Using a Talent Acquisition Partner to scale up without spending up.

Here’s how Athena bolstered their team, rapidly scaled up and improved their candidate experience to establish a firm foothold in the home lending industry.

Athena Home Loans operates in a market largely dominated by the Big 4 Aussie banks. 

And, while they are newer on the scene than other players, they are already shaking up the industry and are wholly committed to changing home loans for good. 

So, ramping up their business — while still staying lean — took a particular approach. . 

That’s when they called in The Lab17.

Cloë Stanbridge, Head of Talent at The Lab17, sat down with Liana Mawston, Athena’s Chief of People and Community. They discussed Athena’s journey from start-up to market challenger, how they manage talent acquisition in a tight market and where The Lab’s extensive experience comes to the fore.  

What was the main driver behind partnering with The Lab?

Firstly, it was the rate at which we needed to scale – we were an early stage startup. That meant we needed to be really lean from a corporate overhead perspective and invest everything into our engineers, designers and customer service teams. 

We wanted to keep those overhead functions – be they HR or finance – as small as possible. So, building out a big talent acquisition function was never something we were going to do.

Secondly, the end-to-end nature of our business meant we had to recruit for a hugely diverse mix of roles. We needed people for all facets of the organisation: designers, engineers, data people, customer service people, broker development managers (to name a few!)

So, even if I hired one TA expert, it’s unlikely they’d have enough connections to recruit such a varied set of roles. You simply can’t get that from one person. 

Partnering with Lab17 meant we could use your expertise and depth of talent to recruit for all of those very different roles. And we could also keep the people and culture function super tight.

We had a couple of the Lab17 crew work in-house with us, but we had access to your entire team. So I could say, ‘Hey, I need a data engineer! Or, hey, we’re looking for a business development person’, and you could find us one.

It gave us that diversity of expertise, without having to have 4 talent acquisition people in-house. 

What do you think the tipping point for you was in choosing The Lab? 

I think it was the pace at which we needed to find roles. We were moving fast. 

My philosophy has always been to stay lean in central functions and work closely with hiring managers during the acquisition process. 

But because we were growing so rapidly, it meant the hiring team was trying to onboard new people, while still delivering velocity in their day jobs. 


And, with a tiny central team, we just couldn’t deliver what we needed. 

That’s when I knew we needed to partner with The Lab17.

How was this problem impacting Athena?

To put it bluntly, we were not giving the candidates the Athena experience we wanted. 

We’d put a job up and then be inundated with job-seekers – a lot of whom weren’t suitable. But suitable or not, we still don’t want to give them a bad experience.

Unfortunately, hiring managers in a scaling business don’t have the time to give a clearly unsuitable applicant a positive experience through tailored experience and feedback. And the trouble with that is it impacts our ability to recruit down the track because you can gain a bad reputation for not getting back to candidates. 

How did we help you overcome that challenge?

You just solved all those problems for us!

For me, the difference is the deeply embedded nature of our partnership. It’s not only the breadth of experience you have across the Lab; the tight partnership we developed meant you genuinely understand our culture. 

It doesn’t feel like we’ve just farmed out the roles to an agency where you’re not sure what they’re promising the candidates – and whether we can even deliver on those promises. 

With The Lab17, we’ve got that trust. You understand us, so what you’re selling the candidate is truly ‘us’. And that means together, we can give candidates a far richer, more positive experience.

How has Athena changed and progressed since our partnership began? What has The Lab17 brought to the table?

It’s been a journey!

We started with a very narrow scope in [recruiting for] the tech and engineering space. Yet, whenever we’ve come to you and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this kind of left field type of role we need filling,’ you’ve delivered for us.

And that’s probably been surprising for us. 

I mean, I always felt incredibly confident early on that those very typical tech startup roles would be wholly and solely in your sweet spot. But I was pleasantly surprised just how extendable that was to then tap into the wider market. 

Once you knew us, our culture and the type of people we were looking for, you could problem-solve and find the right candidates. That ability to broaden the solution and partnership across the entire organisation has definitely surpassed my expectations.

Since partnering with you guys, we’ve learned a lot about the art of talent acquisition. 

Things like how we get the job spec right. Or how we deliver a great candidate experience. And how, as a challenger, we can reach talent in a competitive market without having to rely on agencies.

Working alongside The Lab17 has definitely been a growth factor in our business. 

We’ve been able to tap into your expertise to know exactly what’s happening for candidates in the market. That’s allowing us to be nimble enough to be relevant in the space.

It’s about having that external conversation and understanding what we need to do to stay competitive. It’s been incredibly helpful!

Are you considering a recruitment partner like The Lab17? Follow us on LinkedIn or get in touch with us here.