What the hell is an unconference? Reflections from #tru Australia

By Michael Overell - Dec. 21, 2011
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I asked the question myself when heading to Melbourne the other week for ‘the recruiting unconference’. What the hell is an unconference!?

Skeptical it would be little more than the traditional pow wow of presentations and networking, I was persuaded by the global reputation of #tru (the recruiting unconference) globally. It’s become somewhat of an international phenomenon for the leading thinkers in recruitment. Launched in London 2 years ago, it’s since been held in Dublin, South Africa, and San Francisco. I went along intrigued, with an open mind.

Turns out it was probably the most interesting, and certainly most insightful ‘conference’ experience I’ve had.

So what is an unconference? No, it’s not just a wanky term for tech-savvy folk to convince themselves they’re doing something ‘different’ to the regular conference circuit.

It’s more like an informal series of workshops; loosely structured around ‘tracks’ (read: topics) in which everyone is encouraged to participate. There’s no PowerPoint. No formal presentations. No keynote speakers. Conversation, debate and ideas are the name of the game.

The location was the back room of an inner city Melbourne hotel, centered on couches, benches and stools.

The result? A super interesting mix of opinions, discussion and ideas…

#tru is the brainchild of Bill Boorman: a British ex-recruiter turned social media exponent and wearer of loud hats. I’m dubious of the term ‘social media expert’, but Bill surely qualifies. 10K followers on Twitter (and 40K tweets!). 3,000 on Facebook. Helped Hard Rock recruit +200 new staff, in a single month, purely on Facebook.

He’s a huge supporter of turning traditional models on their head. Discovering new and better ways of doing things. Its an ethos that fits nicely with our own philosophy, and we enjoyed some great conversation over a beer at the end of day.


3 Highlights from #tru Australia


1. Exploring the future of work, and implications of the growing freelance economy with Kevin Wheeler.

We observed the growing trend for the increased automation of work: Many jobs lost over the past few years will not be ‘returned’. Companies have learnt how to do the same work with technology, or through outsourcing to lower cost markets.

The implication of this trend is pretty bleak: a swathe of unemployment in advanced economies.

The flip side is slightly more optimistic: higher rates of entrepreneurialism, as traditional careers become redundant, and individuals are more responsible for carving their own paths.

Either way, there was consensus that the world of work was changing in dramatic ways. As individuals and as an industry, we will need to adapt to avoid being left behind.

2. Debating the merits of LinkedIn vs Google+ vs Facebook for recruitment.


Google+ vs LinkedIn

Paul Jacobs argues the case for Google+ in recruitment


Interestingly, LinkedIn was viewed as the poor cousin by many in this discussion. One of the main concerns is that it’s the go-to option for almost all recruiters. It’s a crowded space, and a standard complaint you hear from many users.

Google+ had a passionate band of supporters. The biggest factor seemed to be the searchability. That, and it’s the fastest growing social network of all time. But while signups have been growing fast, it hasnt attracted the same patterns of return usage as other networks.

I learnt the most about recruiting on Facebook in this session. Going in, I had some skepticism about its value as a recruitment platform. Sure, we see Beknown and Branchout. And yes, we know Facebook wants to own this (and every other) space in social. But I just didn’t feel like the majority of users care about job search on Facebook.

Bill Boorman is a Facebook advocate. He’s run smart, targeted campaigns to recruit hundreds of employees in just weeks. The main benefit (in my mind) seems to be access. With so many of the world’s internet population on Facebook, you can’t afford to ignore it as an employer. Figure out creative ways to get in front of the candidates you want – whether through targeted ad campaigns, direct contact or building large talent communities.

3. Learning how Accenture is trialling recorded video interviews in their global recruitment process.

Most of Accenture’s technical hires in Australia are of candidates from other markets. They’re testing recorded video interviews a way to streamline this screening process. Clearly this was a topic close to our hearts (as its a product we also offer at RecruitLoop). Their reasons for testing it fit exactly with our intention in developing the product: to make the screening process far more efficient for both employers and candidates; avoiding scheduling issues across time zones; allowing better consistency across interviews for different candidates. We’ll be following their progress closely!

Putting the discussions to one side, the best part of the day was the connections with other like minds in the industry. The lack of pretense, and ‘disorganisation’ relative to a typical conference seemed to make the connections that little bit more authentic.

So, an unconference? We’re a fan. The recruiting unconference? We’ll definitely be involved again, and encourage anyone with an interest in new ideas and connections to do the same if it comes to your town.

#tru attendees

#tru attendees enjoying the lounge



Michael Overell

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