The Other Side with Talent Executive Simon Evans

Simon EvansHead of International Talent Acquisition

Joining us in conversation today is a talent leader with 24 years of experience across the financial sector. Tune in to hear Simon Evans share an insider’s perspective on the role of a TA, along with his valuable insights on the importance of getting the onboarding process right. You’ll learn why he believes it is so important for HR managers to work closely with recruitment for a successful employee experience. Simon is at a crossroads in his career and shares his experience of interview processes along with the role of a strong and diverse network in navigating transitional times. Tune in for some fascinating insights from both sides of the recruitment experience today.

Episode Transcript


[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me, a podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontline’s 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.

[0:00:22.7] RS: No holds barred, completely off the cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs and everyone in between.

[0:00:31.1] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings, I got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.

[0:00:39.7] MALE: Talent acquisition, it’s a fantastic career, you are trusted by the organization, you get to work with the C-Suite and the security at the front desk and everybody in between and everybody knows you.

[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.


[0:00:59.5] RS: Joining me today on Talk Talent to Me is a talent leader with loads of experience in the space, most recently, he was the Head of International Talent over at AIG, Simon Evans. Welcome to the podcast, how the heck are you today?

[0:01:11.3] SE: I’m very well, Rob. I’m very well. How are you? Thanks for having me.

[0:01:14.6] RS: Great to have you. I am great, thank you for asking, we’re both lifted by the world cup result this morning. England went absolutely bananas on Iran, scored six goals. So that feels good as England fans. It’s funny, you know, people will listen to this episode down the line and they’ll know if this enthusiasm was well founded or not, based on what happens.

But right now, we feel good, eventually we had to stop talking about football to get too this recruiting stuff.

[0:01:39.2] SE: Yeah, exactly. I think as tournaments go, I think England have started as one even better. So let’s be able to listen back to this episode and see where the journey went to.

[0:01:47.3] RS: Football’s coming home and maybe too, talent is coming home because we are broadcasting both from our own homes here and Simon, I’m really excited to speak with you because you are at a bit of a crossroads in your talent journey and you are kind of at in this exciting moment where that I think a lot of other people are in where they get to really ask themselves questions about what they want to do next.

So we’ll get into that, into your reflection process and all that in a bit but first, would you mind just sharing a little bit about your background and your career in talent thus far?

[0:02:15.5] SE: So, I’ve got 24 years’ experience in financial services. I started in banking where I worked in operational relationship manager roles. Then I moved into recruitment for a few years to learn the dark arts and then I, for the last, probably eight years or so I’ve been working in in-house recruitment for insurance companies in a money transfer company.

But moving from relationship management into recruitment, I always wanted to move into in-house TA function going forward. So yeah, so that’s kind of in a very, very nutshell my experience to date.

[0:02:49.5] RS: Got it and then, over at AIG, how would you kind of characterize your role there? What were the highlights of that stint for you?

[0:02:56.9] SE: Well, I thought I would enjoy my job at AIG, just to let everyone know on the call, you know, I worked there for two years. Started there march 2020, which for everyone on this call remembers about two weeks later, 10 days later, the whole world locked down. So I started off as an international role where I was going got do risk traveling and go out to regions, but everything was from VC.

Enjoyed much of that, was involved with everything from delivery of executive recruitment through to onboarding, governance, data, operating models while also being part in with DE&I compensation, everything. Well, what I had there Rob, was a great team from in talent acquisition that assisted us on that journey and really where I supposed, they’re the engine behind it.

I was the one that was in the strategy for TA and partnership with my global head of TA and North America TA head but they were the power force behind it on driving that strategy when the company went through lots of transformation. Really exciting times, really enjoyable projects and huge learning along the way. So yeah, thoroughly enjoyed my time there and yeah, was sorry to see it end in July in 2022.

[0:04:05.9] RS: Working at a company like AIG, obviously, huge scale, big team. What were some of the big campaigns you were able to execute there?

[0:04:12.9] SE: There was many multiple big campaigns but when you went global, you had too really – it was then a huge team effort on making sure that it was correct and so one of the things that we were looking at was on a global onboarding processes and that was something that was a partnership between the US and then international. So you had a number of people in the US who would be responsible for that project and then I was the lead for international.

