting me. I’ve been really flattered to be a part of it.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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