Anton Vanin, Recruitment Lead at BAKOTECH, an international provider of solutions for global IT manufacturers, told LC Work in an interview.
Read more interviews on the LC Work blog.
In which countries does BAKOTECH have offices with employees?
We have offices in Austria, Poland, the Baltic countries, an office in Lithuania, the Balkan countries, and the main office in Kyiv since we are a purely Ukrainian company. Also, we have an office in Azerbaijan and two offices in Kazakhstan.
The geography is fascinating because all of our European offices, except for Lithuania, work stand-alone. What does it mean? For example, poles work in Poland, they know how to do business, and we do not influence them. They do their work and they are doing it well.
If we talk about the CIS region, from the Baltic countries to Kazakhstan, it is a more complex region, which may not yet be ready for our products. Therefore, we work in a very customized and artificial way there and push them very hard: while cultivating partners in some areas, we also sell our products by relying on our expertise in other regions.
But we are a pro-Ukrainian company. Therefore, we do not have offices in these two "interesting countries" in any form.
How do you recruit staff exactly in the countries where your offices are located? Do people from these countries work there or do you recruit staff based on relocation, remote work, etc.?
Let me diversify right away. You cannot relocate to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan because, in our business, people must know the market.
I’ll explain. This is IT distribution, and we sell 80% of the deal through partners. We have integrators through which we do this. If we talk about sales in general, they all go through partners. We, as a distributor, never touch the money of the end user; although we can do about 99.9% of all activity for the partner, we do not touch the money. When a partner starts the integration process, they order equipment or software from us, and we earn money only after that.
Going back to the regions, we need exclusively local guys in Kazakhstan, because they know the market, and the market is very specific. Azerbaijan is the same. Essentially, the markets are different but the approaches are the same. We rely on a model of an “octopus” here: our head is in Kyiv, and the tentacles are in those offices.
If we talk about the region of Georgia and Armenia, we combine them into one cluster because Armenia and Azerbaijan cannot be combined. But these are very small markets, so we operate with them from Ukraine. It means that all the managers and engineers are in Ukraine. At least because if not for the war, it would be very easy to fly there: you take off at 5 pm and drink wine in Georgia at 8 pm. Therefore, it makes no sense to open offices there, we had such attempts, and we did it – but it had no value. Plus, the competence of people is not static. Some of them are highly competent, whereas others are less qualified, so we think that it is easier to manage these markets from Ukraine.
The same is the case with Moldova. Moldova is a small poor market but it is promising and very close, and you can even get there by car. We have also begun to develop it recently but we don’t have a single representative or a single vendor there so far.
There is a large office in Poland, and there is a completely Polish management. They recruit, moderate, and manage themselves. They are very well-versed in the market, partnerships, and contracts, and we do not influence them.
Regarding Lithuania and the Baltic countries, it is a small static market where we have an office in Lithuania. But the thing with the Baltic market is that, for example, while there are 100 companies on it today, there will be a maximum of 102 or 101 companies next year or there will be no companies that will be of interest to us at all. Since we work in the B2B segment and even in the enterprise segment, which is not growing quite strongly, we have cautious and smaller deals there.
Where do you usually look for potential candidates to fill open vacancies abroad?
Abroad - this is LinkedIn, Djinny, Dou. There are also quite a lot of local professional resources. For example, in Kazakhstan, the monopoly belongs to HeadHunter. We searched through it but when we were attacked, we abandoned it. Of course, it is more difficult without it but that is our position. In Azerbaijan, there are no-name resources but they are historical and local, so you can search there too.
Approximately 50% of quality conversion comes to us through recommendations. We have a certain bonus set aside for recommendations from individuals and legal entities. If a person is recommended to us, is of high quality, and passes a trial period with us, we pay a bonus for such a person.
Do the methods of acquiring specialists in your company differ abroad and in Ukraine?
