Thanks for reading! This is a new series, designed to shine a spotlight on Talent Acquisition professionals and highlight their career journeys and learnings so far. Today, we're joined by Zumar Dean; if you'd like to be next, please reach out to a TTC Community Manager.
Zumar Dean is an experienced TA Leader with experience of working in agency, RPO and internal talent roles. Most recently, he led EMEA and APAC hiring for a Global AdTech company called StackAdapt, where he contributed towards growing the company 600 to over 1000 employees in 11 months.
Can you walk us through the key milestones in your career in the talent acquisition space? What were some pivotal moments or decisions that shaped your journey?
Like a lot of us, I started my recruiting career agency-side. I dropped out of college after I realised that university wasn’t for me, and I started working in Sales. I did it all - telesales, door-to-door, estate agency and then, finally, recruitment. Out of all of those roles, recruitment came to me the most naturally (although it took me just shy of 6 months to make my first placement!). As cheesy as it sounds, I loved having a positive impact on people’s careers and felt a huge sense of accomplishment when filling tough roles.
After a few good years, I ended up co-founding my own agency alongside a couple of colleagues which we ran for just shy of 9 years. Whilst we had a blast, I realised I wanted to play a bigger role in the hiring process and I knew this would be difficult if I stayed agency-side, so I made the choice to move to a well-known RPO, as I felt this would be a good happy medium between being in-house and working agency-side. I often say that I learnt more in the first 6 months of working there then I did in the previous 10+ years of my career, mainly because I was exposed to so many roles I’d never hired before but also because I got to collaborate directly with hiring managers and business leaders, helping them to build, optimise and deliver on hiring strategies, interview processes and employer branding campaigns. After working there for a few years I found progression opportunities hard to come by, so I made the decision to move internally, firstly within the TA team for a leading app developer and then to a global AdTech company.
In this rapidly evolving industry, what strategies or practices have you adopted to continuously enhance your skills and stay ahead of the curve? Do you have any resources or learning methods you'd recommend to others?
For me, there are two great ways to learn in our industry. Firstly, exposure (which I know isn’t always possible or up to you!) and secondly, peer-to-peer learning.
I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to have access to both and I believe these have helped me to learn quickly and effectively.
When it comes to exposure, honest and open conversations with your manager can really help. If they understand what you’re trying to achieve in your career, or what areas you might need to improve on, they can factor this in when delegating tasks, or deciding what projects you will work on. Putting your hand-up and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone can also lead to more opportunities to learn.
There’s several ways you can access peer-to-peer learning - starting with online communities on LinkedIn, Slack etc. (TTC is a great example). But also, attending industry-specific learning and networking events (e.g. RecFest), or online L&D platforms (check-out PURPL, as an example). Usually, anecdotes, advice and content from peers will be the most relevant to the challenges and issues you’re facing in your role and they can often lead to helping you overcome those hurdles or improve your skills.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your career in talent acquisition, especially when you were actively seeking work? How did you overcome it, and what advice would you offer to others facing similar hurdles?
It’s probably fair to say my current situation has been one of the most challenging aspects of my career. Being made redundant in the current climate was always going to be difficult, but I don’t think I was prepared for just how bad things have been.
Not hearing back from the majority of applications I’ve made, being rejected after interviews for the most arbitrary reasons, having to complete long-winded and often irrelevant application forms - it’s been tough. Whilst I’m still going through it, and so can’t specifically say I’ve overcome it, the thing that helps me to keep going is knowing this isn’t personal. I know I have strong experience and I trust in my ability as a TA professional - we’re just in a tough spot. The good news is this can’t last forever and as an industry we have to continue supporting each other.
My advice to anyone struggling is to not suffer in silence or alone. Reach out to someone, whether it’s a friend, family member or colleague.
The recruiting world can be fast-paced and demanding. How do you strike a balance between your professional commitments and personal life? Are there specific routines or rituals you follow?
Had you asked me this 5 years ago, my response would be very different. I didn’t really believe in or have any work-life balance. However, I now know a big part of maturing as a recruiter (or indeed as a professional in any field) is understanding that you cannot be your best self if you are tired, overworked and have poor mental health.
Whilst I’m a huge advocate for hybrid and remote working, I also feel like these can negatively impact this balance between professional and personal life, as you don’t have those natural break points like commuting, coffee chats or having to run off to a meeting room - so if you do work remotely, pay particular attention to how you structure your days.
For me, starting with small things like blocking out important times in your calendar can help massively. For example, I’ll put a lunch block in my calendar so meetings don’t get booked in at that time and I force myself to step away from my laptop. You can also do 15 minute blocks mid-morning/mid-afternoon to give yourself the chance to take a breather.
Beyond that, I’ve often found that spending 20-30 minutes to plan out your day can really help to ensure you get things done in time and focus on the most important tasks. I’d also strongly recommend everyone uses their annual leave allowance - having a break away from work can often have a hugely positive impact on your performance at work!
As someone involved in talent acquisition, you've likely witnessed various technology and trend shifts. Which technologies or trends do you believe have had the most significant impact on the industry, and how have they influenced your role?
It won’t be a surprise to hear me say AI. I’ve experienced a lot of new technologies over the past few years, but none have impacted the TA industry anywhere near as quickly or as much as AI. Being able to automate some of the most time consuming and admin-heavy tasks in our roles can allow us to focus on the heavier-hitting and more impactful tasks and projects. For example, using AI for interviewing/note-taking has been a game changer, especially for smaller TA teams that are working on several roles at any one time.
An obvious downside to AI is having to factor in how candidates may use tools to complete interview tasks or technical tests and how this impacts our ability to predict their suitability for the role.
For those entering the talent acquisition space or those looking to pivot within it, what's the one piece of practical advice you'd give to help them thrive, especially if they are actively job-seeking?
Recruitment can often be a thankless task, as stakeholders rarely see the full effort required to do our job (and often think the perfect candidate is sitting there just waiting for our call!). However, it can also be one of the most rewarding careers, especially when you do help candidates to land their dream job. My best piece of advice to anyone joining this industry is to remember that you are working with people - we can’t always control the decisions of candidates or stakeholders, but we can help them to make informed decisions and influence them with facts and data. The best recruiters, in my humble opinion, are those that demonstrate empathy rather than being driven by personal gain.
When it comes to job seeking, particularly in a tricky market like we’re currently experiencing, it can be easy to take rejection personally and to feel deflated when you’re not making progress in your job search. However, perseverance is key and coming back to the point about empathy, it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of the individuals responsible for hiring the roles you’re applying to and to think about how you can help them make an easy decision on your suitability, knowing that they’re likely to be reviewing a higher volume of CVs. You can do this by tailoring your CV to include the most relevant information first and foremost, or simply by ensuring you’re applying for roles that you genuinely fit the requirements for.