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LinkedIn’s Approach to Scaling, Talent Shortages, and AI

This is the 9th episode of HackerRank Radio, a podcast for engineering leaders interested in solving developers’ toughest problems today: Hiring the right developers. Hosted by Vivek Ravisankar (CEO & Co-founder, HackerRank). You can subscribe to us on iTunes and Google Play.


This is part 1 of a special 2-part podcast, featuring HackerRank’s VP of Customer Success, Gaurav Verma, and his interviews with customers from the HackerRank main () meetup series.

LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network with more than 562 million registered members in more than 200 countries. To support this massive platform, more than 17,000 employees currently work at LinkedIn.

We sat down with Jennifer Shappley, LinkedIn’s Senior Director of Talent Acquisition, to find out how a company of this size rapidly sources and grows the technical talent it needs. Jennifer has been at LinkedIn for the past three years and prior to that, she led talent acquisition at Express Scripts where she grew the company from 10,000 to over only 30,000 employees.

In a quick 13 minutes, HackerRank’s VP of Customer Success Gaurav Verma and Jennifer cover:

  • Rapid growth and scaling teams
  • The role of AI in hiring
  • Sourcing talent
  • Hiring freelancers

Listen to the episode, or scroll below to skim the transcript.

Jump ahead:

Gaurav: Talk about yourself and introduce yourself to everyone.

Jennifer: I am Jennifer Shappley, Senior Director of Talent Acquisition at LinkedIn, so I lead a group of recruiters, leaders, coordinators, etc. that are all working on attracting talent to LinkedIn. I am three years in the Bay area, originally from Tennessee, so you will probably be able to tell that as I talk, but really happy to be here.

Gaurav: Cool. Let’s get started. The first question, the burning question, so there’s three or four burning questions we are going to cover today is, a question we love asking: what’s the fastest time to hire that you’ve ever had in any role?

Jennifer: I think one of my own experiences with a quick time to fill, first of all I was like, I am sure there are faster times to fill, I don’t know that always the fastest has meant the best hire necessarily. But as I was thinking about this, one of my own, probably 10 years ago, I got a call from a former leader who I had kept in contact with over the years, hadn’t worked for, for a long time, she called me up and said, “Hey, I think I have an opportunity. I know we’ve been discussing kind of different things. I think I have something now.” And at the moment I was like, well, actually about to commit to something else, so I was like, “If we can get through interviews and kind of agree on what the role is and you can have me an offer in two weeks, then I think I can make it happen.” So I felt like I was throwing the gauntlet of like we have two weeks. And in two weeks I had gone out, I had flown across the country, I had interviewed with probably five or six people, and by the time I got home, I had an offer. And I think that’s still probably one of the most efficient hiring experiences I could think of.

Gaurav: You have been scaling teams at this breakneck speed, Jennifer. You were at Express Scripts and I was super impressed – and I knew that it was, when you said like, how do you know what Express Scripts is – if you are not in HR, you are not in pharmacy, it’s not a household name, but if you are in any of those two businesses, you know what Express Scripts is. It’s the largest one. And then from there versus LinkedIn, so you have a very unique like, a company not in the Bay area, trying to hire engineers and you’ve scaled that from 10 to 30,000, your experience there of what does it take to scale a team, especially in tech, it’s a unique skill set and a unique sort of cohort of individuals that you need. How do you go through this whole process, what’s the journey, the uniqueness of having to hire developers versus other roles, whether it’s sales, customer success, front office, back office, all of those different functions, tech recruiting definitely has its own nuances and what did you learn from it or what would you share with everyone?

Jennifer: Yeah, so for a little context, I mentioned I am with LinkedIn, I’ve been here three years with LinkedIn and prior to that I was with Global Talent Acquisition at Express Scripts for about seven and a half years. And during that time, so when I had started there, I think we were about 10,000 employees, so we were large. But we went through rapid growth, we were well over 30 when I left. And so, the quintessential like building the plane while you are flying it, it was a very large organization and then at the same time you are going through rapid growth. And then I made the switch, probably not the normal switch, I don’t think the average move for somebody in the Bay area is to come from like a healthcare company in the Midwest. But I’ve found it to be like a pretty natural change, it’s different in being in the tech industry now, but the challenges that an organization goes through when you are trying to do rapid scale and you are trying to build infrastructure at the same time bringing in people, that for me at least really translated.

