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High tech meets high touch

In Singapore, a telco uses parties and chatbots to draw top talent

By Riva Froymovich

  • Recruiting top talent is the No. 1 worry of execs today
  • Singtel takes a multi‑prong approach, pairing AI with face‑to‑face tactics
  • Corporate messaging that emphasizes authenticity can also help win over prospects

To understand how companies are using digital technology to improve the human experience of work, we interviewed a half dozen Chief Human Resources Officers at companies leading those efforts. This is the second of four articles in a series.

There’s a reason they call it a talent war. Failure to recruit top workers is the No. 1 worry of executives today, outranking concerns about global recession, new competitors or technological disruption, according to a 2018 survey by the Conference Board.

One reason why it’s become a priority: There’s a huge difference between good and great when it comes to employees. One study of over 600,000 professionals across a wide range of disciplines showed that high performers are 400% more productive than average ones.



At Singtel, Southeast Asia’s largest telecommunications company, the HR organization has developed creative ways to build and maintain its talent pipeline. Effective strategies range from high‑touch (cocktail parties) to high‑tech (artificial intelligence).

“Posting a job online is no longer effective in the world of digital talent,” says Aileen Tan, Singtel’s group chief human resources officer. Instead, her department has taken a multi‑pronged approach to recruiting.

Out of the box = out of the office

At Singtel, HR tries to think longer term about organizational talent needs, even for jobs that aren’t available yet. Employers also need to get out of the office and meet people where they hang out. Lastly, says Tan, Singtel works to ensure that the brand they use to recruit is authentic—the people and the culture accurately represent the description. Singtel’s talent development team members have become “marketers,” says Tan. They advertise events on digital platforms and host cocktail parties about entering the digital workplace.

“You start to see like‑minded people show up for our training and networking events, and that’s where we get our leads,” says Tan. “We try to actively engage with talent in the market so that we always have a very healthy talent pipeline to tap into.”

While face‑to‑face efforts can help engage prospects, technology can assist in other ways. For example, Singtel has worked with a startup to use AI to source talent. Chatbots are also used to inform prospective management associates about working with the company.

“Many applicants didn’t expect to be interacting with our chatbots,” says Tan. “But they were actually thrilled when they found out. Some of them even decided to join Singtel because of the experience.”

Old-school still works

Tan has found that traditional branding tools can also help tip the scales with prospects. For instance, a recent hire told Tan that she accepted Singtel’s offer over that of a competitor after watching a video produced by the company. In the  video, a set of siblings communicate using Singtel technology. They realize that their father will be alone on Chinese New Year, so they travel to be with him.

All this has changed how prospective hires view Singtel. “They no longer see us as just a plain telco,” says Tan. “They see us more as an interesting organization to work with.”

Riva Froymovich works at the intersection of communications, technology, and social impact. She was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and is the author of “End of The Good Life: How the Financial Crisis Threatens a Lost Generation‑‑And What We Can Do about It.”

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