Just so the way in which the TA function and the HR function was structured but global onboarding processes was down to basics, right? So if you’re a hiring manager, what do you need to do is your role and who do you need to interact with? From getting a laptop, getting setup on emails, systems, underwrite systems or claim systems but making sure you had that fundamental process that was right.

So we went through a big transformation project within that aspect and it went up and down. I worry about that, is there was some good bits and there were some bad bits and we had to kind of make sure that we rectified those poor bits very, very quickly because the one thing I wanted to just reiterate Rob is that the way I see leaders in TA is that from my perspective, it covers three aspects.

It’s anything that impacts talent acquisition, so the recruiters in the whole recruitment process, anything that impacts the hiring manager from their experience and anything that impacts the candidate and I think anything that hits those to three aspects on those experiences is the TA lead’s responsibility because if you have every person engaged in that process, it will then work a little more smoother and engaging and everyone has a better process from that.

So the global onboarding process was one, governance process. If anyone’s looking at AIG, the approval process, which took a long time to kind of implement. So any way you could really look at processes to enhance them on the benefit of either the candidate or hiring manager or TA and HR.

[0:06:03.3] RS: Particularly with the onboarding process, that generally falls within HR but for the people on the TA side, it affects their ability to do their job too. So I can see why you would want to have some ownership over that. How did you kind of break that out, the TA versus HR and then wanting to have a hand in something that affects your job even though it’s not necessarily your responsibility?

[0:06:24.8] SE: If we go back to when I was at a company called Argo, which were just to kind of put in context, Argo is a global specialty underwriter and had 1,500 people as a company. AIG is a global company that’s 40,000 people, so the scope is a lot different. So at Argo, it was a smaller project where I wanted to move things and move things quickly.

Where at AIG, we had to get engagement from procurement, HR business partners, IT, everyone on that process and I think I did a cover like a lean process, a lean six sigma process to re-evaluate it and it was something like 40 people involved with the process that can impact, that everyone has to do a decision within that process, which can either make that an engaging process or not.

And some people weren’t aware that they had to go on to work day and click here to process it through. It’s just educating, and making sure of that. So I think, it takes a lot more people to kind of move in along on our onboarding process but it’s absolute key aspect to make sure that it’s an engaging value add process.

Because if you get the onboarding process right, I think it’s also at a Harvard Business case that if you get it right, the attrition lowers. Where if you get it wrong, someone would leave within probably six to 12 months of joining that organization. So it’s an integral part to get right and who does what and why and that’s the kind of the key thing.

It’s always, what’s the mission, what’s the vision, what’s the strategy, what’s the what, the why, the how and that can go onto anything. So if we are able to communicate that and give people why and what their aspects are, everything moves a lot smoother.

[0:08:03.9] RS: Is HR ever touchy about talent’s involvement in those kinds of things?

[0:08:07.6] SE: No. The one thing I’ve always made sure that I do is forge excellent relationships with your business partners. We should be joined to the hip, right? We should be a collective approach on this and I think from an HR business point of view, they’ve got – any HR business partner has so much on their job and so much variety, right?

They need to have center excellencies that can help drive that forward and sometimes, there’ll be roles of HR business partners that come across to talent acquisition and it was like, “Oh, that part shouldn’t sit with TA but we’ll do it but let’s make sure that we can work on the process to ensure that that role is accountable to the right area” and that’s also using compensation.

You know, when you’re looking about talent reviews and talent reviews and making sure you get the right benchmarking, you know, learning in development. When you hire someone, you know, are we able to have transparent conversations with the hiring manager and talent to make sure that what we assessed you in the interview process with each other, it was put in development planning process when you’re hiring someone.

So they may not be at the level that we want to bring them in at, that we’re expecting but let’s put a plan in place to ensure that they are successful and do that. You know, it’s not just handing it over to learning and development and then coming in and doing the assessment. It’s like, what have we learned during the interview process and that is something that we’re able to pass that across to the learning and development to assist on that candidates or employees career path.

[0:09:31.4] RS: What do you think are the most important elements of a meaningful onboarding strategy?

[0:09:36.1] SE: Well, it has to be that engagement, right? So it has to be really slick, really engaging. I think if you goo right back too the start. Okay, so even start. So I believe onboarding starts even when the candidate applies for a job, right? So it’s the candidate experience.

So it’s the whole experience that candidate has from applying for a job, seeing an advert, being approached, whichever avenue it is but making sure that you keep the momentum during the interview process, you’re keeping that communication process going all the way through so that candidate is really engaged and really positive about the opportunity, making sure that the communication’s linked.

