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Virtual Reality, Holograms, & Avature ATS: Innovation at Deutsche Bahn

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Innovation has become such an ubiquitous buzzword in the recruitment industry that it can sometimes feel as though it’s starting to lose its meaning – in today’s modern, always disruptive world, what does it mean to be truly innovative? And how does one embed innovation as both a mindset and continuous process within a talent acquisition team? To answer these questions, Kerstin Wagner, Head of Talent Acquisition at Deutsche Bahn spoke with Matt Alder on his podcast, “The Recruiting Future,” discussing challenges, the role of technology in talent acquisition, and more.

Unique Challenges

Wagner and her team of 400 people are tasked with hiring almost 12,000 people per year in Germany, from students and recent graduates to blue collar and white collar workers. This wide range and large quantity of people presents its own challenge – as different strategies appeal to different demographics, and every strategy must be tailored accordingly.

To overcome this, Wagner’s team puts a large focus on innovation in talent acquisition. “You always need to stay ahead of the curve,” says Wagner. “To stay ahead of a competitive and dynamic market, you need to be really innovative and very good at what you do.”

With her team at Deutsche Bahn, Wagner conducts vast amounts of market research, with a specific focus on both what other companies are doing to acquire people as well as examining industry and technology trends. Once a particularly interesting tech trend is located, the market team will test it to see whether it’s applicable to talent acquisition – and if it is, whether it will ultimately deliver what it needs to.

In addition to traditional market research, the team participates in a bi-weekly “digital-social think tank,” in which they gather at the end of the day to think outside of the box – “no limits, no boundaries, no hierarchy.” At the end of these sessions, the team will decide whether or not they can prototype any of their concepts.

The Rising Role of Technology

One of the first successful concepts that was born in the think tank was virtual reality. “Our market research team brought it from the gaming industry to our think tank – so we prototyped it really quickly,” says Wagner. She allotted a small budget to 2 people to try something out, and after 2-3 months they had their first prototype, which they tried out at a large job fair in Munich to great success. They now have rolled out the technology nation-wide, and all teams have access to it. “Being brave to try it out was worth it,” says Wagner.

The second concept tried out by the team was the use of holograms, which function more as a branding tool than actual HR technology. “It’s a great giveaway,” says Wagner. “You put it on your smartphone and then someone is talking to you about one of our available jobs, like a real person talking to you.”

Last but not least, Wagner’s team has rolled out Avature ATS on a global scale. “We needed to have a great, intuitive platform for candidates and recruiters alike,” says Wagner. “You need a tool that’s very intuitive, that’s very modern, that’s very fun to work with from the point of view of a candidate. If I order a book from the internet it should be very easy…the same applies to recruiting.”

Candidate Experience is King

While the use of an ATS like Avature is crucial to implementing a successful recruiting strategy, Wagner maintains that its application must always be guided by candidate experience. First, says Wagner, you must understand your candidate, and their expectations, across different demographics. Students, graduates, professionals – they all have different expectations when it comes to the recruiting and application process.

Second to this, Wagner emphasizes, was the importance of the interface experience. “I need recruiters who make sure that every interaction with an interface is a positive experience, says Wagner. “When we hire a recruiter we really look for their ability to be customer-centric.” Equally important, according to Wagner, is the attitude of the hiring manager. “The hiring manager is very important,” says Wagner. “They have to be able to enthuse the candidate…that’s the human side.”

Looking Towards the Future

At the end of the day, what remains inspiring for Wagner and her team is the importance of talent acquisition as a critical business function. “We have to make sure that the competencies, the people, are in the company to do business successfully,” says Wagner. With her team she has successfully hired 6000 people in the last 5 years – which is equivalent to a third of the company’s population.

“You have a huge influence to hire people to be ahead of the next transformation or trend,” says Wagner.

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