‘A strong, agile and resilient workforce is better suited to handle the ups and downs of business’

13 Apr 2023

James Galvin. Image: Anna Groniecka

James Galvin of talent-sourcing technology provider Starcircle discusses how the company helps businesses to approach recruitment in a new way.

James Galvin is the founder and CEO of Starcircle, a talent-sourcing technology provider based in Cork that helps to solve hiring challenges for a variety of global clients including Meta, Amazon, Dropbox and Cisco.

With a  background in network and systems administration as well as software development, Galvin entered the tech talent space in 2007 when he founded Glandore Systems, which relaunched as Starcircle in 2021.

Our core philosophy is helping clients expand their field of vision and go broader in their searches to find and engage diverse, hidden and passive talent. Our platform is a data-backed talent sourcing engine that helps companies scale by identifying pipelines of undiscovered talent.”

‘To overcome diversity issues, companies must rethink and validate every ‘must have’ criterion in their hiring processes and ask if it’s necessary’

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

There are a lot of high-profile layoffs at the moment, but it’s still tough to find the right people. In Ireland and the US, companies are struggling to hire, yet the unemployment rate is low.

We’ve seen some companies take a myopic, reactionary approach to recruitment, like they’re purely in a race to get the best talent in the door. What’s happening in the sector now is a correction of sorts. Yes, the market is in a kind of flux beset by uncertainty but it’s something Starcircle anticipated and is continuously working to resolve.

As a talent partner, we guide businesses into a new proactive way of approaching recruitment.

Our approach is focused on strategic outcomes and hiring employees with diverse capabilities and capacities to create long-term stability rather than creating boom-bust cycles involving hiring drives followed by mass layoffs.

A strong, agile and resilient workforce is better suited to handle the ups and downs of business.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

Businesses must have reliable and timely data to make good decisions quickly. Accessing and analysing the right data exactly when needed means you can plan and pivot effectively. There’s a mass of data captured in the HR and recruitment sector, but when it comes to talent acquisition, it’s not used as effectively as it could be.

We are ahead of the curve in terms of digital transformation and data analysis. Many others are still playing catch-up despite the pandemic. They’re either not capturing data or not interpreting and applying data-derived knowledge when hiring. As a result, they haven’t learned how to overcome staffing challenges.

Talent acquisition in the life sciences industry is a prime example. Digital transformation is in its infancy, so there’s a complete lack of sophistication. The focus is on immediate needs and quick wins. By ignoring candidates that aren’t actively applying for specifically advertised roles, they’re missing out on a good 70pc of potential talent. So, there’s a massive opportunity for us to champion and engage with passive, hidden and diverse talent in this and other spaces.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

My experience of applying and interviewing for jobs in the tech sector was a massive driver. Before setting up Starcircle, I was 100pc a tech guy. I was a Jack-of-all-systems, Linux administration, network engineering, software development. I tried it all. I learned a bit of everything and embraced technologically derived solutions from the off.

I had some exposure to the recruitment industry, and even in the early days, I realised so much time is taken by mountains of mundane, repetitive tasks that suck the soul out of the profession. Recruitment and staffing agencies can fall into a trap where they just work to fulfil commissions without imagination or creativity.

As I learned more about the sector and applied what I’d experienced myself, I saw even more issues, most of which are still in play today. Candidates are subjected to short-sighted, flawed or irrelevant tests and exercises, while good potential hires are discounted or wrongly excluded, usually because of illogical and biased decision-making processes. Whole pools of talent continue to be overlooked because of rigid job descriptions and the fact that recruiters are incentivised by immediate rather than long-term needs.

These key observations led me to see a gap in the sector that a company like Starcircle could fill. One where the power of data could be harnessed, a little bit of automation could go a long way and a new, broader, long-term approach would be revolutionary.

What one work skill do you wish you had?

Facts, logic and data are my currency. As a result, I can get lost in those details and communicate in a way that would probably benefit from nuance and soft skills. Luckily, I’ve surrounded myself with people at Starcircle that remind me, or do that on my behalf.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I don’t believe in micromanaging, and I try to practice what I preach. The Starcircle team are carefully selected because they’re a group of heterogeneously skilled individuals with the potential to be great at what they do. I mostly aim to provide them with support structures and whatever resources they need to succeed. I trust them and give them the space they need to manage their own performance.

‘If you come with a hammer, everything looks like a nail – you need to evaluate the situation first and let the right framework emerge from that. Context is critical’

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

We work with a wide variety of companies in different countries and a range of industries, and it is difficult to generalise about diversity. Each company must evaluate what diversity means in the context of their business, community and market and shouldn’t rely on token efforts. There needs to be a genuine desire to become more open-minded and willing to consider candidates from different backgrounds in the incumbent workforce. This means becoming less instinctive, more open-minded and more data-driven. Existing processes must be challenged and reviewed in this context, and leaders must be formally trained in decision-making.

I often see companies looking for diverse candidates but advertising with a job specification based on existing archetypes. Consequently, their hiring and performance evaluation processes are biased and outdated. How will they be able to hire and nurture diverse talent if their talent management processes are all geared towards homogeneity?

To overcome diversity issues, companies must rethink and validate every ‘must have’ criterion in their hiring processes and ask if it’s necessary. They must be willing to engage with prospective candidates who don’t necessarily tick all the boxes but bring something different to the table.

Organisations must be more transparent and consistent, and develop objective, validated metrics to guide hiring and performance management. They must go broader in their search, not simply blaming a limited talent pool for the lack of diversity. Instead, they must actively find a way to expand the pool of talent available to them.

What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

I look back and thank Dave Snowden, the knowledge management guru known for Cynefin, for shouting at me in front of a room full of people in Singapore: “Never start with the framework!”

If you come with a hammer, everything looks like a nail – you need to evaluate the situation first and let the right framework emerge from that. Context is critical.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

The book I recommend the most is Thinking, Fast and Slow because it covers so many important concepts related to bias and decision-making.

I also love to recommend Masters of Doom, the story behind ID Software, because it’s such a great example of what can be achieved with the right level of passion and energy.

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