They are very different. Because you can rely on direct recommendations and friendly relations with certain partners in Ukraine. Recommendations work better in Ukraine, they can be used here.
We have a lot of salesmen or engineers. For starters, we go to them and ask for recommendations from specialists. If they don't know, they share something and repost it. We can do a collaboration on LinkedIn, it overclocks very easily. For example, an engineer has thousands of their people, I have 10 thousand friends on LinkedIn and BAKOTECH has 8 thousand followers. We made two reposts and influenced a community of 50,000 even without targeting.
Therefore, we use recommendations, Djinni, and last but not least, Dou. And even sometimes standard job resources - this happens too.
If we are talking about external countries, it is more difficult there. We try to make a certain polarity; we go out to people who can be our cross-friends. They are not our direct friends, and due to certain benefits and cross-recommendations, we reach the recommendations that we need.
Plus, if these are specialized resources, for example, with some marketers in Azerbaijan, they work relatively well there.
Therefore, the problem in finding specialists in that market is that we learned no more than 30% of it, we are realists. I believe that where you don’t have the expertise, you need to reach out to people who have it: specialized recruiters, people from the area whom we tried to hunt, and if we didn’t, we can pay them for a recommendation. It works better.
If we go to some classic standard resource, we get the same typical and a pretty bad sample of people who have lost their jobs or are not satisfied with their jobs. And you know what a "downed pilot" is. This is a rather uncool person: if they did not take out their project, there is a high probability that he will not cope with us either.
The farther from Europe, the harder the markets are in terms of Europeanization. They are more archaic, and if there is a leader, he/she is the luminary and the main one. They often work this way. In Kazakhstan, for example, one candidate said that he was fooled twice at work: they told him to come to work by 9 am, and if he was late, they scolded him. And after that, they said that he could go home at 6 pm but he was never able to do that. Therefore, a free schedule was very cool for him because sometimes he didn’t need to start working at 9 am, but if he had to leave at 10 pm, he didn't mind since he decided that, and the employer didn’t force him.
Of course, there are also cool companies in these markets. Usually, these are small companies and partners, where, for example, there are several owners and one of them studied in London. And let him be an ethnic Kazakh, but he saw how people from all over the world work, he returned home and launched a normal business. It happens.
Tell us about the recruitment process for your overseas offices, where are you involved in this process?
I worked for a long time in one of the best agencies in the CIS region. I understand all the pain that agencies carry. There are specialized agencies that can quickly pick up contracts, however, even if we are talking about strong but not specialized agencies, this is a kind of “babysitting”.
We have a large in-house team of recruiters at BAKOTECH, which, in fact, works with all adjoining markets. But we have markets like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Lithuania, where we have contractors. And these contractors come not in the form of agencies, but in the form of specific people - freelancers.
In Azerbaijan, we have a slightly different model; instead of partners, we use the recruiting resource of integrator partners who understand our market. When we commit like this, it’s as if we are secretly signing a non-aggression pact: we don’t poach staff from each other, and they are interested in this because we recruit quite aggressively and can get into partners. And such verbal agreements give our partners the opportunity to understand their benefits: they help us, they earn extra money on this, and no one else is poaching their staff. Everyone likes it.
What difficulties do you face when looking for specialists for your team abroad?
The main difficulty is the lack of specialists we need. I will explain. We sell a modern technological product. To give you a perspective, Microsoft is not a very technological product compared to us. Our products are complex and modern, the markets are often not ready for them, so we have a hard time finding the staff - those who will implement, support, and sell.
People are used to selling Cisco hardware. And Cisco is sold at a small margin and very simply. And sometimes we sell products that are incomprehensible. Well, if they tell you: "But you will have traffic balancing." We are told: “Well, it kind of works.” And we say: "And you will save $400 thousand or earn half a million every year." This is not obvious, so it’s quite difficult to sell software in general. Software is lines of code, and it's not always clear what you get as an output.