So as I think about it, in those year when they were scaling, it was a combination of one, I think, calm under pressure, just how do you keep a cool head while stress is rising, also try to just take a deep breath and take things a little bit at a time. Hiring the right people, obviously incredibly critical, one person doesn’t scale a team of that size, and so it’s making sure you’ve got like on your recruiting team the right leaders and the right structure in place, and you are communicating clearly on what the goal is. I think where it’s hard when you think about scale is if everybody doesn’t understand what you are trying to do, then everybody is just going and doing their own thing. So communication from the beginning on here’s what we are trying to achieve, here’s what the end looks like, now help me figure out how we get there, helps ensure people keep moving in the right direction.

As far as different types of talent, so a lot of this comes back to good workforce planning and understanding from the beginning what are the skills that we are going to need, where do we need them, etc., and understanding what is important to those different populations. So what’s important with developers is going to be more what are the challenges that we are trying to solve. So how are you framing that? How are you helping your candidates understand the interesting challenges and the impact that they are going to have? And for all those other groups, the same thing, like understanding again what’s important to the candidate and how you craft your message for that, and making sure your recruiters are aligned against that as well. And then, making sure that the process is efficient, and so you are leveraging whether it being for developers, tools like HackerRank, how can you scale quicker if you are using technology to help you with assessments, where do humans need to be involved in the process, where does technology to make the process more efficient, really understanding that I think is critical to being able to scale quickly.

Gaurav: Thank you for the HackerRank plug. I promise you I didn’t ask her to do that. The next topic, this year I got to go to HR Tech, biggest HR Tech conference held in Vegas, Amsterdam and one more city, and it felt like I was at an AI conference. It didn’t feel like I was at the HR Tech conference. Every booth, every signage was AI, AI, AI, and it’s a very polarizing topic. On one end, there’s a whole group of us that go this is Pixie Dust, it’s going to solve world hunger, AI is going to solve all of our world problems. Then there’s a Dr. Gloom Doom scenario of machines are taking over, Judgment Day is about to come, all of that stuff. It’s a very polarizing topic is what I see on all my sort of, all the news and all the media coverage around AI. I want your opinion on AI, machine learning. What’s going to happen to human interaction? Is it still important? Can we just go automate the hell out of everything? Where do you see this going? And are we going to become obsolete because that seems to be one scenario that AI and the machines can make us obsolete? What does the future look like say in 2030? I am going to be super obsolete by then. I know that for sure. But just the whole tech recruiting space, where are we going, what do you see, is it going to augment what we do or is it going to take away what we do?

Jennifer: Probably a little bit of both. I think there are certain things that AI will take over. I do not think we are going to be obsolete. But I think those of us who figure out how to embrace AI, how to use it to improve the quality of what we do, will be in the best position in 2030. Last year, I think it was late last year, internal partner that I work with who actually happens to be here, Shankar, and I sat down, he’s on our product marketing team, and we were talking about AI, machine learning and how do we think about it related to recruiting. And we drew up this 2 by 2 quadrant on where we saw the highest impact or the highest probability for AI and machine learning to come into recruiting, so high to low, and then where does human impact provide the most value still on high to low. And so those things where we have low value drive from the human interaction and high probability for automation, those are the things that we are focusing on, like okay how do we then leverage AI in those processes.

And then on the reverse, the quadrant where it’s high impact from having human touch, and really like low opportunity for AI or even if there’s high opportunity for AI, if we see it something that highly benefits from human touch, then we are not really – those aren’t the areas we are focusing on. For example, high area where human touch really matters and we don’t see AI playing as big a role, would be things like the negotiation with a candidate, the differentiating candidate experience. I see a day where there will be such a push for automation that at some point saying, “We are not automating that, we are going to let you have a human interaction, ” that’s going to be the differentiation in the candidate experience. So I think using humans in a way that differentiates storytelling I think is still something that we really see like human interaction in. Things where it’s like you know what are we getting the most value out of putting a human on this, maybe not, but we see huge opportunity with AI would be things like assessment of skills, and candidate propensity to talk to us, so those signals like is somebody ready to speak to us. And so we are focusing within LinkedIn on, okay, let’s look at that lower quadrant and let’s focus our opportunity there and let’s use AI in those spaces to actually improve the recruiter’s role to make it easier for them, to augment what they do versus thinking about it as fully replacing.