So that kind of goes through that interview process and then when they come onboard, it’s literally like, it’s not… and I’ve had this too many times in my career. Someone’s been offered the job and the hiring manager and they go, “Brilliant, fantastic” and they maybe on, it’s a bit more different in the international region where they maybe on, one month, three month, six months or even 12 months’ notice period.

What are we doing during that timeline to make sure that candidate stays engaged? Are we just saying, “Right, you’ve offered, you sign the contract, done, we’ll see you in X day time” but let’s make sure we are interacting with them, sending them information, making sure that they’re meeting with people.

Obviously, there’s sensitivities behind it but you know, making sure we can pass the information that is relevant in that period of time, so they stay engaged with that process before they even started. You know, even in this virtual world now, they get laptops sent. You know, all the tech that they need so that they can be setup, ready to go on day one and then they go, orientation plans, training.

All these kind of aspects and I think, you can look at it from an executive point of view, all the way down to kind of graduates and you got to make sure that the process is there to be engaging and make sure that people are, you know, say for example, executive level. They’re meeting with the people that they need to meet is in their diaries, these people know that they’re starting, whether that it’s a graduate program, right?

They won, this is where they’re going to be, this is their first, you know, in the remote world, it was right. Can they log on to a welcome meeting where you know, before that it was, “Right, can we get them to an office to meet and connect with the other grads?” So an onboarding process is integral to an engaged workforce and a retained workforce.

[0:11:51.1] RS: Have you had the experience in your career where a candidate has accepted an offer and then not showed up to work on the first day?

[0:12:00.9] SE: So yes. So I shouldn’t laugh but it happens, right? It happens all the time. I remember in the company ages ago, so I was working for a company called MoneyGram, which is money transfer, which was a very different industry that I wasn’t intent to going but it was great learning because the people that I had around me and I’ve getting content over them.

For them, we were doing a compliance project to global compliance project and day one, we were looking to get someone from… come down to Europe too fly in to London because it was an offsite I think that we were having in London and I think it was Sunday night, I got an email from the candidate to say, “Actually, I’m not coming, I’m not flying” and I think I’m probably watching a premier league football game about 4:00, 5:00, I checked the emails and I couldn’t believe it.

I was like, “What’s going on?” but then you try and call the candidate, the candidate doesn’t answer and it’s just like, you know, one email, that’s it. So obviously, reputation doesn’t look too good for that candidate but from a hiring manager’s perspective, they got the expectation that someone’s going to come on a very senior level and come on driving. We then had to start a recruitment process again.

So you know, from a delivery point of view, we didn’t have a senior head of person for probably six months, which they’re meant that the global head had a lot more responsibility to do but yeah, I had that a lot and I think that kind of comes back to everything where the communication that’s open. It’s that transparency needs to be there and from an interview process at the moment, I’m sure many a candidate have done this.

I’ve seen so many post on LinkedIn. It’s like the communication is the key thing, the momentum, keeping that moving is so important and I’ve had some really good experiences recently and I’ve had some experiences that haven’t been that great but you realize that you know, you just have to kind of keep moving forward and keep pushing yourself.

[0:13:42.8] RS: Yeah, of course and someone accepting an offer and then not showing up is devastating, even more so than someone getting all the way to an offer and then saying no. Presumably in the case where they don’t show up, you’ve also notified the other strong candidates that you would not be moving with them? And you can’t really go back to the well. They’re going to be like, “Hey, listen, I didn’t know what I had so we lost you. Like please, come back and work for us.” It’s just too late at that point.

I wanted to highlight that because that is, as you said, the reason why in between the offer being accepted and them starting, you have to keep recruiting, right? You have to keep them top of mind and keep telling them that you know, you’re excited and maybe there are even onboarding things they can begin before day one.

It’s like, “Hey, did you get your laptop?” like you said, “Hey, what do you want your email address to be, do you want it to be firs initial last name? Do you want it to be first name, do you want me to be first and last?” I don’t know, like, anything you can do that’s like, “Okay, you don’t give them work but they’re still responsive.

They’re still excited role that that feels really important and you did touch on something there like you know, you were kind of seeing that, the other side of it right now and that’s the main reason why I wanted to speak to you, Simon, is because you are at this exciting moment right now and your senior talent pro.

