MARGARITA STANCHEVA: RECRUITING PASSION

interview by Bozhidara Georgieva; photography by Dragomir Ushev

The founder of Sofia Tech Recruitment and her team are happy to go far and beyond for IT talents and companies

margarita stancheva sofia tech recruitment.jpg

Margarita Stancheva is one of those people who challenge stereotypes as they breathe: she is young, she runs one of the hottest recruitment agencies on the IT market, she is a young mother and is refreshingly candid when talking about business and her life. Her professional journey started in Tokyo, where she studied HR and management at the Temple University Japan, while working as a model and a kitchen helper to support herself. After she graduated in 2011, she worked for Luxsoft, Paysafe and Uber until, in 2017, she decided to continue on her own.

Today, Sofia Tech Recruitment partners with some of the biggest names in the IT field, and Margarita is the proud mother of a 3-year-old son. In her free time she sings, does yoga and tries (so far unsuccessfully) to master snowboarding, makes phenomenal pizza, supports all types of vegan products and dreams to be invited in a K-pop band. On a more practical level, she is starting a consulting business that aims to help internal recruitment teams to achieve better and faster results, and has joined Mentor the Young programme to share her experience.

This is our second meeting with Margarita, who gave her first interview for us in 2022.

In our previous interview one of the reasons you gave for creating your own company was that you wanted to work without anyone blocking your crazy ideas. What is your recapitulation today? Which of your crazy ideas did you realise?

I have always admired companies that are able in a couple of minutes to present their culture, work environment and what makes them special. For me, it remains impossible to describe the world of Sofia Tech Recruitment. The crazy ideas became the daily routine for our people who master the chaos of recruitment processes to the tiniest detail. At our company, the phrase "Let's do something we have never tried" became normal. Recently we concluded a really crazy experiment that took us outside of our comfort zone, put us in many roles of responsibility and expected results, and as a whole, it did not leave a good aftertaste in our team. It was far from perfect, but it never is... 

All of this lives within the walls of our agency. Beyond our habitat, we managed to position ourselves as the best performing partner among companies that, by default, do not have a logical need to work with an agency outside the norms, such as Sofia Tech Recruitment.

Managing a successful business and being a young mother... is this combination possible?

Without sugarcoating it too much, I will share in short my unfiltered story. It is up to you to decide if it is possible. I started my business shortly before I became a mother. Of course, as in every beginning, I was a "one man show." I combined at least 8 roles, had no financial support or clearly set business plan. I just followed my intuition. After the first successful cases, I felt strong responsibility towards this young project and entered the matrix of competing with myself. Can we close even more positions? Can we work with even more companies? As the whole team's ambition and hard work took over, the answer to this questions each month was "YES." But on the other side of my life, I was lagging behind as a mother. My feeling of guilt ballooned until the moment when I clearly realised that I was missing important moments with my child.

Today, we are in a better place and spend valuable time together. During my workday I have blocked hours that are only for me and my son, Theo. But to reach this moment there was a cataclysm and a lot of dark thoughts. I managed to overcome these thanks to the help of my partner, my colleagues and the incredible support of Otkrivatel Private Montessori Kindergarten.

In the end, the combination could be possible, it is just a journey in which you do not always feel behind the driving wheel.

Which lesson from business helps you as a mother and what from your communication and care for your son you bring to your workplace as an approach, vision and attitude?

In my mind, there is no escape plan and thoughts for going back the road I have taken. Being patient was another capability that was a challenge for me in the beginning of my career. Back then, I would boil down everything to "here and now." Last but not least, at work I occasionally hum childrens' songs, such as Baby Shark.

In 2023, talents will remain in a stronger position on the labour market. And yet, there are still obstacles for them to find really good and satisfying jobs. What qualities, besides the strictly professional, are in demand by good employers nowadays? Is it true that soft skills are as valuable as hard ones?

It remains so, yes. I am excited to share that the desire for culture affiliation among job seekers is getting stronger and that the companies are fine-tuning their tools for soft skills evaluation. Today, an increasing number of employers are aware of their values and have properly implemented tools to identify them in candidates during their interview campaigns. What really makes me happy is that both sides are candid enough. Our goal is to invite them to sit on one table and to weave into the conversation all topics of critical importance for both parties.

What is the biggest threat to IT talents in Bulgaria today – AI, outsourcing of processes outside Bulgaria or the import of IT workers from third countries?

I would like to know the answer. The truth is that I do not observe any of these phenomena in my high percentage of reflection. I think it is the other way around, the interest in Bulgarian talents remains strong and our agency has successfully "sold" the location to more than one serious company. As for AI, I do not believe that it will soon replace programmers. Rather, humans who manage to use it in their work will have a competitive edge over the others.

What should the employees offer to their companies to secure their place in the "irreplaceable" group?

I can hardly stop myself from using the well known cliché that there are no irreplaceable people. But here it is. Professionals who have been long enough with a company and who have been on the roller coaster so many times that they know their products and processes well and can onboard new talents and introduce them to everything of importance. People who have become veritable mascots of their companies and symbolise their technological teams are also hard to replace. And still, these people will sooner or later leave. The aftershocks are then felt in the company for a long time.

What is the most important thing that you, at Sofia Tech Recruitment, do for talents to find adequate jobs?

We do absolutely everything for the talents that trust us. From being honest in our review for a company to even advising them to not enter the process. As an agency we have the luxury to wait for the right company, which almost always appears for our candidates. When this happens, we exercise everything from the candidate's preparation for the interview to flawless coordination work to the final negotiations to secure the strongest possible work offer.

Let's see the market from the other side. What is the profile of the companies that you help to find employees?

Companies who have sought our services very often prove to be great partners. This is because they are aware of the need of a third party in their recruitment campaigns. Here the process flips sides – we, at Sofia Tech Recruitment, do the selection ourselves. We work with honest employers who have created a healthy environment and processes that work for the employees. We work with companies who have correctly evaluated the local market and rather logically can attract talents with better financial and career conditions. We work with companies whose products more or less help our society and give enough autonomy to their local teams to create without the burden of the heavy corporate machine.

What practices should employers apply to attract the talents? What recruiting practices are considered bad and outdated? Which current trends do work?

I think that the outdoor campaigns with billboards and posters in the underground are past their time. I myself benefited from such a campaign far back in 2014, when the slogan was "Are you our Antonio JAVA-ldi or Vanessa QA?". I still use it as an ice-breaker in some conversations. The classic approach in which I have always believed is events. The effect of a company's best programmers presenting the challenges in their work is really powerful. Another classic approach is to create brand awareness in a truly meaningful and even elegant way. It is obligatory when you have dozens of positions to fill. But I will leave this to the marketing professionals. I do not feel confident enough to speak for them.

We live in times when AI is seemingly everywhere. To what extent can it be used in recruitment processes? Will it replace professional recruiters anytime soon?

Soon? No. Will it happen someday? Probably. Someone had written that if your job can be done remotely without any problems, it is a top candidate for AI replacement. And yet, in our daily life there is still a lot of space for empathy, going beyond the script, making force-majeure decisions and quite a lot of emotion. I admit that Sofia Tech Recruitment uses AI tools in our everyday work, to an extent this makes us more competitive than companies that totally deny it.

Which case in your professional practice will you remember forever?

The moment when the doors of Luxoft opened for the first time in Sofia and I was among the first three employees. The same evening we had an official dinner that was both awkward and epic. The most phenomenal interviewers – the tech leaders of Paysafe, in 2015. My first business trip to Amsterdam for onboarding in Uber and my first walk with a space cake in the streets. And every day at Sofia Tech Recruitment with colleagues who maintain my strong passion for this work.

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