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SAP's Talent Acquisition Journey Revealed

by Q&A with Susan Bor | insiderPROFILES

April 1, 2013

In this Q&A with Susan Bor, SAP’s Senior Vice President of Talent, Bor describes what SAP is doing to win leading talent in the always competitive realm of technology recruiting. She also describes how the practice of “employers selling the company as aggressively as prospective candidates sell themselves” is transforming the hiring process at SAP.

In the competitive realm of technology recruiting, SAP continually battles other top technology firms for leading talent. When Susan Bor joined SAP in September 2011 — prior to which she was the global resourcing lead for the Royal Bank of Scotland — she brought with her a core belief that to attract the very best, whether a recent university graduate or a senior executive, an employer must sell the company as aggressively as prospective candidates must sell themselves.

Recently, Bor was asked to expand her talent acquisition responsibilities to lead SAP’s entire talent area, which focuses on internal talent, early talent, and career development. In this interview, insiderPROFILES spoke with Bor to find out what’s new with SAP in the talent acquisition space.

Q: How can SAP position itself as the most desirable destination for top technology talent?

In the recruiting space, at the end of the day, what we’re doing is selling careers. Clearly, the more attractive you are in the marketplace, the more likely you’ll have top talent wanting to come and work for you over your competitors. SAP is an amazing firm with a bold strategy, a remarkable trajectory in terms of growth, and a great go-to-market proposition — and those are the first things that talented candidates will look for in a potential employer. People want to be associated with successful organizations that they can grow in. SAP competes on three particular dimensions:

  1. Better flexibility
  2. Genuine empowerment in the work organization
  3. Top-rate career opportunities for various types of talent

 We have the luxury of a great corporate brand; we just need to get it out there more in the places we want to fish.


Susan Bor
Senior Vice President, Talent


Q: When you joined SAP, where did you focus your efforts to change the talent acquisition approach already in place?

When I came to the organization, I saw two areas we needed to pay attention to. One was to ensure we were providing a great candidate experience. If you think about the number of applicants that led to the 9,000 people we hired last year, you’re talking about at least a million touch points in the funnel. Even if candidates don’t end up joining us, they’re always potentially brand ambassadors for SAP, so we need to make sure their entire experience is stellar.

The second priority was to focus more on the quality of hires we were bringing into the organization to make sure that the people we hire are better than the people we lost. When you start with a topic like quality, you have to understand what differentiates the great performers from the good performers. Unless you know what that is, you’re going to be fishing in the dark with your selection processes. So the first thing we did was run pilot programs to identify the characteristics that distinguish candidates, and then ensured that those characteristics framed our selection process.

Similar to most organizations in the enterprise software sector, we have typically relied almost entirely on the interview when recruiting, and we’re moving away from that in our talent acquisition journey. While the interview is of course an essential part of any recruiting process, all the best-practice research tells us that by relying purely on the interview, you shortchange the ability to predict that you’re bringing in top candidates. To augment the interview, you need built-in, supporting selection tools and processes.

At the moment, we are working with a number of business areas within SAP to identify the ideal characteristics for particular positions. Interestingly, these characteristics often aren’t what traditionally come up during an interview or are highlighted in a resume. The characteristics that distinguish good from great are not necessarily how much experience people have or what their skills are, but very often are much more in the space of people’s individual value drivers or innate qualities, like learning agility or intellect.

A lot of recruiting processes tend to focus on the skills and experience an organization can provide. Skills can be trained, and experience is simply something that is acquired. Historically, there’s been less focus on the things that are harder for people to change. At the moment, we have pilot programs in place to fully understand the unique recipe and the right selection tools that will enable us to find those great candidates. Hopefully, this will make our ability to predict the likely performance of hires coming into the organization a much more scientific process.

Q: How are you assessing that applicants are receiving a great candidate experience?

Up until about six months ago, we weren’t listening to our candidates as well as we could have been. It wasn’t that we provided a bad experience, but at the end of our process, we didn’t ask people what they found worked well or didn’t work well. So we made some changes to deploy a design-thinking methodology — taking insights from people at the end of the process — and to build from the outside-in rather than from the inside-out.

We counted the overall experience as a key imperative for us to achieve, and then we began building data around what the candidate experience was telling us. Our starting point was to ask people who joined us what their experience was like at various points in the process: Did they get good feedback? Was the process conducted in a reasonable timeframe?

Knowing that those results were positively skewed because those were the candidates who were hired, we introduced various touch points in the cycle to analyze the input of applicants who didn’t have that positive outcome. We need to keep in mind that these people are still ambassadors for us; it’s not just hires who have the potential to talk about SAP the firm and SAP the employer. We are just beginning to gather a baseline around where we are at, but the scores are surprisingly good.

Q: Is SAP adapting its talent acquisition practices to attract the millennial generation now entering the workforce?

This is a very intense area of focus for us at SAP. We’ve done a lot of research and paid very close attention to entry-level talent who are either currently in universities or in the very early stages of their careers, and we want to make sure we have something very compelling for this segment of employees. The research showed us that what this group values is being able to grow their careers in the directions they want to take them, and to have flexibility in how and where they work. We understand that, and we carve out our go-to-market strategy in the university space according to that research.

Within that millennial generation, there are still many different kinds of drivers, personalities, and motivations. However, I believe millennials are more discerning in the choices they make, and they consider a number of factors rather than just whether the job will give them life-long security. And though the perception is that they move around a lot, the reality is, if you look at the SAP population of recent graduates, they’re not leaving SAP. Roughly, around 5% of our recent graduates have left. In reality, they will stay if they see a continual range of opportunities to grow, learn, and not do the same thing for years on end. There’s a greater assertiveness in how they want their work and their personal lives to play out. It’s imperative for employers that want to attract and retain the very best to listen to the needs of this group all the time — otherwise, they’ll lose them. 

Q: Have SAP’s inroads into cloud and mobility, as well as the success with SAP HANA, affected talent acquisition?

The volume of applications is perpetually increasing, which I think tells us that we are becoming more and more known. As people get to know us, the propensity to want to work for us increases. Our issue is people who don’t know us. How do we get onto their radars in a positive way that puts us front of mind when they’re thinking about future employers? SAP’s commercial, financial, and innovation successes undoubtedly are helping us get that message out.

Our biggest challenge right now is in the graduate space where those potential candidates haven’t necessarily worked with or used our systems or software. They’ve all heard of Apple and Google, and we have to work hard to get that same kind of positive frame of reference. We are making progress and seeing ourselves go up in the university ratings, but there’s still work to be done. We’re working very closely with university alliances to look at how we leverage all the relationships SAP has with various schools to try to get SAP in the front minds of targeted student groups.

Q: What is the top lesson you’ve learned about talent acquisition specific to the software field?

I mentioned that we sell careers. If you think of a career as a product, it’s easier to sell when you have the basis for a good solution, like SAP software. If you have a quality product, the opportunities for getting it to highly energized and highly creative people who you want to consume it and love it are endless. I would say that having come from the banking industry, which is a place where we had to spin the brand out a lot to garner peoples’ attention, it’s night and day when you have the basis of a phenomenal career offering for people.  

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