You’ve got loads of experience, you have some gold star, you know, recognizable name brand companies on your resume or I suppose, you would say, CV. So I feel like you could probably drum up a roll if you wanted to. You have this privilege of being a little picky and so I wanted to speak with you about your job search right now and kind of what is driving it and how are you assessing companies.

So I guess, I should ask one question instead of three at the same time. How do you characterize your search and then what are you thinking is going to be the next step for you?

[0:15:18.9] SE: Just to kind of be clear, like a lot of people in the market at the moment, my position was maybe redundant because of operational review. So this has given us a lot of time to reflect and look back and so I have reached out to a lot of people that I know and so the importance of a network is huge and networking is so important during positive times but also in rough waters.

So you know, making sure that you’ve got a good diverse network of industry professionals and the good thing from my side is I’ve been able to have the privileged to work with some of the smartest brains in TA, you know, from PHD master’s industry professionals through to really engaged skilled underwriters or recruiters that can influence and sell and so I have been always kind of pick ideas from them.

But what I have been able to do is also from the current situation is kind of reach out to them and say, “What was I good at? What could I have done more efficiently or learn from?” and I think to be able to bounce ideas of that and take a step back and go, “Where do I want to go as a career and what do I enjoy doing?” that’s been allowed me to then be kind of a bit more selective in my search and where I want to go.

I think, you know, I was really enjoying my job at AIG. Yes, there’s frustrations with some of the things but I really enjoyed the vast majority of it and the people that I worked with but what we were looking to do, that why, I’ll always going back to the why. I don’t know if you can kind of tell but I call like Simon Sinek and start with the why infinite mindset to finite mindset leadership. So I really enjoyed those books and so I have been able to kind of look at it and go, “What do I want to do?”

Growth, I like organizations that growing and we’re going through transition and then kind of being able to add value to that whether that be an operational reviews through to growth and can we set other teams to grow, whether it be any of those projects that I mentioned earlier on as well. So being quite selective in that but having conversations. I had so many conversations with some excellent people over the last two or three months and that has kind of given me a real kind of focus on where I want to go and what I want to achieve.

[0:17:11.2] RS: What is it like out there in terms of the interview processes you’re going through?

[0:17:17.0] SE: Varied, it’s just with the ill of that. There are some that are very quick and great because they are able to kind of move quickly but that kind of gives you the size and others that just want to go through a process because I put out my level out. They need to go through that process to make sure like validate a hire and that’s fine, right? I used to be in that position myself. So there’s others that take their time.

You know, the economic situation doesn’t help. You know, the war in the UK doesn’t help and what the UK government and the mini-budget that was put in place a couple of months ago. Hopefully the new government and the new budget will give that stability and a bit more confidence back to the market where people will be investing a bit more but all of that is a cocktail.

It means that clients will be a bit more conservative with their funds before investing and that’s the best way to go but I much rather do that rather than invest, which is what’s happened to other organizations. So I know we talked about it before the call but there has been a lot of redundancies recently where organizations have hired aggressively during 2021, paid people a lot of money increases and that’s not a sustainable model.

Now, that model is now starting to come back and unfortunately cause redundancies and huge redundancies with those organizations.

[0:18:27.1] RS: So when you are going through an interview process and it’s bad or you can see the cracks in it because you know how a process like this ought to work, do you think, “Oh, I should run for the hills because they have no idea what they are doing” or do you think, “Oh, this is a great opportunity for me. I can add value right away and change things.”

[0:18:43.5] SE: I think it’s looking for the opportunity to add value, right? And what’s the longevity. So what you are saying there about marketing, if it was a firm that had no EVP or no value proposition on their website, there was no values, there was no culture, there was no diversity split, there was no jobs that were advertised on websites, right? That’s kind of a challenge straight away and that’s a big red flag to be able to change it.

I’m going to extremes by the way but then also there’s others that are more global firms and it’s like, well actually, they’ve got that in place. They just need to tweak it a little bit more but their main strategy is their operating model but then that’s something that you can do that is a project that will take 12 to 18 months, maybe two years to do but that is something that is once it’s in place will be so much value add.

I think that is something that we were looking to do at AIG because the numbers of recruitment went from 1,300 highest across international to 2,600 in just a base of two years but we didn’t increase the amount of staff. We didn’t invest too much. It was literally people working smarter, smoother, everyone understood the why and everyone was engaged and delivering towards that and we also analyzed our data a lot more.