Therefore, sometimes the competence of people is quite low, especially in small regions. For instance, in Moldova, there will be people who are poorly qualified in B2B sales, and there is no such market there.
The problem is people, that's why more often we don't try to find ready ones. Instead, we make a certain hybrid mix: we look at people with adjoining hard skills and with excellent soft skills and make a certain match. But you should understand that matching is quite risky. And the issue is that there is often no one to execute. That’s the problem.
What recruitment methods do you use in your work? What stages of selection do candidates go through to fill certain positions in your company?
Everything is simple and complicated at the same time. The first factor is the high expertise of recruiters. We work with the same markets and the same patterns of candidates every day, and we have good internal expertise. For example, if a recruiter interviews a Junior Engineer, the Junior Engineer gets questions like from a techie. We have a fairly good understanding of the people we are looking for and whom we work with. Therefore, the first meeting is quite technical and objective.
After that, we write a rather extensive summary - about two A4 sheets with specific buckets. We have a certain skeleton of what we are researching in an interview.
Then we pass it all on to the host or technical manager. If everything is OK, if this person is interested in talking, we have the first meeting, which will be a little more difficult than with HR. At this meeting, we probe people a little at the management level, and if management is interested, it also sells like the recruiter.
If were are interested in a person, we always move on to testing. We have test tasks for salespeople, as well as for marketers or technical specialists. If a person handles them well, the statement of work is simply transferred to us. But if these are sales, there is a full examination. A person makes a certain presentation, comes to us, showcases themselves, and after that, we say whether it was ok or not. I will say right away that a three with a plus is generally ok.
If a person does everything right, we reduce the shortlists to three people and make an offer.
Before a person says that they are interested and they agree, we test them with a psychological test. Sometimes we even do psychological testing for the entire shortlist. Conducted by HR, testing lasts about 40 minutes. But this sometimes allows us to decide on a candidate not only at the performance level but also at the psychology level. But here, in addition, we are still looking at where the weaknesses of a person are. We integrate this into onboarding, explore, and look at where the person deviates.
After that, it is time for the offer, and the person completely moves from the shoulders of recruiters to the HR department that works with the candidate separately.
Are the experience of candidates and their hard skills decisive in recruitment? Or are a psychological portrait and soft skills more important in some cases?
In general, the ratio of hard skills to soft skills among ready-made candidates is about 60 to 40%. But, if we are talking about a hybrid profile that is not on the market, it can even be 30% of hard skills and 70% of soft ones.
I will explain. There are cases when a candidate is already working with our products and is already fully prepared, but they are terrible as a person. We often see such engineers. We say that we have a cool product, but it needs to be taught. And they say that they have been working with something different all their lives, they are not interested, and they will not cope. These are not our people, they do not suit us at all. Therefore, sometimes it is better to take a quick, unbiased, change-ready candidate who has a certain basis for the job.
It's not just about age, and it's very cool. Because people can be very young or not young at all. The B2B segment itself does not allow us to be biased. If you are an engineer and you are 45, it doesn’t matter that you are 45. If you are a salesman and you are 40, it can be even better than if you are 25. You come to Gorokhovsky’s Monobank and say that you want to sell for a million. And he says that you are a 20-year-old child, what will you sell us? And when a person is experienced, they are balanced, they say: “Guys, this hurts you, that hurts you. We did it and we can do it for you, otherwise, you will be strangled by competitors.” They say: "Oh, this is interesting, let's make a pilot."
Large B2B solutions are still very polarized in the government sector. For us, this sector covers about 40% of sales. And in the government, it’s generally hard for young girls and guys to sell because there are people who don’t understand anything. Those who operate with means usually do not operate with knowledge. And that's the problem.
There is a theory by Miller Hyman: there is always some DM (decision maker) that needs to be influenced. And in our business, there are millions of DMs and billions of PIDs (a person influencing the decision) instead of one DM. And it is not clear who allocates the funds, so you need to influence everyone who makes any decisions in the transaction, and this is hard. But this is such a business.