Gaurav: Cool. Do we have a talent shortage? And it goes from, we hear things like supply versus demand, are we not doing it the right way, but just fundamentally, do you believe we have a talent shortage, tech talent specifically for your companies in the Bay area specifically as you are hiring or anywhere across the globe, do we have this massive tech talent shortage or is there a different problem that’s manifests itself as, “oh we have this massive shortage of talent in the world of tech”?

Jennifer: Yeah, if you are restricting the profile of person you hire on things that are beyond the actual skills needed to do the job, there is a 100% talent shortage. If there are the – you are looking at the school they went to, the companies they’ve worked for, the people that they know if they are in your network, there is a shortage, because there are only so many people that fit those things. If you are open to people who have the skills and potential to do the job, I don’t believe there’s a shortage. There are talented people all across the Bay, there are talented people across the US, across the world, and if you are open to finding them and giving them new experiences, I believe the talent is out there. We see that there are hidden gems, there are cities in the US, across the globe where there is a high concentration of talent and lower demand. So you just got to be creative about where you go and what it is you are looking for. But I think it all is in the mindset of the person that’s doing the hiring. If you are open to the people that have the skills but may not have followed the traditional path, I don’t think we are dealing with a shortage.

Gaurav: Awesome. So this is, just to give you a quick tidbit on this, we asked this question the first time in San Francisco, we got the same answer, hey no talent shortage. Same in Palo Alto. When we took this on the road, we went to New York, the answer was categorically, hell yes, we have a talent shortage. When we asked this question in London which was London-Amsterdam, it was sort of mix, yes and no, supply-demand. Sydney was, Sydney is fun, everyone wants to come work here. But it’s very interesting to see geo, industry, that lens when you put on it, like what the answers are. And when everyone is from that same geo, same industry, like it’s financial services, big money center banks, not yet sort of the investment banks have definitely made that shift and they are more software driven, but the other ones are going, “Oh yeah, we have this massive talent shortage because you are looking with that lens.” Really cool.

Given the gig economy, where do you see freelancers fitting in?

Jennifer: I think there is an organization I talked to once that I thought had the most effective model for figuring out how to use freelancers. And so, at this organization they had their freelance model, their staff org, their FTE like their traditional in-house recruiting, all funneled through the same place. And there was this initial checkpoint, so I am a hiring manager and I need to hire somebody, most hiring managers default to, I need a full time person. When really, if you ask them the right person, you can actually steer them in different directions, like what is the work that you need to get done, is it long term, is there an end date to it, and this organization had like these questions that they would take people through and then branching and then that led them to, well, it sounds like you need a freelancer, sounds like you need part time staff, staff org or full time. They were operating at very large scale, but I felt that was really interesting to see how they had it all coming into one place. And then at the point of a hiring manager realizing they had a talent need, then going through with engaging with them on your traditional intake but it wasn’t just about now I am going to go recruit an FTE for you, it was figuring out what the need is. So I think for like the freelance population, it’s going to require us better understanding on the front end what the need is because I think that’s going to vary across different organizations.

Gaurav: Cool. I used to work for very large – I’ve worked for very large companies and startups. If anyone of you wants to know how to game the system on a large company, come talk to me after. I was notorious for doing that, and I also defaulted out, I need full time. And it wasn’t till you actually had the conversation and said, what projects are you trying to spin up, and is there a different approach. But how do you work around your budgets, etc., I got a bunch of stories for how to work that.

This is awesome. I’ve learnt a lot. Thank you so much. Like I said, I can keep peppering you with questions.

Vivek: Thank you for listening. If you have any questions, tweet us @HackerRank. Tune in next time to hear Gaurav speak with Director of Global Talent Acquisition at Pure Storage.

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