So it would be a bit of a flag but it is also something that will be something of a challenge and something that I think would be interesting to deliver too.

[0:20:03.5] RS: Yeah, that’s kind of how I thought about it too and also getting to know of the leadership and their opinion of it, right? Did they agree with you that there is room for improvement? Is it because they haven’t invested in historically or do they disagree with you and like do they think, “No, what are you talking about? Our process is perfect” and then it’s like, “Okay. Well then, I know that I’m going to be stonewalled. I know that I’m going to meet resistance when I try to make change” like that’s an evaluation you can make before you sign up.

[0:20:28.4] SE: Completely. During the interview process you can completely get that but you also want to be able to have some transparent conversations during it not embedding to your head these. I know with AIG but when I was joining another company and I met with one of the business leaders and he kind of grilled us. This is like the final stage and he was grilling us because he wanted to kind of see what it’s like but that was his interview style.

But at the end of it I was like, “Do you enjoy recruiting?” and he was like, “Yeah, I absolutely love it because I can hire the people that I want to hire” and so straight away I was like, “Okay. Well, let’s see what I can try and do with that relationship” and so after first couple of months with this organization, I tried to build a relationship with this said individual and really kind of changed the way that he interviewed, which was quite aggressive.

Quite to the point where he’s more less looked to build relationship with these people and don’t tell them what you want them say, ask the open questions and get them to answer your questions and then you can kind of go from there and so once I built the rapport with this person, that turned around the organization very quickly and then people were able to kind of go, “Actually, that’s a nice bet there were weren’t expecting Simon to do” which was coaching and educating interview techniques.

But it is something that really benefited the organization with our time. So it’s kind of like some things come to you and I think some situations come to you whereas, “Well, I wasn’t planning to do that” but you know what? In order for me to kind of keep the momentum forward and build the relationship and business, it was, “All right, let’s roll the sleeves up and deal with this” and kind of push it forward.

[0:21:54.0] RS: Yeah, that makes sense. What has surprised you about this process of just networking and engaging with companies, going through processes, talking to leaders, et cetera?

[0:22:04.0] SE: One thing, I think I mentioned it to you before the call, one thing I really encourage about talent acquisition is such a great career to get into. I know you have it as one of your starting on your intro but you do speak to the person at the front door, the receptionist, all the way through to executives and the differential types of people that you interact with and so what surprised me is probably how close to TA market is from a network perspective and how open people are to have conversations.

My peers in the market have been great, being able to reach out to them and ask them about challenges and talk to them about situations and also they are aware of opportunities. So if they get approached by something, hopefully if I bought them a nice coffee, then they’ll pass, they’ll refer my name to them and then networking, social events within the insurance world as well. Insurance is very much a networking industry as well.

It is a great industry to get into, I think people don’t tend to look at insurance and go, “That’s the career of choice” but I would recommend anyone to try and get into insurance because you can have such diverse career. You can travel around, you can work with some amazing people. So the network around, the support network that like had panels.

So I have been able to kind of speak to executives that were my clients, my stakeholders in previous organizations and have really engaging supportive conversations with them reassured me on what I have done over the last 24 years, right? But I think kind of when you go back and speak to those industry professionals for them to be very receptive, engaging, I’m happy to have conversations.

I think it just shows you that that is an appealing part, an opportunity that I’ve had came out from me just emailing another peer in the market who I have never spoken to before to say, “Would you be happy to meet for coffee to talk about challenges, trends that go for the markets?” and we had a coffee and then that’s leading to a potential opportunity. So I think you know, there is ways in which you, if you are in the situation like I am at any level, look at your network.

Reach out to people, you know you control your career, right? So you are going to have up and down days and you know, I’ve had those but make sure you surround yourself with good people that can keep you moving forward and do that. So that is something that’s a bit of surprise to me on opportunities that have opened up as well as they’re obviously the traditional lines of speaking to search firms and recruitment agencies to see if there is any opportunity that I have that they can provide to me as well.

[0:24:29.3] RS: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Impossible to overstate the importance of one’s network and working that network when you are sticking your head up to see what else is out there. So that is great advice and Simon, there has been a lot of great advice here and as we keep up on optimal podcast length I’ll just say thank you for being here. Thank you for taking the time and good luck to you out there.

[0:24:47.4] SE: Thank you so much Rob, I appreciate it.


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