What can cause a candidate to be denied a certain vacancy at BAKOTECH?
The first buffer is the recruiter. The recruiter gives 60% of a valid candidate. It means that a person is from our sphere; if they are not from our sphere, they go no further.
If everything is OK, we do a test task. The share of failed tests varies from 45 to 55%. In other words, 55% of the candidates do not pass the test, and we immediately say this.
Then there are psychological tests, on which people almost never fall off. After all, we saw what kind of people they were, we were guided by the fact that they are normal. But, for example, their systemic nature may suffer, and psychological tests will show this.
However, the passage of the probationary period is about 40%, no more. Because of very complex products.
So, we see that: recruiters are a strong buffer, less than half of the candidates pass the test task, and less than half pass the probationary period.
That's the problem because when candidates come to us, our competitors are happy to take even those who have not passed the probationary period. Because we did a lot of work for them: we took people who have strong soft skills or a technical side. They understand that these people are already strong in some way.
But we understand that we will begin to invest time and money in a person. This is not wages, these are trifles. Since the person who comes to us goes to all the training and associates from the vendor, they must be very technical. And for each such certificate, we can pay $3-7 thousand. Therefore, if a person does not fulfill the main part of the KPI during the trial period, it is very risky to take them financially. On average, such a person with all the training, salary, and associates can cost us $30,000 per year. A bit pricey. Therefore, further search for your person is longer but more economically profitable.
Plus, a person who does not commit to the product is like a person who goes to work that he does not like. But with our products, this is not possible. Because they don't get any easier. I'll give you an example. Blackberry is rolling out a new branch of security. And you have to sew it in. There is no such thing as, for example, Toyota cars - every year they are new, but technically almost nothing changes. We can have a new Tesla every year, and they are all different. But since you sell them, you have to understand them.
What advice would you give to candidates who want to get a job at BAKOTECH?
We always pay people who generate new ideas. We drown for people who want to work in open-ended processes. Our people must be flexible and result-oriented because we work with a project-based approach, and all projects are very different.
We will 100% take a person who wants to study and earn money, although they may even be struggling with something. If people are ready to learn, we will teach them 100%. After all, you understand that there is nothing that a person could not learn. But if a person does not want to, this is a problem. It is important not to sit still and to mix soft skills and hard skills 50 to 50%. These are wonderful people.
We are very loyal to people with some experience who say: "Well, this is not really my area, I want something else." And that's ok. But if a person says: “I don’t want to work for you because I don’t want to understand the job,” this is strange for us, especially if we see that this person is a great fit, they have a certain background but they say that it is hard for them to step into systems engineering and they do not want to study. We will not take such a person because they do not want to learn. So, what is the point of taking them?
Although sometimes we even try to shake up a person, because they may not even know what they are capable of. We have such presale engineers who were generally top admins, and slaves of the system, and we provided them with a project approach and the opportunity to earn from each project. And they didn't even know it was possible. Because sometimes we sit, you know, like in virtual reality glasses. And we see only the reality that we have, and there is no such open mind to see what else is possible in contrast.
So, people come to us for the position of Junior presale engineer, and they can become Senior presale engineers or Senior architects in a year or two, and these are already completely different specialists. And if you have the Senior or even Middle status, you already communicate with engineers at PrivatBank and Metinvest because we sell to them, and presale engineers go to them to get their requests for what they need. In other words, these are people with a certain technical “fat” who communicate at high levels, including with American engineers. And now make a comparison: yesterday, you were a system administrator in some bank who communicated exclusively in the facility and got a lot of criticism and tomorrow or in two years, you are an engineer who is a continuation of the engineering staff of the vendor sitting in Silicon Valley. And you communicate with top engineers in top businesses around the globe.
And all this is fast enough because 1-3 years for a normal career is fast. And those who are captivated by such a prospect come and work.